The Andy Griffith Show may have ended over 50 years ago, but it remains a beloved television comedy to many fans. While Griffith, Don Knotts, and Ron Howard remained on the show throughout its eight-year run, one actor believed during her time on the series that she would be fired. Here’s more on her story.
Elinor Donahue joined the ‘Griffith Show’ right after ending work on another comedy
Before joining Griffith in 1960, Donahue was most familiar to television audiences for her role as Betty Anderson on the 1950s comedy Father Knows Best. Once that show ended, she was almost immediately hired to play Ellie Walker, Andy Griffith’s first love interest on his show, as she told Don Knotts‘ daughter Karen for her recent memoir Tied Up in Knotts: My Dad and Me.
“I got called into [Griffith creator] Sheldon Leonard’s office for a meeting, and they were talking about a new show,” Donahue recalled. “They were looking for a woman to play the character of Miss Ellie. But she wasn’t called Miss Ellie then, it was a woman who takes over the drugstore for—I think it was her uncle or something, who owned it.”
Donahue remembered the meeting, notably because her toddler was with her. Her focus was understandably distracted: “I had my little 2-year-old son out in the anteroom, and Sheldon’s secretary was sort of babysitting. So I was going, ‘Oh, how nice, that’s interesting. You bet.’ But actually, I’m listening for squeals and giggles and whatnot, and they said, ‘Thanks very much for coming in.’”
The actor, who was in her 20s, was later offered the role and accepted it.
The actor felt she was in danger of being fired, according to Karen Knotts
Other remaining stars from Griffith who spoke with Karen Knotts for her book included Thelma Lou actor Betty Lynn who died recently and Maggie Peterson who played Charlene Darling. The two recalled Donahue’s short time on the show.
Lynn, the author wrote, noted that Donahue “was quite a bit younger, really. That was the thing. She was upset during a period of her life that was difficult. She thought they were gonna fire her. They weren’t going to fire her.”
Peterson felt that Donahue and Andy Griffith simply “didn’t really have much of a chemistry … I don’t think Andy was very comfortable around women … with sexy women, I think he was very flustered.”
Donahue had a three-year contract with Griffith, but after just about a dozen episodes, asked to be released from the show.
Griffith felt he was to blame for Donahue’s departure
In his 1981 book, The Andy Griffith Show, author Richard Kelly quoted Griffith’s take on the exit of his first television girlfriend on the series.
“Elinor Donahue was a regular in the company before we ever started, and we were so lucky to get her, we thought,” he said. “Well, she didn’t work out at all. It wasn’t her fault.
“It was our fault. And it starts with me. She asked to be relieved from duty after that first season. It became evident that we couldn’t write for her, so we had her in just a few token shows. We had her, but not really. She asked to be relieved and we were glad to oblige her because we didn’t know what else to do.”