While The Andy Griffith Show was full of eclectic characters in the fictional town of Mayberry, it was always fun to follow along with the love stories. As much as we enjoyed watching Andy Griffith play Ron Howard's onscreen father, it was entertaining to see him simultaneously pursue relationships with women on the family sitcom. His very first love interest in the series was Ellie Walker, played by actress Elinor Donahue. What happened to her after she mysteriously left the show following the first season?
Born in Tacoma, Washington, Mary Eleanor Donahue grew up dancing and performing. After training in vaudeville, she started getting parts in films and TV shows as a teenager like Mister Big and Winter Wonderland. Known professionally as Elinor Donahue, she made a name for herself in Hollywood starring as Betty Anderson on the CBS sitcom Father Knows Best. Betty was the oldest daughter of Robert Young and Jane Wyatt's characters with Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin starring as her younger siblings. She later rejoined the original cast for The Father Knows Best Reunion in 1977.
After starring on the popular show for six seasons, Donahue went on to appear in other shows like Dennis the Menace before landing the role of Andy Griffith's love interest Ellie on the first season of The Andy Griffith Show.
The Andy Griffith Show
While we all fondly remember that Sheriff Andy settled down with Helen Crump, he originally had a different love interest on the beloved sitcom.
"I did 11 episodes, just there for the first season. I had a three-year contract. When we'd taken a break for the hiatus, I asked to be let out of the contract" Donahue explained to the Archive of American Television in 2006.
"I was going through some personal problems at the time and I needed some time," she revealed. "I'd gone directly from Father Knows Best to having a couple of months of turmoil in my personal life that was not settled at all. It was an ongoing whirlwind. And then went right into [The Andy Griffith Show]. I was exhausted."
Donahue explained that, in addition, there were multiple times during table reads where it became clear they didn't know how to write for her and Griffith would give her lines to Don Knotts (Barney Fife). She admitted that he delivered the lines better so it made sense. But ultimately, it just wasn't working for her and there's no shame in that.
After Andy Griffith
The happy years that followed Donahue's time in Mayberry were filled with countless acting roles. She appeared on numerous TV series including Many Happy Returns, The Flying Nun, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless, Cold Case, The Golden Girls, The Virginian, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Happy Days, Ellen and Murder, She Wrote. Some of her notable TV roles include playing Miriam Welby on The Odd Couple, Rebecca Quinn on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Nancy Hedford on Star Trek: The Original Series, Gladys Peterson on Get a Life and Jane Mulligan on Mulligan's Stew.
You might even remember her playing the friendly store manager Bridget in Pretty Woman, Lady Palimore in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement or even the "Orphanage woman" in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.
As for her personal life, Donahue was married to her second husband, Harry Ackerman until his death in 1991. She has been married to Lou Genevrino since 1992 and has four children. She hasn't appeared in any onscreen roles since 2011.
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