At a time when the traditions and values of the past sometimes seem long gone, it’s nice to have a reminder of good times and good people and to also know that they both still exist. For Mary Owen, that reminder comes from her late mother, Donna Reed, an Oscar-winning actress.
But it’s not just her films and shows that remind us of the good in the world. Instead, it’s things like a shoebox full of letters found in the actress’s old Beverly Hills home some seventeen years after her death.
What was in the shoebox, you ask? Well, as it turns out, Reed had kept over 350 letters written to her from American soldiers during World War II. Apparently, Reed had never mentioned the letters to anyone, and so they had stayed hidden for over 40 years.
As Owen recounted to Fox News, no one, including her mother, seemed to ever really want to talk about the war “because everyone participated in it” in one form or another. So she had no idea the letters existed.
But they most certainly did and retold the stories of long ago.
Owen had known that her mother had often participated in performing for soldiers during the war, mostly at the famed Hollywood Canteen, a place GIs could get a hot meal, see a show, and dance, possibly even with their favorite movie stars.
As Owen described, Reed had wanted to help out in any way that she could and so she frequently attended and participated in shows at the canteen and danced with soldiers. Several of her movies were also “shown at base camps,” Owen says.
And with the natural beauty she was known for, it wasn’t long before she became a popular pin-up girl for many American soldiers fighting overseas. Owen noted that thanks to that popularity, she soon started receiving letters from these fans, most around 1940, 1941, and closer to the end of the war.
“And she responded to them.”
Of course, all of this was before she was even cast for the role of Mary Hatch Bailey in the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
In fact, she almost didn’t even get that role. Apparently, she was not director Frank Capra’s first choice for the position. However, after Capra met with her, he was convinced she was the girl for the role, and so it came to be.
It’s also interesting that the movie didn’t initially do all that well at the box office. It didn’t even make the $3.7 million it cost to make it, despite having all the elements most would think would make it a hit.
However, as you know, over the decades, it has become one of the most beloved and timeless Christmas movies of all time. Its wholesome message and relatability are, of course, what has drawn generations of people to it.
Then again, the FBI also accused it for a time of being a sneaky example of communist propaganda. According to those in that frame of mind, it “deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters,” according to reports by the Washington Post.
At least two screenwriters of the film were also accused of being friendly with communists. However, as the Post pointed out, those supposed sympathies were never proven.
Yet, despite all of that, it has, time and time again, been named one of the very best American movies. Some would even say its popularity has only grown with time, regardless of its black-and-white picture and obviously dated time and way of life.
For Owen, it’s a sign that the standards and morals her mother stood for are still just as important today as they were back then. And that makes the movie just as relatable as ever.