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!'"

Highlights
Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best
04:55
Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
01:48
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air
03:17
Elinor Donahue on the reason for her short-lived role as "Ellie May Walker" on The Andy Griffith Show
02:22
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
01:33
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Bridget" in Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman"
02:37
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
19:43
On getting an MGM contract; on auditioning for the film "Unfinished Dance" with Margaret O'Brien
08:31

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
08:18
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
20:38

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"
13:54
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
14:17

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
10:30
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
17:30

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"
10:40
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
16:54

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
16:52
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
12:33

Chapter 7

On her appearances on Coach, Ellen, Friends, and Cold Case; on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
09:20
On her acting style; on the longevity of her career; on the highlight of her career; on how she'd like to be remembered
03:39
B-roll pictures from her movie and film career
07:18
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
02:22
Elinor Donahue on working on The Andy Griffith Show
09:17
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts
00:28

Bewitched

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Elinor Donahue on husband, Harry Ackerman
01:46

Coach

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Elinor Donahue on her appearances on Coach
00:35

Cold Case

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Elinor Donahue on her role on Cold Case
00:34

Days of Our Lives

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
06:12
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her as "Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
00:16

Dennis the Menace

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Dennis the Menace
00:29

Diff'rent Strokes

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes
00:48

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

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Elinor Donahue on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
03:53
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
00:38

Ellen

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Ellen
01:31

Fantasy Island

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Fantasy Island
00:31

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
07:36
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
13:54
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
14:17
Elinor Donahue on why the popularity of Father Knows Best continues on
01:00
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
04:21
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best
00:14

Father Knows Best Reunion Specials

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Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
04:21

Flying Nun, The

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Elinor Donahue on husband, Harry Ackerman
01:46
Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Flying Nun
00:37

Friends

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Friends
02:49

General Electric Theater, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on General Electric Theater's "A Voice on the Phone"
01:16

George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
00:36

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)
09:35
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Get a Life's Bob Elliot
00:18

Golden Girls, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls
00:41

Hotel

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Hotel
01:16

Leave it to Beaver

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Elinor Donahue on husband, Harry Ackerman
01:46

Loretta Young Show, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Loretta Young Show
01:12

Love Boat, The

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat
01:54

Lux Video Theatre

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Elinor Donahue on appearing in Lux Video Theatre's "The Life of Emile Zola"
02:08

Many Happy Returns

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on sitcom Many Happy Returns
03:18

Mork & Mindy

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy
01:15

Mulligan Stew

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Mulligan Stew
04:54

My Favorite Husband

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Elinor Donahue on having a role on My Favorite Husband
01:11

NBC Matinee Theater

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Elinor Donahue on performing on Matinee Theater
05:10

New Adventures of Beans Baxter, The

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The New Adventures of Beans Baxter
02:32
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with cast member of The New Adventures of Beans Baxter
00:37

Newhart

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Newhart
00:33

Odd Couple, The (1970-75)

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Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
05:01
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall of The Odd Couple
00:19

Please Stand By

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Please Stand By
01:01

Ray Bolger Show, The

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Elinor Donahue on performing on The Ray Bolger Show
02:31

Santa Barbara

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Elinor Donahue on an unpleasant experience while appearing on Santa Barbara
05:00

Star Trek

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)
05:37
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best
04:55
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best character, "Betty Anderson"
00:36
Elinor Donahue on the reason for her short-lived role as "Ellie May Walker" on The Andy Griffith Show
02:22
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
01:33

Emmy Awards

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Elinor Donahue on being asked to be a judge for the Miss Emmy contest
00:38

Memorable Moments on Television

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Elinor Donahue on singing with Andy Griffith on a Christmas episode of The Andy Griffith Show
02:07

Pop Culture

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best
04:55
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best character, "Betty Anderson"
00:36
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
01:33

Technological Innovation

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Elinor Donahue on family friend Dick Lane's friendship with Klaus Landsberg and her start in experimental television
04:29
Professions

Actress

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Elinor Donahue on her very early start in show business
02:40

Performers

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Elinor Donahue on her very early start in show business
02:40
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best; on her familiarity with the radio show
07:36
Elinor Donahue on production, storylines, and the end of Father Knows Best
28:11
Elinor Donahue on working on The Andy Griffith Show
11:40
Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
05:01
Elinor Donahue on her role on Get a Life (and how she didn't know her son was a 30-year-old paperboy)
09:35

Daytime/Primetime Serials

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
06:12

Drama Series

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Elinor Donahue on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
03:53

Sci-Fi/Supernatural Series

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)
05:37
People

Harry Ackerman

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Elinor Donahue on Harry Ackerman
05:11
Elinor Donahue on an unpleasant experience while appearing on Santa Barbara
04:08
Elinor Donahue on Harry Ackerman's death
01:05
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman
00:12
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher
00:23

Nick Adams

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on General Electric Theater's "A Voice on the Phone"
01:16

Gracie Allen

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
00:36

Beatrice Arthur

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls
00:41

William Asher

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher
00:23

Frances Bavier

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show
00:09

Anne Baxter

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Hotel
01:16

Ray Bolger

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Elinor Donahue on performing on The Ray Bolger Show
01:33
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Ray Bolger
00:10

George Burns

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
00:36

James Burrows

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Friends
02:49

Lauren Chapin

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Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
01:48
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "mother" Jane Wyatt and the family dynamic on the show
00:55
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "sister" Lauren Chapin
01:14
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
03:17
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best
00:14

Lee J. Cobb

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Elinor Donahue on appearing in Lux Video Theatre's "The Life of Emile Zola"
02:08

Gary Coleman

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes
00:08

Glenn Corbett

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)
02:24

Ellen DeGeneres

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Elinor Donahue on her appearance on Ellen
01:31

Barry Diller

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The New Adventures of Beans Baxter
00:54

Shirley Dinsdale

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Elinor Donahue on watching Shirley Dinsdale's show as a child
00:19

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)
02:42

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)
09:35

Sally Field

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Flying Nun
00:37

Walter E. Grauman

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Elinor Donahue on performing on Matinee Theater and having a crush on director Walter Grauman
02:04

Billy Gray

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Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
01:48
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "mother" Jane Wyatt and the family dynamic on the show
00:55
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "brother" Billy Gray
01:23
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
03:17
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
04:21
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best
00:14

Andy Griffith

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show
01:25
Elinor Donahue on favorite episodes of and singing with Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show
03:00
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Andy Griffith
00:28

Deidre Hall

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Elinor Donahue on working with Deidre Hall on Days of Our Lives
01:44

Ron Howard

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show
01:19

Gloria Jean

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Muggsy" in the Donald O'Connor film "Mr. Big"
00:51

Spike Jones

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Elinor Donahue on going to see the Spike Jones Radio Show
01:34

DeForest Kelley

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley on Star Trek
00:21

Jack Klugman

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Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
05:01
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall of The Odd Couple
00:19

Don Knotts

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show
01:25
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts
00:13

Bernie Kopell

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat
00:28

Klaus Landsberg

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Elinor Donahue on family friend Dick Lane's friendship with Klaus Landsberg and her start in experimental television
04:29

Joanna Lee

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Mulligan's Stew
03:24

Sheldon Leonard

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Elinor Donahue on working on The Andy Griffith Show
00:34

Betty Lynn

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Elinor Donahue on working with the cast of The Andy Griffith Show
00:08

Gavin MacLeod

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat
00:13

Garry Marshall

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Bridget" in Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman"
02:37

Joseph Mascolo

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Elinor Donahue on working with Joseph Mascolo on Days of Our Lives
01:44

Louis B. Mayer

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Elinor Donahue on auditioning for the film "Unfinished Dance" with Margaret O'Brien
01:35

Rue McClanahan

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls
00:41

John McGiver

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Elinor Donahue on appearing with John McGiver on sitcom Many Happy Returns
00:43
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with John McGiver
00:16

Elizabeth Montgomery

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Harry Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher
00:23

Leonard Nimoy

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley on Star Trek
00:21

Jay North

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jay North of Dennis the Menace
00:13

Margaret O'Brien

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Elinor Donahue on auditioning for the film "Unfinished Dance" with Margaret O'Brien
01:50
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Margaret O'Brien
00:13

Donald O'Connor

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Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Muggsy" in the Donald O'Connor film "Mr. Big"
02:00
Elinor Donahue on a movie series with Donald O'Connor
01:28

Tom Poston

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on Newhart
00:33

Lawrence Pressman

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Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Lawrence Pressman
00:22

Tony Randall

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Elinor Donahue on her regular role as "Miriam Welby" on The Odd Couple
05:01
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall of The Odd Couple
00:19

Julia Roberts

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Bridget" in Garry Marshall's "Pretty Woman"
00:21

Gene Roddenberry

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)
02:13

Eugene B. Rodney

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Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best producer Eugene B. Rodney
04:15
Elinor Donahue on the producers' reactions to her real-life pregnancy and wearing a wig when she cut off her ponytail
02:43

Jane Seymour

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Elinor Donahue on her recurring role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
03:53

William Shatner

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Elinor Donahue on guest starring on the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" (airdate: November 10, 1967)
00:19

Jean Simmons

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Hotel
01:16

Aaron Spelling

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Elinor Donahue on her guest appearances on The Love Boat
01:13

Marcy Walker

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Elinor Donahue on an unpleasant experience while appearing on Santa Barbara
03:02

Betty White

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Golden Girls
00:41

Robin Williams

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Elinor Donahue on a guest appearance on Mork & Mindy
01:15

Jane Wyatt

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Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best "mother" Jane Wyatt and the family dynamic on the show
00:55
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
02:01
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
04:21
Elinor Donahue on the highlight of her career
00:57
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best
00:14
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with Jane Wyatt from Father Knows Best
00:20

Robert Young

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Elinor Donahue on auditioning with Robert Young for Father Knows Best
02:28
Elinor Donahue on Robert Young being a real-life father figure for his Father Knows Best TV children
01:48
Elinor Donahue on Robert Young's role as a producer on Father Knows Best
01:03
Elinor Donahue on why Father Knows Best went off the air and a reunion show
03:17
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
04:21
Elinor Donahue on the highlight of her career
00:57
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best
00:14

Loretta Young

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Elinor Donahue on appearing on The Loretta Young Show
03:07

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