The Andy Griffith Show is still viewed as one of the greatest sitcoms in television history. Its wholesome portrayal of rural America was precisely what the 1960s audiences wanted when war and political turmoil dominated.
Just because the show was such a hit, however, it doesn’t mean that everyone on set was happy. Actress Elinor Donahue, who had just come off of a six-year run on Father Knows Best, was only 11 episodes in when she asked to leave.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ is a wholesome series
Andy Griffith told the story of Andy Taylor, a small-town Sheriff who not only has to keep the fictional town of Mayberry afloat but has to do so as a recent widower raising a son played by Ronny Howard. The show is a classic for many reasons. Its wholesome portrayal of small-town life helped set the stage for ensemble comedies in the future.
At the core of the series, however, was the life of its namesake. Taylor had several love interests throughout the show, but they struggled to keep them on board.
Part of the draw was the portrayal of a single father. Every relationship risked losing the magic that came with it. However, while many came and went throughout its run, Ellie Walker, played by sitcom veteran Donahue, was the first.
Andy and Ellie’s romance on the series was short-lived
Ellie debuted on the series during the first season. A pharmacist by trade, Ellie runs on a strict moral code that will not allow her to do what she believes is wrong.
When a resident wants a drug that Ellie cannot give her, she provides a placebo that does the job the person seeks. This shows why she’s the perfect foil for Sheriff Taylor. Eventually, Ellie falls in love with the Sheriff.
Audiences saw the couple go from awkward bickering friends to lovers, matchmakers, and eventual breakup. According to Donahue, this breakup had less to do with the plot and more to do with a lack of chemistry. In the end, it worked out for both parties.
Elinor Donahue left the series and later apologized
Looking back at her departure from the show, Donahue said that she was a young actress trying to make a name for herself that she didn’t think was helped by the sitcom. While she was grappling with her performance, the show was taking its toll on her mental health.
The actress spoke to the Television Academy in an interview.
“I had a three-year contract for that show, but at the end of the first year,” she told them. “I asked to be let out of it, because I didn’t feel that I was playing the role properly. I just didn’t feel right about it. In retrospect, from things that people have said to me — very lovely things — I was doing OK. I was just not a happy camper and there was no point in my trying to continue with it.”
Fed up with feeling like she did not fit the new sitcom, she spoke with Griffith and the show’s creative team. Donahue had nothing but praise for the star. She owes the departure to the fact that they had minimal chemistry. Later on, however, another actress had the opposite appeal.
“He was as gracious to me as you could imagine,” she told the Academy. “He said they just didn’t know how to write for me. That could have been part of it. I didn’t think there was any real chemistry there. They tried a lot of other women periodically, but then Aneta Corsaut came in. I have since read they had a hot and heavy thing going, and in that case he was able to relate.”
It’s strange to hear that someone wanted to leave a show as big as Andy Griffith before it had the chance to get off the ground. Still, Donahue took her career into her hands, and while it may have suffered, she hasn’t let it get to her.
The show was a success, Donahue remained active in Hollywood, specifically on television, until an unofficial retirement in the early 2000s. As for Griffith, it remains one of television’s crowning achievements decades after it left the air.
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