Sunday, March 9, 2014

Patty Petersen of The Donna Reed Show: What became of Paul's younger sister?

Patty Petersen with Donna Reed in 1963

Patty Petersen, now known as Patti Petersen Mirkovich, was born on December 2, 1954 in Glendale, California.  From 1963 until 1966, Patti played the role of Tricia Stone, the adopted daughter of Donna and Alex Stone, in 99 episodes of The Donna Reed Show.  She was only eight years old when she joined her big brother Paul as a member of the cast of the popular series.

Patti is the youngest of three children of Wilma and Lawrence Peterson.   Lawrence Petersen, of Danish descent, was a mechanic and the family struggled financially.  Due to economic necessity, Paul (born September 23, 1945) and Pamela, the eldest Petersen sibling, spent their early childhood with their parents on their aunt and uncle's farm in Iowa.

When the family's financial situation improved, they returned to California and Patti was born.  Not long after her birth, Paul Petersen's career began to take off.  Wilma had enrolled him in tap dancing, music and drama lessons at  an early age.  In 1955, when he was nine years old, he was selected as a Mouseketeer for Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club.  The following year, he appeared in an episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Disney called "Along the Oregon Trail" (Season 3, Episode 10, Air Date: November 14, 1956) His tenure with Disney, however, did not last long and he was dismissed for reasons of "conduct unbecoming."  He later wrote a book about the experience titled Walt, Mickey and Me.  

After leaving Disney, Paul portrayed Cary Grant's son, David Winters, in the 1958 film, Houseboat, a romantic comedy starring Grant and Sophia Loren.  He then landed a plum role on The Donna Reed Show, which premiered in the fall of  1958 and was a huge hit with audiences. Meanwhile, his kid sister was also working toward a show business career.

On November 13, 1955, when Patti was less than a year old, she appeared on The Colgate Comedy Hour, a live comedy/variety show on NBC featuring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  By the early 1960s, Patti wanted to be on The Donna Reed Show with her brother.  In late 1962, producer Tony Owen (Donna Reed's then-husband) agreed to cast her in a role.  It was perfect timing because Shelley Fabares, who played Mary Stone, the eldest of the Stone children, was planning to leave.  She had had a hit song with "Johnny Angel" and wanted to pursue a movie career (She went on to make three films alongside Elvis Presley).  By 1963, Shelley was 19 years old and Mary Stone was a college student. With Fabares' departure on the horizon, a new child was sorely needed to spur interest in the series.  Enter Paul Petersen's real-life kid sister.

Patti appeared for the first time as Trishia during The Donna Reed Show's fifth season, in an episode entitled "A Way of Her Own" (Air Date: January 31, 1963).  The little girl  followed the Stone family home from the park one day and remained at their home, insisting that she was now a member of their family. The Stones discovered that young Trishia was an orphan and that her only living relative was a an uncle named Fred Hawley.  Fred didn't have room for his niece in his busy life and he permitted her to stay with the Stones.

Below is a photo of the cast of the Donna Reed Show - Top (Left to right): Paul Petersen (Jeff Stone) and Carl Betz (Dr. Alex Stone); Bottom (Left to right): Patty Patersen (Trishia Stone), Donna Reed (Donna Stone) and Shelley Fabares (Mary Stone).

Paul Petersen, who portrayed Jeff Stone, was a teen heartthrob and a recording artist. So how did he feel about having his kid sister on the show?  In a story (circa 1964) entitled "A Big Brother Speaks Up In Defense of Kid Sisters," posted on Paul's website, the actor talked about working with his younger sibling. He was 19 years old at the time the article was written and Patti was only ten.  He insisted that he was lucky to be working with her "because it gives us so much more time together."  He also discussed how he served as his sister's disciplinarian and mentor at the studio. He would listen to her problems and supervise her lunches on the set.  "I suppose, because of this," Petersen declared, "I take a greater pride in her development, both as a human being and a performer."

When The Donna Reed Show ended its run in 1966, Patti was not yet 12 years old. After making commercials and industrial films, she retired from acting.  During the ensuing years, she married and pursued other interests, including country singing and songwriting.

Now 59 years old, Patti is a writer and the founder of InterNovel, the first Internet company to work together with both new authors and professionals in the writing of novels.  According to the most recent information available, she teaches English and computer science at a Catholic school and is a volunteer volleyball coach.

Patti has two children, Tim and Melissa.


* Carl Betz, who played pediatrician Alex Stone, Donna Reed's television husband, died of lung cancer in Los Angeles on January 18, 1978.  He was 56 years old at the time of his death.  After the cancellation of The Donna Reed Show, Betz went on to play lawyer Clinton Judd in the legal drama Judd for the Defense. The series aired for two season, from 1967 to 1969, on the ABC network.  After it was cancelled, he won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his portrayal of attorney Judd.

Carl Betz in Judd for the Defense, 1967

* Donna Reed died of pancreatic cancer on January 14, 1986.  She was 64 years old. In 1987, Donna's widower, retired United States Army Colonel Grover Asmus. her TV daughter Shelley Fabares and many others, created the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts.  The non-profit foundation provides scholarships for performing arts students and organizes a yearly festival of performing arts workshops. It also operates the Donna Reed Center for the Performing Arts in Donna's hometown of Denison, Iowa.  Patti and Paul Petersen are active members of the organization.

* In 1962, Wilma and Lawrence Petersen divorced.  Wilma remarried and Lawrence became a new development engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

* On December 6, 2011, a Donna Reed Show Reunion was held at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles.  Patti and Paul Petersen attended along with Shelley Fabares.  They regard their television parents with the utmost respect.  At the reunion, according to a report for LA Weekly by Ali Trachta, they shred stories about Donna, whom they considered a second mother.

At the reunion Shelley mentioned how she, Donna Reed, Carl Betz and Paul Petersen would continue to get together, even after their show went off the air.  They would meet regularly at a Beverly Hills restaurant called The Bistro just to chat and catch up on each other's lives.  Paul stated that sometimes he and Carl would sometimes remain until closing time, after the two women had left.

The above photo was taken in 2011 at the Paley Center. (Credit Kevin Parry for the Paley Center)  From left to right: Shelley Fabares, Paul Petersen and Patti Petersen Mirkovich.

* The MPI DVD 5-disc set of Season 5 of The Donna Reed Show includes, as a special feature, a video interview of Patti and Paul Petersen reminiscing about the series.


MARCH 10, 2014

I contacted Patti Petersen Mirkovich and she very kindly provided me with this update of her activities for readers of TV Banter.

After 12 years of teaching computer studies, a brief move to Texas and a move back to welcome 2 beautiful grandchildren (both girls ages 7 and 5), I have moved on to a technology department that services an entire county!   Sadly I am no longer involved with internet writing - a tremendous idea that was well before it's time.  I am still very involved with the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts and will return to Denison, IA (Donna's hometown and Foundation offices) later this year for our board meeting and scholarship award presentations.
A fun note for your readers:  For several years before joining the cast of The Donna Reed Show, I pestered and hounded Tony Owen for a chance to be on the show.  His return comment was always "When you're older."  Well, just before my 8th birthday, I asked again - joyously telling him I was going to be 8 and I was old enough!  This time Mr. Owen's response was, "It will be your birthday present."  Certainly a wonderful present !!!  Who knew that present would last a lifetime 

- Joanne


  1. What ridiculous colour hair Shelley has. She used to be so nice. The three of them all look odd

    1. Give the gal a break. She was waiting for a liver transplant when she decided to go with that look, just for fun and not yet knowing if she would live or die. I think it gives her a warrior look. Besides, her husband loves it.

      I don't think the three of them look odd. They're simply older, that's all.

    2. She probably is still nice. Nice and with pink hair. I think it's a wonderful world where you can have any color hair you want and still be nice.

    3. I think Shelley's hair is a marvelous expression of her individuality and she totally carries it off with panache. Her colorist did a great job and so did her stylist. Oh to be a free spirit! Anonymous's comment makes no sense to me. And Paul and Patti also look perfecto fine. This is a great pic of iconic TV children who have held it together as adults. God Bless them. Many of their peers have not fared so well.

    4. I think Shelley has a great sense of style and her hair demonstrates her wonderful optimism. I love the colors she chose and she totally gets away with it. Paul and Patti appear completely normal. I have no idea what Anonymous's problem is.

  2. I'm a long-time fan of the show. Many thanks for getting together for the group photo! Hope you all are doing well.

  3. God Bless them all on this Easter 2015. Love to them all.

  4. Never missed any of the shows. Love them. I have to say Paul was my hero. I loved him, he was so cute. And even now he's sexier than ever.

  5. Wow....I just came across this on the Internet. I watch the reruns on MeTV and loved the show. I wondered what happened to the cast. I was wondering what Paul had to say about the latest casualty of a child actor, Sawyer Sweeten, who committed suicide at 19. I think it is hard for child actors today because everything is on the Internet and nothing is sacred. Hats off to Paul who created A Minor Consideration. Oh, on a positive note, I think they all look great! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you for this website...

  7. I remember watching this program and loving the Stones. Jeff was the brother I would have loved to have and of course like so many guys I had major curse on Mary.
    In many ways Alex and Donna reminded me of my own parents, loving, intelligent, firm, but fair.
    Now at 62 watching reruns takes me back to a more simple time. Thanks so much

    1. Where and what channel do you see the Donna Reerd Show reruns??

    2. I watch them on my iPad on HULU. Love this show!

  8. Love the show one of my all time favorites.I think that they all look wonderful in they held themselves together most childhood stars couldn't say the y'all from south Georgia!!!!!

  9. I too watched and enjoyed the show as a kid. Unlike most boys who had a crush on Shelly, I had a crush on Donna Reed. Figure that!

  10. I love this show!!
    I get up every weekday morning at 5am so I can watch The Donna Reed Show on 'MeTV'!!
    I wasnt born until 1967, so I had never heard of the show before seeing it on MeTV & I had no idea that there was a little sister on the show!
    I've never seen any of the episodes with her in I can't wait!

    BTW...great website!!!

  11. Watching the Donna Reed Show reruns on 2.2 Decades TV (antenna tv) and they sure bring back memories! (I thought Paul Petersen was "dreamy", when I was a teen!) thanks for the updated picture of the 3 children of the show! They look great to me! We've all aged in 50 years! ha ha

  12. I have been watching all weekend too on Decades..just airing the arrival of Patti to family now. Loved this show always. Patti and I have much in common..matching initials "PP", spell first names the same, last names begin with "P" and born the same year (I was May)

  13. I Love Johnny Angel
    I Always Wondered Who Was Johnny

    RIP Dr & Mrs Stone

  14. I just first met the Donna Reed Show 3 yrs ago on MeTv here in Boone county Ky. It is one of the most fun oriented family shows to ever meet my eyes. It makes my day whenever it hit's my TV screen. It always seems to let me go to the fun America I grew up in. My thanks goes out to all who had a hand in anyway for the making of the show.would love to meet Paul and or Shelly one day and thank them personally,but I reckon that is just a dream, like the greatness of their show. God bless us all.

  15. I love the picture of the three of them. Shelly is as gorgeous as ever,she is as lovely as a spring Daisy as usual.
    Thanks again for the Donna Reed Show. It has yet to have been paralled in any shape form. Or fashion in my eyes.

  16. I totally enjoyed the show
    Paul was so cute, I was happy when he was in a story

  17. Carl Betz was an incredibly handsome man.

  18. I love the Donna Reed Show all the cast was great. We have watched everyday since coming on ME TV... The ladies were beautiful and the two fellas we're handsome. It's sad the Carl and Donna passed away at a young age. I am happy to see the photo of the three and doing well, good bless to you all.

  19. I have never been much on nastalgia.but I truly enjoy the Donna Reed Show.the topics are fresh & ahead of it's opened my mind to watch classic television that no other sit-com from that era could do.