Seventeen years after her mother’s death, the daughter of a beloved Hollywood star found a poignant keepsake showcasing the love her mother had for U.S. servicemen.
Mary Owen, the daughter of Oscar-winning actress Donna Reed, discovered a shoebox filled with over 350 letters from American soldiers, thanking her for performing for them during World War II.
According to Fox News, the discovery was made in 2003 at Reed’s old Beverly Hills home; the letters had been carefully packed away for over 40 years.
“When WWII was over, nobody really wanted to talk about it anymore because everyone participated in it,” Owen said.
“I didn’t know anything about these letters.”
Reed led a successful career in Hollywood that spanned many years, but she is most recognized for her role as Mary Hatch Bailey in the 1946 Christmas classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ co-starring with the legendary Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey.
Like many of the big names of her time, Reed used her talents to entertain the troops during the war, becoming a regular performer at the famed Hollywood Canteen.
The Canteen would provide GIs with a hot meal, a show and the chance to dance and interact with their favorite movie stars.
Reed, a farm girl from Iowa known for her natural beauty, became a popular pin-up girl for men overseas, and she was proud to help in any way she could.
“She danced with the guys at the Hollywood Canteen and so on. Several of her movies … were shown at base camps.”
“So she started getting these letters right around 1940, 1941, but really closer to the end of the war during the last two to three years. And she responded to them,” Owen said as reported by Fox.
Interestingly enough, Reed nearly missed out on being cast in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ as she was not director Frank Capra’s first choice.
The famed director was convinced upon meeting with her, and the rest was history.
The film did not do well when it was first released. It brought in only $3.4 million in today’s dollars, falling short of the $3.7 million it cost to make.
However, in the following decades, the film has become a staple for many around Christmas time, due to its wholesome message and its relatability to everyday people.
“When the film started coming back on television in the late ’70s and ’80s, [my mother] was so happy,” said Owen.
“She felt vindicated in a way because the movie just wasn’t successful even though it … had all these elements that you would think would make it a hit.
Owen herself has helped keep her mother’s most famous work accessible to audiences, aiding small independent theaters with airing the film for the Christmas season since 2007, according to the Washington Post.
“I’ve been part of this momentum of showing the movie in small, independent theaters since 2007, and it’s become a tradition,” the 65-year-old said.
Despite the movie’s classic American aesthetic and its cherished depiction of old-fashioned American values, it was accused by the FBI of being a sneaky example of communist propaganda.
As reported by the Washington Post, federal agents investigating Hollywood for communist sympathies argued that the film “deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.”
Two of the screenwriters were also accused of being friendly with known communists, though they were not proven sympathizers of the cause, according to the Post.
Despite these past allegations of communist infiltration, the film has gone down as one of the best American movies of all time, improving as the years go on, with new generations appreciating its timeless story.
Owen believes she knows why the movie still resonates with so many to this day.
“I think it gives people hope,” she said.
“There aren’t many movies that you can see over and over again without them weakening. I’ve seen it so many times. I sometimes see something different that I’ve never seen, or it hits me differently. Mary Bailey has become much more talked about. She was so strong. And I love that.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.