Swimmin' pools, movie stars

Elly May Clampett will live on forever on TV reruns, but Donna Douglas now has a new role in life.

The woman gave her husband a sharp poke in the ribs with her elbow.

"Look, look," she urged in one of those sotto voce voices people aren't suppose to overhear but usually do. "You know who that is."

A few moments later it happened again, this time the stare turning into a double-take.

"Is that who I think it is?" the lady asked her companion, swiveling around to take a second gander.

"I'll be darned. It's Elly May," the man stage-whispered, sheepishly glancing over his shoulder to see if anyone was looking his way.

They weren't. People in the lobby of the Hilton Naples at 6:15 Saturday night were looking her way — but with a polite Naples reserve. Perhaps it was shyness that kept them from approaching the familiar blonde woman dressed in pink. Perhaps they weren't the types who speak to strangers or gush over celebrities.

Later, while dining at Il Fresco Cafe Roma on the other side of U.S. 41 N., similar scenarios would took place.

"Oh, it happens all the time. It's fine," says Donna Douglas, alias Elly May Clampett.

Last weekend, the critter-loving homespun actress-turned-motivational speaker was in town to share her life story during two services at Naples Church of God — sharing her faith and telling tales about how a devoted Christian coped in the temptation-filled world of show business.

Douglas' career included more than her role in "The Beverly Hillbillies," which ran for 200-plus episodes between Sept. 26, 1962 and Sept. 7, 1971. After it went off the air, she got her real estate license, appeared in television shows including "Night Gallery" and "The Nanny," then moved back home to Louisiana where she has increasingly devoted time to mentoring young people.

Re-runs of "The Beverly Hillbillies" continue, however, so her face is known to the world. And it's still a familiar face.

So, it's no wonder she's easily recognized. At 72 — "Agewise, I'm on hold," she said — vestiges of Elly May's youthful beauty peak through. It's easy to see why she did toothpaste commercials for Stripe. Her teeth are perfect, she has Southern belle porcelain skin and a nose that looks like a nose job, but isn't.

The big hair, what some call Texas hair, looks dated, and local boutiques don't carry the kind of seriously ruffled pink blouse she wore that evening. But she remains pure Elly May.

"I loved doing that role," she said. "Elly May was a slice out of my own life. And of course "The Beverly Hillbillies was a story about the American Dream."

After meeting at the Hilton, Douglas agreed to sit down for some vittles to discuss her acting career and present life outside of Baywood, La., where she cuts her own grass with a new John Deere, cares for two stray dogs, is active in her church and accepts occasional engagements as a motivational speaker.

* * * * * * *

Born Donna Smith near Baywood, La., she was the only girl in her family.

"I was raised a tomboy," she said, "roughhousing with my brothers and cousins."

Money was tight, but finances improved when her father found steady employment and the Smiths moved to north Baton Rouge, where her love of sports and outdoor activities continued.

The Naples Church of God marquee near downtown Naples on Sunday.

Photo by Garrett Hubbard, Bonita Daily News

The Naples Church of God marquee near downtown Naples on Sunday.

"I could have been a semi-pro softball pitcher," she said, "but my main dream was to have a good marriage."

It wasn't to be, though.

"If you get kissy-faced too fast, watch out. When you're young like that, you don't see down the road. That wonderful feeling of love takes over," she said between bites of lobster ravioli.

A teenage marriage lasted long enough for her to become a mother. It was a role she understood, having help raise all the kids in her neighborhood. But outside of that, "I didn't know much of anything," Douglas said.

With a minimal Christian school education and few marketable skills, the newly divorced country girl decided to move to the big city to find work.

"I wanted to get my life together but I had no background, just a pinch of modeling training," she recalled, "and I'd won a few local beauty contests. I knew where New York City was on the map, though. At the time, I was 17, going on 12.

"That's when I made a commitment to God. My folks trusted me enough to let me go. I told God I'd do the best I could do, and knew He'd take care of me."

Almost immediately, everything came her way.

She found work as the "Letters Girl" on "The Perry Como Show" — "I was the first Vanna White" she joked — did toothpaste ads and was named "Miss Byline" by New York newspaper photographers and reporters, which got her a spot on the top-rated "Ed Sullivan Show."

"I could smile and handle a bunch of letters," Douglas said, "but I told people not to ask me to say anything. I was that shy."

Jobs continued to come her way, however, and life in New York was good. Then Hollywood beckoned and a successful screen test with Paramount brought a contract.

"I'd studied acting with Lee Strasberg for one week," Douglas said. "I got small parts, though, and worked hard. Once, when I was offered a big role to play a character similar to Elly May, I turned it down because I knew I wasn't ready."

That changed when "The Beverly Hillbillies" script came her way. She immediately knew the time was right.

"God's timing was perfect," she noted.

At the point, Douglas began ruffling through her pink and white toile print tote bag. Dinner was winding down and she'd ordered a cup of hot water to mix with the bottled green tea that always travels with her.

"I try to use wisdom with food," she said, trying to choose between chocolate chip cheesecake and tiramisu for dessert.

* * * * * * *

Naples Church of God, a Pentecostal, fundamental Bible-believing church at 1074 10th St. N., is led by Pastor Michael McKellar. New to the congregation, he invited Douglas — whom he'd met 20 years ago at a former church — to come to Naples to speak. He figured the name-recognition would attract a crowd.

He was right.

As the energetic six-person choir sang hymns to the accompaniment of a small musical group that included a drummer, Douglas slipped in quietly through a side door.

Donna Douglas poses for a picture with Naples Church of God parishioner Scotty Burns after singing 'The Beverly Hillbillies' theme song with Burns and others after the service.

Photo by Garrett Hubbard, Bonita Daily News

Donna Douglas poses for a picture with Naples Church of God parishioner Scotty Burns after singing "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme song with Burns and others after the service.

Dressed in a dusty rose pantsuit, she sang along with the choir, graciously acknowledged fellow parishioners who caught her eye and spent the better part of an hour at the lectern.

"When I speak at churches, I never know what I'm going to say," she explained, She went on to hold her audience spellbound.

Besides touching on her rural Lousiana childhood, Douglas also shared her faith.

"The Holy Spirit is in each and every one of us," she said, "and remember that God loves everybody the same and that you can do with your life exactly like you want. If you have a willing heart, then you'll see the little blessings and understand that God is real."

Douglas went on to discuss personal responsibilities and morality — the importance of sticking with personal standards.

"You can set those standards wherever you want," she said. "That's your right as a human being. When I went to New York, for instance, I met men who wanted to keep me in penthouse apartments. They wanted to give me presents," she said, "but I knew there were strings attached."

Once she was up for a good spot on a television show but was asked if she'd pose in a swimsuit.

"No, sir," she said, repeating the answer when she was asked if she'd date the sponsor.

"Did they really think I'd go to bed with somebody to get a job?" she asked. "No, I never played the audition game."

She got that part, though, and others that seemed dubious at first.

On another occasion, a producer called at 10 p.m., asking her to meet him at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills for a drink. He wanted to discuss a film project. Douglas turned him down.

The man got nasty, she recalled, and threatened to harm her career.

"Nothing happened," she said. "Nobody holds you back except yourself, and I continued to move forward. I never compromised my standards.

"To be honest, I've probably been kissed by more critters than men."

© 2005 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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