FROM HARLOT TO HOUSEWIFE:
A Best Supporting Actress Winner Went from Oscar's Bad Girl to Perfect TV Mom
As a "vid kid" who grew up in front of the TV, I knew Donna Reed as the perfect sitcom mom. From 1958 to 1966, she starred on The Donna Reed Show as Donna Stone, wife to a handsome pediatrician, mother to Mary and Jeff and Trisha, champion folder of laundry, volunteer at every charity bazaar.
As wife of the producer, Tony Owens, and co-owner of the show's production company, ToDon, the show made her a great deal of money, both first run and in syndication. It also garnered her three Emmy Award nominations.
|Lorene & Maggio & their Oscars|
"Cool," I thought. Doing a little research, I learned that she had won for Best Supporting Actress for From Here to Eternity, a movie I hadn't yet seen. All I knew about it was that it was a war epic featuring a clinch between Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster in the surf. I figured Donna won her Academy Award playing a nurse or something.
Or something, indeed!
Donna Reed made her way to Oscar by playing Lorene, one of the girls who works in the New Congress Club. In 1953, the filmmakers were not able to refer to the club as an Oahu brothel, so Lorene is never explicitly called a hooker, but there's no doubt about what kind of comfort she provides the troops.
Lorene is sad and smart. She doesn't like the life she's leading and hopes to marry a "proper" man and lead a "proper" life. It's not too great a stretch to say that Lorene dreams of the domestic bliss enjoyed by Donna Stone.
Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) falls head-over-heels in love with her. She gives him the acceptance that he longs for, but isn't getting, from the men in his company. After Prew kills a man -- and is injured himself -- in a knife fight, he goes AWOL and hides out with Lorene. While he's recuperating, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Even though Lorene desperately tries to dissuade him, he insists on rejoining his company ... and is killed for his efforts.
I believe she won her Oscar for her last scene, leaving Hawaii by ship for the Mainland. She finds herself standing next to Deborah Kerr, who is also heading home alone. Sedately clad in a suit befitting that "proper" life she longs for, Lorene concocts a fiction about her life in Oahu. Prewitt wasn't her john, he was her fiance. He wasn't an Army private, he was a fighter pilot. He wasn't a deserter killed by friendly fire on the beach, he died a decorated war hero. As she shares this fairytale in a dull voice, watching Hawaii drift away, we realize how shattered she is. She's been destroyed by Prew's death, by the attack on Pearl Harbor, and most of all, by the life she led in Oahu.
Another actress might have played it weepy. That would have made this moment conventional ... and forgettable. Instead it's Lorene's controlled, flat voice and defeated dry eyes I remember. She's the perfect portrait of tearless agony.
For more posts about Oscar, visit Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen and Outspoken and Freckled.