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Guideposts Classics: Donna Douglas on Giving Her Best

In this story from October 1993, the actress best known as Elly May Clampett reveals how God met her halfway in her pursuit of an acting career.

By Donna Douglas, Los Angeles, California

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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was just one of the many “comers” that would be upcoming in my life.

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.

I’d done a speck of modeling–in Louisiana. I could throw a mean curve ball (I’d even been approached about playing semipro softball), and had some experience fishing and milking cows, but these were far from talents that would get me hired as an actress.

On top of that, people teased me about my southern accent. I, of course, thought they were the ones who talked funny. Back home in Louisiana, everyone had a drawl like mine.

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.

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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.

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.

“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.”

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.

I was mighty surprised when I heard: I got the job. 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.