Reed was elected beauty queen of her high school and Campus Queen of her college. The latter honor resulted in her photo making the L.A. papers, and as a result she was invited to take a screen test with MGM, which signed her in 1941. She played supporting roles in a number of minor films (at first being billed as "Donna Adams"), then in the mid '40s she began getting leads; with rare exceptions, she portrayed sincere, wholesome types and loving wives and girlfriends. She went against type playing a prostitute in From Here to Eternity (1953), for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Rarely getting rewarding roles, she retired from the screen in 1958 to star in the TV series "The Donna Reed Show," which was a great success and remained on the air through 1966. After 1960 she appeared in only one more film. In the mid '80s she emerged from retirement to star in "Dallas;" Barbara Bel Geddes returned to the show in 1985, and Reed won a $1 million settlement for a breach of contract suit against the show's producers. She died of cancer several months later.
- Was elected campus queen while at Los Angeles City College.
- Made film debut in the 1941 crime drama The Get-Away under the name Donna Adams.
- Though best known for such wholesome roles as Mary Bailey (James Stewart's wife) in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and housewife Donna Stone on The Donna Reed Show (1958-63), she won her Supporting Actress Oscar for playing a prostitute in From Here to Eternity (1953).
- Second husband Tony Owen produced The Donna Reed Show as well as Beyond Mombasa, a 1956 adventure film in which she was the female lead.
- Cofounded the antiwar organization Another Mother for Peace in 1967.
- Replaced Barbara Bel Geddes in Dallas for the 1984-85 season, but was fired when Bel Geddes returned; Reed successfully sued the producers for breach of contract.
- The Dennison, IA, movie theater she attended as a child was renamed the Donna Reed Center for the Performing Arts following her death.