Actress Donna Douglas starred on the popular television show “The Beverly Hillbillies” for nine years as Elly May Clampett, a poor country girl whose family struck it rich by discovering oil.
When she lived in Los Angeles while on the top–rated show, Donna often volunteered to stand kettles for The Salvation Army. She says she would tell people how God could take their monetary gifts, no matter how small, and make them grow.
“I would say to them, ‘It’s all right if you just have a little to give. It’s like you’re planting a seed.’ Sometimes they would put just a few pennies or something like that into the kettle, but they were planting seed and God would honor that,” Donna says.
“The Bible speaks of the widow’s mite,” Donna says, citing a story that appears in the New Testament (Mark, Chapter 13) about a widow who gave her last coin as an offering. “She gave what she had. That was the … principle.”
Donna, now 76 and living in her native Baton Rouge, La., says she has fond memories of joining other celebrities on kettles in downtown Los Angeles. TV stations would broadcast live, and Donna says she loved greeting fans. She still has a few of the bells she used then.
“That was one of my special things that I did every year in L.A.,” she says. “I had a really good time doing that. I loved working with [the Army].
“I just love the work that they do and everything. They’re very loving, caring people.”
Bells in Baton Rouge
Donna’s bell–ringing isn’t just a thing of the past. She “stood kettles”—a term that’s often used—last year as part of a team from the Baton Rouge Lion’s Club. She spends her time these days speaking in churches and interspersing stories of her show business career with her testimony of a life of faith.
Even back in her “Hillbillies” days, Donna signed publicity pictures with words from Proverbs 4:5–6 (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”) She says when she left Louisiana for New York City as a young woman, she made a commitment to God that she wouldn’t forget what she had learned.
“I could always talk to Jesus,” she says. “That was the way I grew up. I believed with all my heart that if I did the best I could do, that God would take care of me. It was like holding onto the hands of God.
“When I did that, then everything started coming my way. The most amazing things would happen.”
Donna says she got many offers to be set up with penthouse apartments and money in New York, “but they had all these little strings attached.” She refused.
“In my heart, I had made that commitment to God,” she recalls. “As I let all those things go, it was like God met me where I was. Jesus wants to see if what you say with your mouth, you mean with your heart. He wants to see if you walk your talk.”
Guard goes up
Donna recalls one modeling job where she was asked to appear in a bathing suit.
“My little old guard went way up,” she says. “I had heard the wild stories about New York and all those big city places and everything.”
She also was asked by one boss to appear in public with married men.
“I said, ‘No sir, I won’t do that,’ ” she recalls.
Donna, who appeared in commercials in New York, earned a movie contract and moved to Los Angeles, where she beat out more than 500 women to land the role of ditzy, critter–loving Elly May.
“I prayed to get a family part because I wanted to do something my family and everybody could be proud of,” she says.
Her country background came in handy in the final audition. The producers asked her to milk a goat.
“I never milked a goat, but it was equipped like them ol’ cows was back home, so I got down there and milked that goat,” she says with a laugh. “That was my first critter.”
Donna wrote a children’s book a few years ago called Donna’s Critters & Kids: Children’s Stories with a Bible Touch. She is working on another children’s book featuring “sweet little stories for younger children.”
When she looks back on her life and career, Donna says the words of Proverbs 4:5–6 come to life.
“I didn’t plan it or anything,” she says. “It’s so amazing what God can do with a life and [it’s] why you want to encourage young people about what God can do with their lives if they’re willing to give Him a chance.”