The Andy Griffith Show fans likely know Elinor Donahue was one of Andy’s girlfriends on the show. What you may not know is she spent much of her career seeking roles like that to escape the popularity of one of her previous ones.
If you don’t recall Donahue from The Andy Griffith Show, chances are you remember her from Father Knows Best. Playing Robert Young’s daughter, Betty Anderson, she was a series mainstay. Despite her enjoying the role, she struggled to break free from being seen as Betty, MeTV reports.
Speaking to The Morning News Tribune in 1987, Donahue said “I never wanted to be a big star.” As such, she took supporting parts on shows like The Andy Griffith Show, Star Trek, The Odd Couple, and The Flying Nun. Luckily, the perfect role for her, as well as one to help dissipate her Betty persona, came with Mulligan’s Stew. The show featured a couple with three kids who adopt four more after an accident. Donahue played the mother, an important supportive role, but not one that stole the spotlight from others.
Sadly, it aired on Tuesdays and competed with incredibly popular shows like Soap and M*A*S*H. It quickly got canceled, after only six weeks of air time. “I thought it was the show that would divorce me from Betty Anderson forever,” Elinor Donahue told The Detroit Free Press in 1978.
Nonetheless, she took everything in stride. “I’ve been in the business long enough to have a good perspective and take things as they come,” she told The York Dispatch in 1977. “There’s little that bothers me, which is reflected in my interviews, I know, and makes me come off Pollyanna-ish. But to tell you the truth, that’s actually how I feel about life.”
Elinor Donahue Refutes Andy Griffith’s Claim That he ‘Didn’t Know How to Write’ for Her Character
Elinor Donahue may have wanted to escape being Betty Anderson, but she really enjoyed playing Ellie Walker. In fact, when Andy Griffith said he “didn’t know how to write” for her character, she quickly denied the claim.
In an Archive of American Television interview, Donahue talked about what it was like working with him. “He was the boss, but in a good way. Excellent person. Nice person.”
Donahue also references the fact Griffith stated he never really knew how to write for women characters. “He has since said he didn’t know how to write for me. I don’t think that’s true. It’s very kind of him to say, but I didn’t give them anything to write for. That was his excuse for that,” she said.
Ellie Walker was a drug store pharmacist in the show and was Andy’s first girlfriend on the show.