From THE TIMES and NEWS-STAR, Jan. 11
Elly May Clampett was doing things with denim in 1962 that people of the little-boy world I lived in had not yet imagined, dreamed of, or even thought possible.
We are of course talking about Elly May of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the rural shows of all rural shows in the 1960s, an embarrassment by TV standards of today but a comfort and semi-knee-slapper before most everything turned into either a “reality” show or Perpetual CSI.
Modern TV viewers can’t laugh at the audience preference of the 1960s if they’re watching “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” or “Jersey Shore.” Which Elly May would have dominated, by the way.
We watched “The Beverly Hillbillies” and knew it was “only” television but that didn’t keep you from wondering why no Elly Mays seemed to be hanging around OUR tobacco barns. We knew real-life Uncle Jeds. We went to school with Jethros. We had four altos in the church choir who could pass for Granny.
But Elly May? Different ballgame.
The rope belt. The love of animals. She couldn’t cook, but once you got a little older and discovered the deeper, mystic appeal of Elly May, you figured, “Food? Eat? What? Who needs that? Food is stupid! I’ll eat grass. What would you like to do tonight Elly, dear?”
For sure, the first week of the new year was a tough one for country folk. Elly May, made famous by Louisiana’s own Donna Douglas, passes away at age 82, and then Little Jimmy Dickens, who never met a rhinestone suit he didn’t like, dies the next day at age 95.
Then a modern-era personality, Stuart Scott, dies on January 4, silencing a voice that was the first with a steady national platform to voice sports highlights in a way that sounded like how you might hear plays described at football practice. The ESPN anchor “styled” on television the urban references the rest of us had heard only around the locker room and sidelines, but never – not with any regularity – on television.
Unlike Douglas and Dickens, Scott was only 49.
All three were in show business. And each brought a little something new to the table. And each was reported to be above-average on the nice scale, for the most part true to the character they played on television or stage. Each seems to have brought a lot of themselves to their roles. All of us appreciate authenticity, whether we like the product or not.
But of the three -- and with no disrespect to the two gentlemen -- Donna Douglas has to be the favorite of males from my era. As another middle-aged and much more eloquent male than myself said this past week when learning that Douglas had died in Baton Rouge near her hometown of Pride: “Elly May was the object of rapturous devotion on my part as a youngster. I dare not say more.”
I’ll go ahead and dare: Elly May was da bomb. Her character was the first of her kind I can remember. Then along came Barbara Eden on “I Dream of Jeannie” and Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island” and Elizabeth Montgomery on “Bewitched” and the gang from “Petticoat Junction.” Suddenly, Miss Kitty over in Dodge City on “Gunsmoke” had some serious competition.
Douglas’s most famous character was described in one obit as a “buxom tomboy.” People my age did not know back then what buxom meant, but we knew that somehow, Elly May looked a lot more attractive than Jethro, even though Jethro made us laugh more. If we were lucky we started recognizing the Elly May’s in our own non-TV world, girls who exuded a humble goodness that made them naturally beautiful, girls who would love your dog almost as much as you did.
Hard to come to grips with the reality that even Elly Mays can grow old, even if you do as your kinfolks say and move to “Californey” with the swimming pools and movie stars. I like to think that Elly May, in character, would have aged gracefully, with or without the blue jeans and the rope belt. I’m sure she would have.