‘Father Knows Best’ Star Elinor Donahue Opened Up About Returning to Show After Cutting Off Hair

by Taylor Cunningham

After becoming a new mother, Elinor Donahue traded in her signature ponytail for a pixie cut. And when the Father Knows Best producers saw her transformation, they were shocked.

During an Archive of American Television segment, the Betty Anderson actress explained how difficult it was to grow up on-screen. And she shared that as soon as she turned 19, she was determined to become a bonafide adult—and fast.

In her mind, that meant that she needed to get married and have a baby. So she resided herself to marrying the first man who asked for her hand. And before long, the Father Knows Best sound producer took her to a movie, confessed that he loved her, and said he’d like to be her husband. So Donahue said, “ok.”

With that, they ran off to Vegas to say “I do” then she quickly fell pregnant with her first son, Brian. And the rash decisions caused some problems with her career.

Robert Young “didn’t want [Donahue] on the show” anymore. And he told the mother-to-be to go to college.

Elinor Donahue Wore a Fake Ponytail While Filming ‘Father Knows Best’

Thinking she was done with Father Knows Best, Donahue decided to cut all of her hair off “because it was easier with a new baby to have real short hair.”

“And I was perfectly happy, truth to tell, just being a mommy,” she gushed. “And it was a wonderful few weeks of time with that baby.”

But not long after chopping off her hair, the show called and told Donahue that she needed to go back to work.

“‘What?’ I said, ‘but I cut off my ponytail,” she remembered telling the secretary. “She said, ‘don’t tell them. Just show up.’”

So, the actress did as she was told and walked onto the set of Father Knows Best without her long, brown hair.

“That was a big shock,’ Donahue laughed. “There was nothing they could do but use my short hair. So there are a few episodes of me with kind of shortage hair fashioned [with] a ponytail—a false ponytail.”

But how did that work in the 1950s? According to Donahue, the stylists fluffed her real hair and then “sort of glued” the faux tail onto the back of her head.

And it took about a year before her hair was long enough to go into a real ponytail, so the show had to keep up the charade all that time. But the actress didn’t mind. She actually preferred the fake style over her real hair.

“It was actually quite convenient. It was much easier to pin on that ponytail.”

And though she did agree to bring back her iconic style, she only did to a point. From the time that Brian was born until 1960, Donahue relied on the pin on hair to completely fill out the tail.

“It was much easier,” she admitted with a shrug.