Farewell Donna Douglas

Forever beautiful Elly May Clampett of the The Beverly Hillbillies, otherwise known as Donna Douglas, has died on January 1, 2015 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 82 in Louisiana (the same state she was born in, in 1933). 

donna douglas dead, beverly hillbillies, gospel music, christian children's books, frankie and johnny, elvis presley, louisiana natives, donna douglas 1961, donna douglas younger(Donna Douglas 1961 Thriller Screenshot)

She was named Doris Ione Smith when she was born on September 26, 1932 in Pride, Louisiana. Although best known for her work as Elly May on the iconic TV series The Beverly Hillbillies from 1962-1971, Donna Douglas also starred alongside Elvis Presley on the big screen in 1966 in Frankie and JohnnyTheir co-stars in Frankie and Johnny included Sue Ann Langdon and Nancy Kovack.

donna douglas 1967, ellie may clampett, the beverly hillbillies, 1960s tv series, american actress, younger, 1960s tv shows, comedy tv shows(Donna Douglas circa 1967 Photo: ABC Network)

Donna Douglas was a billboard girl on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show from 1959-1960, and had a recurring role as Barbara Simmons on Checkmate starring Doug McClure and Sebastian Cabot in 1961. She found other episodic work on television from 1959 through 1960s, including 77 Sunset Strip, Bachelor Father, Surfside 6, The Twilight Zone in an episode with Carol Burnett, The Defenders, and in an episode of Mister Ed starring Clint Eastwood. Other TV guest spots for Donna Douglas were:

  • An episode of Tightrope with Mike Connors (Mannix).
  • Route 66 with Martin Milner and George Maharis.
  • Thriller with Boris Karloff and William Shatner.
  • 77 Sunset Strip with Edd Byrnes, Roger Smith and Richard Long.
  • Hennesey starring Jackie Cooper, with Abby Dalton.
  • The Aquanauts, in episodes with Burt Reynolds, and Ron Ely (Tarzan).
  • Cain's Hundred, starring Peter Mark Richman.
  • Surfside 6, in two episodes that had Joan O'Brien, Van Williams, and Troy Donahue.
  • Dr. Kildare, starring Richard Chamberlain, in an episode with Harvey Korman and her The Beverly Hillbillies co-star Nancy Kulp.

Movies for Donna Douglas during her career were minimal. She had small roles in several musical/comedy films, including 2 movies with Dean Martin - Career (1959) with Dean Martin, Anthony Franciosa, Carolyn Jones, Joan Blackman, and Shirley MacLaine; and Bells Are Ringing (1960).

Douglas was a chorus dancer in Li'l Abner (1959), which featured a cast with Julie Newmar, Stella Stevens, Valerie Harper, and Jerry Lewis. In Lover Come Back (1961) starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, and Ann B. Davis (The Brady Bunch), Donna Douglas played a secretary. Douglas later guest-starred on Rock Hudson's series McMillan & Wife, co-starring Susan Saint James, and John Shuck. 

donna douglas 1960s, the beverly hillbillies, american actress, ellie may clampett, larry pennell, dash riprock

(Donna Douglass as Elly May Clampett & actor Larry Pennell as Dash Riprock 1960's Photo: Unknown)

The role that Donna Douglas will be remembered most for is that of the beautiful, innocent, animal loving Elly May Clampett. She played actor Buddy Ebsen's (Jed Clampett) daughter, granddaughter of actress Irene Ryan (Granny), and cousin of Max Baer Jr. (Jethro Bodine).

The Beverly Hillbillies ended in 1971 after 9 years on-air. 

Buddy Ebsen and Donna Douglas maintained a close life-long friendship off-screen after the end of the series. Douglas said in interviews that Ebsen reminded her strongly of her father and was a wonderful man. 

Below, the Pygmalion and Elly (1962) episode of The Beverly Hillbillies features Donna Douglas as Elly May and actor Louis Nye as her fanciful suitor Sonny Drysdale (son of their bank manager & neighbor Mr. Milburn Drysdale). 

Donna Douglas reprised her role as Ellie Mae Clampett for the TV movie The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies (1981), along with fellow original series cast members Buddy Ebsen, and Nancy Kulp. Future TV star Heather Locklear had an uncredited role in The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies


Donna Douglas' acting career had begun petering out after The Beverly Hilbillies went off the air, but sharp-eyed baby boomers may remember seeing her in guest-starring roles on 1970's series like Project U.F.O., and Adam-12 starring Martin Milner and Kent McCord.

donna douglas 2007, american actress, senior citizen, salute to disney parade, grand marshall, tennessee(Donna Douglas 2007 Photo: Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures)

Donna Douglas was the Grand Marshall of the Salute to Disney parade in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee in 2007. 

Douglas became a gospel and country music recording artist and performed in the 1970's and 1980's. In her senior years, she made a rare onscreen appearance in 1999 guest-starring with Hal Linden on an episode of The Nanny starring Fran Drescher, Charles Shaughnessy, and Nicholle Tom.

Donna Douglas turned to writing Christian-themed children's books - at age 78 in 2011, she released a new children's book titled Miss Donna's Mulberry Acres Farm.

In 2013, Donna Douglas wrote a cookbook, Southern Favorites with a Taste of Hollywood, featuring recipes from her many celebrity friends.

Donna Douglas was married to first husband Roland Bourgeois Jr. from 1949-1954; her son Danny P. Bourgeois was born in 1954. She was later married to second husband Robert M. Leeds from 1971-1980; Leeds was a director on The Beverly Hillbillies

Farewell, Donna Douglas.

Note: This article was first published in January, 2015 with the title Farewell Donna Douglas. It has been updated with new & additional content.

*Images are public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons, Vimeo, or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & baby boomer writer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.


Chrissti Suzi June 13th, 2016 at 9:06pm

I loved her
loved the show
and been nicknamed after her
because of my love for critters
I know it was just a show
but I considered

it a compliment.
hugs and love Donna xoxoxoxo

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