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Elinor Donahue

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Elinor Donahue
Donahue in 1960
Mary Eleanor Donahue

(1937-04-19) April 19, 1937 (age 87)
Other namesMary Elinor Donahue
  • Actress
  • author
Years active1942–2011
Known forFather Knows Best
Many Happy Returns
The Andy Griffith Show
Star Trek: The Original Series Metamorphosis
The Odd Couple
Pretty Woman
Days of Our Lives
Richard Smith
(m. 1955; div. 1961)
(m. 1962; died 1991)
Lou Genevrino
(m. 1992)

Elinor Donahue (born Mary Eleanor Donahue, April 19, 1937) is a retired American actress, best known today for playing the role of Betty Anderson, the eldest child of Jim and Margaret Anderson on the 1950s American sitcom Father Knows Best.

Early life and career


Donahue was born in Tacoma, Washington, the daughter of Doris Genevieve (née Gelbaugh) and Thomas William Donahue on April 19, 1937.[2]

Appearing in dancing-chorus film roles from the age of five, Donahue was at one point a ballet-school classmate of future Fred Astaire partner Barrie Chase. She was a child actress working in vaudeville[3] and had several bit parts in movies as a teenager, including Love Is Better Than Ever (1952), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Tea for Two (1950) starring Doris Day. She played one of the daughters in Three Daring Daughters in 1948 and appeared as Mamie Van Doren's sister in Girls Town (1959).

Father Knows Best

Cast photo of the Anderson family from the television program, Father Knows Best: (front) Lauren Chapin; (back, from left) Billy Gray, Jane Wyatt, Robert Young and Elinor Donahue in 1954.

Donahue achieved stardom for her role as the elder daughter, Betty, on the television family series Father Knows Best, which aired from 1954 to 1960.[4] Her co-stars were Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Billy Gray as her younger brother, James "Bud" Anderson Jr., and Lauren Chapin as her younger sister, Kathy.

Elinor Donahue and Lauren Chapin on Father Knows Best in 1959.

Donahue was a musical judge in ABC's Jukebox Jury (1953–54).[5] While in the first season of Father Knows Best, she also appeared on The Ray Bolger Show, starring Ray Bolger as a song-and-dance man. Thereafter, she was cast with James Best, Ann Doran, and J. Carrol Naish in the 1956 episode "The White Carnation" of the religion anthology series, Crossroads. She guest-starred on an episode of U.S. Marshal. She also appeared as a new bride in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show episode titled "The Newlyweds" that aired April 2, 1956.[6] She acted in the feature film Girls Town (1959 film), which she later described as "an awful picture".[7]

1960s to 1980s


Donahue played Georgiana Balanger, the niece of George and Martha Wilson, in the episode "Dennis and the Wedding" (1960) on Dennis the Menace.[8] Donahue was also cast, in 1960, with Marion Ross in an episode ("Duet") of The Brothers Brannagan. She played Miriam Welby on ABC's The Odd Couple, Jane Mulligan on Mulligan's Stew, and evil Nurse Hunnicut on Days of Our Lives.

George Nader (left), Elinor Donahue and Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show in 1961.

She was part of the main cast for the first season of CBS's The Andy Griffith Show, as Andy's pharmacist love interest Ellie Walker. She was even mentioned in the opening credits before Don Knotts. After one season (1960–1961), Donahue asked for a release from her three-year contract.[9]

In 1963, Donahue was cast in an episode of NBC's short-lived modern Western series, Redigo, with Richard Egan as the rancher Jim Redigo. Then she played in another Western series Have Gun Will Travel as Letty May in the episode "The Burning Tree".

In 1964, she appeared in the NBC TV series The Eleventh Hour, a medical drama dealing with psychiatry, starring Jack Ging and Ralph Bellamy, where she played the role of Melanie in the episode "The Secret in the Stone".

In 1966, she guest-starred on the TV series A Man Called Shenandoah, episode 8, "Town On Fire".

In 1967, she guest-appeared on Star Trek in the second-season episode "Metamorphosis" as commissioner Nancy Hedford.

Donahue portrayed the sister of Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) in three episodes of ABC's The Flying Nun (1968–70).

She portrayed Miriam Welby in 17 episodes of The Odd Couple (1972–75).

In 1977, she appeared in an episode of the ABC crime drama The Feather and Father Gang.

In 1978, Donahue starred in the NBC sitcom Please Stand By.

Nick Adams and Elinor Donahue on General Electric Theater in 1961.
Publicity photo of Elinor Donahue and Lawrence Pressman promoting the Tuesday, October 25, 1977 premiere of the NBC television series Mulligan's Stew

In 1979, she appeared on Diff'rent Strokes as a fiancée to Mr. Drummond in season 1.

In 1981, Donahue appeared in an episode of One Day at a Time, as Alex's mother Felicia.

In 1984, she made an appearance as Mrs. Broderick, the mother of a teenage drug addict on the last season of Happy Days.

In 1987, she played the title character's mother in the short-lived Fox series The New Adventures of Beans Baxter.

In 1988, she appeared in a Newhart episode ("Courtin' Disaster").

In 1989 she appeared in an episode of The Golden Girls as the newest wife of Dorothy Zbornak's ex-husband, Stan.

1990s and later


In 1990, she played Bridget, a Beverly Hills clothing-store manager, in the film Pretty Woman. Donahue played Gladys, the mother of Chris Peterson (Chris Elliott), in all 35 episodes of the sitcom Get a Life (1990–92), and had a recurring role as Rebecca Quinn on the CBS drama series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

In 1991, she portrayed the "Orphanage woman" in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.

In 1992, she voiced the mother on the Fox Kids animated series Eek! the Cat. In 1994, she made an appearance as Aunt Lillian in "The One Where Nana Dies Twice", an episode of Friends. She played the part of Lorraine, Luther Van Dam's girlfriend, in season five of Coach in the early 1990s.

In 1998, Donahue published a memoir titled In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue, in which she relived some of her memories of Hollywood along with providing more than 150 of her recipes.[10]

In September 2010, Donahue made an appearance on The Young and the Restless as Judge Anderson, one of Nikki Newman's old friends and also as the woman minister who will officiate at the wedding of Billy Abbott and Nikki's daughter, Victoria Newman. The wedding took place in front of the Abbotts' new home, which just happened to be a replica of the Anderson house from Father Knows Best.

In 2015, Donahue played the role of Mrs. Chumley in Judson Theatre Company's production of the Pulitzer Prize play Harvey by Mary Chase. Donahue called the role her "swan song".[11]

Personal life


Donahue was married three times. Her first husband was sound producer Richard Smith whom she married in 1955. She had one son with him. They divorced in 1961.[12] Her second marriage, to producer Harry Ackerman, who was 25 years older, was in 1962 at the Court of Liberty. He was the adoptive father of her son from her first marriage, and Donahue and he had three sons together. Ackerman died in 1991.[13] As a memorial and resource for the history of American television, Donahue donated Ackerman's personal papers to the Rauner Library at Dartmouth College, his alma mater.[14] In 1992, she married actor Lou Genevrino.[12]




Year Title Role
1943 Mister Big Muggsy
1943 Honeymoon Lodge Janie Thomas
1944 Bowery to Broadway Young Bessie Jo
1944 And Now Tomorrow Janice - age 4
1946 Winter Wonderland Betty Wheeler
1947 The Unfinished Dance Josie
1948 Three Daring Daughters Alix Morgan
1948 Tenth Avenue Angel Cynthia
1948 The Arkansas Swing Toni MacGregor
1949 An Old-Fashioned Girl Maud Shaw
1950 The Happy Years Connie Brown
1950 Tea for Two Lynne Smith
1950 My Blue Heaven Mary
1951 Her First Romance Lucille Stewart
1952 Love Is Better Than Ever Pattie Marie Levoy
1959 Girls Town Mary Lee Morgan
1983 Going Berserk Margaret Anderson
1990 Pretty Woman Bridget
2004 The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement Lady Palimore


Year Title Role Notes
1954–60 Father Knows Best Betty Anderson Main role
1955 Lux Video Theatre Helen Richards Episode: "The Life of Emile Zola"
1955 Letter to Loretta Debbie Waring / Janey 2 episodes
1956 The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show Emily Vanderlip Foster Episode: "The Newlyweds"
1956 Ford Theatre Katherine Casey Episode: "Sheila"
1958 U.S. Marshal Martha Watson Episode: "Shoot to Kill"
1960 Goodyear Theatre Connie Peters Episode: "Marked Down for Connie"
1960 Dennis the Menace Georgiana Balanger Episode: "Dennis and the Wedding"
1960 The Brothers Brannagan Kate Warren Episode: "Duet"
1960–61 The Andy Griffith Show Elinor "Ellie" Walker Main cast (season 1)
1961 General Electric Theater Carol Madsen Episode: "A Voice on the Phone"
1961 The United States Steel Hour Fran Crowell Episode: "Delayed Honeymoon"
1963 77 Sunset Strip Laura Holt Episode: "Scream Softly, Dear"
1963 Have Gun – Will Travel Letty Mae Stinchcomb Episode: "The Burning Tree"
1963 Dr. Kildare Sharon Calloway Episode: "Ship's Doctor"
1963 Redigo Joanie-Mae Kilpatrick Episode: "Hostage Hero Riding"
1963 The Virginian Carole Cole Episode: "Siege"
1964 The Eleventh Hour Melanie Episode: "The Secret in the Stone"
1964–65 Many Happy Returns Joan Randall Main role
1965 A Man Called Shenandoah Julie Wade Episode: "Town on Fire"
1967 Occasional Wife Linda Sue Episode: "Oil, Be Seeing You"
1967 Star Trek: The Original Series Nancy Hedford Episode: "Metamorphosis"
1968–70 The Flying Nun Dr. Jennifer Ethrington 3 episodes
1969 In Name Only Esther Garrity TV film
1972 Gidget Gets Married Medley Blaine TV film
1972–75 The Odd Couple Miriam Welby Recurring role
1974 If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever? Alice Bennett TV film
1974 Police Woman Ellie Tarlow Episode: "Warning: All Wives"
1974 The Rookies Amanda Episode: "Blue Christmas"
1975 Petrocelli Joan Hiller Episode: "Vengeance in White"
1976 S.W.A.T. Marjorie Kemp Episode: "Lessons in Fear"
1977 The Feather and Father Gang Julie Episode: "The People's Choice"
1977 The Father Knows Best Reunion Betty Anderson TV film
1977 Insight Margaret Drill Episode: "Christmas 2025"
1977 Mulligan's Stew Jane Mulligan Main role
1977 Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas Betty Anderson TV film
1977 Police Story Camille Tackleberry Episode: "Ice Time"
1978 Police Story Joan Anderson Episode: "No Margin for Error"
1978 Doctors' Private Lives Mona Wise TV film
1979 Please Stand By Carol Lambert TV series
1979 Diff'rent Strokes Diane Sloane Episode: "The Woman"
1980 Condominium Audrey Ames TV film
1980 Barnaby Jones Judy Corbett Episode: "The Silent Accuser"
1981 Mork & Mindy Dr. Joni Lincoln Episode: "Mindy and Mork"
1981 The Grady Nutt Show Ellie Williams TV film
1981 One Day at a Time Felicia Episode: "Alex Moves In"
1981 Fantasy Island Madge Nolan / Blanche Barrens 2 episodes
1982 The Dukes of Hazzard Marjorie Dane Episode: "The Sound of Music - Hazzard Style"
1983 High School U.S.A. Mrs. Franklin TV film
1983 Hotel Louise Episode: "Deceptions"
1984 No Earthly Reason Mrs. Morrison TV film
1984 Happy Days Mrs. Broderick Episode: "School Dazed"
1984–85 Days of Our Lives Kate Honeycutt Guest role
1986 Riptide Elaine Warwick Episode: "Echoes"
1987 The Love Boat Betty Anderson Episode: "Who Killed Maxwell Thorn?"
1987 The New Adventures of Beans Baxter Susan Baxter Regular role
1988 CBS Schoolbreak Special Laura Donovan Episode: "Never Say Goodbye"
1988 Newhart Irma Episode: "Courtin' Disaster"
1989 The Golden Girls Katherine Episode: "Stan Takes a Wife"
1989 Generations Sylvia Furth TV series
1989 Santa Barbara Dr. Anderson 2 episodes
1990 Murder, She Wrote Connie Lewis Episode: "The Szechuan Dragon"
1990–92 Get a Life Gladys Peterson Main role
1992 Herman's Head Mrs. Fitzer Episode: "A Charlie Brown Fitzer"
1992–93 Eek! The Cat Mom Voice
1993 The Legend of Prince Valiant Queen Eleanora Voice, episode: "The Jubilee"
1993 Coach Lorraine 2 episodes
1993 Biker Mice from Mars Munsterella Voice, episode: "A Scent, a Memory, a Far Distant Cheese"
1993–97 Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Rebecca Quinn Recurring role (seasons 2–6)
1994 Friends Aunt Lillian Episode: "The One Where Nana Dies Twice"
1995 The Invaders Norma Winters 2 episodes
1996 Ellen Delores Warwell Episode: "The Tape"
1999 Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story Mrs. Lebowitz TV film
2001 Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Heart Within Rebecca Quinn Dickinson TV film
2005 Cold Case Esther 'Legs' Davis Episode: "Colors"
2010–11 The Young and the Restless Judge Marie Anderson Guest role (4 episodes)


Year Title Publisher Category Notes
1998 In the Kitchen With Elinor Donahue: Favorite Memories and Recipes from a Life in Hollywood Cumberland House Memoir / Nonfiction Paperback [10]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1959 11th Primetime Emmy Awards Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Father Knows Best Nominated
2004 TV Land Award Legend Award The Andy Griffith Show Won


  1. ^ Armstrong, Lois (September 28, 1987). "Elinor Donahue of Father Knows Best Is a Mother to Six, Plus Beans Baxter". People. Archived from the original on September 22, 2016. Retrieved June 2, 2024.
  2. ^ "Donahue, Elinor 1937–". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved May 13, 2022.
  3. ^ Pilato, Herbie J. (September 9, 2014). Glamour, Gidgets, and the Girl Next Door: Television's Iconic Women from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-58979-970-7.
  4. ^ Nolasco, Stephanie (May 3, 2018). "'Father Knows Best' star Elinor Donahue explains why beloved series ended: 'I was sad and disappointed'". Fox News.
  5. ^ Jukebox Jury: Research Video, Inc.: Music Footing Licensing Agency and Vintage Television Footage Archive
  6. ^ "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show". TVGuide.com. Retrieved June 23, 2024.
  7. ^ "She's Still the Girl Next Door". TV Guide. January 9, 1960. Retrieved June 2, 2024 – via Father Knows Best.
  8. ^ "Dennis the Menace". TVGuide.com. Retrieved June 28, 2024.
  9. ^ Howard, Jennifer (April 25, 2006). The Interviews: Elinor Donahue. Archive of American Television. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Donahue, Elinor; Beck, Ken; Clark, Jim (February 25, 1998). In the Kitchen With Elinor Donahue: Favorite Memories and Recipes from a Life in Hollywood. Nashville, Tenn: Cumberland House. ISBN 978-1-8889-5292-6. Retrieved June 2, 2024.
  11. ^ Mullen, Rodger (September 13, 2015). "'Father Knows Best' star headed to Pinehurst". The Fayetteville Observer. Retrieved June 2, 2024.
  12. ^ a b Agate, Samantha. "'Father Knows Best' Actress Elinor Donahue Was Married 3 Times: Get to Know Her Husbands and Marriage History". closerweekly.com. a360 Media. Retrieved July 12, 2024.
  13. ^ "Catching Up with Elinor Donahue". Star Trek Discovery. CBS Entertainment. May 24, 2016. Retrieved December 12, 2018.
  14. ^ “Harry Ackerman papers, 1928-1990”, Rauner Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. Retrieved November 24, 2018.

Further reading

  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914–1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 58–59.