Mary Eleanor Donahue (born April 19, 1937), credited as Elinor Donahue, is an American actress, best remembered today for playing the role of Betty Anderson, the eldest child of Jim and Margaret Anderson (Robert Young and Jane Wyatt), on the 1950s American sitcom Father Knows Best.
Donahue in 1960
Mary Eleanor Donahue
April 19, 1937
|Other names||Mary Elinor Donahue|
|Spouse(s)||Richard Smith (1955–61; divorced)|
Harry Ackerman (1962–91; his death)
Lou Genevrino (1992–present)
|Children||Children: Christopher Ackerman (May 16, 1978), James Ackerman, Brian Ackerman (1957), Peter Ackerman (1962)|
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.
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 and had several bit parts in movies as a teenager, including Love Is Better Than Ever (1952), starring Elizabeth Taylor. 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
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 younger brother, James "Bud" Anderson, Jr., and Lauren Chapin as her younger sister, Kathy.
Donahue was a musical judge in ABC's Jukebox Jury (1953–54). 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.
1960s to 1980s
Donahue played Georgiana Balanger in the episode "Dennis and the Wedding" (1960) on Dennis the Menace. 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 Nurse Hunnicut on Days of Our Lives.
She was featured in 12 episodes of CBS's The Andy Griffith Show as lady 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; then 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.
Additionally, in 1963, she played Letty May in the episode "The Burning Tree" on Have Gun Will Travel.
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. She guest-appeared on Star Trek in the second-season episode "Metamorphosis" (1967) as commissioner Nancy Hedford.
In 1966, she guest-starred on the TV series A Man Called Shenandoah, episode 8, "Town On Fire."
Donahue portrayed Miriam Welby in 17 episodes of The Odd Couple (1972–75).
Donahue appeared in a 1981 episode of One Day at a Time, as Alex's mother Felicia.
Donahue portrayed the sister of Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) in three episodes of ABC's The Flying Nun (1968–70). 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.
In 1979, she appeared on Diff'rent Strokes as a fiance to Mr. Drummond in season 1.
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. In 1988, she appeared in a Newhart episode ("Courtin' Disaster") and appeared (in a 1989 episode) on 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 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 Abbott's new home, which just happened to be a replica of the Anderson house from Father Knows Best.
|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|
|2004||The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement||Lady Palimore|
|1954–1960||Father Knows Best||Betty Anderson||Main role|
|1955||Lux Video Theatre||Helen Richards||"The Life of Emile Zola"|
|1955||Letter to Loretta||Debbie Waring / Janey||"He Always Comes Home", "Week-End in Winnetka"|
|1956||The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show||Emily Vanderlip Foster||"The Newlyweds"|
|1956||Ford Theatre||Katherine Casey||"Sheila"|
|1958||U.S. Marshal||Martha Watson||"Shoot to Kill"|
|1960||Goodyear Theatre||Connie Peters||"Marked Down for Connie"|
|1960||Dennis the Menace||Georgiana Balanger||"Dennis and the Wedding"|
|1960||The Brothers Brannagan||Kate Warren||"Duet"|
|1960–61||The Andy Griffith Show||Elinor "Ellie" Walker||Recurring role|
|1961||General Electric Theater||Carol Madsen||"A Voice on the Phone"|
|1961||The United States Steel Hour||Fran Crowell||"Delayed Honeymoon"|
|1963||77 Sunset Strip||Laura Holt||"Scream Softly, Dear"|
|1963||Have Gun – Will Travel||Letty Mae Stinchcomb||"The Burning Tree"|
|1963||Dr. Kildare||Sharon Calloway||"Ship's Doctor"|
|1963||Redigo||Joanie-Mae Kilpatrick||"Hostage Hero Riding"|
|1963||The Virginian||Carole Cole||"Siege"|
|1964||The Eleventh Hour||Melanie||"The Secret in the Stone"|
|1964–65||Many Happy Returns||Joan Randall||Main role|
|1965||A Man Called Shenandoah||Julie Wade||"Town on Fire"|
|1967||Occasional Wife||Linda Sue||"Oil, Be Seeing You"|
|1967||Star Trek: The Original Series||Nancy Hedford||"Metamorphosis"|
|1968–1970||The Flying Nun||Dr. Jennifer Ethrington||"My Sister, the Sister", "How to Be a Spanish Grandmother", "My Sister, the Doctor"|
|1969||In Name Only||Esther Garrity||TV film|
|1972||Gidget Gets Married||Medley Blaine||TV film|
|1972–1975||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||"Warning: All Wives"|
|1974||The Rookies||Amanda||"Blue Christmas"|
|1975||Petrocelli||Joan Hiller||"Vengeance in White"|
|1976||S.W.A.T.||Marjorie Kemp||"Lessons in Fear"|
|1977||The Feather and Father Gang||Julie||"The People's Choice"|
|1977||The Father Knows Best Reunion||Betty Anderson||TV film|
|1977||Insight||Margaret Drill||"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||"Ice Time"|
|1978||Police Story||Joan Anderson||"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||"The Woman"|
|1980||Condominium||Audrey Ames||TV film|
|1980||Barnaby Jones||Judy Corbett||"The Silent Accuser"|
|1981||Mork & Mindy||Dr. Joni Lincoln||"Mindy and Mork"|
|1981||The Grady Nutt Show||Ellie Williams||TV film|
|1981||One Day at a Time||Felicia||"Alex Moves In"|
|1981||Fantasy Island||Madge Nolan / Blanche Barrens||2 episodes|
|1982||The Dukes of Hazzard||Marjorie Dane||"The Sound of Music - Hazzard Style"|
|1983||High School U.S.A.||Mrs. Franklin||TV film|
|1984||No Earthly Reason||Mrs. Morrison||TV film|
|1984||Happy Days||Mrs. Broderick||"School Dazed"|
|1984–85||Days of Our Lives||Kate Honeycutt||Guest role|
|1987||The Love Boat||Betty Anderson||"Who Killed Maxwell Thorn?"|
|1987||The New Adventures of Beans Baxter||Susan Baxter||Regular role|
|1988||CBS Schoolbreak Special||Laura Donovan||"Never Say Goodbye"|
|1989||The Golden Girls||Katherine||"Stan Takes a Wife"|
|1989||Generations||Sylvia Furth||TV series|
|1989||Santa Barbara||Dr. Anderson||"1.1278", "1.1277"|
|1990||Murder, She Wrote||Connie Lewis||"The Szechuan Dragon"|
|1990–1992||Get a Life||Gladys Peterson||Main role|
|1992||Herman's Head||Mrs. Fitzer||"A Charlie Brown Fitzer"|
|1992–93||Eek!stravaganza||Mom (voice)||TV series|
|1993||The Legend of Prince Valiant||Queen Eleanora (voice)||"The Jubilee"|
|1993||Coach||Lorraine||"Burden of the Burleighs", "Luthario"|
|1993||Biker Mice from Mars||Munsterella (voice)||"A Scent, a Memory, a Far Distant Cheese"|
|1993–1997||Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman||Rebecca Quinn||Recurring role (seasons 2–6)|
|1994||Friends||Aunt Lillian||"The One Where Nana Dies Twice"|
|1995||The Invaders||Norma Winters||"1.1", "1.2"|
|1996||Ellen||Delores Warwell||"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||"Colors"|
|2010–11||The Young and the Restless||Judge Marie Anderson||Guest role (4 episodes)|
- Profile, people.com; accessed April 19, 2014.
- "Elinor Donahue Biography". FilmReference.com.
- Jukebox Jury: Research Video, Inc.: Music Footing Licensing Agency and Vintage Television Footage Archive
- ""The Newlyweds", April 2, 1956". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- ""Dennis and the Wedding", October 9, 1960". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
- "Archive of American Television". Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Donahue, E. (1998). In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue. ISBN 1-888952-92-X
- Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 58–59.
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