Donna Douglas still embodies Elly May Clampett, the critter-loving beauty from "The Beverly Hillbillies."
"Elly has always been good for me," says Douglas. "That was a slice out of my life, a very happy slice out of my life."
Douglas returned from California to her native Louisiana a few years ago. She lives just outside Baton Rouge near her only child, a son who owns horses and several acres of land. Douglas likes to help him bale hay.
"Cutting grass, baling hay ... I grew up doing all that stuff," Douglas says as she picked blueberries on a sweltering summer day. "I don't mind getting sweaty and dirty. I enjoy being outside."
Douglas, out of the entertainment business for years, appeared in commercials and TV shows in the 1950s and '60s. But she is best known for her role in "The Beverly Hillbillies," the CBS comedy about a Tennessee family who moved to Beverly Hills after oil was discovered on their land. The show ran from 1962 to 1971.
Douglas, now 76, was chosen for the part of Elly May from more than 500 other actresses. She says she felt at ease playing the role because, like her character, she grew up a poor Southern tomboy. The experience came in handy when she was asked during her audition to milk a goat.
"I had milked cows before," she says. "I figured they were equipped the same, so I just went on over and did it."
Though assailed by critics, the show ran for nine seasons and can still be seen in reruns.
Played ‘ugly’ patient on ‘Twilight Zone’
Douglas' career began with beauty pageants — she's a former Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans — followed by a trip to New York to pursue a career in entertainment.
"That was the first time I had ever been on an airplane," Douglas recalls.
While modeling didn't appeal to her — "I didn't want to be that skinny" — television did. Douglas was featured as the Letters Girl on "The Perry Como Show" in 1957 and as the Billboard Girl on "The Steve Allen Show" in 1959.
The titles landed her an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," which Douglas says was her big break. Hollywood producer Hal Wallis saw her on the show and invited her to audition for a movie contract in Los Angeles.
"I didn't know what I was doing," she says with a laugh. "I had been in acting class all of two weeks."
Douglas got a featured role in the 1959 film "Career," starring Anthony Franciosa, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, and a bit part in "Li'l Abner." She also had a small role as Tony Randall's secretary in the 1961 romantic comedy "Lover Come Back" with Rock Hudson and Doris Day.
Douglas starred in one of the most memorable episodes of Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" — the one in which her head is wrapped in bandages after plastic surgery aimed at fixing her "ugliness." And she starred opposite Elvis Presley in the 1966 movie "Frankie and Johnny."
Credits faith with helping her land role
She is guarded when talking about those days: She will discuss her career but when asked about her personal life, including her two marriages and subsequent divorces, she steers conversation away from her past to her childhood and her religious faith. She says that without her faith in God, she might never have landed the role of Elly May.
"I did a lot of praying and talking to God," says Douglas, a devout Christian. "I still do."
Since "The Beverly Hillbillies," Douglas has worked in real estate, recorded country and gospel music albums and written a book for children that includes biblical themes. She also rings bells for the Salvation Army at Christmastime, and speaks year-round to women and youth groups, church groups or "anyone who will listen."
"We're proud of all our graduates, but being that Donna was on TV and made such a name for herself, it's always a benefit to our school to say, `Look at what she's done,'" said Chris Porche, the school's alumni director.
Porche said Douglas has returned to the school a number of times to speak at assemblies and to see her grandchildren, who also graduated from there.
Douglas says it never bothered her that she was typecast from her Elly May role. She embraces it, in fact.
"So many kinds of people relate to Elly May," Douglas says. "So many people love her, and that means a lot to me."
Douglas says she's enjoying her life, spending time with family and friends, including a childhood friend she used to play softball with in high school.
"It's wonderful to be home," she says. "Some of the fun is getting to come to places like this, the blueberry farm. I always love the trees and the grass.
"I go all the time. Trying to get to bed at night is my hardest thing."