Sunday, April 15, 2012

In appreciation of Elizabeth Montgomery

Elizabeth Montgomery would have been 79 today.  I know this factoid 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 the 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 the Al Franken sitcom, 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, (in all seriousness) 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 Vietnam 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:

Bill McCloskey said...

Thanks for the Elizabeth Montgomery memories. What you may not know is that her son, Bill Asher, is a very accomplished luthier. I have a lap steel guitar that Bill designed originally for Ben Harper and it has an amazing tone. Bill Asher is, in fact, one of the top manufacturers of the lap steel.

Author/Actor/Executive said...

Wonderful!

And please look for my new biography on Elizabeth coming November 2012:

TWITCH UPON A STAR: THE BEWITCHED LIFE AND CAREER OF ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY.

Herbie J Pilato

Amanda said...

I've thought she was wonderful for years, and have passed that on to my sons. In fact, the only TV episodes my thirteen-year-old has on his iTunes account are two episodes of Bewitched. I, personally, have 3 seasons of same hogging most of the storage space on my iPad.

She was just lovely in the series, and I've read she was the same off-screen. Thank you for more confirmation of that.

Mike Barer said...

Erin Murphy, who played Tabitha has written fondly about Elizabeth on her blog.

John said...

Seasons 3-8 of "Bewitched" were targeted mainly towards a younger audience, but Seasons 1-2 (the B&W ones) were geared more towards an adult audience. That's especially true for the Danny Arnold-helmed Season 1 episodes, where we're just getting to meet the characters. Liz is especially sexy in an almost exotic way in some of those shows (never so more as when they put her in her 'flying outfit').

ChicagoJohn said...

If you haven't seen it, Ken, look up "The Rusty Heller" story as an episode of "The Untouchables."

I'd never appreciated her subtlety until I happened across that episode, late one night. Elizabeth plays a woman who pits gang members against each other with her brains and feminine wiles.
She was given a great part with fantastic dialogue. But the way that she played the part is simply... perfect.

normadesmond said...

i imagine many of us fell under her spell.

Nat Gertler (Sitcom Room alum) said...

Just a quick note that if anyone wants to volunteer for the same charity as she did, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, they've changed their name to Learning Ally. I did some recording for them a few years back, and if you have a reasonable reading voice or the ability to work a computer, they can use your help. Good thing for you actors with some spare time... and if you know some form of tech speak, all the better. (They primarily record textbooks, so they need people who can at least pronounce the language... but also a lot of people who don't.)

MikeinSeattle said...

I saw that episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE just in the last month or so on a local station. Two notable things about it --

She and Charles Bronson hardly had a line of dialogue in the whole thing. I liked the writing very much.

The "army uniform" she was wearing consisted of a very short skirt. Bestill my heart. Lovely, in spite of her character being a bad ass.

I seem to remember lots of commercials for the Maryland Crab House read live by Michael Jackson (the British radio guy) on KABC in the '80's. Ah, talk radio before hate radio. Takes me back.

Jed said...

I know this isn't quite on topic, but when you say "spiced crabs", I assume you mean "Old Bay rubbed crabs" because it wouldn't be much of a Chesapeake experience without Old Bay.

Anonymous said...

I always thought of her as the perfect debutante, i.e. corrupted. That is, she could play the part of debutante, but could also fuck your brains out in any weird way you choose.
It's probably because of her dad reportedly being a piece of work, but she always struck me as someone with a real dark side that she kept well under control, which might be why, as an actress, she didn't have a spontaneous bone in her body.
To her credit, she turned tight-assed acting into a comedic style that worked for her. I loved her in Bewitched too. In drama, she always sucked. Just too uptight for that, and she was always too perversely dark.
Lizzie Borden still makes my skin crawl. You have to be a dark person to choose that part, and indulge yourself in it like a pig in mud.
She certainly did.

Johnny Walker said...

I always had a crush on her, too. Those Bewitched repeats really got to me!

Barry Traylor said...

I just saw a Twilight Zone episode for the #%*@ time. The one she did with Charles Bronson where they were enemy soldiers after an atomic war. She looked pretty durn cute in that also.

Nathan said...

Samantha was O.K., but I always preferred Serena. :)

Anonymous said...

She personified "class" all the way from what I know of her during her years on Bewitched. Always loved the way she would always say "WELL..." on the show - big catch phrase of hers when she couldn't immediately solve some problem by twitching her nose. And who can forget the way she always said "MOTHER!" to Endora. And what about her role as Sabrina, her slutty twin 'cuz. I always loved the spin she put on that character as she was always trying to convince Sam to do things her way. It's sad that other than Erin Murphy everyone else has died over the years. Tragic that Liz died so young - that depressed me for a few months, and now reading Ken's blog about her I get wistful and sad. We sure could use someone of class and good taste as Liz these days. Dearly missed.

Mike McCann said...

She was radiant. It's a shame her TV career didn't soar into the higher orbit accorded Mary Tyler Moore. Liz's combination of brains, looks and wit made her a natural to portray a high-achieving '70s woman.

Erin Murphy said...

Hi Ken,
I'm sure she'd enjoy your tribute post.
All the best,
Erin Muphy
http://starwebsitescomerinmurphy.blogspot.com/

Jeff said...

Yes, Elizabeth Montgomery was among my earliest crushes. And then Suzanne Pleshette came along. What a time to be young.

YEKIMI said...

Sad to say, but I think the only one left of the ORIGINAL remaining cast is Bernard Fox [Dr. Bombay].

Breadbaker said...

I'm a little younger than you, Ken, so the crush I had started as the sort of "why does this person on TV make me feel this way?" tingle.

My question for you is, having looked up her imdb page, she was pretty obviously working during the time that you could have done so, how come you never wrote an episode for one of your shows that just required Elizabeth Montgomery.

And welcome to Erin Murphy (and thanks for the link to your site). Isn't the internet like magic since Ken can invoke Samantha and Tabitha shows up?

Frank said...

I've just become a big fan of Elizabeth Montgomery!

Mike said...

Ken,

I always took Sam over Jeannie in the school yard arguments. Both were beautiful but Sam always came up with the winning slogan, where as Jeannie was always this close to killing “her master”. Other kids would always say, “yeah, but how about that outfit!” and I would reply, “have you see Sam in her black witch dress?”.

TV movie that she was in that I enjoyed was Second Sight: A Love Story, based on a true story of a woman who is blind, gets a guide dog, then gets her sight back and has to give away the dog so that someone else can get its benefits. I liked it because Elizabeth(who is very good in it) was in every scene.

Paul Duca said...

Ken...this is a message I got from someone called CavortingNakedly when I posted a message on YouTube...I used the word "factoid" to say that Burr auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger on PERRY MASON, when the title role was expected to go to Fred MacMurray:




Only if your Raymond Burr story is false - but widely believed to be true after endless repetition - is it a "factoid". In fact, the biggest offending factoid of all is, ironically, the belief that a factoid is, indeed, a fact. It is not.


The dictionary definition of "factoid":

=== > fac·toid   /ˈfæktɔɪd/ Show Spelled[fak-toid] Show IPA
noun

"Something fictitious or unsubstantiated that is presented as fact, devised especially to gain publicity and accepted because of constant repetition."


Since then I make sure never to use the word "factoid" when referring to a piece of meaningless but accurate trivia.

Dan Tedson said...

Totally unrelated, but made me laugh today watching the baseball games. Reminded me of that Minor League Guy jpg you posted. With everyone wearing 42, the announcers were like Rob Deer in headlights.

Michael said...

Ken, you may have linked to this, but here are your favorite man and favorite woman (other than family and maybe Dave Niehaus, of course):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkNWsY3eMGo

Elizabeth Montgomery apparently was also very supportive of Dick Sargent, who was gay but couldn't be "out" in those days.

Apropos of seeing her eating crab, I remember a woman friend telling me once that if you like a woman, take her to Kentucky Fried Chicken. If she won't eat with her hands, put her in the corner, tip her over, and leave.

Tv Food and Drink said...

What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing with us.

George W. said...

When you posted this in 2010, you stated that she would have been 75. Now two years later, she would have been 79. Even from beyond she is performing magic.

Phillip B said...

If IMDB is to be believed, Elizabeth Montgomery was born in 1933, making this her 79th birthday.

Also born in 1933 - Kim Novak, the lead witch in "Bell Book and Candle" one of two films often cited as source material (along with Veronica Lake's "I Married a Witch")

Mike Schryver said...

One of the few women to almost make me wish I were straight.

Paul Duca said...

Another off topic...but did you ever seen anyone like her on campus?


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbCRuw7yebs

Paul Duca said...

Ken...I did it again. Yet another off topic item...but it IS your favorite man, doing something you just won't believe:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvt4JtsoHak&feature=plcp&context=C44632b9VDvjVQa1PpcFNO8myHs9z-7WI3dlonSs23NXyX2bV5xN8%3D

John Weber said...

Ken I, too, had a tremendous crush on Elizabeth Montgomery. Years ago I tracked down a copy of Johnny Cool, which is a wild little movie in and of itself with that great 60s cast, but she is just...just...nope, can't find the words to describe her in that. It's a shame she left us so early, and I'm glad you remembered. Think I may watch Johnny Cool again this weekend...

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher said...

One bit of trivia about Elizabeth Montgomery: One of her last roles was providing a voice for an animated Batman series. The bulk of the episode consisted of a flashback to the Old West (it featured Jonah Hex, seen to better advantage than in the recent film), and Montgomery played a madam. I am willing to bet she was the first madam to appear in a kid's cartoon show.

Walt said...

Uh, anyone know where one can find the European cut of Lizzie Borden?

VP81955 said...

And let's not forget that Elizabeth grew up in the business, as her father was the fine, urbane actor Robert Montgomery. (Most of you probably know that, but for the handful who don't...) He made plenty of good movies, including "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," "Private Lives" (with Norma Shearer) and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (the Hitchcock screwball with Carole Lombard). Bob and Liz apparently had their differences politically, as he was a staunch Republican (in the pre-Goldwater sense) and she was far more liberal.

And IIRC, she wasn't the first choice to play Samantha -- that was Tammy Grimes, who had achieved some Broadway success (she was the title character in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"), but for some reason she couldn't do it. A few years later, Grimes got her own sitcom, but it only lasted a few episodes because she objected to cigarette advertising being placed on the show (this was prior to the FCC ban).

Paul Duca said...

Vince (VP)...Tammy Grimes turned down BEWITCHED because, as she said "This girl has all these magic powers and she isn't stopping wars?"

At the YouTube channel "denteltv1" they've posted the complete first episode of Grimes' sitcom--there are no cigarette ads in it, and I've never heard any story about her objecting to them.

Chrispy said...

Elizbaeth Montgomery's career didn't "soar higher in the TV orbit" mainly because she didn't want it to. With her success in "Bewitched", she had one of the highest TV Q ratings of any performer. ABC asked her for years to do another sitcom (and to do a "Bewitched" reunion). But she wasn't interested. She had made her money, and was apparently happy doing a TV movie or two per year.

cadavra said...

If memory serves, "The Tammy Grimes Show" (which wasn't bad at all), got the ax after four weeks because the ratings were abysmal. This actually made the news, since even the lowest-rated shows got to 13 before the rug was pulled, and many doomed series not only got their full 39 but even summer reruns. The only other show I can recall in that B&W era to be yanked that quickly was "100 Grand," a quiz show that only lasted three weeks. (Jackie Gleason's infamous "You're In The Picture" doesn't count, as it stayed on with a format switch to talk show.)

And BTW, Ken, no disrespect to the lovely Miss Montgomery, but deep down all of us truly lusted after Carolyn Jones' Morticia Addams.

Stephen Robb said...

Could you imagine how good she and that cast would be in a 70s MTM type show?

onion noodles said...

Funny I still spray the French solution varnish hairspray on my meatballs when I think of Elizabeth Montgomery.
Absolutely gorgeous till hollywould got ahold of her.

Anonymous said...

No mention here about her role as Supergirl in an Adventures of Superman show with George Reeves. Unfortunately it was never shot. It's known as the "Lost" episode called Girl of Steel. There was a sort of story line and some studio shots of Elizabeth in a Supergirl costume. You can find it online. To bad it never developed.

Mike said...

Did we ALL want to marry her? Elizabeth could turn a gay man straight. There aren't too many women I admire, I love Elizabeth. Today's ladies could take a cue from Ms. Montgomery.

Paulo Sousa said...

I've loved Elizabeth Montgomery.I still Love her.
I Grow up seeing Bewitch at TV in BRAZIL.
She was so special for us.
She was the best.
I visited Beverly Hills because she live there.
I will Never forget her amazing voice, her amazing way.
I hope that in a future someone could bring to us again Bewitch in TV series.
I would marry her.
Unforgetable woman and Human Being.
Thanks

Sabby said...

I wanted to point out, in case someone else didn't, that Ms. Montgomery did the reading for the audio book versions of Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty erotica trilogy (definitely not for kids, lol). I've read that she wanted to buy rights to Interview with the Vampire and revise Lestat to be a woman so she could play the part but Anne Rice refused.

I just watched the Twilight Zone ep and got here by google magic. Sorry to be a late commenter.