Who is Elinor Donahue?
American retired actress Mary Eleanor Donahue was born in Tacoma, Washington State USA, on 19 April 1937, making Aries her zodiac sign. She had roles in 110 TV series and movies prior to retiring in 2005, and is probably still known best for playing Bridget in the evergreen 1990 romantic comedy movie “Pretty Woman”, which Garry Marshall directed, and which starred Jason Alexander, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. It follows a businessman who’s fallen in love with a prostitute, and the movie won eight of its 19 award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Julia Roberts).
Education and early life
Elinor was raised in Tacoma by her father Thomas William Donahue and mother Doris Genevieve (nee Gelbaugh), however, not many details have been disclosed about them as Elinor respects their privacy; she hasn’t spoken about having siblings, and most of Elinor’s fans believe her to be an only child.
She began taking ballet lessons at a very early age, then was only six when she made her debut film appearance, playing Muggsy in the 1943 comedy “Mister Big”; the same year saw her appear in the comedy movie “Honeymoon Lodge”, and Elinor was then active in the film industry for the following six decades.
She eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where she attended a local high school, matriculating in 1955 and then focusing on her career, rather than pursuing a college degree.
Roles in movies
The year 1944 saw Elinor appear in both the musical comedy “Bowery to Broadway”, and the romantic drama “And Now Tomorrow”, while some of her other roles in the ‘40s were in the 1946 comedy “Little Miss Big”, the 1947 musical comedy “The Unfinished Dance”, and the 1949 romantic musical comedy “An Old-Fashioned Girl”.
The year 1954 saw her play Daughter in Bargain Basement of the romantic drama “Woman’s World”, directed by Jean Negulesco, and which starred Van Heflin, Lauren Bacall and Cornel Wilde; it follows a company executive who’s about to decide whom amongst his employees he’s going to promote by speaking to their wives. Elinor had only two film roles in the remainder of the ‘50s: she played Lora’s Friend in the critically acclaimed 1959 drama “Imitation of Life”, which was nominated for two Oscars for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner, and she portrayed Mary Lee Morgan in the 1959 drama “Girls Town”.
Her only film role in the ‘60s was playing Ethel Garrity in the 1969 romantic comedy “In Name Only”, which failed to attract any attention, while the ‘70s saw her play supporting characters in the 1972 romantic comedy “Gidget Gets Married”, the 1977 family drama “The Father Knows Best Reunion”, and the 1978 drama “Doctors’ Private Lives”.
Elinor Donahue on Star Trek, "Metamorphosis" (1967)
Elinor portrayed Margaret Anderson in the 1983 comedy “Going Berserk”, directed by David Steinberg, and which starred John Candy, Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy. It follows a chauffeur who’s been hypnotized by a cult to kill a congressman, who also happens to be his fiancée’s father. Her only other two film roles in the ‘80s were in the 1983 short family drama “Just an Overnight Guest”, and the 1984 family drama “No Earthly Reason”.
In 1996, Elinor played a supporting character in the comedy “Dear God”, directed by Garry Marshall, and which starred Greg Kinnear, Laurie Metcalf and Maria Pitillo. It follows someone who’s answering all the letters written to God – the movie was nominated for a single award.
Elinor’s final three movies roles were in the 1999 drama “Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story”, the 2001 drama “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Heart Within”, and the 2004 romantic family comedy “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement”.
Roles in TV series
Elinor’s debut TV series appearance was in the 1952 episode “I Want to Be a Movie Star” of the comedy “Schlitz Playhouse”, but she became famous following her portrayal of the lead character Betty Anderson in the hit family comedy “Father Knows Best”, which Ed James created, and which also starred Robert Young and Lauren Chapin. It follows the lives of family man Jim Anderson, his wife Margaret and their children Kathy, Bud and Betty – the series aired from 1954 through 1960 and won nine of its 27 award nominations.
What marked the ‘60s for Elinor was starring as Joan Randall in all the 26 episodes of the comedy “Many Happy Returns”, created by Parke Levy, and which also starred John McGiver and Mark Goddard; it follows the life of department store manager Walter Burnley. The remainder of the decade saw her appear in single episodes of the western “A Man Called Shenandoah”, the comedy “Occasional Wife” and the science fiction adventure “Star Trek”.
From 1972 through 1975, Elinor played the supporting character Miriam Welby in the hit comedy “The Odd Couple”, which Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson created, and which starred Tony Randall, Jack Klugman and Al Molinaro. It follows two men who’ve both separated from their wives, and now have to live together; the series won six of its 20 award nominations.
The ‘80s saw Elinor appear in an episode or two of various series, including the family adventure “Fantasy Island”, the action comedy “The Dukes of Hazzard”, and the comedy “Newhart”.
From 1992 through 1997, she voiced Mom in the animated adventure comedy “Eek! The Cat”, created by Savage Steve Holland and Bill Kopp, who also starred in it; it follows the life of anthropomorphic purple cat Eek – the series won one of its four award nominations.
Elinor appeared in only one more TV series prior to retiring, portraying Esther ‘Legs’ Davis in the 2005 episode “Colors” of the crime mystery “Cold Case”; she returned for a single role in 2010, when invited to play Judge Marie Anderson in five episodes of the long-running soap opera “The Young and the Restless”.
Elinor sang songs in five movies and TV series, including two songs in the 1948 romantic comedy film “Three Daring Daughters”, the song “Mack the Knife” in the 1990 episode “The Sitting” of the fantasy comedy series “Get a Life”, and the song “Skip To My Lou” in the 1991 fantasy horror movie “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare”.
Some of her final talk-show appearances were in “The Interviews: An Oral History of Television”, “Make or Break TV”, and “Entertainment Tonight”.
Awards and nominations
Elinor won a 2004 TV Land Legend Award, for her performance in “The Andy Griffith Show”. She was also nominated for a 1959 Primetime Emmy for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Comedy Series, for her performance in “Father Knows Best”.
Life after acting
Elinor chose to stay away from the media’s attention following her retirement, and has since been focused on spending time with her third husband, Lou Genevrino, and her four children.
She occasionally gives interviews, and besides in “The Young and the Restless”, has also returned from retirement to play Mrs Chumley in the 2015 production of “Harvey”.
Love life and marriages
Elinor’s married thrice. Her first husband was non-celebrity American Richard Smith, whom she married on 11 June 1955 – their divorce was finalized on 11 August 1961.
Elinor married the late American screenwriter and producer Harry Ackerman on 8 June 1962; he produced 45 TV series and movies, and is probably still remembered best for producing 82 episodes of the fantasy comedy series “The Flying Nun”, which aired from 1967 through 1970, and won one of its four award nominations. Elinor and Harry have four sons together: Brian, Peter, James and Chris; Chris is probably the most popular amongst them, and is perhaps still known best for playing Tattoo in the popular 2005 action crime adventure movie “Elektra”.
Elinor and Harry’s marriage ended when he died on 3 February 1991, aged 78 (he was 24 years her senior).
Since 4 January 1992, Elinor’s been married to her third husband, American non-celebrity Louis Gerard ‘Lou’ Genevrino.
She also has two step-children Stephen Ackerman and Susan Peterson.
Interesting facts and hobbies
Jonathan Lore’s song “Ellie’s Smile” was dedicated to Elinor, and references her career.
When she began starring in the sitcom “Father Knows Best”, it received poor ratings and was canceled in March 1955; numerous people protested, asking for the series to return, and after it did, it became a hit.
Elinor’s acting mentor was the late American actor and producer Robert Young, who died aged 91 in 1998.
Elinor’s only a day older than American actor and screenwriter George Takei, alongside whom she appeared in the 1967 action science fiction adventure series “Metamorphosis”.
Her favorite actress is Adrienne Hayes, while some of her favorite movies include the 1962 drama “Patty”, the 1973 crime mystery “Electra Glide in Blue”, and the 1977 thriller “Billy Jack Goes to Washington”.
Height, eyes and wealth
Elinor’s age is 86. She has brown eyes and grey hair, is 5ft 4ins (1.63m) tall and weighs around 115lbs (52kgs).
Elinor’s net worth’s been estimated at over $3 million, as of April 2023.