Father Knows Best was one of the biggest sitcoms of the 1950s, but the show came to an untimely end at the start of the 1960s. Many fans have questioned why the show was cancelled, and actress Elinor Donahue has finally made the reason clear! Join Facts Verse as Elinor Donahue reveals why Father Knows Best was cancelled.
Elinor Donahue Was About to Give Up on Acting
When Father Knows Best came on the air in 1954, actress Elinor Donahue believed that she was on her way out from acting. The show was based upon a successful radio program and followed the exploits of the Anderson family. Elinor was cast on the television adaptation to play the role of Betty Anderson, who was the family’s daughter. Elinor was 17 years old at the time that she was hired onto the series, though she had been acting in the entertainment industry for a little bit over a decade by that point.
Elinor Donahue first got her start as a performer at the age of only 6. This was in 1943, and Elinor signed a contract with MGM. The studio put the child performer in a variety of films, and she found some middling success. However, by the time that Elinor was preparing to come of age, the amount of roles that she was being offered decreased considerably. The actress began to feel that there was no future for her in the world of acting, so she turned to dancing instead.
As a teenager, Elinor found a good deal of success as a chorus girl on the stage. Meanwhile, she still kept trying her hand at securing acting roles when she could. When her manager called her up and offered Elinor the chance to audition for Father Knows Best, the actress got pretty excited. At the time that she was offered the audition, Elinor was actively making plans to move to Reno, where she had been promised a regular gig as a chorus girl at a popular nightclub. Elinor knew that Father Knows Best might provide the opportunity for her to stay in Hollywood after all.
Elinor Worked Hard to Get Her Father Knows Best Role
When Elinor Donahue first met the producers of Father Knows Best, they believed that the actress was too plain-looking to play the part of Betty Anderson. Instead of giving up on the spot, Elinor decided that she’d undergo a makeover and see if she fared any better that way. Ironically, the makeover that Elinor underwent to impress the producers of Father Knows Best ended up turning the producers off in a different way. This time, they felt that the actress looked too much like a flashy Hollywood star.
Elinor Donahue was about to take her dual rejections sitting down. The actress knew that securing a role on Father Knows Best was the best move for her future, and she was determined to do it. She refused to take no for an answer, and was eventually able to talk the producers into allowing her to screen test for the part of Betty Anderson. Given that Elinor eventually received the role of Betty, one might think that this screen test proved the remedy for her troubles. However, the screen test ended up being a disaster!
Elinor Donahue screen tested with Robert Young, who was the actor that had been hired to play the part of Father Knows Best patriarch Jim Anderson. During the screen test, Elinor forgot her lines due to the fact that she was so nervous. When this happened, she broke down in tears on the stage where she was performing. Thankfully, Elinor’s breakdown caught the sympathy of Robert Young. Instead of sending the young woman home, Robert insisted that the producers let her calm down and try again. Robert allegedly handed Elinor a bottle of Coca-Cola and told her to take a breather. Elinor got the chance to get a grip on herself as the producers screen tested another potential Betty actress.
Elinor Couldn’t Believe She Got the Role
After getting the chance to screen test a second time for Father Knows Best, Elinor didn’t feel that she had done much better than the first time. As she left the studio, she believed that there was no chance of her getting the part. Because of this, the actress put the incident out of her mind and went back to planning her move to Reno. However, before Elinor could go through with her plans, she got a call saying that she had received the role of Betty Anderson!
Elinor Donahue fought for her role on Father Knows Best, and the show ended up becoming a big hit upon it’s 1954 premiered. The actress would get to play the role for six seasons before the show was abruptly cancelled. Now, Elinor has finally revealed why her time on the series came to an end. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
What Caused Father Knows Best’s Cancellation?
According to Elinor Donahue, the reason that Father Knows Best was such a hit with television audiences was because of the show’s good-spirited nature. The show lasted for six seasons before it was abruptly cancelled in 1960. Given that the show was such a massive success, the cancellation came as a shock to fans. Today, people are still wondering why the show came to an end so soon. According to Elinor, there were multiple reasons why the program ended up being cancelled before it’s time. The first of these reasons was the fact that there was a big strike in the first half of 1960 that was put on by the Writers Guild of America.
When the Writers Guild of America went on strike in the beginning of 1960, that meant that there was no one around to write Father Knows Best’s scripts! Given that nearly 40 episodes of the show were being produced a year up to that point, having no scripts was a pretty big deal. Scripts needed to be pumped out routinely, otherwise there was nothing for the rest of the people involved with the production of the show to do! Production of the show was forced to go on a brief hiatus. The strike lasted from January of 1960 to June. When the strike was over, Elinor Donahue believed that she was going to be able to go right back to work. Sadly, this didn’t end up being the case for the actress.
Though the writers’ strike had caused a significant blow in regards to the continued production of Father Knows Best, it wasn’t the direct reason that the hit show ended up being cancelled. Instead, the cancellation came as a result of the fact that two of the leads didn’t want to return. One of these leads was the aforementioned Robert Young, and the other was the actress who played his on-screen wife. Jane Wyatt played matriarch Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best, and neither her nor Robert wanted to return.
Elinor Continued Acting After the Show’s Cancellation
According to Elinor, she was initially told that it was just Robert Young that didn’t want to return to Father Knows Best. The actress didn’t realize that the actress who played her on-screen mother had also been involved in the decision to let the program come to an end after six seasons. It seems that Robert and Jane amicably decided to retire after performing for six seasons on the hit series. Elinor herself would’ve loved to continue performing on the show.
After Father Knows Best came to an end in 1960, Elinor Donahue was thankfully able to find another gig fairly fast. In fact, she made the transition to another successful television series the very same year that Father Knows Best came to an end! In 1960, Elinor was hired onto The Andy Griffith Show to play the love interest of Andy himself. Sadly, Elinor’s time on the show didn’t go as well as expected.
On The Andy Griffith Show, Elinor Donahue played the role of pharmacist Ellie Walker for only a year, from 1960 to 1961. Though the producers of the show had initially envisioned keeping Elinor on as a regular and having Andy marry Ellie, the actress’s chemistry with the rest of the cast left a lot to be desired. According to Elinor herself, she had a hard time giving her all to the role of Ellie Walker due to the fact that she was nervous about playing an adult character.
Elinor Wasn’t a Good Fit for Andy Griffith
Though Elinor Donahue was well into her 20s by the time that she made the transition from Father Knows Best to The Andy Griffith Show, she had never had any experience playing anything besides a teen or child character. Elinor’s role on The Andy Griffith Show called for her to play the adult love interest of Andy’s character. Treading this new ground made the actress feel incredibly self-conscious, and it prevented her from finding much success with her role on the show. Despite the fact that the actress had been signed on for three years, she was able to talk the producers into letting her out of her contract after only a year.
The producers of The Andy Griffith Show ended up finding a new love interest for Andy in the form of Aneta Corsaut’s Helen Crump. Meanwhile, Elinor would continue taking other roles in television via programs such as The Odd Couple and Star Trek. In the late 1970s, Elinor got to reunite with her former Father Knows Best costars thanks to a made-for-television film dubbed The Father Knows Best Reunion. Elinor’s last acting role was a gig on The Young and the Restless that lasted from 2010 to 2011. Though she’s not acting anymore, she’s still seems to be doing fairly well for herself at the age of 85!
Father Knows Best was one of the biggest sitcoms of the 1950s, but it came to an end because it’s two lead performers wanted to take a break. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Elinor Donahue was preparing to give up on acting before she was offered the role of Betty Anderson on Father Knows Best, and that the show was based upon a successful radio program? Comment below!