Donna Douglas, who played the blond hillbilly babe Elly May Clampett on the hit 1960s TV comedy series, The Beverly Hillbillies, is dead at the age of 82. According to her niece, Charlene Smith, she passed away from pancreatic cancer at Baton Rouge General Hospital on New Year’s Day, in Louisiana. Though many media sources reported Donna Douglas’ age when she passed away at 81, Smith confirmed to a reporter from USA Today that she was actually 82 when she died.
Donna Douglas was chosen from over 500 actresses for the iconic role of the rough and tumble tomboy and animal loving Elly May Clampett. She was asked if she could milk a goat at the auditions. Douglas had never milked a goat before, but she had milked cows, so she went right over to the goat and treated it the same way, successfully milking the animal and landing the part.
Despite her attractive beauty pageant looks — she was both a former Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans — as Jed Clampett’s niece, Elly May, she had no idea the effect that she had on men. Even dressed in blue jeans with a rope for a belt, like her cousin on The Beverly Hillbillies, Jethro (Max Baer), her beauty shone through.
As Elly May Clampett, Douglas referred to the swimming pool behind the mansion where she and her extended family lived in Beverly Hills as “a SEE-ment pond.” She would often swim there in episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, in some old-fashioned one-piece swimsuit her Granny picked out for her to wear, with critters like raccoons, dogs, and chimpanzees.
The Beverly Hillbillies was panned by critics but loved by TV audiences, often being in the Top Ten ratings. The show ran from 1962 to 1971. Jed Clampett was played by Buddy Ebsen, who died in 2003. The role of Granny was played by Irene Ryan, who passed away in 1973. Jed’s nephew, Jethro, was played by former boxer Max Baer, Jr. At the age of 77 come this Sunday, Max Baer, Jr., is now the last surviving member of the original cast.
Max Baer, Jr. and Donna Douglas would sometimes make appearances together to sing autographs for fans, The actor who formerly played Jethro fondly recalled that Douglas would always dress up for the appearances just like she had in The Beverly Hillbillies, complete with pigtails. He stated to RumorFix that “She was Elly May until the day she died.” He said that the last time he saw Donna Douglas was in Los Angeles in January 2013, at an autograph signing.
Her niece, Charlene Smith, described Donna Douglas as being “a “very good Christian lady.” Whenever she would give anyone a present, she would always write out a passage “from Scripture,” to include with the gift. She also included a verse from Scripture with every autograph she signed.
As well as her role playing Elly May Clampett, actress Donna Douglas will also be remembered for co-starring in the 1966 film Frankie and Johnny opposite Elvis Presley, and for acting in an eerie episode of Twilight Zone called “The Eye of the Beholder.” Her head is wrapped up for much of the half-hour-long episode, because she has undergone plastic surgery to fix her “ugliness,” in a universe populated with monsters where ugliness is considered to be beauty.
According to Smith, besides being survived by her son, Douglas is also survived by a brother, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and several extended family members. She was married and divorced twice. Her first marriage, to Roland John Bourgeois, Jr. lasted only until 1954, and they had one son together, Danny P. Bourgeois.
Donna Douglas moved back to her home state after her time in Hollywood, largely to live near her son. After her televison career, Douglas sold real estate, sang gospel songs and even wrote a children’s book. Her second marriage was to the director of The Beverly Hillbillies, Robert Leeds. They got married in 1971 and divorced in 1980, after nine years of marriage. The family of Donna Douglas plans to have a small, private funeral for her.
Written By: Douglas Cobb