Donna Douglas, who played Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies for its entire nine-season run, has died, reports CBS affiliate WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, LA. She was 81. Douglas passed away on January 1 at her home in Zachary, LA, with family members by her side, according to WAFB.
Douglas began her entertainment industry career as an illustration model for toothpaste ads in the late 1950s. After a few TV appearances, as the “Letters Girl” on The Perry Como Show and the “Billboard Girl” on The Steve Allen Show, she was dubbed “Miss By-line” by the New York media. That led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, where she was spotted by film producer Hal Wallis; he cast Douglas in her first feature, playing Marjorie Burke in Career (1959). She went to play a series of bit parts in films including Li’l Abner (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961). Douglas made her only starring turn in a feature film, as Frankie in Frederick de Cordova’s Frankie And Johnny (1966), opposite Elvis Presley.
She appeared on numerous TV shows from the ’50s into the mid-’70s, including The Twilight Zone twice — once as the post-surgery patient in the classic episode “Eye of the Beholder” — CBS detective series Checkmate, along with U.S. Marshal, Route 66, The Adventures Of Ozzie & Harriet, Mister Ed, 77 Sunset Strip, Thriller, Night Gallery, Adam-12 and Love, American Style. But she is best remembered as tomboy Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71). She starred on the show for all 274 episodes, along with Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Nancy Kulp, Raymond Bailey, and Max Baer Jr. In its first two years, The Beverly Hillbillies was the No. 1 show in the U.S., and it finished second behind Bonanza in Season 3. The series remained among the Top 20 until 1970. In 1981, she returned for a made-for-TV reunion movie, The Return Of The Beverly Hillbillies.
In 2011, Douglas filed a lawsuit against toymaker Mattel and CBS Consumer Products of over an “Elly May Barbie” that was part of a Classic TV Characters line. The suit was settled late that year.
Douglas shared her view on the role that changed her life in a 2003 interview with Confessions Of A Pop Culture Addict: “Elly May was like a slice out of my life. She is a wonderful little door opener for me because people love her, and they love the Hillbillies. Even to this day it’s shown every day somewhere. But, as with any abilities, she may open a door for you, but you have to have substance or integrity to advance you through that door.”