Goodbye, Elly May———’60s “Beverly Hillbillies” Actress and Icon, Donna Douglas, Dead at 81

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A natural beauty, Donna Douglas appears in this 1959 publicity still taken for an uncredited supporting role as a chorus girl in the movie musical, L’il Abner. (Photo: moviespictures)

From Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans, Douglas moved on to become a model, actress, spok

America watched “Elly May” grow up on TV, her character evolving over a decade from naive and innocent to self-assured and strong. Despite early criticism of the show, Douglas’ portrayal of Elly was undeniably that of a strong-willed, self-determined, and independent woman. As Uncle Jed worried about finding her a fella, Elly remained content just to spend time with her “critters.” (Photo: CBS)

Growing up in the 1960s, my brother and I were constantly subjected to a TV sitcom-diet of shapely and sexy “sirens,” each seemingly more beautiful than the one before. From Mary Ann and Ginger on Gilligan’s Island, to Jeannie on I Dream of Jeannie, Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Julie Newmar’s ultra-sexy Catwoman on Batman, we could barely change the 3 or 4 channels on our little black-n-white television without finding another stunningly gorgeous woman—to idolize.

Sadly, on the first day of 2015, the world lost one of classic TV’s most beloved sitcom goddesses, the wonderful Donna Douglas, who died peacefully (of pancreatic cancer) in a hospital in Louisiana at the age of 81. Douglas was (of course) best known for her superb portrayal of Miss Elly May Clampett during 9 seasons of CBS’ unforgettable “hick-com,” The Beverly Hillbillies, but her amazing career entailed MUCH more than that. According to the obituary published by Fox News/AP:

By the time the show ended, Douglas' character, "Ellie Mae," had matured into an independent, free-thinking woman, an unexpected role model for many. (Photo: CBS)

By the time the show ended, Douglas’ character, “Elly May,” had grown and matured into an independent, free-thinking woman, and unexpected role model. (Photo: CBS)

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“Douglas appeared in ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’ a comedy about a backwoods Tennessee family who moved to Beverly Hills after striking it rich from oil on their land. As Elly May, she seemed blissfully unaware of her status as a bumpkin blond bombshell. Typically, she was clad in a snug flannel shirt and tight jeans cinched with a rope belt, and she seemed to prefer her ‘critters’ to any beau. Chosen from more than 500 other actresses, Douglas said she felt at ease playing the role because, like her character, she grew up a ‘poor Southern tomboy.’ Her childhood in Pride, Louisiana, came in handy when she was asked during her audition to milk a goat.” According to Douglas:

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“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.”

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Hubba-hubba, Hillbilly! In yet another stunning publicity still, Douglas showed off her gorgeous gams and pre-Hillbillies hair-do. (Photo: Paramount)

The Fox News/AP article also quoted Douglas’ cousin, Charlene Smith, who added:

Takin' a dip in the "CEEment pond," Douglas shows off her famous figure in a '60s publicity still taken during her decade on The Beverly Hillbillies. Va-va-va-VOOM! (Photo: CBS)

Takin’ a dip in the “CEEment pond,” Douglas shows off her famous figure in another ’60s publicity still taken during The Beverly Hillbillies. Va-va-va-VOOM! (Photo: CBS)

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“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.”

As action figure fans, we’d be sorely remiss if we neglected to mention Douglas’ legal wrangle with Mattel over the Elly May Barbie doll. According to Wikipedia:

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“On May 4, 2011, Douglas filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Mattel and CBS Consumer Products used her name and likeness for a Barbie doll in the Classic TV Collection without her authorization. The suit alleged that packaging for the ‘Elly May’ Barbie doll featured a photo of her portraying the character. Douglas maintained she never endorsed the doll nor gave Mattel permission to use her name to promote its sale. On December 27, 2011, Douglas settled her suit against CBS Consumer Products and Mattel, in which she had been seeking at least $75,000.

Donna Douglas, later in life,  and the Barbie doll made to represent her famous Elly May character. (Photo: zap2it)

Donna Douglas in 2011, sued Mattel over its “Elly May” Barbie doll. A settlement was reached. (Photo: zap2it)

In the lawsuit, Douglas claimed that CBS and Mattel needed her approval to design the doll, while CBS and Mattel maintained that they didn’t need her consent or approval because the network holds exclusive rights to the character. Details of the settlement were confidential; both sides claimed to be content with the outcome.” —Fox News/AP

 Bottom Line: We “shore is” going to miss Donna Douglas! She was a beautiful, talented and generous human being and stood as a shining example for us all. Thank you, Donna, for all of the wonderful memories and inspiration. Rest in Peace! 

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One thought on “Goodbye, Elly May———’60s “Beverly Hillbillies” Actress and Icon, Donna Douglas, Dead at 81

  1. GAS says:

    Well said….and a nice tribute!

    She “shore will” be missed…..and I am sure she would say “Thank you folks for kindly dropping in – Ya”ll come back now ya hear!.

    Gary

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