At 86, Elinor Donahue Is Still Spirited And Looks Incredible

Actress Elinor Donahue, 86, is best known for playing Betty Anderson in Father Knows Best. From doing vaudeville to movies, she once said that she wants to be remembered as a multifaceted entertainer. Now, Donahue is still just as gorgeous as she was in her youth.

Early Life

Do not mistake her for Audrey Hepburn. Elinor Donahue may share a lot of similarities in terms of looks with the Breakfast at Tiffany’s star but she is a decorated actress in her own right. With an acting career that spans six decades, there’s much to the 86-year-old’s life that fans don’t know about. Born on April 19, 1937, in Tacoma, Washington, Donahue began her work in show business at a very young age—she was in dancing-chorus film roles from the age of five. According to her IMDb page, Donahue’s first credited appearance on the big screen came in 1943’s Mister Big. She subsequently attained minor roles in Winter Wonderland, Three Daring Daughters, and Love Is Better Than Ever.

It wasn’t until more than a decade later, though, in 1954 that she would secure the role that skyrocketed her career: Betty Anderson in Father Knows Best. Her performance as Betty led to an Emmy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Comedy Series. In an interview with The Television Academy Foundation in 2019, she shared one of her favorite memories from filming Father Knows Best saying:

“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!'”


In an interview with the Emmys, Donahue detailed why she thought Father Knows Best was so successful, explaining:

“The show was meant to be a lighthearted, warm comedy. It was entertainment, a pastiche.”

However, the show ending came as a surprise, even to her. She explains how she felt in the same interview:

“Like a bird being kicked out of a nest. We quit all of a sudden, cold turkey. We never even saw each other for a good-bye party.”

The reason for the abrupt end was due to a writer’s strike in February 1959. Allegedly the show would be off until the strike was over but in the meantime, the two adult leads had decided they didn’t want to continue, and so the show was canceled.

Father Knows Best might have shot Donahue to fame, but her career didn’t end there. Throughout the 1960s through to the 1980s, Donahue appeared in many other successful series including The Andy Griffith Show, Many Happy Returns, The Odd Couple, Mulligan’s Stew, and Days of Our Lives. She continued working even after the ’80s, taking on bit parts in movies as well as shows.

Despite her storied career, Donahue has remained humble. MeTV reports that when asked how she’d like to be remembered as an actor, Donahue replied:

“I guess just remembered a little. Not in any special way. Just kind of remember that I was able to span a lot of different decades and a lot of different kinds of entertainment, from vaudeville to television.”

Incredibly multifaceted, Donahue really did adapt and change to the many different styles of showbiz throughout her career—from vaudeville to television and film. Her last role was in The Young and the Restless from 2010-11, playing Judge Marie Anderson. Since then she’s retired from acting and appears content with her choice to step away from the limelight. In an interview with Closer Weekly she said:

“As far as I know, and nobody knows what’s around the corner, it’s no more. I’m done, finished…But all told, it was all just so magical. Honestly, I’ve had a lot of fun.”

Love and Family

But it wasn’t just her career that was successful—Donahue had a rich personal life, marrying three times and being a mother. She has four sons, Brian Ackerman, Peter Ackerman, James Ackerman, and Chris Ackerman as well as two step-children: Susan Peterson and Stephen Ackerman. She had Brian with her first husband, Richard Smith, according to People.

Donahue’s late husband and tv producer Harry Ackerman was over 20 years older than her, but unfortunately, Harry passed away in February 1991 of pulmonary failure. One year later, Donahue married her third and current husband, Lou Genevrino, and the couple is still going strong.

What did you think of Elinor Donahue’s life and career story? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and be sure to pass this along to your loved ones.

Related Posts