Actress Donna Douglas: ‘Faith is When You Trust God, Even Though You Can’t See What’s A-Coming Around the Corner’
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Actress and singer Donna Douglas, best known for her role as Elly May Clampett on the TV series THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, credits her faith for overcoming her fears as a young actor in Hollywood.
“I stood looking around the airport in Newark, New Jersey, trying not to panic. It was the early 1960s. I was a young girl just arrived from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hoping for an acting career in New York City. I’d made a terrible mistake,” Douglas wrote in an article from 1993. “An acquaintance had promised to meet me at the airport. But nobody told me that three airports served New York City! I’d originally had tickets to La Guardia, but at the last minute the ticket agent switched me to another flight. He didn’t mention I’d be arriving at a different airport.”
Despite her fear in the moment, Douglas remembered what she learned in church as a child.
“Believe me, I was afraid. But I had been brought up in the church. I remembered that the Bible says, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,'” Douglas said. “To me, in plain language, that means faith is when you trust God, even though you can’t see what’s a-coming around the corner.”
Douglas prayed, and God provided.
“So I said a little prayer and I sat down to wait. I was thankful that when I didn’t show up at La Guardia, my friend figured out what had happened and was able to track me down. I had never been so happy to see anybody in my life,” Douglas explained.
Douglas confessed that she still felt fearful and uncertain what job she would find in Manhattan, if any.
“A few days later, alone in my hotel room, I was about out of courage. I’d come to New York to find work. But how did I expect to find a job in Manhattan? I hadn’t gone to college and had never had an acting lesson in my life,” Douglas said.
Although Douglas’ dream was to act, she knew that it would be difficult to land a job without experience.
“Fortunately, some photographers decided to give me a break and hired me to do ads for catalogues and magazines. This led to a few TV commercials where I smiled a lot. But I never said a word,” she recalled. “Finally I got a call to audition for a TV game show. The job was as an ‘elbow grabber,’ one of the hostesses who brings the contestants out and presents them to the host.”
“If I got the position I’d have steady work, ‘bread-and-butter money,’ and national exposure. And once again, I wouldn’t have to say a word,” she added.
Douglas admits she was desperate for a job but refused to compromise on her values of faith.
“The day of my audition, I was shown to the office of the show’s producer–and was thrown for a loop by what came next. ‘We’re looking for a certain kind of girl,’ he said. ‘Are you willing to, ah, do some extra work after hours?’ Warning bells went off in my head,” she remembered.
She recalled the uncomfortable interaction:
“What…what does that mean?” I asked. “Would you be willing to go out with one of our sponsors?”
“Would the sponsor be married?” I asked.
“What does it matter? You’d just be going out to dinner.”
“No, sir,” I said emphatically, “I couldn’t do that.”
Although Douglas wanted the job, she was not willing to give up on her morals.
“The producer shifted in his chair. Disappointment overwhelmed me. I’d heard there were girls who were willing to do anything to get work. I had tears in my eyes. ‘Mister,’ I said, standing up, ‘I don’t want your job. It’s not that important to me.’ And I walked out,” she said.
However, God continued to provide for Douglas.
“I was mighty surprised when I heard: I got the job,” Douglas said. “It turned out there’d recently been a big exposé of dishonest game shows, and the producer had to be very careful about everyone he hired. He’d been trying to find a girl who wouldn’t do anything questionable.”
Shortly after her time on the show, Douglas started to receive small parts at Paramount.
“I wanted to better myself, so I took acting and speech lessons from a coach who taught me to act and talk like anyone from a working girl to a refined lady,” Douglas said. “So I hoped I was ready when I went off to be interviewed for a pilot for a new television series. I wanted this part so much; it seemed like everything I’d worked and prayed for.”
After a successful audition, an accident tested Douglas’ trust in God.
“On my way home, I was scheduled to take my car in for an oil change. I’d arranged for the mechanic at the garage to drop me off at home, then take my car back to service it. He was at the wheel and I was in the passenger seat as we waited at a red light–when a large Bentley rammed into us from behind,” she recalled. “The mechanic was okay, but I ended up in the hospital for 17 days. During that time, the producers of the television pilot interviewed more than 500 girls for that part.”
She added: “They selected six for screen tests–and I was one of them. It was wonderful news, except for the fact that I was supposed to show up for a screen test in three days. This was sure one corner I couldn’t see around. ‘Please, God,’ I prayed from my hospital bed, ‘let me have a chance at this.'”
Douglas, who grew up in Louisiana, was asked to read the lines in a southern accent and milk a goat. The producer said she was perfect for the part of Elly May Clampett.
THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES ran for nine seasons from 1962 to 1971.
“There have been ups and downs in my life. But time and again I’ve found it to be true that if you give God your best, He’ll meet you where you are and use whatever you have to offer,” Douglas said. “Even when you can’t see what’s a-coming around the corner.”