Notwithstanding that Oscar, “The Donna Reed Show,” which ran from 1958 to 1966, could be Donna Reed’s most enduring legacy. Set in the fictional middle-class town of Hilldale, the show was developed and produced by Tony Owen, a fellow Midwesterner and Reed’s second husband, per The New York Times. Reed’s sitcom rarely if ever tiptoed close to divisive topics like feminism, social inequality, race relations, and so on, preferring instead to explore issues like misplacing one’s wedding ring, a teenage son’s misadventures in buying a car, and a family friend’s offer to use his lake house, per IMDb.
Still, Reed insisted that the show had universal appeal. She told a 1960 interviewer from the Pennsylvania newspaper Standard-Speaker (via Closer Weekly) that the show aimed to depict 1950s small-town life in places like her old hometown. “The series is more like my life might have been had I never left my hometown of Denison, Iowa,” Reed said. “On the show we have our problems, laughs and, above all, our need for love and friendship.”
If Reed detected any discordance in her own pursuit of a career while telling stories about a woman happy to be a homemaker, she did not seem troubled by it. And the show did provide an entertaining escape for millions during the early to mid-1960s, a time during which the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement were gaining steam and Second Wave feminism was finding its voice.