‘Father Knows Best’ Actress Elinor Donahue Thought Her Acting Career Was Done Before Landing on Show

by Samantha Whidden
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She became a household name thanks to her role on Father Knows Best, but Elinor Donahue has admitted that she thought her acting career was actually done before she even started on the 1950’s sitcom. 

During a July 2020 interview with Closer Weekly, the Father Knows Best star state she had a very nice career as a child actress. “I had been on a contract to MGM and done a couple of nice movies there when I was 9, 10, 11 years old. But things didn’t seem to be going terribly well.”

The actress then shared that while she was still acting, she primarily was dancing in a chorus, like a Rockette sort of thing. “At about the time that I got Father Knows Best, I was due to go to Reno to be at Harrah’s Club to dance in their chorus,” Donahue recalled. “I loved dancing, and that was going to be my career as far as I was concerned.”

At the time Donahue’s agent, Lily Messenger, was notably determined she scored an audition for Father Knows Best. The actress then admitted that while she made it through the front door, the sitcom’s producer felt she was actually “too plain” for the role. So, she opted for a makeover. But once again, the producer criticized her looks. Only this time, she was too much of a “Hollywood starlet” for the role. 

Elinor Donahue Finally Gets Screen Tested for ‘Father Knows Best’

Finally, after being offered a screen test, Donahue told the media outlet she did not make a good impression. “I forgot my lines. I got nervous and started to cry,” she revealed. She also was doing a scene with Robert Young being off stage. “He was very nice. They wanted [me] to just say, ‘Thank you very much and goodbye.’ But he said, ‘You know, she’s nervous. Elinor, why don’t you come and sit over here? Would you like a Coca-Cola?’” 

After taking Young’s offer, the fellow actor helped Donahue calm down and she had her make-up touched up. Donahue thought she wouldn’t get a callback, but six weeks later, she was informed that she got the role. “I had completely forgotten bout it. I thought I’d blown the whole thing and literally put it out of my mind.”

In regards to how she thought Father Knows Best stood out, Donahue added she thought the appeal of the show is the sweetness and kinds that the characters had towards each other. She also described it as warmth and loving energy. 

Donahue went on to star on Father Knows Best along with Young, Jane Wyatt, Lauren Chapin, Billy Gray, and Sarah Selby. The show ran for six seasons and had a total of 203 episodes before ending on May 23, 1960. 

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