ELINOR DONAHUE* (Mrs. Chumley) North Carolinians probably know television icon Elinor Donahue best as Andy’s girlfriend Ellie Walker, the “lady druggist”, on The Andy Griffith Show. She received an Emmy nomination as Betty on Father Knows Best and has been a series regular on The Odd Couple (as Miriam, Felix’s girlfriend), Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman (as Rebecca, Dr. Quinn’s sister) and the cult hit series Get a Life (as Chris Elliot’s mom).
Her work in Guest Star roles encompasses many beloved shows including: Star Trek, The Golden Girls, Friends, Cold Case, Murder She Wrote, Ellen, Mork & Mindy, Coach, The Dukes of Hazzard, Happy Days, Diff’rent Strokes, The Flying Nun, Newhart, Days of Our Lives, Santa Barbara, The Young and the Restless, Dennis the Menace, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hotel, One Day at a Time, 77 Sunset Strip, Have Gun-Will Travel, Dr. Kildare, S.W.A.T, Police Woman, Barnaby Jones, The Rookies, The Virginian, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and The Loretta Young Show.
On the big screen, her recent work includes Princess Diaries 2 with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews, Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts, and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. By the time she was five, she was placed under contract to Universal Studios and completed her first film, Mr. Big with Donald O’Connor. At age nine, she moved to MGM, and during that studio’s heyday she appeared in The Unfinished Dance and Tenth Avenue Angel with Margaret O’Brien; Three Darling Daughters with Jeanette MacDonald and Jane Powell; and Love is Better Than Ever with Elizabeth Taylor. At other studios, she had roles in Tea for Two with Doris Day and Gordon MacRae; My Blue Heaven with Betty Grable; and Girls Town with Mamie Van Doren and Mel Torme.
Elinor has also graced the stage in many theatrical productions including Critic’s Choice, Murder Among Friends, Tribute, Alone Together, and Never Too Late.
“Harvey,” by American playwright Mary Chase, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work, delighted audiences during a Broadway run that lasted 1,775 performances, and subsequently was a popular film and television special. It was revived several times with the latest production having a limited run this year in London.
The classic is being brought to the stage of Owens Auditorium at Sandhills Community College for five performances Sept. 24–27 by the Judson Theatre Company.“Harvey” is a brilliant comedy, in which Hollywood great Jimmy Stewart played the part of Elwood Dowd on the stage, in films, and on television here and abroad. Elwood P. Dowd is an affable man who claims to have an unseen (and presumably imaginary) friend Harvey — whom Elwood describes as a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch tall pooka resembling an anthropomorphic rabbit, a benign but mischievous creature from Celtic mythology.
The trials and tribulations of Elwood Dowd and his unusual friend have drawn a notable cast to the Judson Theatre production.
Emmy nominee and TV Land Legend Elinor Donahue has been in the limelight ever she first signed with Universal Studios at age 5. She eventually moved to MGM, where her talent and wholesome appeal was recognized in numerous films. She finally won nationwide “girl-next-door” notice as the oldest daughter in television’s “Father Knows Best.” Later she was tapped for regular appearances in such shows as “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Golden Girls,” “The Odd Couple,” “Newhart” and several soap operas and returned to film with roles in “Princess Diaries 2” and “Pretty Woman.”
Elinor Donahue loves playing the cameo role of Mrs. Chumley, the wife of the head of a local sanatorium.
“She is a person who is full of life with a sense of humor, but she is a bit befuddled about all the fuss being made over Elwood’s imaginary friend,” says Donahue.
With no immediate plans to appear in other stage roles, she enjoys a stress-free existence in California, swimming, taking long walks, and “playing in my kitchen.” She takes pleasure in whipping up an Apple Crisp, one of her favorite recipes featured in her memoir published several years ago, “In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue.” The book was a remembrance of her days in Hollywood, paired with her own recipes and those of her co-stars.
Morgan Sills, the Judson Theatre Company’s executive producer, says,”Getting Elinor Donahue here has been ‘years in the making’ — I grew up devoted to watching her on television. In addition to her tremendous talent, Elinor has a reputation as a total pro and one of the nicest people in show business. I’ve wanted to bring her to the Sandhills for a long time. This time everything lined up for her to say ‘yes.’”
The role of Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey” is portrayed by an experienced New York stage actor David Mason who has been seen in “The Leftovers,” “House of Cards” and “Law and Order SVU.” He has a wide range, excellent comic timing and a wealth of experience in theater and film. Mason, who has played the role before, says the character of Dowd is an emblem for happiness, exhibiting joy in interacting with people.
“He is a true listener, open to others, displaying a sense of wonder, and I try to convey all of these traits in bringing Elwood to life in this production,” says Mason.
Mason received his early training at the University of Massachusetts at the university’s program of theater arts, giving him a broad background in acting, set design and production. One of his favorite regional theaters in which he performs is the New Century Theatre in Northampton, where he recently appeared in a new critically acclaimed work, “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play.” Also on this year’s summer circuit, Mason appeared at The Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod in “The Velocity of Autumn.”
The part of Veta, Elwood Dowd’s social-climbing sister, is portrayed by Kelly Hackett. An accomplished actress, she was seen in the Judson Theatre production of “Plaza Suite” earlier this year. Her credits include leading roles in regional productions of “South Pacific,” “Oliver,” “Into the Woods” and “The King and I.”
Supplementing the impressive cast drawn from Hollywood, New York and Chicago are several actors who have worked extensively in the Triangle area of North Carolina and also some local talent.
A familiar face on stage belongs to Adam Faw, who has been the director of the Pinecrest High School Theater Department for more than a dozen years.
More at home behind a light board or directing students, Faw is thrilled to step on stage in an acting role for the second time in a long while, last seen in the Judson Theatre production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In “Harvey,” he has a small but very important role. He plays the cab driver who comes in during the last scene, delivering vital information — a bearer of what is ultimately received as good news.
“‘Harvey’ was the first play I directed at Pinecrest,” says Faw.
Performances are Thursday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 25, and Saturday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27, at 2 p.m. Advance tickets are $38, or sold at the door at $43. Tickets may be obtained by calling eTix at (800) 514-3849 or visiting the website at http://judsontheatre.com. Groups of 10 or more may also contact JudsonTheatre@gmail.com for group pricing information.