DENISON, Iowa | Sixty-two years ago, Donna Reed helped put her hometown on the map by winning an Oscar, casting aside her girl-next-door image to play a prostitute opposite Frank Sinatra in "From Here to Eternity."
Reed's ability netted her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
When Reed died of pancreatic cancer in 1986, she willed her Oscar to the City of Denison. When her family brought the award to Denison, a gathering ensued and from it the Donna Reed Festival was established.
The festival played out for years in the Donna Reed Theater, a beautiful former opera house, originally called the Germania Opera House, that traces its origin to articles of incorporation drawn up in 1913.
This is the place where Donna Reed met show business, spending many Saturday nights here with her family, taking in a movie or a live show after a night of shopping.
Renamed the Ritz Theater, it had crumbled and was about to be razed when community members rallied and purchased the building for $100,000 in 1988.
One of Hollywood's biggest stars for decades, Reed never forgot her Iowa roots. The former Donna Bell Mullenger left her hometown for Los Angeles in 1938.
One of her biggest breaks came in 1946 when she played wife, Mary Bailey, to actor Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life, the Christmas classic set in fictitious Bedford Falls. The film, Reed's favorite, wasn't a box office success. Instead, it's become a classic and enjoys a rebroadcast on network television just before Christmas every year.
Denison hooked into the movie by adopting "It's a Wonderful Life" as a slogan, attaching it to the community's marketing efforts and its water tower.