Southern Belle Donna Douglas who is best known for portraying Ozark tomboy Elly May Clampett on the hit 60s comedy sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies” has died. Douglas passed away in her home state of Lousiana on Thursday. Her niece Charlene Smith confirmed that Douglas’ death was due to pancreatic cancer. Douglas was 82.Born Doris Smith on September 26, 1933 in Pride, Louisiana. Smith married Roland John Bourgeois, Jr. at the age of 16 in 1949 and gave birth to her son, Danny P. Bourgeois, when she was just 21. Smith and Bourgeois divorced in 1954.
She married “Beverly Hillbillies” director Robert M. Leeds in 1971 and they were divorced nine years later in 1980.
After her divorce to Bourgeois, she went on to win a couple of beauty pageants. She was crowned Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans before moving to New York to begin her career as a model and an actress.
“That was the first time I had ever been on an airplane,” Douglas said.
Although she wasn’t a fan of modeling, “I didn’t want to be that skinny.” She did enjoy working in television. She was the Letters Girl on “The Perry Como Show” in 1957 as well as the Billboard Girl on “The Steve Allen Show” in 1959.
She landed a featured role in the 1959 film “Career,” starring Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine and a bit part as a chorus dancer in the musical “Li’l Abner.” In 1961, she had a small role as Tony Randall’s secretary, Deborah, in the romantic comedy “Lover Come Back” with Rock Hudson and Doris Day.
Her breakout guest appearance as patient Janet Tyler on Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” in the episode entitled, “Eye of the Beholder” in 1960 became a series and fan favorite. She played a young woman lying in a hospital bed with bandages covering her head after having plastic surgery. She awaits the outcome of the surgical procedure performed by the State in a last-ditch attempt to make her look “normal.” “Normal” in this universe was actually looking like a pig-faced monster.
In 1966, she starred opposite Elvis Presley, as Frankie, in the romance, comedy, musical “Frankie and Johnny.”
However, the role that defined her career, and admittedly typecast her, was on “The Beverly Hillbillies” as the attractive and naive daughter Elly May. The CBS comedy show ran for nine seasons from 1962 to 1971 and centered around a nouveau riche hillbilly family who moves to Beverly Hills and shakes up the privileged society with their hayseed ways after striking it rich from oil discovered on their land. The series starred the late Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan as well as Max Baer Jr., who turns 77 on Sunday.
Douglas auditioned with more than 500 other actresses for the part. She said she felt at ease playing the role because, like her character, she grew up a poor Southern tomboy. Her character typically wore a snug flannel shirt, tight jeans with a rope belt and she seemed to prefer the company of her critters to any beau interested in her. For her audition, she was asked to milk a goat.
“I had milked cows before,” she recalled in a 2009 interview with The Associated Press. “I figured they were equipped the same, so I just went on over and did it.”
The critics and the network boss who put it on the air, Michael Dann, hated the show. He made this comment much later.
“After screening the pilot, I don’t think I ever watched another segment.”
The public embraced the show and it often scored in the Top 10 for its nine season run. It wasn’t difficult for Douglas to fit into the troupe her niece said.
“She was always happy, and she really loved animals — just like her character on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ She was a wonderful lady, a very good Christian lady.”
Indeed, when Douglas gave her autograph, she included a biblical verse (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…,”) according to New Orleans TV station WAFB.
After “The Beverly Hillbillies” was cancelled, Douglas did guest appearances on numerous television shows and went on to eventually work in real estate. She recorded country and gospel music albums and wrote a book for children that drew on biblical themes.
In 2010 she sued CBS and toymaker Mattel over a Barbie doll that used Elly May’s name and likeness. The suit was settled in 2011.
She said she never minded being typecast as her “Hillbillies” character.
“So many kinds of people relate to Elly May,” Douglas said. “So many people love her, and that means a lot to me.”
No services have been announced at this time. She is survived by her son, Danny P. Bourgeois.
R.I.P. Ms. Douglas. You will be missed!
Sources: Associated Press, IMDb