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Actress Donna Douglas shares her story of faith in acting
If a person ever felt he or she might have to compromise their values in order to become successful in the entertainment industry, Donna Douglas is a living testimony to the fact you do not.
Douglas, best-known for her innocent country portrayal of Ellie May Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” had the opportunity to share her story of faith and success to a group of Louisiana College faculty and students who gathered to hear her at the Martin Performing Arts Center.
Now 76, Douglas, who grew up in Pride, La., shared her journey from being a country girl who wanted to grow up to play softball, to a 17-year-old who got married, had a baby and then got divorced a few years later, to her venture into show business.
From the time she left Louisiana, having never been north of Shreveport previously, Douglas found the movers and shakers in entertainment industry all too quick to give what they thought was a beautiful but naïve country girl opportunities – most of which unfortunately came with strings attached.
Instead, Douglas said she chose to hold onto “the hand of God.”
“I always believed if I could do the best I could do, God would take care of me,” she said. “That's faith.”
“Where you are willing to compromise, you stop the blessings that God has for your life. You'll never know the good that could have come from that. God will meet you where you set your standards.”
Douglas decided to purse show business as a way to provide for her son. As a single parent, she relied on her parents to raise that son as she pursued a career. After spending several years in New York, mostly serving as a hostess, but also being voted “Miss Byline” by the New York newspapers, an honor that landed her on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” Douglas headed to California to pursue acting.
It was there she met three women who had a profound impact on her life. The first, she said, taught her to sing and helped her work on her voice. The second became her prayer partner. And the third was a spiritual mentor – one she called “the most remarkable person she met in her life.”
“She taught me right motive, right thought, right deed,” Douglas said. “Not to manipulate people to get what I wanted in life.”
After declining a lead role in a movie (she wanted a small part first), Douglas got a call to audition for a part in “The Beverly Hillbillies.” She was one of more than 500 actresses who tried out. While the audition went well, what happened afterward did not.
Douglas's car was rear-ended by the car of another “well-known” actor on her way home. She was told he had been drinking. The accident put her in the hospital for 17 days. When she got out, she got another call – her screen test for “Ellie May” just three days later.
Despite being told she talked too slow, Douglas apparently made the right impression during the screen test. That, and the fact that she was able to milk the goat that was was part of the test - “my first critter” Douglas said. The rest, as they say, was television history.
“The Beverly Hillbillies” hit number one its second week on the air and stayed their for two solid years. In its ninth season, the show was still a constant Top 20 presence, but something else was happening at CBS.
In 1971, the network, in one fell swoop cancelled all its “country” shows. Tom Lester (Eb Dawson from “Green Acres), who also spoke to the LC students along with Douglas noted how the network executives couldn't take the kidding they got from other executives about their country lineup that also included “Green Acres,” “Mayberry R.F.D.,” and “Hee Haw.” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” and “Petticoat Junction” had been cancelled the year before, and the face of television sitcoms made its dramatic change.
Fortunately for Douglas, she had something to fall back on. While on Hillbillies, she attended night school to get her real estate license. She also developed her singing talents and toured the country singing country music and Gospel.
Through it all, it has been her faith in God that has kept her grounded and protected.
“I've been to Israel six times, to Egypt and to Australia,” Douglas said. “I've sat next to presidents. But nothing can compare to the love the Lord Jesus in your heart.”
“God will make good whatever we go through in our lives.”
You can watch Donna Douglas and Tom Lester's full presentation here:
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