Elizabeth Montgomery Biography




Birth Name: Elizabeth Montgomery
Born: 04/15/1933
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California, USA
Death Place: Los Angeles, California, USA
Died: 05/18/1995


The daughter of veteran leading man Robert Montgomery and Broadway actress Elizabeth Bryan Allen, Elizabeth Victoria Montgomery was born on April 15, 1933 in Hollywood. While studying at the Westlake School for Girls, she discovered a love for performing after being cast in the seemingly unlikely role of The Wolf in a presentation of "Little Red Riding Hood." As Montgomery approached adulthood, her affluent family relocated from California to New York City as her father hoped to revitalize his flagging career on the new medium of television. The move ultimately was successful and also proved beneficial for his daughter, who had decided by that point to try and establish her own acting career. To that end, she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began to guest star on various television programs, including a number of episodes of her father's show, "Robert Montgomery Presents" (NBC, 1950-57). Montgomery made an engaging Broadway debut in the comedy "Late Love" (1953-54) and received a 1954 Theatre World Award in recognition of being one of the most promising new talents. After some more TV appearances and a short-lived marriage to television stage manager Frederic Cammann, she landed her first movie role in Otto Preminger's "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell" (1955).

A few days after she finished her run in the Broadway comedy "The Loud Red Patrick" (1956), Montgomery married veteran leading man Gig Young. Their union raised some eyebrows at the time, as Young was two decades older than his new bride. Montgomery's disapproving father chose not to attend their nuptials and the two continued to have a distant relationship, with the actress particularly at odds with her father's conservative politics. On the career front, Montgomery continued to act on television, most notably in "Two," a classic, post-apocalyptic episode of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964), as well as primetime programs like "Kraft Television Theatre" (NBC/ABC, 1947-1958), "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963), and "Thriller" (NBC, 1960-62). However, her marriage to Young gradually disintegrated, the result of domestic violence brought about by his long battle with alcoholism. The couple divorced in 1963 and Montgomery returned to the silver screen as the female lead of the gangster saga "Johnny Cool" (1963). The month that picture hit theaters, Montgomery wed the film's director, William Asher, also more than 10 years her senior.

Following a spirited performance in the Dean Martin comedy "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?" (1963), Montgomery and her new husband worked together to develop the sitcom "Bewitched" (ABC, 1964-1972). They had just welcomed the birth of a young son and Asher thought that a series like "Bewitched" would allow Montgomery to both act and look after the baby. On the show, Montgomery played Samantha, a lovely suburban housewife with a rather nifty secret: she's a benevolent witch with powers that allow her to levitate things, make people disappear, etc. Husband Darrin (played initially by Dick York and later, Dick Sargent) is initially oblivious and then does his best to convince Samantha to keep her abilities a secret. Naturally, this fails and the inevitable troubles are amplified by the couple's nosy neighbor and Samantha's meddling relatives, all of whom are similarly gifted with the supernatural.

Bolstered by a supporting cast of colorful characters essayed by veteran scene stealers like Agnes Moorehead, Paul Lynde and Maurice Evans, "Bewitched" was a major success right out of the gate and audiences especially loved Samantha and her trademark "twitch of the nose," which indicated she had just cast a spell. Montgomery was soon pregnant with a second child, who was integrated into the show. While the baby turned out to be a boy, her TV counterpart gave birth to Tabitha, who had the same capacity for magic as her mother. "Bewitched" remained popular even after such changes and the departure from the show by co-star York for health reasons partway through the run did little to diminish its impressive Nielsen rating numbers. To further spice things up, Montgomery later donned a brunette wig to also play her mischievous cousin Serena, which gave the actress a chance to adopt a looser persona.

Montgomery received several Emmy nominations for her sharp and appealing work, but the program's popularity did finally slump and "Bewitched" was cancelled after its eighth season. It did, however, prove popular in syndication and Montgomery was offered other sitcom roles; instead she chose to appear in a series of made-for-television films, starting with the thriller "The Victim" (ABC, 1972). After so many years on a sitcom, dramatic assignments of that sort appealed to the actress and she made other TV movies in this vein, most notably "A Case of Rape" (NBC, 1974) and "The Legend of Lizzie Borden" (ABC, 1975). The depiction of sexual assault and the post-traumatic strain and indignities suffered by the victim in "A Case of Rape" were uncharacteristically vivid for that time and the identification with Montgomery from her long tenure on "Bewitched" undoubtedly made some viewers additionally uncomfortable. "Lizzie Borden" offered a particularly stark change of pace for Montgomery, who gave a flamboyantly maniacal turn as the notorious axe murderess. Montgomery received Emmy nominations for both performances and the dual ratings successes demonstrated that the public was willing to accept this new course her career had taken.

Comedy was not entirely out of the picture for Montgomery, however, as she also appeared in the Western farce "Mrs. Sundance" (ABC, 1974). The actress' marriage to Asher - which had started to run aground during the final days of "Bewitched" - ended in the fall of 1974 and she and her "Mrs. Sundance" co-star Robert Foxworth fell in love during shooting. After three divorces, Montgomery was not interested making another trip to the altar, but the two proved to be a perfect fit and stayed together. While she mostly played contemporary roles, Montgomery proved her mettle in this genre and later revisited the Old West in the frontier miniseries "The Awakening Land" (NBC, 1978) and as sharp-shooting outlaw "Belle Starr" (CBS, 1980). After Montgomery and Foxworth shared the small screen again in "Face to Face" (CBS, 1990) and the true crime thriller "With Murder in Mind" (CBS, 1992), she was well cast as real life Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter Edna Buchanan in "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face" (CBS, 1994). The film was a ratings success and Montgomery returned in "Deadline for Murder: From the Files of Edna Buchanan" (CBS, 1995), which lead to speculation that a series of movies about the character and her investigations was in the offing.

Among the earliest celebrities to openly support gay rights, Montgomery expressed her fondness for former "Bewitched" co-star Dick Sargent - who had outed himself as gay in 1991 - by serving with him as the Grand Marshal of 1992's West Hollywood Pride Parade. She also lent her name to various AIDS causes, including AIDS Project Los Angeles. After more than 20 years together in a common law relationship, Montgomery consented to marry Foxworth in January of 1995. Unfortunately, she became ill during the shooting of the second Edna Buchanan film and after production wrapped, Montgomery was diagnosed with inoperable colorectal cancer. Ever private - she had not given an interview in 20 years - friends and fans were shocked when she died on May 18, 1995. Her final credit came via voice work in an episode of the animated "Batman" (Fox, 1992-95) series. "Bewitched" had been picked up by the cable channel Nickelodeon when Montgomery died, and its subsequent airings were bittersweet for fans for whom Samantha Stevens' twitching nose was comforting nostalgia, and an unexpected pleasure for those too young to remember Montgomery's charming legacy.

By John Charles




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