Donna Douglas

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Donna Douglas
Donna Douglas 1967.JPG
Douglas in 1967
Born Doris Smith [1]
(1933-09-26) September 26, 1933 (age 80)
Pride, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, U.S.
Years active 1956-2008
Spouse(s) Roland John Bourgeois, Jr. (1949-1954; divorced)
Robert M. Leeds
(1971-1980, divorced)
Children Danny P. Bourgeois (b. 1954)

Donna Douglas (born September 26, 1933) is an American actress, best known for her role as Jed Clampett's (played by Buddy Ebsen) only daughter, Elly May Clampett, in the CBS television series, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971).

Early life[edit]

Douglas was born Doris Smith in the community of Pride in East Baton Rouge Parish, near Zachary, Louisiana.[2] She was the only daughter of Emmett Ratcliff Smith, Sr. (1907–1988)][Footnotes 1] and his wife, the former Elma Robinson (1910–2003).[Footnotes 2]

Douglas attended St. Gerard High School, a Roman Catholic school, where she played softball and basketball.[2] She was a member of the school's first graduating class. She married Roland Bourgeois in 1949; they divorced shortly after the birth in 1954 of their son, Danny P. Bourgeois. She was a "Miss Baton Rouge"[2] and was named "Miss New Orleans" in 1957.[3]

Acting career[edit]

Douglas moved to New York City to pursue a career in entertainment and started out as an illustration model for toothpaste advertisements.[4] She was featured as the “Letters Girl” on NBC's The Perry Como Show in 1957, and as the “Billboard Girl” on NBC's The Steve Allen Show in 1959. These and other television appearances led New York photographers and newspaper reporters to award her the “Miss By-line” crown, which she wore on CBS's The Ed Sullivan Show.[5]

Producer Hal Wallis saw the Sullivan episode and cast her in the role of Marjorie Burke in the movie drama, Career (1959), starring Anthony Franciosa, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine. This was followed by a bit part in the musical comedy, Li'l Abner (1959) and the role of a secretary in the comedy/romance Lover Come Back (1961) starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day.

She made numerous television appearances in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including a notable episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled "The Eye of the Beholder" (1960). She was cast as Barbara Simmons in four 1961 episodes of the CBS detective series, Checkmate. Her other credits, among others, were in U.S. Marshal, Tightrope, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Bachelor Father, Adam 12 and Route 66. Douglas also appeared in Thriller, season 1, episode 16, "The Hungry Glass," which also starred William Shatner, Russell Johnson, and Boris Karloff.[citation needed]

The Beverly Hillbillies[edit]

The turning point in Douglas’ career came when she was chosen to play the role of the tomboy Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies. She starred on the program for all nine seasons, along with Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Nancy Kulp, Raymond Bailey, and Max Baer, Jr. The Beverly Hillbillies became the number one show in the United States in its first two years.[6][7]

During the 1966 summer hiatus for the show, Douglas made her only starring motion picture appearance, cast as Frankie in Frederick de Cordova's Frankie and Johnny (1966), opposite Elvis Presley.[8] The film proved popular, and is among Presley’s most frequently televised movies, but it did little to advance Douglas's big-screen career. In 1981, she returned for a made-for-TV reunion movie, The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies.[8]


Douglas's first husband was Roland John Bourgeois, Jr. (married 1949, divorced 1954), with whom she had a son, her only child, Danny P. Bourgeois (born September 14, 1954).[9] She married Robert M. Leeds (1920–2000), the director of The Beverly Hillbillies, in 1971, and they divorced in 1980.

Friendship with Buddy Ebsen[edit]

Beginning as an unfamiliar, busy young actress of the early 1960s, after working with actors such as John Forsythe, to Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Jackie Cooper, she was then selected out of 500 young ladies to work alongside with legendary actor and dancer Buddy Ebsen on The Beverly Hillbillies. This series ran for nine consecutive seasons, beginning in 1962 through 1971. Douglas remained on good terms with Ebsen for 32 years. Douglas found she was typecast because of her "Hillbillies" role, which led her to focus her career as a gospel singer. Douglas said of her relationship with Ebsen in a 2011 interview with The Lincoln Times News, "He was such a wonderful man, very much like my own father, a quiet and reserved and caring person."[10]

Two years after the cancellation of The Beverly Hillbillies, and prior to his success on his second successful TV show, Barnaby Jones, both Douglas and Ebsen received word that they lost former The Beverly Hillbillies co-star, Irene Ryan on April 26, 1973, who played Granny "Daisy Moses", in the same series. In 1981, eight years after Ryan's death, she and Nancy Kulp were the only original cast members to be reunited with Ebsen to work on the reunion movie, Return of The Beverly Hillbillies.. Douglas, along with Baer, were one of the participants at Buddy's 84th birthday on March 17, 1992, in Beverly Hills, California, along with many other of Ebsen's longtime friends.

The following year, on May 20, 1993, in addition to Douglas and Baer, reuniting with Ebsen, on The Jerry Springer Show, which was hosted by lifelong Buddy Ebsen fan, Jerry Springer, they also reunited for the fourth and final time, in the CBS-TV retrospective television special, The Legend of The Beverly Hillbillies, which ranked as the fourth most watched television program of the week. Before she lost her surrogate father on July 6, 2003, right around the same time, she was losing her real-life mother, Emma, Douglas and Baer, both visiting the ailing star in the hospital to pay him, their final respects. When she finally lost her decades-long colleague, she and Baer had both attended his funeral on August 30, 2003, almost 2 months, prior to his death, and were both very devastated by the loss, where they both read eulogies, about him.

In June 2013, a decade after the death of Douglas's acting mentor in July 2003, Douglas also stated in an interview with Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict: Critters and Confessionals: A Conversation with Donna Douglas, of her on- and off-screen relationship with Ebsen, "I loved Buddy Ebsen. He reminded me so much of my own Dad. Most of my scenes were with Buddy, and most of Max’s with Irene. Buddy was just a wonderful man. I related to him so easily. The night before he died Max and I went up to the hospital to see him. Buddy and Irene had to conserve their energies, and Buddy would take little naps on the set sometimes. He wasn’t a “busy body” on the set. Of course, they had most of the lines. I didn’t have very many lines. I said “Yes pa” and “Howdy” more than anything else. Sometimes I’d have more to say."[11]

Elly May Clampett, pop culture icon[edit]

Donna Douglas as Elly May Clampett became one of the most popular and recognizable television personalities during the 1960s, a guest star on a number of other television programs and the subject of paper dolls, dolls, coloring books, and various toys during the heyday of the program. She was also the only cast member to be on all seven of the series' TV Guide covers.

In December 2010, Mattel released a new collection of three Barbies called the Classic TV collection. These dolls were Bewitched (played by Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens), I Dream of Jeannie (played by Barbara Eden as Jeannie), and The Beverly Hillbillies (played by Donna Douglas as Elly May Clampett).[12]


Sister Act[edit]

On June 10, 1993, Douglas and her partner, Curt Wilson, in Associated Artists Entertainment, Inc., filed a US$200 million lawsuit against Disney, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, their production companies, and Creative Artists Agency claiming the film Sister Act was plagiarized from a book, A Nun in the Closet, owned by the partners. Douglas and Wilson claimed that in 1985 they had developed a screenplay for the book. The lawsuit claimed that there were more than one hundred similarities and plagiarisms between the movie and the book/screenplay owned by Douglas and Wilson. The lawsuit claimed the developed screenplay had been submitted to Disney, Goldberg, and Midler three times during 1987 and 1988.[13] In 1994, Douglas and Wilson declined a $1 million offer to settle the case.[why?]

The judge found in favor of Walt Disney Pictures and the other defendants. Wilson stated at the time, "They would have had to copy our stuff verbatim for us to prevail."[14]

Barbie Doll[edit]

On May 4, 2011, Douglas filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Mattel and CBS Consumer Products used her name and likeness for a Barbie doll in the Classic TV Collection without her authorization. The suit alleged that packaging for the "Elly May" Barbie doll featured a photo of her portraying the character. Douglas maintained she never endorsed the doll or gave Mattel permission to use her name to promote its sale.[15]

On December 27, 2011, Douglas settled her suit against CBS Consumer Products and Mattel, in which she had been seeking at least $75,000. In the lawsuit Douglas claimed CBS and Mattel needed her approval to design the doll, while CBS and Mattel maintained that they didn't need her consent or approval because the network holds exclusive rights to the character. Details of the settlement were confidential; however, both sides claimed to be content with the outcome.[16]

Later career[edit]

Donna Douglas as grand marshal at a parade in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee

Douglas received her real estate license after The Beverly Hillbillies went off the air. She did not work in that field long, however, as she remained in show business and found other projects.

Douglas frequently performs as a gospel singer and speaks at churches across America. She has recorded several gospel albums, the first being released in 1982. She recorded a few minor country music records during the 1970s and 1980s. (A British pop singer in the 1960s also named Donna Douglas recorded a number of recordings including a United Kingdom hit, "Message in a Bottle," and occasionally her discs are mistaken for those of The Beverly Hillbillies star.)

She has also written a children's book titled Donna's Critters & Kids: Children's Stories with a Bible Touch, which has Bible stories featuring animals and is combined with a coloring book for ages two to seven.

Douglas has remained busy making appearances, speaking for church groups, youth groups, schools and colleges. One key focus of her charitable work has been to appear and speak in support of various Christian children's homes, mostly in her native American South. She has also appeared at conventions and trade shows. In 2005, she filmed two pilot episodes for a children's program titled Mirror, Mirror.

In November 2011, Douglas released a new children's book, Miss Donna's Mulberry Acres Farm.



  • The Beverly Hillbillies (television soundtrack) (1963)
  • Donna Douglas Sings Gospel (1982)
  • Here Come the Critters (1983)
  • Donna Douglas Sings Gospel II (1986)
  • Back on the Mountain (1989)

Selected television appearances[edit]


  1. ^ Her father's obituary, published in The Baton Rouge Advocate, October 9, 1988, states the following: "Emmett R Smith Sr. — Died 2:30 p.m. Friday, October 7, 1988, near Port Allen, as the result of a boating accident. He was 81, a native of Baywood and resident of Zachary. He was a retired Standard Oil Co. employee with 37 years service. Visiting at Galilee Baptist Church, Deerford, 12:30 p.m. to religious services at 2 p.m. Sunday, conducted by the Rev. Tommy Jackson. Burial in Bluff Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Bluff Creek.... "
  2. ^ Her mother's obituary, published in The Baton Rouge Advocate, January 2, 2004, states: "SMITH, ELMA ROBINSON In her early life, she was a telephone operator and was a joy and blessing to all who knew her. She died Wednesday, December 31, 2003, at 6:05 a.m. at Zachary Manor Nursing Home. She was 93, born in Olive Branch/Clinton and a resident of Zachary. Visiting was at Charlet Funeral Home Inc., Zachary, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, with recitation of the rosary at 7 p.m. Visiting at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church from 10 a.m. until service at 1 p.m. Friday, conducted by the Rev. Kenny Laird. Burial in St. Isidore Catholic Church Cemetery, Baker..."


  1. ^ Cox, Stephen (2003). The Beverly Hillbillies: a fortieth anniversary wing ding (Rev. and expanded. ed.). Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House. ISBN 1-58182-302-9. 
  2. ^ a b c Britt, Donna (March 23, 2009), Actress Donna Douglas grants rare interview, WorldNow and WAFB 9 News, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  3. ^ Brennan, Sandra. "Donna Douglas". Allmovie. Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  4. ^ "A FEW MOMENTS WITH... Donna Douglas Elly May Wtill Loves Her Critters". Orlando Sentinel. June 12, 1994. Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Donna Douglas". Filmbug. Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  6. ^ US TV Nielsen Ratings 1962-1963, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  7. ^ US TV Nielsen Ratings 1963-1964, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  8. ^ a b The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, IMDb, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  9. ^ Coffee, Jack, Eleventh Generation, Ancestors of Marguerite Lucy Bourgeois Laurent (1910-2002), The Coffey cousins, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Classic TV Collection, Mattel, Inc., retrieved January 2, 2012 
  13. ^ Haring, Bruce (June 10, 1993), $200 mil suit targets 'Sister Act', Variety, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  14. ^ Friend, Tad (September 1998), $Copy Cats: Hollywood Stole My Story!, The New Yorker, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  15. ^ O'Neill, Ann, Actress sues over 'Elly May Barbie' doll, CNN, retrieved January 2, 2012 
  16. ^ McConnaughey, Janet (December 29, 2011), Settlement in Elly Mae Clampett Barbie doll suit, The Associated Press, retrieved January 2, 2012 

External links[edit]