The Only Major Actors Still Alive From The Donna Reed Show

After Lucille Ball's spunky housewife Lucy signed off on the last episode of "I Love Lucy" but before Mary Tyler Moore did away with the nuclear family sitcom model with her own self-titled show, another actress was one of the faces of womanhood in comedy. Oscar-winning actress Donna Reed headlined "The Donna Reed Show" from 1958 to 1966, playing middle-class mother and housewife Donna Stone in the popular black-and-white series. Reed starred opposite Carl Betz, who played Donna's husband, pediatrician Dr. Alex Stone. In season 5, family friends Midge (Ann McCrea, now age 93) and Dave (Bob Crane, who passed away in 1978) joined the fun, but for the most part, the show was all about the lighthearted hijinks of the Stone family.

Though "The Donna Reed Show" was popular upon release, it's now perhaps most often referenced as a pop cultural window into a time before second-wave feminism, when women were expected to spend their time cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing while men went to work. "The Donna Reed Show" serves as the basis for a doozy of an argument between Rory (Alexis Bledel) and her first boyfriend in "Gilmore Girls," appears in retro sitcom fantasy "Pleasantville," and is the inspiration for a fully monochromatic outfit Dean Pelton (AKA "Deana Reed") dons for a Sadie Hawkins Dance in "Community."

While "The Donna Reed Show" may not have aged quite as well as some of its contemporaries, the series still has its fans, and the show's cast has continued to do great work beyond its eight seasons. Reed and Betz have now passed away, but the stars who played their three children went on to lead fulfilling careers — though not all of them did so as actors.

Shelley Fabares (Mary Stone)

A child actress from age 3 onward, Shelley Fabares played daughter Mary Stone in "The Donna Reed Show." Early seasons tackled rites of passage in Mary's adolescence including learning to drive, disastrous dating experiences, and more, but as the character aged, the actress began appearing less and less on the show. In reality, Fabares left the show to pursue other acting opportunities. Soon after, Fabares appeared alongside Elvis in 1965's "Girl Happy," and she also appeared in movies including the 1971 drama "Brian's Song" and the 1987 John Cusack-led comedy "Hot Pursuit."

Fabares has also done extensive work on TV, most notably in the beloved '80s sitcom "Coach." Fabares earned two Emmy nominations for her role as news anchor, love interest, and lead character Christine on the show about a college football coach played by Craig T. Nelson. Outside of "Coach," the actress took roles on shows including "The Little People," "The Practice," and the original iteration of Norman Lear's "One Day At a Time." Since 1996, she's voiced Superman's mom, Martha Kent, in three different animated "Superman" films and series.

Aside from her acting career, Fabares also found success as a singer. She reached number 1 on the Billboard charts with "Johnny Angel," a song featured on "The Donna Reed Show," and went on to release three albums by 1963. Her vocal stylings also appeared on soundtracks for "Girl Happy," "Bye Bye Birdie," and the 1966 musical movie "Hold On!" Fabares seems to be retired from acting, as her most recent role was in 2006's "Superman: Brainiac Attacks." In recent years, she's written an op-ed in response to Donald Trump's reference to Donna Reed, and she can also be spotted sporting stellar pink, spiky hair.

Paul Petersen (Jeff Stone)

Given the sometimes-musical nature of "The Donna Reed Show," it's no surprise that Fabares' co-star, former Mouseketeer Paul Petersen, also made some music on screen and off. After portraying Donna's teen son Jeff for the duration of the series (the show ends with Jeff himself writing a hit song), Petersen continued recording some songs throughout the '60s, but he also acted in movies like "A Time For Killing" and "The Happiest Millionaire," as well as TV shows including "Lassie," "Fantasy Island," and "The Virginian." In 2016, Petersen appeared in an episode of KPFA's "Suspense," a new version of the classic CBS radio anthology show from the mid-20th century.

Petersen may have continued acting into adulthood, but he's also acutely aware that others didn't make it that far. After several formerly high-profile child stars committed suicide, Petersen formed an organization called A Minor Consideration in 1991 with the aid of his wife, Rana Platz-Petersen. According to the organization's website, it's a group dedicated to " an aggressive educational program, both public and private," which is led by former child stars who have been through the harsh realities of show business. The group also supports legislative and industry-wide reforms to protect young actors. Petersen appeared in "The Hollywood Complex," a documentary about aspiring child stars, and even appeared as himself in the 2003 David Spade comedy "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star."

As if three careers aren't enough, Petersen is also a prolific author; in the '70s, he penned a series of books called "The Smuggler" which feature a weed smuggler turned secret agent as its hero.

Patty Petersen Mirkovich (Trisha)

The real-life little sister of Paul Petersen, Patty only ever acted in one role — her part in "The Donna Reed Show." The younger Petersen appeared on the show beginning in season 5 (as Mary's character began to age out of the family sitcom), and played adoptee Trisha in 99 episodes of the show.

While current information on Petersen is limited, a post on the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts website from 2020 indicates that she serves on the Board of Directors for the arts-supporting nonprofit started in the late '80s by Fabares, Reed's husband Grover Asmus, and others who knew the actress. The 2016 book "X Child Stars: Where Are They Now?" (by Fred Ascher and Kathy Garver) offers more updates on Petersen, noting that she only ever appeared in commercials after "The Donna Reed Show" ended. She retired from show business at a young age, and then went on to work as a songwriter. According to "X Child Stars," Petersen now owns a website that helps first-time authors get published.