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Elinor Donahue Remembers Her Days on ‘Father Knows Best,’ ‘Andy Griffith,’ ‘The Odd Couple’ and More

In the 1950s we knew her as Betty “Princess” Anderson on Father Knows Best, while in the 1960s she was Andy Taylor’s girlfriend Ellie Walker on The Andy Griffith Show and in the 1970’s Felix Unger’s girlfriend Miriam Welby on The Odd Couple. All told, actress Elinor Donahue holds a significant place in Classic TV history.

Father Knows Best, which originally aired from 1954 to 1960, was probably one of the medium’s first examples of a true family sitcom. It stars Robert Young (Marcus Welby, M.D.) as Jim Anderson, Jane Wyatt as his wife, Margaret; Lauren Chapin as youngest child, Kathy (aka “Kitten”); Billy Gray as son James (“Bud”) and, of course, Elinor. The show was wholesome without being cloying, and still remains a wonderful reminder of a bygone era. It’s also something that Elinor herself is, in a way, rediscovering for the first time since she started shooting the show 66 years ago.

RetroVision Archive

Father Knows Best,” Elinor says in an exclusive interview from her California home, “is on at 6:00 in the morning here, and they run two episodes a day. A friend of mine was saying how much she enjoys it, and she’s younger than me by a good 20 years. The morning won’t go by without her watching the show. I’ve started watching it myself and I realized there’s so much of it that I’ve forgotten, but I didn’t even watch the show when it was on, because we were all busy working on it. By the time we’d get home at night and have our dinner, we’d be getting ready to learn our lines, go to sleep to get up and do it again. So I never saw the show, but I’m catching up and it’s quite fun, actually.”

Which begs the question: after so many years being away from it, what is it like to suddenly be transported back in time? “I find myself filled with great fondness,” the 83-year-old actress smiles. “Fondness for the group of us, and we were very, very close. We really liked each other, and it brings generally happy memories. Of course there’s always days and things where something didn’t go right, but it’s all kind of sweet. I was also very critical of myself when I was young, which is another reason I probably didn’t watch the show. I made myself uncomfortable. But now, for heaven’s sake, I’m more forgiving of myself.”

Please scroll down for more of our interview with Elinor Donahue