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Farm Girl Turned Maverick Actress Dies of Cancer

January 15, 1986 GMT

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) _ Actress Donna Reed was ″a consummate professional″ who ″never expected anyone to look up to her,″ friends said of the all-American TV mom and Academy Award winner who died of cancer two weeks before her 65th birthday.

Her husband, retired Army Col. Grover Asmus, was at her side when she died Tuesday at their Beverly Hills home.

″It was probably just as well. We expected it. Her death was imminent. It was kind of rough,″ said Miss Reed’s brother, Bill Mullenger, 58, a real estate agent in Denison, Iowa.

Doctors learned Miss Reed had pancreatic cancer several months ago, when she was hospitalized for ulcers, Mullenger said in a telephone interview. ″I saw her at Thanksgiving. She was about like any normal person would be when they find out they have cancer - depressed.

″There was not much hope of remission or that it could be treated.″

Funeral services were scheduled Friday at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. Burial will follow at Westwood Cemetery, said Pam Flynn, whose husband, Harry, was Miss Reed’s publicist.

Miss Reed won an Oscar for best supporting actress in 1953 for her portrayal of Alma, a prostitute, in ″From Here to Eternity,″ the tale of Army life on the eve of Pearl Harbor.

″I can remember in the beginning, when every guy who saw her on the screen had a crush on Donna, particularly myself,″ said Frank Sinatra, a co-star in ″From Here to Eternity.″ ″Donna was a lovely lady, gentle and kind.″

Miss Reed’s most memorable TV role was in ″The Donna Reed Show,″ which began in 1958 and lasted eight seasons. She played housewife Donna Stone, married to a pediatrician played by the late Carl Betz, raising two children played by Paul Petersen and Shelley Fabares, who was later replaced by Patty Petersen.

Her last TV role was in 1984, as matriarch of the Ewing clan on the prime- time soap opera ″Dallas,″ a role created by Barbara Bel Geddes for six seasons.

Miss Bel Geddes, who left because of ill health, returned a year later and Miss Reed was fired. She filed a $7.5 million suit in April against Lorimar Productions and CBS and, in August, accepted a $1 million settlement.

Despite the bitterness of the dismissal, she was remembered fondly by ″Dallas″ colleagues.

″I am extremely saddened by her passing. My heart goes out to her family,″ said Larry Hagman, who played son J.R.

″Donna Reed was above all else a lady and a consummate professional,″ actress Victoria Principal said in a statement. ″Her passing away so early in her life is a real tragedy.″

Jerry Lewis, who starred with her in ″The Caddy″ in 1953, said, ″She was the classiest lady I ever worked with, and she will be sorely missed.″

″The passing of Donna Reed means the loss of a great friend and a great actress,″ added Mickey Rooney, who appeared with her in numerous pictures, including the Andy Hardy series. ″The life she left within us will glow from all of us she has left behind.″

Her other film appearances included Frank Capra’s classic ″It’s a Wonderful Life,″ a movie Mullenger said portrayed her more accurately than any other picture.

″I would have to say she probably accepted all people as well as anybody I know. She never looked down on anybody and never expected anyone to look up to her. You don’t find that much anymore,″ he said.

She also appeared in ″The Picture of Dorian Gray,″ ″Green Dolphin Street,″ ″The Last Time I Saw Paris″ and ″The Benny Goodman Story.″

Born in Denison, Miss Reed began acting at MGM when she was 20, supporting herself as a dishwasher, librarian and secretary.

She graduated from the Thin Man, Dr. Gillespie and Andy Hardy movie series to become a star with ″They Were Expendable″ in 1945.

She was seen infrequently on television after ″The Donna Reed Show.″

″I just wouldn’t do the junk I was offered,″ she once said. ″I didn’t like the way films were treating women. Most of the roles were extremely passive - women in jeopardy, poor stupid souls who couldn’t help themselves.″

During the Vietnam War, Miss Reed became active in the Beverly Hills-based anti-war group called Another Mother for Peace.

″I love my country, but I feel it got off the track,″ she said in 1971. ″This is my way of helping it find its way back.″

Miss Reed is survived by her husband; two sons; two daughters; two sisters and two brothers.