Elinor Donahue

Actress


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In her three-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Elinor Donahue talks about growing up as a performer in radio and vaudeville, and outlines her early film career in the films "Mister Big" and "The Unfinished Dance." She describes appearing in early experimental television for Klaus Landsberg (under hot lights and wearing unusual make-up) and speaks fondly of Ray Bolger, whom she danced with on The Ray Bolger Show. She details her role as teenager "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on the classic 1950s television sitcom Father Knows Best, and chronicles auditioning for the role, the long production hours, and the series' abrupt cancellation. She recalls working with series producer Eugene Rodney, whom she describes as a "benevolent despot, demanding strict adherence to the script. Donahue discusses working with fictional father Robert Young, "mother" Jane Wyatt and "siblings" Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin. She talks of her marriage to the sound man on the series and working on the show until six weeks before the birth of her first child, disguising her pregnancy from the cameras. Donahue then recalls her role as "Andy Taylor's" love interest, "Ellie May Walker," on The Andy Griffith Show, and describes the atmosphere on the Griffith set. She recounts tales of two other recurring parts, those of "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple and "Rebecca" on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. She discusses playing the mother of 30-year-old paperboy Chris Elliot on Get A Life and how she read for the part as if she were speaking to a twelve-year-old, not knowing that Elliot would be playing an adult lead. Donahue also talks about her many guest appearances on various series over the years, including The Loretta Young Show, Star Trek, and Ellen. Jennifer Howard conducted the interview on April 25, 2006 in Burbank, CA.

"Until I was 18, which was shortly after we started filming 'Father Knows Best,' the day of my 18th birthday, they brought in a cake at 5 o'clock sang 'Happy Birthday,' and said, 'Ha-ha now you don't get to go home. Now you'll work late like the rest of us!'"

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best
Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air
Elinor Donahue on the reason for her short-lived role as "Ellie May Walker" on The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Bridget" in Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her childhood and early influences; on her very early start in show business; on working in Vaudeville; on her first feature films; on being put under contract at Universal; on family friend Dick Lane's friendship with Klaus Landsberg and her start in experimental television
On getting an MGM contract; on auditioning for the film "Unfinished Dance" with Margaret O'Brien

Chapter 2

On doing local Los Angeles television; on changing her name from Mary Elinor to Elinor; on a judge not approving her 7 year contract extension at MGM
On performing on Matinee Theater and The Ray Bolger Show; on local LA shows; on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best; on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children

Chapter 3

On Father Knows Best producer Eugene B. Rodney; on the writers, her wardrobe, and her character, "Betty Anderson"; on "Betty's" relationship to her parents, her nickname, and interests; on working with her on-screen "siblings"
On a typical production week on Father Knows Best; on her favorite episodes; on the producers' reactions to her real-life pregnancy and wearing a wig when she cut off her ponytail; on why the show went off the air; on a reunion

Chapter 4

On Father Knows Best reunion shows; on the popularity of the show long after it ended; on her roles after Father Knows Best went off the air; on her husband, Harry Ackerman
On on appearing in Lux Video Theatre's "The Life of Emile Zola"; on appearing on The Loretta Young Show and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show; on the reason for her short-lived role as "Ellie May Walker" on The Andy Griffith Show; on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show; on attending Andy Griffith Show reunions and conventions

Chapter 5

On appearances on Dennis the Menace, General Electric Theater's "A Voice on the Phone", and Many Happy Returns; on guest-starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis"
On appearing on The Flying Nun; on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple; on guest appearances on Mulligan's Stew, Please Stand By, Diff'rent Strokes, Fantasy Island, Mork & Mindy, and Hotel

Chapter 6

On appearing on The Love Boat; on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives; on an unpleasant experience while appearing on Santa Barbara; on appearances on The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, Newhart, and The Golden Girls
On her role as "Bridget" in Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman"; on her role on Get a Life (and how she didn't know her son was a 30-year-old paperboy); on Harry Ackerman's death

Chapter 7

On her appearances on Coach, Ellen, Friends, and Cold Case; on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
On her acting style; on the longevity of her career; on the highlight of her career; on how she'd like to be remembered
B-roll pictures from her movie and film career
Shows

Andy Griffith Show, The

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Elinor Donahue on the reason for her short-lived role as "Ellie May Walker" on The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on working on The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts

Bewitched

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Elinor Donahue on husband, Harry Ackerman

Coach

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Elinor Donahue on her appearances on Coach

Cold Case

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Elinor Donahue on her role on Cold Case

Days of Our Lives

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her as "Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives

Dennis the Menace

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Dennis the Menace

Diff'rent Strokes

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

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Elinor Donahue on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

Ellen

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Ellen

Fantasy Island

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Fantasy Island

Father Knows Best

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best; on her familiarity with the radio show and working with Robert Young
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best producer Eugene B. Rodney, her wardrobe, her character, "Betty Anderson," and "Betty's" relationship to her parents and siblings
Elinor Donahue on a typical production week on Father Knows Best and the popularity of the show; on her favorite episodes, real-life pregnancy, and why the show went off the air and a reunion show
Elinor Donahue on why the popularity of Father Knows Best continues on
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best

Father Knows Best Reunion Specials

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Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows

Flying Nun, The

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Elinor Donahue on husband, Harry Ackerman
Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Flying Nun

Friends

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Friends

General Electric Theater, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on General Electric Theater's "A Voice on the Phone"

George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Get a Life

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Elinor Donahue on her role on Get a Life (and how she didn't know her son was a 30-year-old paperboy)
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Get a Life's Bob Elliot

Golden Girls, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls

Hotel

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Hotel

Leave it to Beaver

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Elinor Donahue on husband, Harry Ackerman

Loretta Young Show, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Loretta Young Show

Love Boat, The

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat

Lux Video Theatre

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Elinor Donahue on appearing in Lux Video Theatre's "The Life of Emile Zola"

Many Happy Returns

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on sitcom Many Happy Returns

Mork & Mindy

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy

Mulligan Stew

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Mulligan Stew

My Favorite Husband

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Elinor Donahue on having a role on My Favorite Husband

NBC Matinee Theater

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Elinor Donahue on performing on Matinee Theater

New Adventures of Beans Baxter, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The New Adventures of Beans Baxter
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with cast member of The New Adventures of Beans Baxter

Newhart

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Newhart

Odd Couple, The (1970-75)

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Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall of The Odd Couple

Please Stand By

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Please Stand By

Ray Bolger Show, The

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Elinor Donahue on performing on The Ray Bolger Show

Santa Barbara

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Elinor Donahue on an unpleasant experience while appearing on Santa Barbara

Star Trek

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best character, "Betty Anderson"
Elinor Donahue on the reason for her short-lived role as "Ellie May Walker" on The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives

Emmy Awards

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Elinor Donahue on being asked to be a judge for the Miss Emmy contest

Memorable Moments on Television

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Elinor Donahue on singing with Andy Griffith on a Christmas episode of The Andy Griffith Show

Pop Culture

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best character, "Betty Anderson"
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives

Technological Innovation

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Elinor Donahue on family friend Dick Lane's friendship with Klaus Landsberg and her start in experimental television
Professions

Actress

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Elinor Donahue on her very early start in show business

Performers

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Elinor Donahue on her very early start in show business
Genres

Comedy Series

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best; on her familiarity with the radio show
Elinor Donahue on production, storylines, and the end of Father Knows Best
Elinor Donahue on working on The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
Elinor Donahue on her role on Get a Life (and how she didn't know her son was a 30-year-old paperboy)

Daytime/Primetime Serials

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives

Drama Series

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Elinor Donahue on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

Sci-Fi/Supernatural Series

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)
People

Harry Ackerman

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Elinor Donahue on Harry Ackerman
Elinor Donahue on an unpleasant experience while appearing on Santa Barbara
Elinor Donahue on Harry Ackerman's death
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher

Nick Adams

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on General Electric Theater's "A Voice on the Phone"

Gracie Allen

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Beatrice Arthur

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls

William Asher

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher

Frances Bavier

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show

Anne Baxter

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Hotel

Ray Bolger

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Elinor Donahue on performing on The Ray Bolger Show
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Ray Bolger

George Burns

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

James Burrows

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Friends

Lauren Chapin

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Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "mother" Jane Wyatt and the family dynamic on the show
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "sister" Lauren Chapin
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best

Lee J. Cobb

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Elinor Donahue on appearing in Lux Video Theatre's "The Life of Emile Zola"

Gary Coleman

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes

Glenn Corbett

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)

Ellen DeGeneres

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Ellen

Barry Diller

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The New Adventures of Beans Baxter

Shirley Dinsdale

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Elinor Donahue on watching Shirley Dinsdale's show as a child

Chris Elliott

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Elinor Donahue on her role on Get a Life (and how she didn't know her son was a 30-year-old paperboy)

Bob Elliott

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Elinor Donahue on her role on Get a Life (and how she didn't know her son was a 30-year-old paperboy)

Sally Field

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Flying Nun

Walter E. Grauman

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Elinor Donahue on performing on Matinee Theater and having a crush on director Walter Grauman

Billy Gray

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Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "mother" Jane Wyatt and the family dynamic on the show
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "brother" Billy Gray
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best

Andy Griffith

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on favorite episodes of and singing with Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Andy Griffith

Deidre Hall

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Elinor Donahue on working with Deidre Hall on Days of Our Lives

Ron Howard

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show

Gloria Jean

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Muggsy" in the Donald O'Connor film "Mr. Big"

Spike Jones

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Elinor Donahue on going to see the Spike Jones Radio Show

DeForest Kelley

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley on Star Trek

Jack Klugman

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Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall of The Odd Couple

Don Knotts

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts

Bernie Kopell

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat

Joanna Lee

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Mulligan's Stew

Sheldon Leonard

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Elinor Donahue on working on The Andy Griffith Show

Betty Lynn

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show

Gavin MacLeod

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat

Garry Marshall

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Bridget" in Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman"

Joseph Mascolo

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Elinor Donahue on working with Joseph Mascolo on Days of Our Lives

Louis B. Mayer

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Elinor Donahue on auditioning for the film "Unfinished Dance" with Margaret O'Brien

Rue McClanahan

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls

John McGiver

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Elinor Donahue on appearing with John McGiver on sitcom Many Happy Returns
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with John McGiver

Elizabeth Montgomery

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher

Leonard Nimoy

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley on Star Trek

Jay North

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jay North of Dennis the Menace

Margaret O'Brien

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Elinor Donahue on auditioning for the film "Unfinished Dance" with Margaret O'Brien
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Margaret O'Brien

Donald O'Connor

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Muggsy" in the Donald O'Connor film "Mr. Big"
Elinor Donahue on a movie series with Donald O'Connor

Tom Poston

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Newhart

Lawrence Pressman

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Lawrence Pressman

Tony Randall

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Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall of The Odd Couple

Julia Roberts

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Bridget" in Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman"

Gene Roddenberry

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)

Eugene B. Rodney

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Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best producer Eugene B. Rodney
Elinor Donahue on the producers' reactions to her real-life pregnancy and wearing a wig when she cut off her ponytail

Jane Seymour

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Elinor Donahue on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

William Shatner

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)

Jean Simmons

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Hotel

Aaron Spelling

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat

Marcy Walker

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Elinor Donahue on an unpleasant experience while appearing on Santa Barbara

Betty White

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls

Robin Williams

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy

Jane Wyatt

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Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "mother" Jane Wyatt and the family dynamic on the show
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
Elinor Donahue on the highlight of her career
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jane Wyatt from Father Knows Best

Robert Young

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Elinor Donahue on auditioning with Robert Young for Father Knows Best
Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
Elinor Donahue on Robert Young's role as a producer on Father Knows Best
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
Elinor Donahue on the highlight of her career
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best

Loretta Young

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Loretta Young Show

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