Actress Donna Douglas grants rare interview
ZACHARY, LA (WAFB) - She's been called reclusive by some, but legendary television actress Donna Douglas, Elly May on the 1960s TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, lives in Zachary, Louisiana.
She was born Doris Smith, near Pride, Louisiana. "Well, I was born outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana," Douglas said. "Right outside of home and way out in the country." They were poor, but moved to north Baton Rouge when her father, Emmett Smith, got a job with Esso Oil Company. Donna would later proudly pose with Esso plant officials and her parents. She played softball and basketball at St. Gerard High School, which is now Redemptorist High. She was in the school's first graduating class.
She got married at 17 years old. A baby boy came along, but the marriage split. Donna won Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans. Her star was beginning to rise. "The farthest north I'd been at this time, I'd been to Shreveport, Louisiana one time." Emmett and Elma Smith kept their grandson while Donna set out to try to make as much money as possible to send back home. She first went to New York. "I believed with all my heart that if I did the best I could do, that God would take care of me. Then, I didn't have to be afraid. And the other thing was that mom and daddy trusted me enough to let me go and was gonna help me with my little boy, because he was gonna stay. Then, I was gonna be worthy of their trust."
In Los Angeles, Donna would land the coveted role of Elly May Clampett. Elly May was a tomboy and Donna had grown up the only girl, with one big brother and numerous boy cousins. She took after the Elly May role like a hippo to water. She loves animals. She would star with a hippo one day and a chimp on another. There was a desk full of critters. The show was about hillbillies who strike oil and move among the rich of Beverly Hills. "Our show hit number one the second week. We were number one on national television for two solid years," she said.
After her stint on The Beverly Hillbillies ended, Donna was everyman's sexy pinup dream. She starred with Elvis in the movie, Frankie and Johnny, but as producers for upcoming movies asked her to show more skin and play more provocative roles, she turned down movies. "I didn't want to be put in a place of compromise," she said. "So, I went to night school and got my real estate license." Donna's star-power was selling million-dollar homes. "Oh no, I wasn't good in real estate. You know why? Because I've learned I'm a service person. I'll tell 'em what's good about the house, but I'll tell them what's wrong about it, too. And you don't do that!"
Donna also tried gospel music. For almost 50 years now, she's appeared before hundreds of churches, schools, and organizations across the country. She talks about God, telling her story of moral choices and the great times she's lived. She made a rare Baton Rouge public appearance at the recent Krewe of Mutts parade. The Capital Area Animal Welfare Society is one of her favorite causes.
What you learn about Donna is that she can't deny her international stardom, but she tries really hard to just be normal. She drove that point home when she offered to ride her John Deer "tractor" for this report. "I mean, I go everywhere and people come up to me and they talk to me, but it's normal. It's not built into a lot of this star stuff. It's so wonderful just to be ordinary folks with ordinary people, 'cuz that's the way I am."
If you happen to see Ms. Douglas about town, try to act normal. That's what she would want.