Dwayne Hickman was Elinor Donahue's first crush
They worked together when she was 12. "He was the first boy I ever had a crush on."
In 1984, Elinor Donahue appeared on Happy Days in her one and only guest spot in an episode called "School Dazed."
By this point, her Andy Griffith Show co-star Ron Howard had already departed the show.
In the Happy Days episode, Donahue played a concerned and sensitive mother to a troubled teen whom Joanie befriends.
For Donahue, she was ready to play mother roles, but it wasn’t all she wanted to play. The Eighties became a time when she felt the roles for female actors her age were fewer and further in between.
"I’m in that age group of actresses who need more roles written for them," Donahue told the Columbia Record in 1984. "Even the villainesses are getting younger."
Playing mothers would have to do.
The year before Donahue appeared on Happy Days, she was called to play a different mother role in a TV movie that was designed for former child stars like her.
For the 1983 movie High School, U.S.A., the president of NBC at the time, Brandon Tartikoff, got the idea that he wanted to bring the most popular 1950s child stars together onscreen with the most popular 1980s child stars.
That’s how Donahue was cast to play mother to Nancy McKeon (The Facts of Life) and husband to Ken Osmond (Leave It to Beaver).
Other Eighties child stars included Michael J. Fox of Family Ties, Todd Bridges of Diff’rent Strokes, and both Crystal Bernard and Cathy Silvers of Happy Days.
Other child stars from Donahue’s era when she played Betty Anderson on Father Knows Best, included Angela Cartwright of The Danny Thomas Show, Tony Dow of Leave It to Beaver, Barry Livingston of My Three Sons and both Bob Denver and Dwayne Hickman from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
"I think it’s a fascinating concept," Donahue told the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1983. "They got just about everybody from the 1950s."
For Donahue, perhaps the sweetest reunion was with Hickman, whom she revealed to the Press-Gazette played a different role in her life growing up as a child star: her first real crush.
Donahue had appeared in an installment of Vacation Playhouse with Hickman when she was 12 and he was 14, and she said:
"He was the first boy I ever had a crush on. He was so courtly. When I first met him, I put out my hand and he kissed it. I was so impressed."
After reuniting with Hickman for High School, U.S.A., Donahue was called to do Happy Days, where she kept the nostalgia going.
When the show’s final season was announced, newspapers touted Donahue as the season’s biggest guest star in preview pieces teasing how the show would end.
Donahue never escaped her strong association with family shows, and she was glad to play mother roles that suited her age and her particular household name.
In 1984, she told the Longview News-Journal that Happy Days provided a realistic picture of how it felt for her as a mother who behind the scenes of her hit TV shows had raised her four teenaged boys.
That’s why she was glad to take the guest role in this "very special" episode of Happy Days and when asked what advice she had for parents looking out for their kids, whether it’s in the '50s, '80s, or today, her parenting advice to keep kids out of trouble holds strong: "By being there, and being aware, and watching, and talking about it."