|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.