Saturday, April 15, 2017

In appreciation of Elizabeth Montgomery

I know I've done this before, but it's much nicer to remember April 15th as Elizabeth Montgomery's birthday rather than your taxes are due (although this year we get a couple of days reprieve).    She would have been 84 today. 

I know this 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 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.

31 comments :

Mike Barer said...

Yes, she was a lovely lady. Her original supporting cast was also great, and the show had a lot of inside jokes.

kent said...

Ms. Montgomery was a fine actress but I prefer to think of April 15th as Jackie Robinson Day.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Me too. She was friendly-beautiful, such a good actress and is certainly missed by those of us who were captivated.

"chomping on crabs, ripping them apart, contorting her face, sucking claws, swilling beer, juice running down her arm."

This is to be read very slowly, many times.

Michael said...

The Vin has told the story of hosting the Rose Parade with her (the promo for it is on You Tube) and how she was afraid of heights, so he carried her up the grandstand with her riding piggyback on him.

Just one more reason The Vin is a god.

VP81955 said...

Perhaps I mentioned this in one of your earlier Elizabeth Montgomery tributes, but even if I did it bears repeatibg -- as a young girl, she received career advice from the lady in my avatar.

Carole Lombard made a movie with her father, Robert Montgomery, called "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (no relation to the 2005 Pitt-Jolie movie, an adaptation of a book by that title). The earlier "Smith" was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, his lone foray into romantic comedy; it's along the lines of "The Awful Truth" as a marital farce.

In a December 1940 Photoplay roundup of studio activity (this was filmed at RKO), Robert noted his young daughter was interested in acting, but he was a little uncertain whether she should go that route. Carole told him, "Just to be in this wonderful business is enough. To be a movie player, even a bit player, to get in on this creative thing, the lights, the color, the action, all of it -- why Bob, you know it's the most wonderful life in the world."

I have no idea whether Liz ever met Carole, BTW.

Read more about this at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/529450.html

Ron Fassler said...

Ken, I am totally there with you. She was my biggest crush as a kid... and I would watch the Emmys every year and root for her to win for "Bewitched," but she was beaten five times in a row, mostly by Lucille Ball and Hope Lange, who each won twice for their respective shows, "The Lucy Show" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." But they couldn't hold a candle to how charming and delightful Elizabeth Montgomery was.

Anonymous said...

Great on that Twilight Zone with Charles Bronson.
And just as good, altho less well known, on Thriller with Tom Poston

gottacook said...

Only a few days ago I learned about "Mr. Lucifer," a comedy episode of one of the old Alcoa hour-long anthology series from around 1960, starring Fred Astaire and Elizabeth M. as the devil and his chief minion/secretary. In these roles they each get to assume five or six different personas as they go about their mission tempting a couple (played by Joyce Bulifant and Frank Aletter). The episode is on YouTube in segments starting with www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHHcMVBQ5M0. Well worth seeing for anyone who's ever liked Liz.

J Lee said...

It's always helpful to post this scene from the episode Liz's ex, William Asher called the best episode of Bewitched, "A Is For Aardvark". What makes it stand out is it's a dramatic scene smack in the middle of a 1964 Screen Gems comedy that showed both Montgomery and Dick York's acting abilities, and why we cared for the characters (though you do lose a little here not seeing the 15 minutes that came before it, to flesh out why Liz is crying over the thought that her mistake is going to cost her the lifestyle she chose with Darrin).

Bill Avena said...

I fell in love with her during BEWITCHED and always enjoyed the marital situations with or without magic, just the Stevens' and Tates at a dinner party. She also stood out rocking the miniskirts while other networks sort of suppressed that fashion aspect in the 60s/70s.
That wry "Well.."!

Norm said...

When I was casting 'Samantha' for an adaptation of Bewitched in Russia in 2008, we tried to find our own EM. Impossible! And, trust me, we looked. At every theater actress in Moscow. We found a very beautiful girl, but she still didn't have that 'thing' Liz had. We settled for her because she did the best nose twitch. And not even that was close to how Elizabeth did it. RIP, Sam!

Craig Gustafson said...

You didn't mention her Emmy nominated role in "The Rusty Heller Story," on "The Untouchables." The only femme fatale in the series to *get a smile out of Robert Stack.* It's an amazing performance, and loaded with serious turns by later sitcom actors - for instance, she uses and sets up a sleazy lawyer played by David White - Larry Tate on "Bewitched." What happens to him -- offscreen, which makes it more effective -- is horrifying. And she smiles about it so sweetly.

It's one of the best performances you'll ever see on TV.

waldcast said...

I too grew up with her and was taken by her beauty and comedeic style (no doubt inspired by her father, the Hollywood star Robert Montgomery). Still, her involvement in narrating political films that were suspect in their assertions and as far left as you could go in the political spectrum was troubling. Like Candace Bergen,I suspect their liberalism was, in part, a rebellion towards their Republican fathers.

Cap'n Bob said...

Yes, a true beauty and fine actress. As for today's anniversaries, you forgot that Lincoln died on April 15 after being shot the night before at Ford's Theater.

I married my first wife on this day 40 years ago, too. It was great while it lasted.

CarolMR said...

Ms. Montgomery was terrific in the Burke's Law episode - "Who Killed Mr. X?" She had great chemistry with Gene Barry and she was beautiful and funny. And as much as I loved Dick York in Bewitched, it's a shame that that is all he is remembered for when he gave such wonderful dramatic performances in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

Donald Benson said...

I vaguely recall the Sam vs Jeannie debates, eventually vulgarized into TV Land spots. More precisely, they were Would You Rather Be Darrin or Major Nelson debates?

Jeannie was sexy and always hot to trot, but the show had Nelson inexplicably resistant (never so much as a wink towards implied activity). Sam was gorgeous and even shared a bed with Darrin (and had Tabitha, so you know SOMETHING went on), but always busy with housewifey things uncomfortably like what you and your friends' mothers did.

Kimberly Triplett said...

Loved Bewitched, I still watch reruns of it at night on Family Channel. I disagree with the Jeannie remark, I hated that show, Samantha was much better

scottmc said...

I seem to recall an appearance of Elizabeth Montgomery on Password. After a particular contestant lost he wouldn't leave until Elizabeth did the nose twitch. The camera caught her a little ticked off by the request but she did it.

Jason Roberts said...

I've had the opportunity to work with her daughter Rebecca Asher who started as a script supervisor and is now an accomplished TV sitcom Director: You can see her credits here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0038893/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Smilodon said...

I watched the 1978 miniseries, The Awakening Land just because she was in it. I think I was 11 that year.

Ken Levine said...

Rebecca is GREAT. She audited a show I directed several years ago (LATELINE). I'm thrilled for her success. She's super talented and a lovely person.

Bill O said...

Bewitched an amazingly liberal show. Nit just for its central relationship, but for tolerance for "the other" in general. Its witches/warlocks could be seen as gay analogues, and played mostly by gay actors. Liz herself later became active in the cause.

Anonymous said...

I believe her last acting role was on the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES episode SHOWDOWN; the bulk of the episode is a flashback to The Old West, and she plays a thinly-disguised version of "Miss Kitty" from GUNSMOKE. The episode, one of several written by award-winning novelist Joe R. Lansdale (of HAP AND LEONARD and BUBBA-HO-TEP fame), also featured the voices of Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, and Senator Patrick Leahy.
In short: there's a reason a lot of grown-ups watched BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES; it was just more interesting than the usual cartoon.

Steve said...

BEWITCHED is okay, but not a show I was ever crazy about. Yeah, I know that as a gay man I'm supposed to absolutely adore it, but I never have. I'll concede that as 1960s gimmick comedies go, it's better than average, but the repetition becomes numbing and that's what gets to me. One of Samantha's relatives, via witchcraft, either deliberately or inadvertently causes problems for Darrin, leaving it to Samantha to straighten everything out and to save that week's multi-million dollar client for McMann & Tate. And that was before the last couple of seasons, when the staff said the hell with it and began simply rewriting and refilming old scripts.

A friend of mine worked with Montgomery on one of the last TV movies. The BLACK WIDOW thing, and told me that she was very much a woman with a "here-and-now" focus on her life. Not at all nostalgic or inclined to look backwards, neither at her life nor at her career.

MikeKPa. said...

I remember seeing a picture of her in 1992 riding in a gay pride parade in support of her former co-star Dick Sargent. She was a great friend.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Steve:

You've possibly been watching the later episodes of BEWITCHED, which fell into a by-the-numbers formula (with some very fine exceptions). It's tough for a high-concept show to keep from repeating itself after a few seasons.

You are so right, J Lee, that "A is for Aardvark," directed by Ida Lupino, sums up the true essence of the series. If only Nora Ehpron had watched this episode -- or was more receptive to the message if she did watch it -- the BEWITCHED movie would have been much better.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27W20ohpTiI

As for I DREAM OF JEANNIE, it began as NBC's deliberate knock-off of BEWITCHED but came into its own as it evolved into a madcap farce. Jeannie's role was to set up the problem, then the majority of most episodes focused on how Larry Hagman and Bill Daily could maximize the absurdity. "My Master, the Weakling," with guest star Don Rickles, is an example of the two shows contrasted in style.

There was even a JEANNIE episode about every day becoming Sunday that could be suggested to have been a precursor to GROUNDHOG DAY.

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5bluy5

Sometimes these shows are so easily dismissed because of their zany premises, but when you look closer, the skill and talent becomes more evident.

Bill O said...

Sargent was offered Durwood first...

Mark said...

"Two" is a perfect half hour (Montgomery Pittman died way too soon). That combat boots shot was television's most romantic moment.

McAlvie said...

I loved that she had a career post-Bewitched, and got to show that (a) she had dramatic acting chops, and (b) age was irrelevant. Not that she looked that different from her Bewitched days. She did a mini series set on the frontier, the title of which I am blanking out on, which I remember as being quite good.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Right off the top, the sixties TV actresses I remember:

Barbara Eden (I DREAM OF JEANNIE)
Stephanie Powers (a big crush - The Girl from UNCLE)
The lovely Elizabeth Montgomery
Dawn Wells
Tina Louise
(the "girls" on Gilligan's Island)
Marlo Thomas (That Girl)
Barbara Feldon (Maxwell Smart's better half)\

I'd say Emma Peel, but I didn't watch The Avengers.

Eva Gabor (Green Acres)
Donna Douglas (The Beverly Hillbillies)
The older blond sister on Lost in Space

Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek)
Innumerable guest actresses on Star Trek - along with the "conventionally beautiful" actresses, my fave may have been the female Romulan officer that Spock "seduced."

Lucy

Laurie-Anne R Collins said...

She was a good friend of my late boss. From the stories he'd tell me about her, she was just the most lovely person. Beautiful inside and out.