Donna Douglas wanted to play Ingrid Bergman-type roles

After becoming known as Elly May, Douglas struggled with the sudden spotlight.

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Fans of classic television will doubtlessly remember Donna Douglas for her role as Elly May on The Beverly Hillbillies. What they might not remember as well is the full picture: Donna Douglas was a young mother thrust into a spotlight nobody could've been ready for. 

Prior to Jed Clampett striking oil, Donna Douglas was a struggling actress looking to capitalize on her regional beauty pageant wins. The former "Miss New Orleans" was able to parlay her successes into a few small television roles, appearing initially on variety programs such as The Perry Como Show and The Steve Allen Show. As her career picked up momentum, she co-starred in the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "Eye of the Beholder."  

Despite these show biz triumphs, Douglas was still a relative unknown when she was selected from over 500 hopefuls to star in The Beverly Hillbillies as Elly May, the only child of Jed and Rose Ellen Clampett. However, her biggest role to date would go on to completely define her career, even overshadowing her personal life and her aspirations as an actress. Donna Douglas, as Elly May, was a casualty of typecasting.

In an interview with the New York Daily News in 1961, Douglas explained her ambitions. "I hope my career will have a wider horizon which would include the kind of quality parts played by Ingrid Bergman and Deborah Kerr," said Douglas. "I feel that dramatic parts incorporate all facets of a woman." 

The hurdles she faced were made immediately clear in that very same interview. Douglas' own words are minimized by the interviewer, who incessantly shifts the focus towards Douglas' body, rather than her body of work. Douglas' career aspirations are lost among reports of her measurements and descriptions of her figure.

So too was her role as a mother. Donna Douglas fits the definition of an overnight celebrity, going from a little-known actress to a star in one of the biggest sitcoms in the history of American television. This necessitated immediate adjustments in her life. One such change came as a decision to relinquish guardianship of her then 7-year-old son, Danny, who went to live with Douglas' mother. As The Beverly Hillbillies elevated her star power to unknown levels of recognizability, Douglas' difficult decision provided her growing son with a much-needed stability. 

"I wouldn't want to be dragging him from pillar to post and maid to maid all the time," said Douglas. 

Donna Douglas was more than just the pretty face of The Beverly Hillbillies, and deserves to be remembered as such. She was an ambitious actress and a selfless mother, and she was constantly reduced to the sum of her looks. She was a regular person looking to find her place in the irregular world of teleivion fame. 

"Show business doesn't have to be the rat race some people make of it. I'm determined that it won't turn me into a sleeping-pill, pep-pill addict or some other kind of kook," Douglas told the Daily News. "Success isn't worth having, if that's the price you have to pay for it."

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Mannixishot 11 months ago
It's honestly a shame Donna and Max both got typecast as badly as they did. I saw Donna in an episode of Night Gallery and thought she did an amazing job in the role. Both should've had an opportunity to do other different kinds of roles. Makes me wonder if either were offered a guest shot on Barnaby Jones or if it would've been a case of feeling embarrassed at being given jobs because they worked with Buddy Ebsen.
Davidbruce 11 months ago
Donna Douglas was also in GUNSMOKE. Too bad she got typecast by short sighted unimaginative agents and casting directors.
Oldwatcher73 11 months ago
i actuully met her once a lot of years after he beverly hillbillies role,and she did look a whole lot older,but she had the same (if you can believe it) blonde hair up in little pony tails..i believe she was in her late 50's or early 60's at that time..i was working for an airline and she was a passenger..
Mannixishot Oldwatcher73 11 months ago
She did keep the same look. It's not me to judge if she just liked that style and wanted to keep it for the rest of her life or if she just threw up her hands and decided she might as well just become Elly for the rest of her life since that's all anybody could see her as.
Cougar 11 months ago
She starred with Elvis Presley in the movie "Frankie and Johny" before the "Hillbilly's." I'm surprized she didn't get more role's on the big screen.
kathleenreick 11 months ago
She had strength. Must have been terribly hard to relinquish guardianship of her you son. Kudos she did what was best for her son not herself.
Andybandit 11 months ago
Donna Douglas was pretty, too bad she didn't get the roles she wanted. She did very well as Elly May.
Runeshaper 11 months ago
Relinquishing guardianship of her then 7-year-old son, Danny, must have been tough. However, I give Douglas credit for putting her son's welfare as a priority.
15inchBlackandWhite 11 months ago
So she never got the kind of roles she wanted to play due to her body, but her body was probably the reason she got noticed and brought to Hollywood in the first place. Lots of Catch-22 irony in there.
I was thinking the same thing.
Coldnorth MrsPhilHarris 3 months ago
What about her accent
MrsPhilHarris Coldnorth 3 months ago
Was it real? I don’t think she had an accent in The Twilight Zone. 🤔
cperrynaples 11 months ago
Can't imagine her in Casablanca! "Elly Mae, we'll always have Hooterville!"...LOL! Really, TZ was her only drama role and most of it was played by another woman in bandages...LOL again!
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