Thursday, December 24, 2009

Elizabeth Victoria Montgomery 1933–1995 RIP

Elizabeth Victoria Montgomery (April 15, 1933 – May 18, 1995) was an American film and television actress whose career spanned five decades. She is best remembered for her roles as Samantha Stephens in Bewitched, as Ellen Harrod in A Case of Rape and as Lizzie Borden in The Legend of Lizzie Borden.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Elizabeth Montgomery was the child of actor Robert Montgomery and his wife, Broadway actress Elizabeth Bryan Allen. She had an older sister, Martha Bryan Montgomery, who died as an infant, and a brother, Robert Montgomery, Jr., who was born in 1936. After graduating from The Spence School, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for three years.

Montgomery made her television debut in her father's series Robert Montgomery Presents (later appearing on occasion as a member of his "summer stock" company of performers), and her film debut in 1955 in The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell.

Her early career consisted of starring vehicles and appearances in live television dramas and series, such as Studio One, Kraft Television Theater, Johnny Staccato, The Twilight Zone, The Eleventh Hour, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1954 she lost out on co-starring with Marlon Brando in the film On the Waterfront directed by Elia Kazan.

She was featured in a role as a socialite with Henry Silva and Sammy Davis, Jr. in the offbeat 1963 gangster film Johnny Cool and, the same year, with Dean Martin and Carol Burnett in the motion picture comedy Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?, directed by Daniel Mann. Nevertheless, Alfred Hitchcock had her in mind to play the sister-in-law of Sean Connery, who sees herself as a rival to the troubled heroine in the movie Marnie, but Montgomery was unavailable owing to her commitment to a new television show: Bewitched.

Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as Samantha and Darrin Stephens in Bewitched in 1967. Montgomery played the central role of lovable witch Samantha Stephens with Dick York (and later Dick Sargent) as her husband in the ABC situation comedy Bewitched. She also played the role of Samantha's cousin, Serena. The show became a rating success (it was, at the time, the highest rated series ever for the network). It enjoyed an eight-year run from 1964 to 1972 and remains popular through syndication and DVD releases. The show had even been given the 'green light' for a ninth season by the network, but Montgomery, wishing to do other things, backed out. She also provided the voice of Samantha for an episode of The Flintstones.

Montgomery received five Emmy Award and four Golden Globe nominations for her role. At its creative peak, Bewitched was considered one of the most sophisticated sitcoms on the air and it cleverly explored contemporary themes and social issues within a fantasy context.

Montgomery returned to Samantha-like twitching of her nose and on-screen magic in a series of Japanese television commercials (1980-83) for "Mother" chocolate biscuits and cookies by confectionery conglomerate Lotte Corp. These Japanese commercials provided a lucrative salary for Montgomery while remaining out of sight from non-Japanese fans and Hollywood industry.

In the United States, Montgomery spent much of her later career pursuing dramatic roles that took her as far away from the good-natured Samantha as possible. Among her later roles, including performances that brought her Emmy Award nominations for playing a rape victim in A Case of Rape (1974), for her portrayal of Lizzie Borden in William Bast's The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), and for her role as a strong woman facing hardship in 1820s Ohio in the mini-series The Awakening Land (1978).

In 1977, Montgomery played a police detective having an interracial affair with her partner, played by O.J. Simpson in A Killing Affair. She made a chilling villain in the 1985 picture Amos, playing a nurse in a state home who terrorized residents portrayed by Kirk Douglas and Dorothy McGuire.

One of her final roles was in an episode for Batman: The Animated Series entitled "Showdown," in which she played a barmaid. Her final television movies were the highly-rated Edna Buchanan detective series.

Montgomery was first married to New York socialite Frederick Gallatin Cammann in 1954; the marriage lasted barely a year. She was married to actor Gig Young from 1956 to 1963, and then to director-producer William Asher from 1963 until their 1973 divorce. They had three children: William Asher, Jr. (July 24, 1964), Robert Asher (October 5, 1965) and Rebecca Asher (June 17, 1969). The latter two pregnancies were incorporated into Bewitched as Samantha's pregnancies with Tabitha (primarily Erin Murphy, with twin Diane) and Adam Stephens. In 1971, while filming the eighth season of Bewitched, she fell in love with director Richard Michaels and moved in with him after the season ended. This was another major factor in canceling plans for a ninth season. The relationship lasted two and a half years.

She entered her fourth and final marriage to actor Robert Foxworth, on January 28, 1993 after living with him for nearly twenty years. She even approached comedian Dennis Miller about taking out a license to marry the couple. She remained married to Foxworth until her death.

In June 1992, Montgomery and her former Bewitched co-star Dick Sargent, who had remained good friends, were Grand Marshals at the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade. Montgomery had liberal political views, being an outspoken champion of women's rights and gay rights throughout her life, sharply contrasting with her conservative father, who was once a media advisor to President Dwight Eisenhower.

During Bewitched's run, she was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War. In the late 1980s and early 1990s she narrated a series of political documentaries, including Coverup: Behind the Iran Contra Affair (1988) and the Academy Award winning The Panama Deception (1992).

In the last year of her life, Montgomery was a volunteer for the Los Angeles Unit of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D), an organization which records educational books on specially formatted CDs and in downloadable format for disabled people. In 1994, Montgomery produced several radio and television public service announcements for RFB&D. In January 1995, she recorded the 1952 edition of When We Were Very Young.

Montgomery's support for RFB&D sparked nationwide interest in the organization's work. Her support for the organization led her to agree to be the honorary chairman for its Los Angeles Unit's third annual Record-A-Thon, slated for June 3, 1995.

After her death, the Los Angeles Unit of RFB&D dedicated the 1995 Record-A-Thon to Montgomery and secured twenty celebrities to assist in the reading of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul, which was also dedicated to her memory.

Montgomery was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring of 1995. She had ignored the flu-like symptoms during the filming of Deadline for Murder: From the Files of Edna Buchanan and acted too late. Unwilling to die in a hospital, and with no hope of recovery, she elected to return to her Beverly Hills home that she shared with Foxworth. She died there, in the company of her children and husband, on May 18, 1995, eight weeks after her diagnosis. Montgomery was 62 years old.

A memorial service was held on June 18, 1995, at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills. Herbie Hancock provided the music, and Dominick Dunne spoke about their early days as friends in New York. Other speakers included Robert Foxworth, who read out sympathy cards from fans, her nurse, her brother, daughter, and stepson. She was cremated at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

On April 19, 1998, an event auction/sale of her clothing was held by her family to benefit the AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Los Angeles. Erin Murphy, who played Tabitha on the series, modeled the clothing that was auctioned.

In June 2005, a statue of Montgomery as Samantha Stephens was erected in Salem, Massachusetts.

A star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame was presented in honor of Montgomery's work in television on January 4, 2008. The location of the star is 6533 Hollywood Blvd.

William Clift is developing a biopic film of Montgomery starring Christina Applegate.

-- wiki

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