Mary Eleanor Donahue (born April 19, 1937), best known as Elinor Donahue, is an American actress. The naturally red-headed Donahue playedRobert Young's eldest/popular daughter, Betty Anderson, on the 1950s sitcom, Father Knows Best. She was married for nearly thirty years toproducer Harry Ackerman, whom she met on the set of that series. She and Harry Ackerman had three children together: Peter, James, and Christopher Ackerman.
Early life and career
Donahue was born in Tacoma, Washington, the daughter of Doris Genevieve (née Gelbaugh) and Thomas William Donahue. Her mother was a theatrical costumer, who moonlighted as a department store saleswoman in order to pay for her daughter's dancing lessons. 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. Donahue was a child actor working in vaudeville and had several bit parts in movies as a teenager, including Love Is Better Than Ever (1952), starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Father Knows Best
Main article: Father Knows Best
Donahue achieved stardom for her role as the elder daughter, Betty, on the television family series Father Knows Best. Her co-stars were Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Billy Gray, as her brother, James "Bud" Anderson, Jr., and Lauren Chapin, as the younger sister, Kathy or "Kitten".
Donahue has had roles on many television programs. She was a musical judge in ABC's Jukebox Jury (1953–54). While in the first season ofFather 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 also guest starred on John Bromfield's syndicated crime drama, U.S. Marshal.
Donahue portrayed Georgiana Balanger in the 1960 episode "Dennis and the Wedding" on the CBS sitcom, Dennis the Menace, with Jay North as the mischievous Dennis Mitchell. Balanger is the niece of Joseph Kearns's character, George Wilson, and Dennis is the ringbearer at her wedding.
Donahue was also cast in 1960 with Marion Ross in an episode ("Duet") of the syndicated crime drama series The Brothers Brannagan. She played Miriam Welby on ABC's The Odd Couple, Jane Mulligan on Mulligan's Stew, and Nurse Hunnicut on Days of our Lives. Donahue was featured in several episodes of CBS's The Andy Griffith Show as pharmacist Ellie Walker, even getting a mention in the opening credits. The character was intended to be a love interest for Sheriff Andy Taylor, but after one season (1960–1961), Donahue decided to ask for a release from her three-year contract.
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. In 1964, she appeared as Melanie in "The Secret in the Stone" in the NBC medical drama dealing with psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour, starring Jack Ging and Ralph Bellamy.
In the 1964–65 season, Donahue costarred as Joan Randall, the daughter of Walter Burnley, played by John McGiver, on the CBS sitcom, Many Happy Returns about the complaint department of a fictitious Los Angeles department store. Mark Goddard played her husband, Bob Randall, later a cast member of Lost in Space.
Donahue guest appeared on Star Trek in the second-season episode "Metamorphosis" in 1967. She played Commissioner Nancy Hedford alongside Glenn Corbett as Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive. Donahue portrayed as Miriam Welby 17 episodes, "The Odd Couple" 1972–75.
Donahue portrayed the sister, Dr. Jennifer Ethrington of Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) in three episodes of ABC's The Flying Nun from 1968 to 1970. In 1978, Donahue starred in the NBC sitcomPlease Stand By. In 1984, she made an appearance as Mrs. Broderick, the mother of a teenaged 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. Donahue appeared on an episode of The Golden Girls as Stanley Zbornak's third wife Katherine (1989).
She played one of the daughters in Three Daring Daughters in 1948.
1990s and later
In 1990, she played the part of "Bridget," a Beverly Hills clothing store manager, in the film Pretty Woman.
Donahue played Gladys, the mother of Chris Peterson (Chris Elliott), on 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 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 on Friends.
In 1998, Donahue published a memoir entitled 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.
Donahue appeared in the 3rd season episode of Cold Case called Colors in which she played Ester 'Legs' Davis, girlfriend of a Negro League baseball player.
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.