Monday, February 09, 2015

DONNA DOUGLAS, the SINGER, is STILL ALIVE

Donna Douglas, the beloved sitcom actress from "The Beverly Hillbillies," was the first celebrity to die in 2015 (January 1st). Mournful fans rushing to Google's copyright-stomping YouTube started watching old TV clips and listening to her sing "He's So Near" and...other songs she didn't sing. Those were from a different Donna Douglas, who is very much alive.

YouTube uploaders assumed there was only one Donna Douglas on the planet, and if a record had "Donna Douglas" on it, the TV star was the singer. But as this blog's done with two different performers named Johnny Carson and Jack Larson, it's time to be the prime and official source for another truth. Donna Douglas the actress is not Donna Douglas the singer, who was born in Bangor, Northern Ireland and now proudly lives in Perth, Australia, "still married to the same wonderful man for over 45 years." PS, her real name is Donna Douglas. The American actress was born Doris Smith.

When Doris was starting out in show biz, she was sexy (and usually brunette) in pin-up photos and small roles on TV. By the time she became "Donna Douglas" and got a major TV guest role (in an episode of "Twilight Zone," with no rural accent) the OTHER Donna Douglas already had four singles out in the U.K., and was signed for more.

Donna's singles "did not chart," but record companies saw enough potential in her to keep trying. Initially signed to Fontana, Donna Douglas recorded four singles for them: "The Shepherd" (1958), "Come Back to Loch Lomond" and "Six Boys and Seven Girls" (1959) and "Teddy" (1960).

Piccadilly felt she had the right look and chirpy voice for the times and debuted her with "Tammy, Tell Me True" in 1961. The following year came the big push. "The Message in a Bottle" was nominated for the "Song for Europe" contest (aka Eurovision) but lost to Ronnie Carroll's "Ring-a-Ding Girl" which, obviously, did not bring a winner home to Great Britain.

Donna's next singles were "Matelot" (1962) and "It's a Pity to Say Goodnight" and "He's So Near" (both released in 1963). A final single, "Java Jones" turned up via Pye in 1964.

By that time, the actress Donna Douglas was a superstar thanks to "The Beverly Hillbillies." And thanks to "He's So Near" being issued in America on an obscure indie label, some record collectors assumed that this and any imports had to be early rare recordings from the future Elly Mae Clampett.

Is there any vinyl from actress Donna Douglas? Yes, but mostly it's narrations of kiddie and/or religious material. She does talk-sing on a fairly lame "Beverly Hillbillies" cash-in album from Columbia. Book-ended by "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" and the familiar end theme as picked by Flatt and Scruggs, the filler is 11 weak novelty tunes penned by Zeke Manners. Based on familiar traits of the Clampett family (Jethro being naively stupid, Elly being virginal, Granny being ornery) the tracks offer some dialogue and little bits of singing. A few songs are about the hillbillies and sung by an anonymous chorus, and a few give a chance for ex-vaudevillian Buddy Ebsen to do some easy-listenin' vocals. Irene Ryan would issue some novelty singles but here, she's mostly talking in her "Granny" voice.

Now that you're wanting to compare Donna Douglas the singer and Donna Douglas the actress, you get "He's So Near" and "Birds An' Bees," in which Granny and Jed try to give some gentle advice to the blossoming beauty. Donna manages to be musical on a few line of this novelty, but it's pretty clear that a solo song of most any kind would've been one heck of a chore for her.

Donna Douglas the Singer He's so Near

Donna Douglas the Actress BIRDS 'AN BEES

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