If ever an actor was identified by one career role, it was Donna Douglas with her portrayal of Elly May in the highly popular CBS '60s comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
In the four decades since the series ended its nine-season run in 1971, the blonde native of Pride, La., is still strongly identified with the show wherever she goes.
Rather than distancing herself from the connection to Jed, Granny, Jethro and the Clampett clan, Douglas has embraced her sitcom heritage and stills makes public appearances as a real-life Southern belle.
“Elly was a slice out of my life,” said Douglas, 81, a longtime resident of Baton Rouge, La. “I was raised a tomboy, with one older brother and all male cousins. So I grew up swinging from vines and playing softball. I was getting ready for Jethro long before we ever met! I still adore Elly, and we have a lot in common, with the same interests and values.”
After “Hillbillies” ended, Douglas was offered many roles but accepted just a handful that she felt wouldn't compromise her conservative standards.
“I've got no regrets about anything I turned down,” she admitted. “I sold real estate for a while, made a couple of record albums, and speak at churches, ladies groups and schools around the country. My days are full, and I'm very happy!”
Last year, she published a nostalgic cookbook, “Southern Favorites with a Taste of Hollywood,” a collection of recipes gathered over the years, many from friends, including Debbie Reynolds, Buddy Ebsen, Phyllis Diller and Valerie Harper. She recently launched a new website, donnadouglasofficialwebsite.com.
“The cookbook came about as a way to share my favorite recipes,” said Douglas, who recalls home-cooked meals prepared in the rich, Southern tradition that many will also remember from their childhood.
“Homemade dishes are almost unheard of today,” she lamented. “They're all premade in a box or from a drive-thru. That's today's way. But there was something about the way your mom made dishes with a special touch – with a bit of this and a pinch of that.”
Although her own mother never used Granny's “possum fat,” her childhood meals weren't exactly lean. “Lard and bacon grease, especially in the South, were cooking essentials!”
Interspersed between the book's recipes are personal anecdotes from her Hollywood days. “I thought fans would enjoy a few remembrances from my life, along with some photos from my scrapbook.”
In an effort to remind readers of the long-lost art of good manners, there's also a quaint section called Hollywood Social Graces. Advice includes never using your fork as a toothpick, chewing gum in someone else's home or answering a cellphone while a dinner guest.
“Etiquette was taught in the South, but I'm afraid it's a thing of the past now,” said Douglas. “Social graces are lacking all around us, people are rushing all the time and no one sits and visits any longer.”
Not a big fan of today's television programming, Douglas says she likes to watch the classics in reruns, as well as the occasional “Hillbillies” episode, which brings back memories.
“Elly may not have kissed many fellows during the show's run, but she sure did kiss a heap of animals,” she said. “Somewhere around 500 were used during the series.”
Today, she shows little sign of slowing down.
“I seldom really rest,” said Douglas. “I travel all over the U.S. and Canada and have a very busy schedule. I also garden, spend time with family and friends, and still get quite a bit of fan mail. Life has been very good to me, and full of blessings for a little backwoods girl from Louisiana who never had any thoughts of a career in showbiz.”