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What Happened To Donna Reed After It's A Wonderful Life?

The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" has a large cast of characters, but one of the most beloved — aside from Bedford Falls hero George Bailey (James Stewart) — is his wife Mary. Played by Donna Reed, the quick-thinking wife waves a bundle of honeymoon cash to save the townspeople from Depression-era bank closures, then later saves her husband's life. Following "It's a Wonderful Life" in 1946, Reed worked steadily in film, playing mostly "good girl" roles. In 1954, she won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as a sex worker in "From Here to Eternity." She later told The Saturday Evening Post that her role in the film angered studio executives as she ditched the nice girl image she was known for. "All the Oscar brought me was more bland Goody Two Shoes parts," she said.

In 1958, Reed landed a self-titled television sitcom, "The Donna Reed Show," which aired for seven seasons and 275 episodes. Reed, who played a small-town doctor's wife, Donna Stone, expressed pride over the fact that her TV character wore a normal bra that fit her properly. "Even with all the girl-next-door parts I played, there would usually be someone on the set whose job it was to look me up and down and say, 'Is that dress tight enough, baby?'" she told The Saturday Evening Post of her movie days. Reed described acting as "a lousy profession for women." Still, she worked in Hollywood until she died in 1986 of pancreatic cancer at age 64. Her final role was Miss Ellie Ewing on "Dallas."

Donna Reed was not the first choice to play Mary in It's a Wonderful Life

It's hard to imagine anyone else but Donna Reed playing James Stewart's wife in "It's a Wonderful Life." But Reed was not exactly a shoo-in for the role. Movie director Frank Capra first considered Stewart's previous movie co-star Jean Arthur for the part, according to The Stream. In addition, screen legend Ginger Rogers and several other big-name stars were also offered the role but passed on it. Reed's daughter, Mary Owen, told Fox News that amid his casting search, Capra "knew right away" that Reed was his Mary when he met her for the first time. "Her experience of working with Frank Capra was nothing like she'd ever experienced before or after," Owen said. "It was demanding work, but it was the most deeply satisfying work she'd ever experienced. She had worked in MGM films up to that point ... But Capra was independent and a visionary. He did things completely differently. And she loved it."'

Reed had the opportunity to publicly thank Capra when she paid tribute to him at the 10th American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1982. "When I finished making [It's a Wonderful Life"] I thought perhaps I might not make any more movies," Reed said in her speech. "I suppose I knew on some deep level that I would never have another experience in a film to equal it." Reed added that she "never dreamed" that people would watch the film every Christmas Eve for decades to come. To Capra, she said directly, "Frank, I am very grateful and beholden to you for letting me be Mary Bailey. Thank you."