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A Baby-Boomer Classic TV Series Comes to DVD. Why We Should Pay Attention to It

Dec 27, 2011  •  Post A Comment

Another season of a classic 1950s sitcom has come to DVD, and former TVWeek Executive Editor Tom Gilbert, writing in The New York Times, tells us why we should pay attention.

It’s the long unseen 4th season of "The Donna Reed Show."

Writes Gilbert, "Unlike most of the other TV couples of the era — the Andersons, the Cleavers or even the real-life marrieds Ozzie and Harriet — the shapely Reed and her co-star, Carl Betz, with his chiseled face and palpable masculinity, had a chemistry that suggested their characters might actually enjoy the circumstances of the dangerous, sponsor-scaring conjugal bed."

Gilbert adds, "Feminists criticized the show for its perpetuation of the image of the subservient, content-to-stay-at-home wife, though [Academy Award winner] Reed, a working mother of four who became associated with her housewife character, took umbrage during a 1979 interview with The Associated Press: ‘I played a strong woman who could manage her family. That was offensive to a lot of people.’ " 

Gilbert also notes, "Donna Stone’s was a world that espoused longstanding moral virtues, one in which people always strove to present their best selves and, at all costs, keep unpleasantness and dirty laundry safe from the neighbors’ view. Impeccable housekeeping (did humans actually live in that house?) and fastidiously mowed lawns were de rigueur, as were financial stability and a promising future. Its milieu embraced and reaffirmed the aspirations of ‘the 99 percent’ of the early cold war years, a mirror of how middle class people of the time thought they should be living.

"At the same time ‘Reed’ and its milky ilk tacitly reinforced the pervasive pressure to conform to a shallow, unrealistic societal model that dominated Eisenhower America. In explaining the show’s approach, [Tony] Owen [Reed’s husband and co-producer], quoted in David C. Tucker’s book ‘The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms,’ said, ‘There’s a good side and a bad side to everyone. Sure, they’ll go for the nasty stuff at first, but you have to give them an ideal to look up to.’”

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