Donna Douglas, who died Thursday, found lasting fame in her role as Elly May Clampett on the CBS sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.” But it was a small role she had two years before that has arguably had a more lasting impact. It was her first, but not her only, trip to “The Twilight Zone.”
Douglas appeared for just a few minutes in the final moments of the second season episode, “The Eye of the Beholder,” written by series creator Rod Serling. The episode aired in 1960, years before “The Beverly Hillbillies” in 1962. But unlike “Hillbillies,” where her good looks were used as a punch line, here they became part of a ghoulish twist. In fact, it was one of the best, and most memorable, twist endings in the show’s history.
The episode recounted the recovery of a woman named Janet Tyler after a series of medical procedures attempting to fix a face that has apparently been completely deformed. While she deals with the doctors and nurses in the hospital, we see her head wrapped completely in bandages.
In fact, it was actress Maxine Stuart who played Tyler for these scenes. But in the episode’s final moments, the bandages are removed and Tyler’s face is revealed to be Douglas’.
“No change. No change at all,” the doctor laments. And then we see the face of the medical staff -- snouted and horrific. But in this world, it’s Douglas’ face that’s the monstrosity.
This ending is regularly listed among the top “Twilight Zone” endings of all time, and the image of a horrified Douglas being restrained by the bizarre-looking doctor is one that’s made its way onto many T-shirts and posters.
Years later, in an interview with the website “Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict,” Douglas recalled that her role on “The Twilight Zone” stemmed from a friendly Christmas drinks outing she had with Serling and a CBS vice president. And that episode is part of the curriculum in UCLA’s theater department.
The next season, she appeared again on “The Twilight Zone,” in the Rod Serling-penned episode “Cavender Is Coming,” but her part was small and the episode didn’t have nearly the same cultural impact as “Eye of the Beholder.”
Douglas’ iconic episode can be viewed here.
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