Elinor Donahue's one shot at the spotlight came on this forgotten Seventies show

She hoped starring in Mulligan's Stew would divorce her from her Father Knows Best character forever. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out for Betty.

Read to Me

When Elinor Donahue arrives in Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show episode "Ellie Comes to Town," it was the second time in her career that she played opposite one of TV’s most popular leading men.

Prior to that, she’d played Robert Young’s daughter on the hit sitcom Father Knows Best.

On these shows, Donahue was happy playing a supporting role.

"I never wanted to be a big star," she told The Morning News Tribune in 1987.

Instead, after she left The Andy Griffith Show, she took on guest spots in shows like Star Trek, The Odd Couple and The Flying Nun.

She also got cast on a couple failed series, including a Sixties family sitcom where she played the wife called Many Happy Returns and a Seventies M*A*S*H-like drama called Aeromeds.

Her casting in Aeromeds actually came by chance, though. She said she was cast as a guest spot and they wound up loving her so much, they decided they would work her into the show the second it got picked up.

"I was just doing a guest spot on the pilot, but they’re rearranging some things and talking about making my role a permanent one on the show if everything goes right," Donahue told The Arizona Daily Star in 1976.

Everything didn’t go right, though, and the series wasn’t picked up. Donahue considered it a missed opportunity to be part of something that was striving to be the next M*A*S*H.

"One of the things I like about Aeromeds is the realism," she said. "We don’t do anything without somebody from the Air Force showing us the proper procedure."

It ended up being a good thing Aeromeds didn’t work out, though, because in 1977, Donahue got her first-ever chance at the spotlight: starring in her own TV show.

The show was called Mulligan’s Stew, and it was about a couple with three kids who adopt four more kids after a tragic accident brings the family together. In this role, instead of the next Hot Lips, she could’ve been the next Carol Brady.

Donahue had her fingers crossed it would succeed because she saw the show as filling a gap, getting into issues that popular shows like The Waltons avoided.

But Mulligan’s Stew aired on Tuesdays, competing with very popular shows like M*A*S*H and Soap, and it quickly got cancelled after just six weeks because not enough people tuned in.

"If that series had become a hit, I might have been more of a spotlight person," Donahue told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1987.

Donahue didn’t dwell on the show’s cancellation, though. It’s just not the type of person she is.

"I’ve been in the business long enough to have a good perspective and take things as they come," she told The York Dispatch in 1977. "There’s little that bothers me, which is reflected in my interviews, I know, and makes me come off Pollyanna-ish. But to tell you the truth, that’s actually how I feel about life."

She never even wanted to be a TV star in the first place. She thought it sounded like a lot of pressure she didn’t need.

"I’ve always been content playing a supporting role," Donahue said. "Important, visible parts, yes — but never the major star. I was Robert Young’s daughter, Andy Griffith’s girlfriend and now I’m Jonathan Ward’s mother [on the The New Adventures of Beans Baxter]. When Fox officially approached me about the part, they said it was a good role, that I was a major cast member, but not the center stage attraction. The success or failure of the series is not resting on my shoulders. That suits me fine."

However, she did feel one disappointment with Mulligan’s Stew not getting renewed: She really thought the show had the potential to change how audiences, who always thought of her as Betty from Father Knows Best, saw her.

Her whole career, she had hoped to move past that role, and Mulligan’s Stew, which she expected to attract the sophisticated Mary Tyler Moore Show crowd, had seemed like her one shot. Like Mary Tyler Moore graduating in audience hearts from Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show to Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she wanted to transform and leave Betty Anderson from Father Knows Best behind.

“I thought it was the show that would divorce me from Betty Anderson forever,” Donahue told The Detroit Free Press in 1978.

Watch The Andy Griffith Show on MeTV!

Weeknights at 8 PM & 8:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
 
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

49 Comments

Post a comment
bagandwallyfan52 3 days ago
RIP
Betty Lynn
Thelma Lou
The Andy Griffith Show
GordARebelato 9 days ago
I also remember Elinor Donahue had a guest role on The Golden Girls. She married Dorothy's ex.
bagandwallyfan52 9 days ago
Jim Clark the President of
The Andy Griffith Show Rerun
Watchers Club was a telephone
Guest on WFIR Radio in Roanoke VA several years ago and he
Said that Peggy MacMillan
(Joanna Moore) almost became
Andy Taylor's permanent
Girlfriend. I wonder how Jim
Clark knew that information
About Peggy MacMillan.
I wonder why Joanna Moore
Played Peggy MacMillan for
4 Episodes Only.
It's too bad that there was
Never a Peggy's Theme like
There was the beautiful song
instrumental called Ellie's Theme.
What I understand is Joanna Moore had a lot of personal stuff she was dealing with. That is probably why she did not stay on AGS.
Joanna Moore played
Peggy MacMillan for ONLY
4 episodes in 1962.
Tatum O'Neal was born in
1963.Was Joanna Moore
Expecting a baby(Tatum
O'Neal)and that could be
The reason that she left
TAGS after 4 episodes in
1962?????
That's a possibility. However she was involved in many other roles in
Film as well as Television at the time (Wikipedia -IMDb).
More than likely she was just cast for the 4 episodes.
LoveMETV22 10 days ago
Elinor Donahue seemed to do ok for herself in film leading up to the time she appeared on
Father's Knows Best. She seemed to do equally as well in tv afterwards. All in all she was a talented actress. Mulligan Stew was just one part of her career and it's unfortunate it didn't end up the way she wanted it.


stephaniestavr5 10 days ago
"Princess" tried to abdicate her throne, but she wasn't successful. She will always be remembered as wearing the crown in the Anderson "Royal Family."
F5Twitster 11 days ago
"'I never wanted to be a big star,' [Donahue] told The Morning News Tribune in 1987."

Funny how EVERYBODY who never manages to become a big star says that.
NickG 11 days ago
Wasn’t she also Miriam in the Odd Couple? Great role.
bilbosring 12 days ago
She was on Dr. Quinn as a sister.
MichaelSkaggs 12 days ago
They actually said in the promos, "It's where anything can happen and usually does."
That's exactly what was said on The Mickey Mouse Club when the Mouseketeers described "Surprise Day. "Anything can happen and it usually does!"
Lacey 12 days ago
She was always one of those actors who stands out even in small roles. I loved her in Pretty Woman.
RkBke 12 days ago
never heard of this woman until about 5 months ago when i saw father knows best, then star trek...nice looking lady...
Runeshaper 13 days ago
Even though I'm not an actor, I can understand Elinor Donahue's desire to change how people saw her. I honestly wish Mulligan's Stew made the cut. Regardless, she made it to the BIG time (-:
bagandwallyfan52 13 days ago
I also liked Ellie Walker and
Peggy MacMillan better than
Helen Crump.I did like Aneta
Corsaut on the movie The Blob
With Steve MacQueen.
I think that Aneta Corsaut
Played a nun on either
Gunsmoke or Bonanza.
On Alfred Hitchcock Presents
I saw an episode with Howard
Morris(Ernest T. Bass )and
Joanna Moore(Peggy MacMillan)
In the same episode.
Couldn't STAND Aneta Corseaut! Elinor's "Ellie Walker" was the most likeable, the most genuine of all Andy's girlfriends.
It was not her fault but the way she was written for the AGS. I did not care for the Helen character, came across as too b****y.
Andybandit 13 days ago
I liked Elle's character on TAGS. She stood for Women's right even in 1950's and 1960's. I liked her better than Helen Crump.
daDoctah 13 days ago
"I was Robert Young’s daughter, Andy Griffith’s girlfriend and now I’m Jonathan Ward’s mother"

And then later she was Chris Elliot's mother (and Bob Elliot's wife) on the show "Get a Life".
cperrynaples 14 days ago
One fact they left out: One of the daughters was played by Suzanne Crough [AKA Tracy Partridge]! Sadly, she died fairly young!
Yes, she died at the dining room table with her two daughters and her husband also seated there. She just put her head down....
Yep, it was a heart infection! Bonus Question: Along with the other kids. Crough did the 2200 AD cartoon,but before that she did a HB series which was a bad knockoff of a more successful cartoon! Name that other cartoon!
"I can name that cartoon in one note:"
She was the voice of Tracy in 8 episodes of Goober and the Ghost Chasers. [1973. Ad 2200 aired in '74.] Guess you could consider this a rehearsal for her doing the voice of Tracy on AD 2200!
I'm assuming that other "more successful cartoon" you are referring to is, Scooby Doo?
Yep, Goober answered the question: "What if Duke from The Beverly Hillbillies played Scooby?"
bagandwallyfan52 14 days ago
ELLIES THEME is a beautiful
Song and you can listen
To Ellie's Theme on You Tube.
Elinor Donahue and
Joanna Moore(Peggy MacMillan)
Were both wonderful actresses
On TAGS and other shows.
I also liked The Little Rascals
Theme Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour Theme Song
Gomer Pyle theme song
Leave It To Braver Theme
Song Alfred Hitchcock Theme
And Gilligan's island and The
Addams Family theme songs.
Load previous comments
You being a DS fan, are you aware of the new documentary on Jonathan Frid that's available? If you get Spectrum you can rent it from there. If its streaming someplace else, I am unaware of this. I have seen the trailer for it, and it looks good. I have been thinking about renting it.
I remember that two actors
Played Willie Loomis:
James Hall and John Karlin.I wonder why James
Hall didn't stay on Dark Shadows. John Marlin did
A great job playing Willie
Loomis.On Dàrk Shadows
Mrs. Johnson had a son
Harry Johnson(Craig Slocum).Later Harry Johnson vanished from
Dark Shadows with no explanation. Sharon Smyth
Did a fantastic job of playing ghost Sarah Collins
And David Selby played a
Ghost named Quentin Collins.I remember the first
story on Dark Shadows
Had the ghost of Bill Malloy
And the ghost of Josette.
JONATHAN FRID as Barnabas Collins became a
Fan favorite in 1967 when he joined DS.I wish that
Victoria Winters (Alexandra
Moltke) had stayed on Dark
Shadows.Two other actresses Betsy Durkin and
Carolyn Groves played
Victoria Winters later.
Kate Jackson played
Daphne in regular time
And parallel time.
I wonder if there are any
Dark Shadows CDs with
Quentin's Theme.
Does anyone know who
Played sea captain Bill
Malloy on Dark Shadows.
Lara Parker was the perfect choice to play
Angelique and Cassandra.
RIP
Denise Nickerson
Amy Jennings
Dark Shadows
Also
RIP
JOHN KARLIN
Willie Loomis
Dark Shadows
WISEGUY met Professor
Pepperwinkle several weeks ago and the good
Professor Pepperwinkle
Have WISEGUY a SUPER
PILL so that Wiseguy could
Fly like Superman.
So WISEGUY decided to
Fly to the Moon for a
Vacation .Someday WISEGUY will return from
The moon.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?