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Donna Douglas dies; Elly May of 'The Beverly Hillbillies' was 82

Donna Douglas, who played the buxom tomboy Elly May Clampett on the hit 1960s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies," has died.

Her niece says Douglas died Thursday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, near her hometown of Zachary. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, Charlene Smith said. Douglas' age is variously reported as 81 and 82.

She was best known for her role in "The Beverly Hillbillies," the CBS comedy about a backwoods Ozark family who moved to Beverly Hills after striking it rich from oil discovered on their land.

The series, which ran from 1962 to 1971, also starred the late Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan as well as Max Baer Jr., who turns 77 on Sunday.

As Elly May, she seemed blissfully unaware of her status as a bumpkin blonde bombshell. Typically she was clad in a snug plaid or checkered shirt and tight jeans cinched with a rope belt, and she seemed to prefer her critters to any beau.

Chosen from more than 500 other actresses, Douglas said she felt at ease playing the role because, like her character, she grew up a poor Southern tomboy.

The show was assailed by critics. The public, however, felt quite the opposite: It ran for nine seasons, often in the Top 10.

Douglas' career began with beauty pageants -- she was Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans -- followed by a trip to New York to pursue a career in entertainment.

While modeling didn't appeal to her, television did. Douglas was featured as the Letters Girl on "The Perry Como Show" in 1957 and as the Billboard Girl on "The Steve Allen Show" in 1959.

She landed a featured role in the 1959 film "Career," starring Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, and a bit part in the film musical "Li'l Abner." She also had a small role as Tony Randall's secretary in the 1961 romantic comedy "Lover Come Back" with Rock Hudson and Doris Day.

Douglas starred in a memorable episode of Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" -- titled "Eye of the Beholder," in which her head is wrapped in bandages after plastic surgery aimed at fixing her "ugliness," which in fact was beauty in a universe of monsters. And she starred opposite Elvis Presley in the 1966 movie "Frankie and Johnny."

After "The Beverly Hillbillies," Douglas worked in real estate, recorded country and gospel music albums and wrote a book for children that drew on biblical themes.

In 2011 she sued CBS Corp. and toymaker Mattel over a Barbie doll that used Elly May's name and likeness. The suit was settled later that year.

She said she never minded being typecast as her "Hillbillies" character. "So many kinds of people relate to Elly May," Douglas said. "So many people love her, and that means a lot to me."

Douglas was married twice, to Roland John Bourgeois Jr. until 1954, and then to "The Beverly Hillbillies" director Robert M. Leeds. They divorced in 1980 after nine years of marriage. Survivors include her son, Danny P. Bourgeois.

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