Monday, April 19, 2010

In appreciation of Elizabeth Montgomery

Last week I tweeted that Elizabeth Montgomery would have been 75. This is the type of vital stuff you only get if you follow me on Twitter. But some have wondered how I knew that factoid. It’s because I have had a crush on Elizabeth Montgomery for &^%# years (gee, something must have gone wrong. The number didn’t print.) Let’s just say since BEWITCHED. There were a lot of TV actresses who were hot back then. But Samantha Stephens was the only one I wanted to marry. And not just because she could turn my math teacher into a Chia Pet. Sam truly was adorable. And funny in that unassuming way you rarely see in witches and genies.

Plus... guys, back me on this – how sexy was that nose twitch? It’s like, if she could do that, what else could she do?

When I became a weekend disc jockey at KERN in Bakersfield I turned my love for Liz into a running bit. The KERN Top 30 survey distributed at record stores featured Ms. Montgomery on the cover every week. That’s what they get for having me design it.

In the early 70s when my partner David and I were writing spec scripts David worked in the film department of ABC. Elizabeth Montgomery starred in a Movie of Week as Lizzie Borden. David called and said “get your ass down here!” Turns out for European release there was a nude scene. I practically drove on sidewalks to get to the studio where we screened then re-screened (and re-screened again) the scene in question. Ohmygod! Samantha Stephens, naked, blood all over her, holding an ax. Be still my heart!

I only saw her in person one time. And I never actually met her. It was about ten years later. There was a restaurant in Santa Monica called the Maryland Crab House, which featured the whole Chesapeake crab experience – butcher paper, a pile of spiced crabs on the table, wooden mallets, buckets. Liz and her husband Robert Foxworth came in and sat right across from me. Ironically, I would direct Robert years later on LATELINE. (He’s the one I thought should run for the senate). So picture this. The goddess I’ve adored forever… chomping on crabs, ripping them apart, contorting her face, sucking claws, swilling beer, juice running down her arm. And I was STILL ENTRANCED.

Anyone I’ve ever talked to who worked with her said she was a dream. Professional and kind and giving as an actress. She made everyone on the set feel comfortable from fellow actors to the lowliest crew member.

Most of her work was in television although she did a few movies, most of them forgettable like one with Dean Martin and a cameo in HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI. But if you can find JOHNNY COOL with Telly Savalas, that’s a good B-movie pot boiler. I imagine some of her TV movies survive. If so, A CASE OF RAPE shows just how good a dramatic actress she was. And her episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE was killer. For sheer camp check out A KILLING AFFAIR in which she has an interracial affair with O.J. Simpson.

She was outspoken against the Viet Nam War when that was not a popular position. She was a volunteer for the Los Angeles Unit of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, a non-profit organization which records educational books for disabled people.

Elizabeth Montgomery was only 62 when she passed away. But she’ll remain forever young, forever Bewitching, and generation after generation will continue to fall under her magic spell.

44 comments:

Michael said...

She also was an advocate for gay rights. Dick Sargent, the second Darren on "Bewitched," was gay, and she was close to him and rode with him in a gay pride parade.

If you look for her on You Tube, you can see a cute promo she did for co-hosting duties on the 1967 Rose Parade with a young Dodger announcer named Vin Scully.

Herbie J Pilato said...

What a wonderful tribute.

Kind regards,

Herbie J Pilato
Author
The Bewitched Book
and
Bewitched Forever

Mike Barer said...

Bewitched had one of the most starcrossed casts in all of TV.

Pat Reeder said...

I never much cared for "Bewitched" as a kid, but I watched it anyway because Elizabeth Montgomery was the first crush I ever had on a female celebrity. Every time I see a clip of her today, it makes me feel proud that I had such good taste in women at such a young age. All you young guys who had crushes on Lindsey Lohan, bow down before me!

BTW, if you'd like to see Liz show her variety talents and her real personality, rather than playing a character, someone posted a bunch of clips of her hosting "Hollywood Palace" on YouTube. Here is the opening bit; from it, you can easily find the rest:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98FvNZM08cM

VW: Lialac -- The way people in the Deep South pronounce "Lilac."

write-light said...

She was a gem; I never get tired of watching her. There was sincerity and intelligence in her roles at all times. Thank you for this remembrance.

YEKIMI said...

Not including the kid that played Tabitha, all the main actors of Bewitched have departed to "the other side" with the exception of Dr. Bombay, Bernard Fox. Now THAT makes me feel old.

D. McEwan said...

I was going to bring up her gay rights advocacy, but Michael beat me to it. I never met Elizabeth, but I met Dick Sargent a few times, and he even came and saw me perform. Prince of a guy.

A very dear, close friend of mine for over 40 years, who died last year, Ed Cotter, edited that Lizzie Borden TV movie (Ed also won an Emmy for editing HAPPY DAYS), so Ed must have seen every frame of Liz's nude footage, including the shots too revealing to use even in the theatrical release.

And ironically enough, her dad was one of the bigest nasty bastards in show business.

normadesmond said...

loved her AND her mother-in-law AND her aunt.

Mac said...

A lovely tribute.
She was indeed an utter fox and it's heartening to hear that she was a decent human being too.

l.a.guy said...

"...Turns out for European release there was a nude scene."

Excuse me... I'll be back in a few minutes.

Okay-- back.

I couldn't agree more. I thought she looked great her whole life. It was very sad that she lost her battle with cancer.

Kevinmacduff7137 said...

I always loved the way she said "Well..." whenever she was at a loss for words.

sephim said...

She kind of creeped me out in AMOS with Kirk Douglas. Louise Fletcher had nothing on Elizabeth playing an evil nurse.

Paul Duca said...

Actually, Ken, I think you did have a small chance with her that day at the Crab House--I believe she and Foxworth never tied the knot officially, so theoretically she was still on the market.

And in my video collection I have a TV spot for JOHNNY COOL--Liz is the first one who appears in it.

Griff said...

What a lovely column, Ken. A great tribute to a terrific actress and personality. Wonderful to read on a dreary morning. Thanks.

John said...

Bewitched under the series' original producer Danny Arnold in Season 1 used the witch/mortal relationship as a metaphor for dealing with racial prejudice and other social issues, at a time when TV was wary of dealing directly with the issue. And while the show later devolved (at the urging of ABC) into being a lot more child-oriented, Liz and Dick York were perfectly capable of doing a scene that was every bit as serious and emotional as what would come later on shows like M*A*S*H in the 1970s.

Hollywoodaholic said...

And thanks for the shout out to the Maryland Crab House. Being Baltimore born, I took a bunch of friends there once to celebrate a script sale and we went through 36 crabs at about $6 a pop and a total bill topping $600. To cap it all off, I hit an iodine pocket in one crab, had a severe allergic reaction and ended up in the hospital. Some celebration.

Inger Stevens and Elizabeth Montgomery were my 60s' crushes. She also turned up as a very tempting femme fatale in the first season of "Burke's Law," proving she could really play the sexy seductress.

Gene Pinder said...

I just saw a rerun of Bewitched the other day on TVLand and, as usual, she was great. Always liked her reactions to the craziness around her -- very spontaneous and natural. Nice tribute.

Lou Gravity said...

Two other Montgomery gems: TV movie The Outlaw Belle Star and a Twilight Zone (with Charles Bronson)

Brian Fies said...

You have never written anything truer. Put Elizabeth Montgomery next to Natalie Wood, and you have everything I knew about women until I was 18.

Tom Quigley said...

No question she was one of the reasons for a young adolescent boy to watch TV back in the '60's (along with Barbara Eden, Anne Francis -- anyone remember HONEY WEST? -- and the Hullaballoo Dancers).... I understand one of the reasons why she never became a bigger star in Hollywood, despite her beauty and obvious talent was that she never hung out with the Hollywood establishment...

I had the good fortune of meeting one of my own TV crushes, Shelley Fabares, after I moved to Los Angeles in 1989 and wrote a comic parody of her hit single "Johnny Angel" to give her, where I turned Johnny Angel into a hit man for the mob... She got a big kick out of it, and it was nice to know that I could give something back to so nice a person...

wv: deyfit -- what I exclaim every time I buy a new pair of shoes...

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Ken...Your blog gets better and better every day. Thanks for continuing to entertain, not only me, but thousands of people with your wonderful sense of humor. When you decide to make this a 'pay' website. I will be the first to sign up!

stuman714 in Indy said...

Great little tribute to a gorgeous and wonderful actress. I too had a big crush on her as a kid and was devastated when she passed away. Thanks for the memories!

Mary Stella said...

This is so adorable reading grown men talk about their crushes on a beautiful actress.

It proves that we teenage girls with our numerous crushes on actors and bubblegum singers weren't nearly as silly as everyone wanted to make us feel.

Paul Duca said...
Actually, Ken, I think you did have a small chance with her that day at the Crab House--I believe she and Foxworth never tied the knot officially, so theoretically she was still on the market.

Paul Duca said...
Actually, Ken, I think you did have a small chance with her that day at the Crab House--I believe she and Foxworth never tied the knot officially, so theoretically she was still on the market.

Paul Duca said:
Actually, Ken, I think you did have a small chance with her that day at the Crab House--I believe she and Foxworth never tied the knot officially, so theoretically she was still on the market.

Sure, now you tell him. That's just cruel.

Mary Stella said...

Ack. Sorry for the repeated c & ps in my last comment.

olucy said...

That's OK Mary Stella. We know you just really wanted to bring the point home.

The Ames Family said...

Aw! What a great post!

My dad was/is in love with her. When I was little (I'm only 28) I would get up at 5am to watch the reruns of Bewitched with him before he went to work. It was our special time together. I also remember very vividly Lizzie Borden. It still haunts me to this day. She was so eerily good!!

A wonderful actress who is still greatly missed. I always remember her on the anniversary of her death.

Kirk Jusko said...

She was equally good (and sexy) playing Samantha Steven's brunette cousin Serena.

olucy said...

Is IMDB to be trusted? If so, she would have been 77. But I bet she'd still be getting parts as sexy grandmas.

blogward said...

Yep, Elizabeth Montgomnery, and Donna Douglas from the Beverley Hillbilies. And didn't Ms. Montgomery have lovely hair?

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Nothing I can add to all the well-deserved accolades for both you and Miss Montgomery. I just want to know where I can see a clip from that European Lizzy Borden movie.

YEKIMI said...

And didn't Ms. Montgomery have lovely hair?

I am unable to tell, I never got to see the European version of that movie.

gih said...

@Kevin

Same here bro. :-)

Mike Barer said...

While we are on the subject of Bewitched, Erin Murphy, who played Tabitha, has a blog
http://starwebsitescomerinmurphy.blogspot.com/
it is always a good read.

James W. Pharo said...

Her aunt was pretty hot, too:

http://www.shorpy.com/node/3048?size=_original

Matt Patton said...

I can understand why you would remember "that scene" from The Legend Of Lizzie Borden--even in the edited version shown on television, it's rather surprising (the fact that the hisotical Miss Borden would be more likely to murder her parents than parade about in the buff is sort of beside the point). Another reason to remember the film is Montgomery's performance--she is flat-out creepy, a spoiled, willful and vicious child in the body of a vigorous woman.

Another performance of hers that I remember fondly was in the television remake of Dark Victory. One of the most powerful moments is one of the quitest--her character has been told that brain surgery is necessary, and she asks if it means shaving her head. There's some vanity in the question, but mostly repressed terror of what's coming. I remember seeing a bit of the 1939 original, and Bette Davis deployed her usual brand of mannered ham--it didn't completely ruin the moment, but I was a lot more aware of the actress than the character she was playing. That was never true of Montgomery.

She wasn't as memorable in WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED, because she had the thankless role of The Girl, and though she was charming and competent, she was competing with folks like Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Louis Nye, and Jill St. John, who had the funnier roles.

As for her dad, Robert Montgomery, he might have been a right bastard (I don't know, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised--a lot of movie stars are) but he was also a very good actor--he was particularly good at comedy (the 1931 film of PRIVATE LIVES is pretty dire, but Montgomery is a vast improvement on Noel Coward in the role of Elyot, and Coward wrote the thing--no, I haven't been around long enough to see Coward, but he made recordings of the play with Gertrude Lawrence, and --well, remember the term "mannered ham?" Multiply it by ten . . .

D. McEwan said...

"Matt Patton said...
the fact that the hisotical
[sic] Miss Borden would be more likely to murder her parents than parade about in the buff is sort of beside the point"

As I recall (I only saw it once, when it originally aired, so I could be mistaken) She was naked to explain why, if she really had chopped up her parents in a manner that would have drenched her in blood (Remember, Lizzie was acquited. I've read one book that made a compelling case that it was the maid who dun it), why they never found any bloodstained clothes; she had allegedly killed them naked.

Believe me, Robert Montgomery was a piece of work. He was a friendly witness during the HUAC red-scare witch hunts, naming names and ruining careers. He was a big-time Republican, and a major "image consultant" to President Eisenhower.

He was an ok actor, and served, I think, 16 years as president of SAG. The idea that his rather American Eliot in Private Lives was superior to Noel Coward in the role is just absurd. In fact, the film of Private Lives is not very good. I've seen amateur productions of it that were better than the movie. (And I've seen the film quite recently) And when I saw Maggie Smith star in it onstage, well, it was one of the greatest things I've ever seen. Yes, Coward was mannered in it. It's SUPPOSED to be mannered. It's about people who live life in a mannered style.

And he never got creepy enough for me in Night Must Fall. I just never believed that this guy had a severed head in that hatbox.

He was good in light romantic comedy, but I'll take his daughter over him anyday.

Anonymous said...

Doug...are Elizabeth (and Robert) any relation to George Montgomery, the actor/ex-husband of Dinah Shore/serious hobbyist of a furniture maker?

Paul Duca said...

Sorry, Doug and all...pushed the button too soon.

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
Doug...are Elizabeth (and Robert) any relation to George Montgomery, the actor/ex-husband of Dinah Shore/serious hobbyist of a furniture maker?"


I believe they are no relation at all.

Anonymous said...

Liz would've been 77 not 75 this year. She was born in 1933.

sarah said...

I wasn't born when "Bewitched" was telecast but on reading your post, I checked it out and boy, am I hooked now! However, it reminds me of Dick Van Dyke (which I discovered a few years ago). But what I don't understand is how there is a color version of even the very first episode given that the original telecast was in black & white!!

amy_marie_jennings said...

Hello Samantha supporters!,
Wouls somebody please connect with me on how that I might/may obtain a legitimate print of "The Legend of Lizzie Borden" European edition?

I have searched for a copy for years without success and would dearly love to post the movie in part at least on my you tube tribute site to her w/the name of "PandorasSpocks" and "cathytreks"
My namy is Amy Marie Jennings who lives nearby Auckland New Zealand, and I co-run a small Film Production Company here.

Kia Ora!
Amy

Anonymous said...

A beautiful story and i myself think that there will never be another Liz, She was simply a one off and appart from being a sex symbol ( my opinion as well as others im sure ) She was a warm loving caring beautiful human being. I myself have fallen under Her spell.

Steve

Gladys said...

I love the characters, Samantha, Aunt Clara, Dr. Bombay...it is such a fun show. Dick York is perfect, and you believe the love between Darren and Samantha. There is palpable love in that show. I read Dick York' s memoir, and he loved David White (Larry Tate) and Elizabeth Montgomery. He was seriously attracted to her, as well (who wouldn't be). Along with Cheers and I Love Lucy, Bewitched is one of my 'comfort' shows. I put it on at night when I read in bed. I love Bewitched.