Donna Douglas was an American television actress that was best known for her role on the hit 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. On that show, Donna played the role of Elly May Clampett. After the show came to an end, Donna decided to leave television. Instead, she ventured into the field of gospel singing, authored several books, and even became a licensed real-estate agent! Join Facts Verse as we explore what happened to Donna Douglas, Elly May from The Beverly Hillbillies.
Donna Douglas was born in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, on September 26, 1932. She was the second of two children, growing up alongside an older brother. When she was a teenager, Donna attended St. Gerard Catholic High School. While attending the school, she was incredibly active and played various sports, including basketball and softball. She subsequently became a member of the school’s first graduating class. In her later teen years, Donna took part in various beauty pageants. This led to her receiving the titles of Miss New Orleans and Miss Baton Rouge in 1957.
The attention that Donna received during her time in beauty pageants inspired her to pursue a career in entertainment. She moved to New York City and began working as an illustration model for various advertisers. She then began making numerous television appearances where she showed off her looks, including on The Perry Como Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Phil Silvers Show.
In 1959, a movie producer spotted Donna and cast her in one of the films that he was working on. This film was called Career, which also starred Shirley MacLaine. Following Donna’s role in Career, her own career began taking off faster than ever before. She was cast in the musical comedy film Li’L Abner later that same year, and had an even more notable role in the 1961 Rock Hudson and Doris Day comedy Lover Come Back.
While Donna was making a name for herself in the film industry, she was also receiving some increasingly noteworthy roles on television. She was featured on a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Eye of the Beholder”, and had a four-episode role in 1961 on the detective series Checkmate. It wouldn’t be long before Donna was offered her breakout role as Elly May Clampett on 1962’s The Beverly Hillbillies.
Even though Donna had appeared in numerous films and television programs before being cast in The Beverly Hillbillies, she was still seen as a relatively unknown actress by the show’s producers. Hundreds of actresses had applied for the part, but Donna proved to be just what they were looking for. The show was a major success, lasting for nine seasons and 274 episodes. Elly starred in all 274 episodes of the series.
While The Beverly Hillbillies was on hiatus for the summer in 1966, Donna filmed her first and only lead role in a film. She starred as the titular Frankie, alongside Elvis Presley’s Johnny, in the feature Frankie and Johnny. The film was released to great success, but Donna never received another starring role in a film. This was due largely to typecasting after The Beverly Hillbillies came to an end in 1971.
After The Beverly Hillbillies ended it’s nine-season run, Donna was having trouble getting the work she wanted in entertainment. Because of this, the actress decided that she might need a change of career. She went and got her real-estate license, and became a practicing real-estate agent for a short period of time. However, she eventually decided that this field wasn’t for her.
While Donna’s real estate venture didn’t work out quite the way that the actress had hoped, she eventually found solace in a new career as a gospel singer. Donna became involved in the national church community, and subsequently became a popular singer and guest speaker at churches and colleges across the country. The actress released her very first gospel album in 1982. She had already had some experience in the recording industry at that point, having previously recorded a few country albums during the previous decade in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of The Beverly Hillbillies.
Donna’s career as a gospel singer wasn’t the only creative endeavor to come about from her newfound immersion into the religious community. She released a religiously themed children’s book titled Donna’s Critters and Kids: Children’s Stories with a Bible Touch. She published two more books after this first effort, a follow-up children’s book titled Miss Donna’s Mulberry Acres Farm and a cookbook titled Southern Favorites with a Taste of Hollywood. The latter book also contained recipe contributions from some of Donna’s show business peers, including Debbie Reynolds, Valerie Harper, Phyllis Diller, and Buddy Ebsen. Of course, Buddy had starred with Donna on The Beverly Hillbillies as her on-screen father. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Donna Douglas was married two times over the course of her lifetime. Her first husband was a man by the name of Roland Bourgeois, Jr. The two married in 1949. Donna and Roland had one child, a boy by the name of Danny. Danny was born in 1954, and his parents divorced later that same year. Though Donna would later remarry, Danny remained her only child.
Near the end of The Beverly Hillbillies’ run, Donna became engaged to a man by the name of Robert M. Leeds. Robert was a director on the show. The two became married in 1971. Though they never had children, their marriage last for nearly a decade. In 1980, the two were divorced. After divorcing from Robert, Donna never remarried. This was perhaps because of her increasingly fervent religious pursuits later in life.
Donna was accepted into the Rhema Bible Training Center in 1982. The Rhema Bible Training Center operated out of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Donna graduated from the center’s program in 1984. While there, Donna had spent her time studying the art of children’s ministry. She subsequently put these skills to use as a guest speaker for children across the country, alongside her career as a gospel recording artist.
Donna retained a close friendship with Buddy Ebsen up until the latter’s death in 2003. Buddy had played Donna’s father on The Beverly Hillbillies, and remained a real-life father figure in her eyes until the day that he passed away. The night before Buddy passed away, Donna went to the hospital to visit him alongside fellow former The Beverly Hillbillies costar Max Baer Jr. 2003 was also the year that Donna’s mother passed away, meaning that was a year that had been exceptionally hard on the poor actress and gospel singer.
Over the course of Donna’s later life, the former actress was embroiled in a number of lawsuits. In 1993, Douglas and some of her business partners sued many parties involved in the production of the film Sister Act. Donna and her partners alleged that the film was an intentional rip-off of a book that they owned the rights to. That book was called A Nun in the Closet, and Donna claimed that she had even tried to have the book turned into a movie. The plot of the book was strikingly similar to the Whoopi Goldberg comedy, with Donna’s legal team alleging that there were over 100 similarities between the two pieces of media. In 1994, Donna and her partners were offered a $1 million settlement, but they rejected it. Subsequently, the courts found in favor of the defending party, and Donna got nothing.
Donna filed another lawsuit in 2011, this time against Mattel and CBS Consumer Products. Mattel, of course, is the classic toy company responsible for making the Barbie doll. The reason for Donna’s lawsuit was a Barbie doll that had been made based on the likeness of Elly May Clampett. The doll was created to commemorate The Beverly Hillbillies, and was released as a collector’s item for fans of the show. Given that Donna played Elly, and their likenesses were one in the same, Donna felt that she should have been asked permission for the use of her image and should have been given a say on the doll’s design. The lawsuit was resolved by the end of the year, with all parties involved apparently having reached an amicable compromise.
On January 1, 2015, Donna passed away. She had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, and was taken to Baton Rouge General Hospital after experiencing some serious pains. The former actress had spent her final years living in East Baton Rouge Parish, the place where she had grown up. Upon her death, she was buried at Bluff Creek Cemetery in Feliciana Parish.
Donna reprised the role of Elly May Clampett only one time before her death, and that was in the 1981 made-for-television movie Return of the Beverly Hillbillies. Donna reprised the role alongside former costars Nancy Kulp and Buddy Ebsen. When the 1993 feature film adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies was put into production, Donna was more concerned with her religious pursuits than she was with coming back to cameo. However, Donna did rejoin her surviving costars that same year on a special commemorative reunion episode of The Jerry Springer Show.
Even though Donna’s typecasting as a hillbilly prevented her from having the career she wanted after The Beverly Hillbillies came to an end, the actress never resented the show nor the character that she played on it. In fact, Donna often expressed that she felt she had more in common with the character of Elly May Clampett than she did with her peers in the industry.
Although Donna Douglas’ mainstream career never quite took off after her nine-season stint on The Beverly Hillbillies, she still left plenty of other roles to remember her by besides Elly May Clampett. Comment down below to share how you best remember Donna outside of The Beverly Hillbillies, or if you have any interest in hearing her gospel work. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!