Donna Douglas, who played the ditsy Elly May Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” died Friday at her home in Zachary, La., according to a report by CBS affiliate WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, La. She was 81.
Douglas starred as the naive only daughter of the oil-rich Clampett clan in the CBS sitcom that ran from 1962 to 1971. Buddy Ebsen played patriarch Jed Clampett, who moves his family from the Ozarks to Beverly Hills after stumbling into oil riches.
Douglas’ Elly May was known for her love of all kinds of “critters,” as well as for her shapely figure, form-fitting jeans and cascade of blond curls. The actress was a series regular throughout the run of the top-rated show, which was the first in a triptych of corny countrified sitcoms from creator Paul Henning that included “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.”
Elly May’s love of “critters” was inspired by Douglas’ real-life affection for animals, having grown up on her grandparents’ farm in rural Louisiana.
As a teenager, Douglas moved into acting after winning several beauty pageants in her home state. She was crowned Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans in 1957, according to WAFB. She moved to New York to pursue acting and landed work as a model, in TV commercials and finally bit parts on “The Perry Como Show” and “The Steve Allen Show.”
Douglas logged a slew of TV guest shots in the late 1950s and early ’60s before landing on “Beverly Hillbillies.” She did everything from “Bachelor Father” to “Route 66” and “77 Sunset Strip” to two episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”
The first of those was the standout “Eye of the Beholder,” a commentary on conformity and ideals of beauty. Douglas’ face was covered in bandages for most of the episode until she is revealed at the end as despondent because her latest medical treatment did not give her the pig-like snout and other disfigurements considered attractive in the fantasy realm of the episode penned by series creator Rod Serling.
During the run of “Hillbillies,” Douglas had a guest shot on the gritty CBS legal drama “The Defenders.” She co-starred with Elvis Presley in the 1966 pic “Frankie and Johnny.”
After “Hillbillies” ended, Douglas guested on another Serling series, “Night Gallery,” and was seen in episodes of “McMillan and Wife,” “Love, American Style,” “Adam-12” and “Project UFO.”
But her acting career was on the wane by the mid-1970s. She turned her focus to music and the Christian media marketplace, recording several gospel albums and writing children’s books.
In recent decades she was mostly seen onscreen in “Beverly Hillbillies” revival projects, including 1981 telepic “The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies,” and in vintage TV retrospectives and events. She made an appearance as herself on the CBS’ sitcom “The Nanny” in 1999.
Survivors include a son.