Paul Petersen Remembers TV Mom, Donna Reed

While most of us will be remembering mothers on May 10 this year, entertainers who worked as child actors in television sitcoms may also have special memories of their ‘TV mom.’ For Paul Petersen, that was Oscar winner Donna Reed, the matriarch from “The Donna Reed Show.”

In 2018 for the anniversary of the show’s first broadcast, Petersen (and coauthor Deborah Herman) released “The Donna Reed Show: A Pictorial Memoir”.
“It’s an archival look back at an iconic television show,” said Petersen, who, like Reed, appeared in all 275 episodes during the series run from 1958 to 1966. “I wanted the book not only to examine the people who made the show but to put television in the historical context of the period. During the eight years, we went through a lot, including illnesses, accidents, and national incidents from that era.”
One of the most memorable was the 1963 Kennedy assassination.
“We were rehearsing, and a guy from the radio station across the street called with a real quiver in his voice asking for Donna,” said Petersen, who remembers answering the phone. “Donna then told us the president had been shot and it shut down the studio. We just packed up and went home for a very painful weekend.”
Most of Petersen’s memories of the show are far more pleasant, however, like the first day filming on the set.
“Donna was from a little town in Iowa called Denison, in the county right next to where my mother was born around the same year,” he explained. “When I got the job, the most excited person in my family was my grandfather, who insisted on taking me to work to film the pilot. He marched right up to Donna and said, ‘Donna Belle Mullenger (her birth name) I knew your dad!'”
Reed was gracious, and remained personable and well-liked throughout the series, according to Petersen. “We all got together for lunch and were very close – uniquely close compared to other television families.”
A potentially tragic incident occurred when Paul crashed his Pontiac Grand Prix during the series. But Donna came to his rescue.
“The accident was my fault, and for punishment, I had to ride a bicycle eight miles to work every day. But Donna and Tony (her husband) felt sorry for me and gave me a brand-new Volkswagen Bug. I loved that car!”
During the show’s run, Petersen called Reed ‘mom’ while filming, but it was always ‘Miss Reed’ away from the set.
“It wasn’t until four years after the show ended when I was in my mid-20s and we were at Chasen’s restaurant that I remember her leaning across the table and saying, ‘Paul, I think it’s time you started calling me Donna!'”
Having a close ‘second mom,’ especially a famous one, could have created friction between Petersen’s real mother and the actress.
“I remember in an interview my mother said, ‘how could I ever compete with Donna Reed?’ But she understood I had an ongoing professional relationship with Donna that sometimes required spending more time with her than my actual mother.”
“Donna was my de facto mother and guardian on the set, a pretty safe person to leave your kids with,” added Petersen. “She was an Iowa bred farm girl, the oldest of five children, who had lived through the depression and came out to California to be a Hollywood star and succeeded. She was a wonderful role model.”

Paul Peterson, Donna Reed, Carl Betz, and Patty Peterson as Tricia


About the Author

Check out the latest issue of our online magazine!

More for You

Dining & Drinks

Visiting with Lil’ Ole Winemaker, Donna Mills

Toasting the New Year with a glass of wine on December 31 is a tradition for many. But unlike most year-end revelers, actress Donna Mills can welcome the New Year with a bottle of wine …

Read More
Life & Lifestyle

Traveling SOLO: Try It, You Might Like It!

Photo credit: ~ Do you love to travel? Do you love to travel by yourself? Perhaps by the time you finish reading this article, and subsequent articles about traveling by yourself at 50+, you …

Read More
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ |
Life & Lifestyle

Plant Now for a Colorful Spring Display

It’s already time to think about spring! Fall is the time to plant daffodils, crocus, alliums, and other spring-flowering bulbs, so look for these early, cheery bloomers as winter gives way to spring. Include bulbs …

Read More
error: Content is protected !!