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Donna douglas talks ‘Hillbillies,’ faith


Anyone who’s familiar with fishing down at the “cement pond” or the famous farewell, “Ya’ll come back now, y’hear,” has been touched by “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Actress Donna Douglas, known primarily for her nine-year stint on the comedic sitcom as Elly May Clampett, one of television’s most infamous Southern belles, is set to share her story of fame and faith Saturday at Lincolnton’s Salem Baptist Church.

Many Lincoln County residents were raised on the nonsensical yet entertaining humor of Uncle Jed, Jethro, Granny and Elly May’s hillbilly interactions.

The show’s storyline is centered around a family who moves to California’s millionaire hotbed of Beverly Hills after striking oil on his rural property.

Prior to the show’s start in the early 1960s, Douglas had very little acting experience and had never traveled farther north than Freeport,     La.

In a special interview with the Times-News on Monday, Douglas revealed that she had never planned to be an actress.

“That’s just how my life has unfolded,” she noted. “You gradually move into what your life’s supposed to be.”

After graduating high school, Douglas, who considered herself at that time to be both “na?ve and idealistic” as well as “shy and awkward,” revealed that she quickly married, divorced and moved to New York “to get her life together and grow up.”

“I had never been away from home,” she said. “I grew up poor. My parents didn’t have a car. I never had a background for show business.”

She can still remember the flight north when a man at the New Orleans airport asked if she wanted to change her plane reservation so that she could arrive at her destination an hour earlier.

“I didn’t even know they had two airports in New York,” she recalled laughingly.

She also noted how despite the fact that she had been raised in a Christian home, she wasn’t yet strong in her faith.

“I loved Jesus, but I didn’t know the Word of God,” she said.

Therefore, upon arriving in New York, she decided to base the rest of her life on a spiritual foundation.

“I made a commitment to God,” Douglas noted.

After living in the northeast for some time, Douglas trekked to the opposite side of the country, where her “Hillbillies” acting career would soon unfold.

Douglas recalled her excitement after capturing the judges’ attention at an open-call audition for the show, especially after one of the men asked her if she was capable of doing the part.

“I thought my heart was gonna pop wide open,” she said. “All I could do was bob my head up and down.” She had also prayed that she would get a role on a family show.

“I wanted my folks back home to be proud of what I did,” she said.

However, following the audition, several unfortunate events occurred, including a car wreck that placed Douglas in the hospital for more than two weeks. She noted that on her way home from the audition, a man who was a famous actor at the time rear-ended her vehicle.

During the period that followed the wreck, Douglas asked God to let her have the show’s role if she was ever released from medical care.

In addition, due to her extensive stay in the hospital, she almost lost the opportunity to become Elly Mae. The show’s producers had already narrowed down their options to five potential girls including her, and Douglas only had a couple of days to screen test.

“I was pretty wobbly, but you better know I was there,” she said.

After nine years on CBS (1962-1971), including two consecutive years as television’s top show, “The Beverly Hillbillies” was canceled — unexpected news for both the cast and crew Douglas noted.

“I didn’t know it was going to end,” she said. “They kept telling us we would be coming back for next season and then they would say no and kept see-sawing back and forth. We never had a farewell finale.”

Douglas considered her time on the show “such a joy” and was thankful to have Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett) and Irene Ryan (Daisy Moses) as positive role models in the lives of both her and Max Baer Jr.’s (Jethro). “They set good working ethics for us.”

She specifically noted her admiration for Ebsen. “He was such a wonderful man very much like my own father — a quiet and reserved and caring person,” she said.

During Douglas’s life on the west coast, she met three older women who shared their wisdom with her and greatly influenced her life she said.

“As success came, I made time for them in my life,” Douglas noted.

As a result, she often spends time at various speaking engagements around the country and even world, telling her audiences to always make time for what’s most important to them.

Although Douglas recently got back from a speaking engagement at a senior luncheon in Lake Charles, La., she is set to take a three-day trip to Canada following her visit to Lincolnton, which is also the birthplace of her agent Bill Anderson of Nashville-based BGA Entertainment.

“This will be a good little treat for Lincolnton,” he said. “People…will just love her.”

Following her time on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Douglas played various smaller movie roles alongside big screen actors such as Doris Day, Tony Randall, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine and even Elvis.

However, she would often pray for unsuccessful auditions if the role wasn’t “family-oriented” she said.

Her character Elly Mae, while often known for her somewhat saucy display of short shorts and a belly-bearing top, wasn’t allowed to be too risque — a far cry from Hollywood’s current morals and fashion.

“I could show no cleavage or buns or belly-button,” Douglas said. “And we couldn’t say anything out of line.”

Fans often approach her and note how they wish television “had shows like that again” she said.

“They say, ‘We knew we could put our kids in a room and not have to worry about the content,’ ” Douglas said.

“But now the title don’t say nothing about what the content may be.”

Pastor Andy Royals of Salem Baptist Church agreed with Douglas’s thoughts and wishes that more modern television shows could be as wholesome and family-oriented as “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

“It was clean … no four-letter words,” he said.

Royals, who considers Douglas to be both “beautiful” and “a hoot,” is looking forward to having the actress speak at his church and visit a town where many of its residents are familiar with the classic show.

“She was such a TV icon,” he said.

These days, Douglas spends a majority of her time speaking at churches, women’s groups and other religiously-affiliated events.

She shares her life history with her audience, but she particularly focuses her central message on Scripture and the importance of setting a Christian foundation at an early age.

“If you have that willing heart, it’s amazing what He can do,” Douglas said.

She’s very much appreciative to God for the “wonderful little door opener” that her character Elly Mae had in allowing her to go many places and encourage others.

“You have to have content to walk through the door,” she said. “It creates an interest.”

She especially has a passion for the younger generation.

“They have so much pulling on them in every direction to deceive them in so many ways,” Douglas said.

“I try to encourage them that nobody can be better you than you. If you want God’s best for you life, it’s out there for you. That’s what my life shows — that you don’t have to compromise.”

Despite her desire to spur the world’s youth to pursue their potential in Christ, she also doesn’t have a preference or “preconceived idea” for what audience she should talk to or encourage with the Word of God.

 

“I have a willing heart to help touch anyone’s life,” she said. “You try to give them some of the keys you’ve learned in your walk in life.

In recent years, Douglas has also dabbled in writing.

“I’m movin’ my little hat around,” she said.

Her newest children’s book, tentatively titled “Miss Donna and Her Critters” is set to hit bookstores by the end of October.

She also has a previous children’s book that she published awhile back and typically carries with her  throughout her various travels.

“God brought people into my path to make a way for me,” she said.

When asked to reveal her age, Douglas happily declined. Instead, she commented in what she thought was a more appropriate manner, stating, “I’m on hold.”

“I am doing  all the things God wants me to do … be the best I can be,” she said.

“Lord willing, I’ll be doing this for many more years.”

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

Image courtesy of Web | Lincoln Times-News

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