Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Death of Elly Mae Clampett

"The only direction they ever gave me was when I started to talk. They said, 'You have to talk faster than that or won't anybody get on that camera but you in a half hour.' Coming from Baton Rouge, you talk — just — about — like — that. And they said, 'Cut, you gotta talk faster than that.' And that was the only direction. They never did have to tell me anything about Elly, how she'd behave in certain circumstances. Now, I knew her, and that's the dream of an actor, to know a character that well."

Donna Douglas

Donna Douglas is dead, a victim of pancreatic cancer.

That might not mean much to younger folks, but if you were a young male in the 1960s, it's a blow.

Douglas played Elly Mae Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies. I've heard that some CBS executives loathed the program, but it was popular with viewers. It ran for nine seasons and was the top–ranked program in the nation in two of those seasons. In all but one season, it finished in the Top 20.

It may have been silly, but it was also a hit.

And Donna Douglas — as the blonde, shapely, tomboyish Elly Mae — had a lot to do with that — at least as far as the young males in the Hillbillies' audience were concerned.

"The death of Donna Douglas froze the heart of pretty much every American boy who was a television–watching teenager in the early 1960s," wrote David Hinckley in the New York Daily News.

You didn't have to be a teenage boy to fall under Elly's spell, either.

If you were a boy of any age, primetime TV in those days had an embarrassment of riches when it came to beautiful women on display. Most, I suppose, were window dressing with the meatier roles reserved for men, but nevertheless, they were there.

My family came late to the TV party; shows like the Beverly Hillbillies were already in reruns by the time my parents bought their first TV. But I had schoolboy crushes on just about all the sexy women on TV in those days — Donna Douglas, Elizabeth Montgomery, Dawn Wells (of Gilligan's Island), Barbara Eden, Sally Field, Marlo Thomas, the Bradley girls on Petticoat Junction (a Hillbillies spinoff), Marilyn on The Munsters, Goldie Hawn on Laugh–in.

Nope, no shortage of beautiful women. Still, it was scandalous when Mary Tyler Moore wore capri pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Elly Mae was different than the rest, though; as Hinckley observed, "compared to what teenage and young–adult female characters routinely wear on TV shows today, Elly Mae looked like she was dressed for an ice cream social at the local Baptist church. But in 1963, Elly Mae was incendiary."

It was still customary in those days for women to wear dresses on TV. As far as I was concerned, any excuse to get Elly Mae into a pair of tight–fitting jeans and a form–fitting shirt (instead of the rather billowy blouses many women wore on TV) was OK. Unless she was already wearing a bathing suit and frolicking in or near the fabled cement pond behind the Clampett mansion.

She couldn't wear a bikini — it was taboo to show a woman's navel on TV — but I still thought she looked hot in a one–piece suit.

You wouldn't catch Elly Mae twerkin'.

In fact, she kissed more critters than fellahs on the Beverly Hillbillies, even though Jed and Granny were constantly trying to find a nice young man for her.

Her fondness for critters was no act, by the way. Donna Douglas was born and raised in rural Louisiana, and she had an affinity for animals since childhood.

Because it was her defining role, most people tend to think the part of Elly Mae Clampett was Douglas' first, but it wasn't. She had appeared on several TV shows before the Beverly Hillbillies came along, most notably in a second–season episode of the original Twilight Zone series, "The Eye of the Beholder."

Douglas didn't say anything in that episode. She was there for the visual effect. The lines that were attributed to her character were spoken by someone else.

She was also in a movie with Elvis Presley — "Frankie and Johnny."

As much of a bombshell as Douglas was, it might surprise some to realize that she was a very devout Christian. She often gave gifts that she had signed with biblical passages.

All of the stars of the Beverly Hillbillies are deceased now except for Max Baer Jr. (Jethro).