Fans normally are drawn to Mount Airy because of “The Andy Griffith Show,” but another sitcom took center stage Thursday when Donna Douglas, alias Elly May Clampett, paid a visit.
Nearly every square-foot of floor space in a local museum dedicated to Griffith was filled with folks lined up to meet “The Beverly Hillbillies” star and have her autograph various items or pose for photographs. More than 300 people came through.
“This is great!” said Ocie Sawyers, a Hillsville, Va., resident who was first in line for that opportunity, occupying her position well before Douglas’ scheduled 12:30 p.m. appearance arranged by the Surry Arts Council.
Sawyers had brought along memorabilia for the actress to sign, including a boxed “Beverly Hillbillies” picture puzzle, a book and a trading card.
Ironically, a living Mount Airy link to “The Andy Griffith Show,” Betty Lynn — the actress who played Thelma Lou — was the catalyst for Douglas’ visit here. Douglas was planning to be in North Carolina, and friends, including one in Greensboro, wanted to meet Lynn.
Though Donna Douglas and Betty Lynn had roles on hit television shows on the same network (CBS) during the 1960s, Thursday marked the first time they had met. The two actresses sat side by side at tables in the museum to greet fans, who included local residents and ones from out of town.
An especially enthusiastic person there was Richard Pilson of Mount Airy, who could barely contain his excitement over the chance to meet someone Pilson never thought he would ever see in person.
“Oh yes, I watch her every morning at five o’clock,” Pilson said of “Beverly Hillbillies” reruns featuring Douglas. “Marty and Donna (his employers at Brannock’s Service Center) let me off to come see her and get her autograph.”
“Jethro” Going Strong
Though Douglas will turn 80 next month, she still closely resembles the Elly May character she portrayed for nine years beginning in 1962.
“Stunningly beautiful” was how Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran referred to Douglas upon meeting her Thursday. “I grew up watching you,” the mayor added.
The blond actress beat out about 500 other young ladies vying for the role of Elly May, one of several members of a backwoods family led by Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) suddenly enriched by the discovery of oil on their land. The comedy elements of “The Beverly Hillbillies” revolve around what happens after they move to an exclusive neighborhood in California, while maintaining their mountain ways.
That basic formula became an instant hit and has kept “The Beverly Hillbillies” alive in reruns more than 40 years after its prime-time run ended.
“We have been on every day since the show went off the air,” Douglas said during an interview Thursday before greeting the public.
She also commented on her frequent appearances with animals on the series, which Elly May referred to as her “critters.”
“People say to me, ‘did you really like animals?’” Douglas said Thursday. “You couldn’t work with them as long as I did and not like them.” This included dogs, cats, various farm animals, monkeys — even a mountain lion.
“They had a mind of their own,” Douglas said of the animals, despite training. The actress developed a knack for keeping them calm on a sometimes-hectic shooting set with the director barking out orders. Still, there were some close calls, including a minor injury caused by the mountain lion.
“I didn’t have any bad experiences,” Douglas summed-up. “Overall, I was very fortunate ‘cause I worked with a lot of different animals.”
Douglas also commented on her relationship with the only other surviving cast member from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro.
“I was with Jethro in Los Angeles,” she said of an appearance with Baer at a recent memorabilia show there. “I don’t get to see him often — he still goes a mile a minute.”
After talking with the press in the lobby of the Andy Griffith Playhouse, Douglas made the short walk to the Andy Griffith Museum to meet the fans.
“It’s fantastic!” said Tyrone Ivey of Kannapolis, who was waiting in line with his wife, Joyce.
The couple said they have been longtime fans of “The Beverly Hillbillies” — and for a simple reason.
“It’s just a funny show,” Joyce Ivey said.
And having an attractive co-star such as Douglas didn’t hurt, her husband added.
“I always dug her.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.