Andy Griffith took it personally when Elinor Donahue left his show

"Ellie didn't fraternize much with Andy or Don."

Many sitcoms take a while to lock into what makes them special. First seasons are treacherous territory, as the cast and crew adjust to the new production. While some shows arrive fully formed, others might see shifts in characters and tone in these first episodes. Sometimes a great show is carved out of a lesser one, and a series sheds its excess. 

Elinor Donahue is most closely associated with her role on Father Knows Best. For 198 episodes, Donahue was Betty Anderson, eldest daughter and the focus of many of the show's stories and conflicts. For seven years, Donahue was a television adolescent, and audiences came to connect her face with teenage antics. That was one of many reasons Donahue was ultimately rejected as Andy's romantic interest on The Andy Griffith Show.

For that first season on Griffith, Donahue played Ellie Walker, the pharmacist, or "lady druggist," as Sherrif Taylor called her. Over 12 episodes, Ellie became Andy's girlfriend, despite an obvious lack of chemistry between the two actors. In one episode, she runs for town council. In another, she gives Frankie the Farm Girl a makeover. In The Andy Griffith Show's only Christmas episode, Ellie and Andy sing "Away in a Manger." 

A crucial passage in Daniel de Visé's Andy & Don cites Donahue's discomforts onset. "Andy is paired with poor Ellie, still gamely playing out the sad charade of an on-screen romance; when Andy reaches over for Ellie's hand, she leaps like a frightened cat. Ironically, the script calls for precisely this sort of tension between the other couple in the room." 

Daniel de Visé purposefully contrasts Donahue's unease with Betty Lynn's acquiescence. As Barney's love interest Thelma Lou, Betty Lynn would remain a semi-regular throughout Don Knott's tenure on the show. "It didn't hurt that Betty, a natural freckle-faced redhead, was the only available young woman among the regular cast outside of Elinor Donahue, and Ellie didn't fraternize much with Andy or Don." 

The romance between Andy Taylor and Ellie Walker ended promptly with Elinor Donahue's real-life departure from the show. Although she'd signed a three-year agreement, Donahue requested to terminate her contract. She mentioned that she was acting out of fear that the producers fire her due to negative audience reception. However, there is clear evidence to the contrary; an imminent musical LP featuring music from the show included a track titled "Ellie's Theme." The record was positioned for release in conjunction with the show's second season, revealing the producers' intentions of keeping the character on the show. 

The personal details, though, are more interesting than the business dealings. 

de Visé writes of a Christmas party years after Donahue's departure from The Andy Griffith Show. It was the first time she'd seen Griffith since their professional uncoupling. 

"Andy had indeed taken Ellie's departure personally," he writes. 

"I walked up to [Andy] and I tapped him lightly on the arm, and I didn't know what to expect," Elinor recalled. "I said, 'Mr. Griffith? I want to tell you how sorry I am if I upset you for having left the show.' He said, 'No, no, don't give it another thought. We didn't know how to write for you. That's all it was.' And he gave me a look that told me I was dismissed."

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15 Comments

deedoll53 6 months ago
I loved Ellie on the Christmas show on Andy Griffith Show. She added a sprinkle of joy to the show. She was spirited.
Lantern 7 months ago
I wonder if the fact that Elinor was "fraternizing" with CBS VP Harry Ackerman (whom she later married) had something to do with it.
JGF 8 months ago
Well, Elinor Donahue it’s a great actress. I don’t think the show was for her although I believe she was in 12 episodes but I only remember the Christmas story. She was very Good in that, the Farmer’s daughter. She was great in that as well and the lady druggist. She was good in that too, here’s my dime where’s my pills
bernadette1851 8 months ago
Just to let you all know: the Andy Griffith Show is a great show. I love it very much. Thanks for keeping it on the air. I've been watching it all my life.
AndySmiffin1 8 months ago
Ellie, 'ol Girl, "You're Dismissed!"
RogerDodger 8 months ago
I thought Ellie was great and I liked Helen too! Peggy was very nice as well.
BobbyGlasspie 8 months ago
I’m sorry but I really didn’t like Ellie. I wished Peggy stayed on the series longer.
Braucher BobbyGlasspie 8 months ago
I agree!! There was absolutely no interaction. It was painful to watch
ncadams27 8 months ago
I think the producers planned to have Andy and Ellie be co-leads and eventually marry, but when Don Knotts saw the pilot episode on Make Room for Daddy and called Andy telling him he needed a deputy, the dynamics changed. Also, CBS aired reruns of Father Knows Best on Tuesdays, which only re-enforced the viewers opinion that Eleanor Donahue was too young for Andy.
cperrynaples ncadams27 8 months ago
TRUE! FKB stayed in prime time for 3 years after production ended! It only stopped because Robert Young was tired of his character!
harlow1313 8 months ago
Perhaps it is best for an ordinary fan like me to only skim gossipy type pieces. Most of the time, I only learn that people aren't all that great to be around. I already have that figured out.

I have nothing against the actress, but they made an unconvincing TV couple. Also, in those early episodes, we get "hick" Andy. I particularly dislike the episodes where Ellie is portrayed as a "spirited female." Even when I was a boy, I knew these scripts were simple minded, that the actress deserved a better script.

I don't care much for any of those Ellie episodes, but the heavy-handed Christmas episode has some shining moments, particularly the card from the boys up in State Prison. Promise for a better future on the series.
Andybandit 8 months ago
I loved Ellie on TAGS. She was a lot better than Helen. I don't like Helen. Sorry about that.
ReidDavis Andybandit 7 months ago
Nothing to apologize for, "Helen" was a very polarizing/unlikable character with one of the worst names (Crump) in TV history. Heck, I don't even like Aneta Corseaut opposite Steve McQueen in "The Blob" lol!
LoveMETV22 8 months ago
I tend to agree with the interview that Elinor Donahue did with the " Television Academy Foundation"

The portion where she discusses her time on "TAGS" is @ approx 16:25.
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Suppose Daniel de Visé and authors of articles are entitled to their take about her time on the series. However Elinor Donahue's comments about her time on that series are equally important.
Runeshaper 8 months ago
That's kind of sad really. Interesting, but sad.
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