The Donna Reed Theory of American Civilization.Posted: October 19, 2010
I love all these openings of The Donna Reed Show. The first, from Season One (1958-59), brings tears to my eyes, and I’m not sure why. It’s beautiful in every way:
Here, in Season Two, the tempo of the theme music is picked up relative to Season One, and the orchestration made “sprightlier.” Carl Betz (Dr. Alex Stone) now nearly forgets his kiss on his way out the door, remembering just in time. But the kiss is more passionate, no longer just a peck. America’s sexual mores are changing! Paralleling the alteration in the music, the typeface of the titles has gone from a formal serif to a jaunty sans serif:
By Season Four, the music’s tempo is faster still, and the ever-busier and more distracted Dr. Stone takes an extra beat before remembering to come back for his kiss. Perhaps both changes reflect the quickening pace of life as the fifties have turned into the sixties:
Now, in the final season (Season Eight, 1965-66), the music has changed from its peppy Broadway two-beat to a four-to-the-bar jazzy big band swing. Donna is looking “very sixties.” The most striking difference of all (besides the substitution of young Patty Petersen for Shelly Fabares) is that Donna remembers in the nick of time that she’s leaving the house, too; no longer the “stay at home Mom,” she presages the women’s liberation movement of a few years later:
Watching these in succession is like a mini-version of Social Change in Twentieth Century American Civilization 101. Plus, my God, Donna Reed was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. If she’d been my mom, I’d have even more serious Oedipal issues than I do.