‘Father Knows Best’: Why Elinor Donahue Said the Beloved Series Came to an End

by Taylor Cunningham

During the 1950s, Father Knows Best was one of the most popular shows on television, and it landed in the top ten highest-ranked series on more than one occasion. But in 1960, it came to an abrupt end.

As Elinor Donahue told Fox News in 2018, the end of the classic TV series came as just as much of a surprise to her as it did to its audience. And apparently, the lead stars made the decision because of the 1960 Writers Guild of America strike.

The strike lasted from January to June of that year, and it stands as the second-largest union walkout in the history of Hollywood. The dispute centered around broadcast royalties for films that aired on television. And the problems soured Jim and Margaret’s actors to the industry.

“Miss Messenger called me and said, ‘You’re not going back anymore,’” Donahue, now 85, remembered. “Robert Young (Jim Anderson) and Jane Wyatt (Margaret Anderson) have retired and they don’t want to do it anymore. So they just stopped.’ We had enough episodes in the can to make an entire season without having to shoot any more; back then we were shooting 39 episodes a year.”

Young and Wyatt never contacted Donahue about their decision, which made the star “sad and disappointed” because the cast had grown close over the years. Several years passed before she saw them again. But when they reunited, she was able to forgive them for calling it quits on Father Knows Best.

“Jane Wyatt and I became very dear friends in the later parts of her life,” she continued. “And she told me they made the decision together.”

Luckily, Father Knows Best didn’t disappear into old archives like so many series of its era. To this day, the series remains popular in syndication, which gave Elinor Donahue a lasting legacy.

“I think the appeal of the show is the sweetness and the kindness that people had toward one another,” she said while speaking of its continued success. “It has a warmth and loving energy to it that was very special. There was no mean-spiritedness to it.”

And because of the fame that Donahue enjoyed due to the iconic series, she was able to move on after the cancellation. The star continued to stay busy throughout her life in blockbusters such as Pretty Women and hit shows like The Andy Griffith Show.

In fact, Elinor Donahue continued to work until she was 74, with her last role being in The Young and the Restless as Judge Marie Anderson.