Elinor Donahue, a name synonymous with the iconic American TV sitcom “Father Knows Best,” is not just a blast from the past. At 86 years old, she’s still making waves in the entertainment world, most recently with a guest appearance in the long-running soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”
In her role as elder daughter Betty ‘Princess’ Anderson on “Father Knows Best,” Elinor played a central character in the portrayal of a middle-class family living an idyllic all-American life in the heartland of the Midwest.
The show originally began on the radio in 1949, gracing the airwaves every Thursday until 1954. Later, it made the leap to television, with actor Robert Young reprising his role as dad Jim Anderson.
During her six years on the show, which was consistently in the top ten most-watched American TV shows, Elinor also found time to appear in other notable productions like “Crossroads” and the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.”
Her schedule during those years was undeniably hectic, and she candidly admitted that she never had the chance to watch the show herself. “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,” she shared with Closer magazine.
Born in Tacoma in 1937, Elinor became the primary breadwinner of her household during her teenage years. She made her mark in movies like “Love is Better than Ever,” where she starred alongside Elizabeth Taylor, and “Girls Town.”
After the conclusion of “Father Knows Best,” Elinor continued to shine in the entertainment industry with appearances in shows like “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Star Trek,” and “Mork & Mindy.”
With a career spanning over 70 TV shows and numerous movies, including classics like “Winter Wonderland” and “Pretty Woman,” Elinor Donahue’s versatility and talent have left a lasting impact on American television.
Beyond her professional accomplishments, Elinor’s personal life has been marked by significant milestones. She married her first husband at the young age of 19, hoping that marriage and motherhood would usher in her adulthood. This fateful decision led her to Richard Smith, a sound man on “Father Knows Best.”
Their union resulted in her first son, Brian, but the marriage eventually ended in divorce in 1961. In 1962, Elinor tied the knot with prolific TV producer Harry Ackerman, who was 20 years her senior. Their marriage endured for nearly three decades until Harry’s passing in 1991.
The following year, she embarked on her third marital journey, marrying contractor Lou Genevrino, her current husband. In recent years, Elinor has retired from the screen, enjoying a well-deserved break after a remarkable career.
Elinor Donahue’s journey from a young actress thrust into the spotlight to a beloved screen legend is a testament to her talent and resilience. Her story continues to captivate the hearts of “Father Knows Best” fans and anyone who appreciates the enduring allure of classic American television. Share this remarkable tale with fellow fans and enthusiasts of Elinor’s work.