Childhood & Early Life
Elinor Donahue was born as Mary Eleanor Donahue on April 19, 1937 in Tacoma, Washington, USA, to Doris Genevieve and Thomas William Donahue.
At the age of two, she began performing on radio. Three years later, she was signed as a dancer and singer by the Universal Studios. She studied at the Long's Private School and learnt ballet from there.
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Elinor Donahue first appeared on the silver screen in 1943, in the movie ‘Mister Big’. After this, she did the movies ‘Honeymoon Lodge’, ‘Bowery to Broadway’, ‘And Now Tomorrow’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’.
In 1947 and 1948, she appeared in the films ‘The Unfinished Dance’, ‘Three Daring Daughters’ and ‘Tenth Avenue Angel’. Then from 1950 to 1952, she got featured in the films ‘The Happy Years’, ‘Tea for Two’, ‘My Blue Heaven’ and ‘Love Is Better Than Ever’.
The actress was then cast as Betty Anderson in the sitcom ‘Father Knows Best’ in 1954, a role she played until 1960. During this time, she also guest-starred in many TV programs, such as ‘Crossroads’, ‘Lux Video Theatre’, ‘Letter to Loretta’, ‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show’, ’U.S. Marshal’, ‘Dennis the Menace’ and ‘The Brothers Brannagan’.
After this, she had a recurring role in the CBS’s ‘The Andy Griffith Show’. During the year 1963, Donahue guest-starred in the programs ‘77 Sunset Strip’, ‘Have Gun – Will Travel’, ‘Dr. Kildare’, ‘Redigo’ and ‘The Virginian’.
She then appeared in an episode of ‘A Man Called Shenandoah’ in 1965. Two years later, she got featured in the dramas ’Occasional Wife’ and ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’.
From 1968 to 1970, she was seen as Dr. Jennifer Ethrington in three episodes of ‘The Flying Nun’. In 1972, the actress was cast as Miriam Welby in the drama ‘The Odd Couple’. The same year, she did the TV film ‘Gidget Gets Married’.
In the ensuing years, she made guest appearances in the TV shows ‘Police Woman’, ‘The Rookies’, ‘Petrocelli’ and ‘S.W.A.T.’ She then reprised her role as Betty Anderson in the TV flick ‘The Father Knows Best Reunion’ in 1977. That year, the American artiste also performed in the dramas ‘The Feather and Father Gang’, ‘Insight’ and ‘Police Story’.
In 1978, Elinor Donahue played the role of Mona Wise in the television movie ‘Doctors' Private Lives’. The following year, she appeared in an episode of ‘Different Strokes’. Soon after this, she was cast in the TV miniseries ‘Condominium’. Then she guest starred in a handful of television programs such as ‘Mork & Mindy’, ‘One Day at a Time’ and ‘Fantasy Island’.
She got featured in the TV movie ‘High School U.S.A.’ as well as in the film ‘Going Berserk’ in 1983. In the year 1984, she had a guest role in ‘Days of Our Lives’. She also got featured in the drama ‘Happy Days’ the same year.
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The American beauty joined the cast of ‘The New Adventures of Beans Baxter’ as Susan Baxter in 1987. During 1988 and 1989, she appeared in the TV series ‘Generations’, ‘CBS Schoolbreak Special’ and ‘Newhart’. Soon after this, she started playing the role of Gladys Peterson in ‘Get a Life’. Then she voiced the character of “the Mom” on the series ‘Eek!stravaganza’.
From 1993 to 1997, she played the role of Rebecca Quinn in the CBS’ series ‘Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman’. During this time, Donahue also guest-starred in the shows ‘Friends’, ‘The Invaders’ and ‘Ellen’.
She appeared in the TV films ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story’ and ‘Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Heart Within’ in 1999 and 2001 respectively. She then did the movie ‘The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement’ in 2004. The following year, she got featured in an episode of ‘Cold Case’.
In 2010 and 2011, the actress made a few guest appearances in the sitcom ‘The Young and the Restless’.
Elinor Donahue married her first husband Richard Smith in 1955. However, the couple separated in 1961.
After this, the actress married television producer Harry Ackerman in 1962 and had four sons with him: Brian, Peter, James, and Chris. Through this marriage she also became a stepmother to Stephen Ackerman and Susan Peterson. Ackerman died in 1991.
Donahue then went on to marry her third husband, Lou Genevrino, in 1992.