Religion

Come ’n listen to my story ’bout Elly May Donna Douglas to appear at Solid Rock Assembly of God for Oct. 24 benefit

The tomboyish beauty Elly May Clampett — who could throw a mean fastball and wrestle men to a fall — bears a striking resemblance to the real-life person who portrayed her.

Donna Douglas picks blueberries and lives on what sounds like a picturesque plot of land outside Baton Rouge. It’s also a gathering place for cats.

“They just come to me, and then I get a few possums,” said Douglas, who makes a visit to Columbus next weekend for a fundraiser. It’s for a clergy couple in Fortson, Hank and Sandra Avera, who both have suffered multiple health problems in the past couple of years.

A devout Christian, Douglas, 76, occasionally leaves her cats behind and speaks in churches for such occasions, as well as sharing her testimony and singing gospel.

“I love ‘In the Garden,’ naturally,” Douglas said in a recent phone interview from her home.

For their part, the Averas have seen better days. They had health insurance for five years, but cancelled it several years ago after premiums kept going up. They’d never needed it. Soon after the cancellation, Hank had a stroke. That was two years ago, and he quickly improved. Two days after Christmas last year, he had a heart attack. On June 16th of this year, Sandra had a heart attack, followed by quadruple bypass surgery. She also had a stroke during surgery, her husband said. A second heart attack followed; and she has been rehospitalized, or in the emergency room, several times since. She’s also in physical therapy. Hank Avera said he keeps the stack of medical bills on top of the couple’s refrigerator. He doesn’t know the total. Doesn’t seem to want to know.

“I opened one that was $133,000. Another one was $13,000,” he said. “That’s for the hospital, not even for the surgeon.”

He pays here and there, what he can. A church member, Jerry Horner, helped organize the fundraiser. “We’re very humbled and honored,” Hank Avera said through tears. “I’m not anybody of great notoriety. ... The only thing I can say is God is good and he puts people on our path and on people’s hearts; and I think that’s what happened.” Donna Douglas has come close to death herself. When she was 2½ years old, Douglas nearly died. Her mother then had her sprinkled — the general method of baptism in mainline churches, but not evangelical ones. “Sometimes I’ll say that and people will quietly listen. But then I was dunked three times” in the Jordan River. Douglas said as a teen-ager growing up in Louisiana, her primary dream was to be a great softball player. Her hobbies were playing in the woods and jumping off sheds and swinging from vines. “I didn’t have a driving ambition to be in show business,” she said. “I was pretty content. “It’s interesting how your life goes. I went to New York, then California. ... I was blessed. In California, I met three ladies — three key people — who influenced my life. One was like a prayer partner and one tried to get rid of my Southern accent. “It was never about, ‘How can I be successful or get ahead?’ There was always a greater vision. These three women taught me and shared wonderful principles and gave me a good foundation.” Success found her. “The Beverly Hillbillies,” a CBS sitcom, ran from 1962-71. It was about a family from Tennessee who moved to Beverly Hills after oil was discovered on their land. Douglas was chosen for the part of Elly May from more than 500 others. Her farming experience came in handy when she was asked during her audition to milk a goat. “I had milked cows before,” she recently told the Associated Press. “I figured they were equipped the same, so I just went on over and did it.” She also appeared in commercials and other shows in the 1950s and ’60s. Douglas, who’s been married twice and has one son, is a former Miss Baton Rouge and Miss New Orleans. Even with the pageants, she was encouraged to enter by someone else. “I met this little lady. She was a pony from the Siegfried Follies. She was bent over, and somewhat crippled. She got me in the contest,” said Douglas, whose big break was an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” She also played opposite Elvis Presley in the 1966 movie “Frankie and Johnny.” In addition, Douglas has written a book for children that includes biblical themes. She also rings bells for the Salvation Army at Christmastime. Douglas relishes the myriad opportunities to speak, but misses home when she’s away. “I’m trying to get some order around here. There are lots of piles of things, and all these cats.”

Call Allison Kennedy at 706-576-6237.

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