Donna Douglas: From "The Twilight Zone" to "The Beverly Hillbillies"

Herbie J Pilato
[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

[Author's Note: All quotes and commentary that appear in this article were culled from interviews the author conducted with those individuals mentioned.]

Donna Douglas, who died in 2015, was an honest-to-goodness Southern Belle who displayed a natural beauty and talent in her portrayal of the hollering, rope-wearing, whistle-happy, and critter-cuddling Elly May Clampett on the 1960s classic TV hit, The Beverly Hillbillies.

Entertainment historian Margaret Wendt once noted, "Donna Douglas as Elly May was just beautiful. You just loved her...and loved everything she said...whether it was to Jethro (Max Baer, Jr.), Uncle Jed (Buddy Ebsen), or Granny (Irene Ryan). She didn't overplay the part. She played Elly May like she was indeed Elly May. Her body was gorgeous...and she when she wore those clothes, she wore them realistically...and gave the impression as if she really did come from the hills...and country livin'. She just looked natural in the role...she looked innocent and sweet and you wanted to know her. And everyone remembers Elly May. And it's important to remember that anytime there was a similar female look in a move like Smokey and the Bandit...and even in a TV show like The Dukes of Hazzard, they were all trying to copy Elly May...the Daisy Dukes short-shorts, etc. Donna Douglas created a look with Elly May that many tried to re-create over the years but were never able to do it."

Before The Beverly Hillbillies, Douglas made guest appearances on TV shows like Dr. Kildare, 77 Sunset Strip, Route 66, Surfside 6, The Defenders, and more. She also appeared in feature films like the classic musical, Frankie & Johnny (1966), which co-starred Elvis Presley.

A particularly memorable, non-Hillbillies stand-out performance was her quite visual take as the conflicted Janet Tyler in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone episode, "Eye of the Beholder."

In this segment, which originally aired on November 11, 1960, Donna's Tyler was considered an outcast due to her unappealing appearance in an off-beat alien world. In reality, of course, she was the sole appealing resident of that world, which was littered with an unappealing population.

As Douglas once recalled of performing in the Zone, "Rod Serling was a dear man, and I enjoyed working on that show. It was really my first dramatic part, and it was rather easy...She was just so disappointed in how she looked. She just wanted to be the same as everyone else...and well feel that from time to time."

As to playing Elly May, Douglas decided:

"Elly just had a good sense of family, and knew right from wrong she had the same upbringing that I did; back then you had respect for your parents, elders, and community. We had the same values, morals, and love of critters. They are like children; they can sense whether a person is sincere; they are a good judge of character."

During the Hillbillies' heyday, Douglas was invited to Japan, where the show was quite popular. As she recalled, "The Japanese people loved Elly and the show. It was such an exciting trip. They lined the streets to see me. They're such warm people. It was quite an experience for a little girl who had never been more than 75 miles from home [which was Pride, Louisiana]. Now, I've been to Isreal more than five times, with 16 cruises, all over the US and Canada. Playing Elly opened a lot of doors for me, and I'm grateful."

As do remain Donna Douglas' millions of fans around the world.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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