Who was Donna Douglas?
A platinum blondie with sparkling blue eyes and a lisp, breathless voice, Donna Douglas, is probably still known best as Elly May Clampett in the series “The Beverly Hillbillies”. She also starred opposite Elvis Presley in the 1966 romantic musical comedy “Frankie and Johnny”, and had over 40 acting credits to her name. This Southern beauty is remembered as one of the most attractive Hollywood actresses, and was awarded Miss Golden Globe in 1963, having already won Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans crowns in 1957.
Early life, family, and education
Born Doris Ione Smith under the zodiac sign of Libra on 26 September 1932, in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana USA, she held American nationality and her ethnicity was Caucasian. She was raised in her hometown by her parents, Emmett Ratcliff Smith Senior and Elma Smith (nee Robinson), alongside her brother, whose name hasn’t been disclosed.
Donna used to say that she was a real tomboy growing up, often playing basketball and softball with her brother and his friends. When it comes to her educational background, she attended Saint Gerard Catholic High School, and upon matriculating in 1950, she didn’t go to college. Donna married when she was 16 years old, had a child when she was 22, and divorced soon after giving birth to her son. Subsequently, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
Roles in movies
Donna made her acting debut in an uncredited role as a Woman on a Sidewalk in the 1959 movie “North by Northwest”, and later that year, she was cast to play Marjorie Burke in the drama “Career”, starring Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, which was nominated for three Oscars (Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White).
Donna had several support roles in the following years, which were mainly uncredited, before her role as Deborah/Peter’s Secretary in the 1961 romantic comedy “Lover Come Back”, starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day, which was nominated for the Oscar – Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.
Donna Douglas and Elvis Presley on the set of "Frankie and Johnny" 1966. 🎬
Her next movie role came in 1966, when she was cast to play Frankie in “Frankie and Johnny”, which followed the story of a riverboat singer Johnny, portrayed by Elvis Presley, and his girlfriend Frankie, who doesn’t support his love for gambling. The movie won the Golden Laurel Award for Musical and was very popular, but did little to advance to Donna’s big-screen career.
Nearly 20 years later, Donna was seen in the 1981 TV movie “The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies” reprising her role as Elly May Clampett, which was poorly rated by the audience.
Her final role was her portrayal of Marjorie in the 2013 family drama “Chronicles of Life Trials”, written and directed by Donna Dodge, which didn’t achieve much success.
Roles in series
Donna made her first TV series appearance playing Nancy in an episode of the 1959 series “Tightrope”. She followed with her guest roles in numerous series, including “The Aquanauts” (1960), “Mister Ed” (1961), and “Sam Benedict” (1962) before she landed her most significant role.
From 1962 through 1971, Donna was seen playing Elly May Clampett in 273 episodes of the comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies”, also starring Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan. The series followed the adventures of the newly rich hillbillies, who move to the luxurious neighborhood of Beverly Hills and shake up high society with their primitive way of life. It had 12 award nominations, including seven Primetime Emmys, and three wins. In 2004, Donna won the TV Land Award- Favorite ‘Fish Out of Water’ which she shares with her co-stars.
Donna Douglas is best known to Twilight Zone fans as the face of Janet Tyler on "Eye of the Beholder", but she also took a small role as a unnamed party guest in "Cavender is Coming". #ZoneFacts #S2E6 #S3E36 pic.twitter.com/hd6qiRPjwk
— The Twilight Zone (@TheNightGallery) February 9, 2019
In one of her interviews, Donna said that her role as Elly May was like a slice out of her life, and was a ‘wonderful door opener’, however, after playing this role, Donna was continually typecast, the process by which a particular actor becomes strongly identified with a specific character.
Donna was next seen in “Night Gallery” (1972), “McMillan & Wife” (1974), and “Project U. F. O.” (1978). She then focused on her career as a gospel singer, returning on television as the voice of Ellie Mae in an episode of the series “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” in 1989.
Her last TV series appearance was as herself in an episode of the comedy “The Nanny” in 1999.
Love life and husband
Donna married her first husband, Roland John Bourgeois Junior, in 1951. Their son, Danny, was born in 1954, but the two divorced later that year. After her role in “Frankie and Johnny,” it was rumored about her relationship with Elvis Presley, however, the two never commented on these assumptions.
On 26 June 1971, Donna married Robert M. Leeds, a television director, whom she met on the set of “The Beverly Hillbillies”. The couple divorced in September 1980, and didn’t have children together.
Around 2005, Donna returned to her hometown in Louisiana, and since she withdrew from public life, there is no info about her love life after her divorce from her second husband.
She was an avid animal lover from an early age.
Cause of death
Donna, according to her niece, Charlene Smith, lived a quiet and peaceful life. She enjoyed gardening and spending her time with her family and friends. Charlene said that she wore make-up every day and was always happy and beautiful.
Donna died aged 82, on 1 January 2015, at Baton Rouge General Hospital. For years she fought with pancreatic cancer, and that night Donna lost her battle; she was buried in Bluff Creek Cemetery.
How rich was Donna Douglas? Net worth
After she stopped acting, Donna worked as a real estate agent in Beverly Hills and had a successful career as a gospel singer. She filed a federal lawsuit against Mattel, an American multinational toy manufacturing firm, in 2011 after they sold a Barbie doll that resembled Donna. It was the Classic TV Collection, and according to Donna, the Barbie doll ‘Elly May’ packaging included a photo of her portraying the character, which she didn’t approve of. Donna and the corporation reportedly settled in December 2011, and the terms of the payment were kept private. It is known that Donna requested $75,000 in damages.
According to sources, at the time of her death, her net worth was estimated at $500,000.