Authors: Herbie J. Pilato
Life and Career of
HERBIE J PILATO
TAYLOR TRADE PUBLISHING
Published by Taylor Trade Publishing
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Copyright Â© 2012 by Herbie J Pilato
First paperback edition 2014
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
The hardback edition of this book was previously cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:
Pilato, Herbie J.
Twitch upon a star : the bewitched life and career of Elizabeth Montgomery / Herbie J Pilato.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Montgomery, Elizabeth, 1933-1995. 2. ActressesâUnited StatesâBiography.
ISBN 978-1-58979-749-9 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-63076-025-0 (pbk : alk. paper)
ISBN 978-1-58979-750-5 (electronic)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
For the highest good of all those concerned â¦
Also by Herbie J Pilato:
Glamour, Gidgets, and the Girl Next Door:
Television's Iconic Women from the 50s, 60s, and 70s
The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery:
A Guide to Her Magical Performances
Retro Active Television:
An In-Depth History of Classic TV's Social Circuitry
Book of Caine
Book of Wisdom
Story: The Book of
Life Goes On
NBC and Me: My Life as a Page in a Book
“Win, lose, or draw, I'm going to keep on being Elizabeth Montgomery.”
âElizabeth Montgomery, 1965
“Lizzie didn't want to walk around for the rest of her life being
âRonny Cox, friend and co-star of Elizabeth Montgomery's
“I ain't never met another woman I wanted to be like.”
, as played by Elizabeth Montgomery in the 1980 TV-movie of the same name
In 1979, Elizabeth Montgomery appeared in the NBC TV-movie
Jennifer: A Woman's Story
, in which she played
, the widow of a wealthy shipbuilding executive. In this backdoor pilot for a new series (that Montgomery chose not to pursue),
battled the highbrow board members of her late husband's company that she struggled to control.
, which originally aired on ABC from 1964 to 1972, Elizabeth portrayed the beloved nose-wriggling house-witch
. In an episode from 1969, “The Battle of Burning Oak,”
and her feisty mother
(Agnes Moorehead) forged one of their rare but sturdy alliances, and set out to discredit the braggart members of a private mortal club. With this and every segment of
, Elizabeth played
not so much as a
, but as a woman who
just so happens
to be a witch who just so happens to twitch. How she machinated the magic was secondary to the sorcery itself; the supernatural acts were not nearly as pertinent as the distinguishing and ironic essence of
: her humanity.
In like manner, Elizabeth eagerly utilized her benevolence with an extraordinary life and career, relinquishing an arrogance that could have easily evolved by way of her prestigious upbringing. As the liberal daughter of film and television legend Robert Montgomery, a staunch Republican, and Broadway actress Elizabeth Allen, an elegant Southern belle, she became disillusioned with the loftiness of Hollywood. She retained an unaffected demeanor on the set of any one of her nearly 500 individual television and film performances, or when approached on the street by some random fan. In either scenario, she relished the simple treasures of life, just as
embraced the “everyday, mortal way.”
Elizabeth, however, was not immortal in real life. Her light was dimmed too soon. On May 18, 1995, she died a victim of colon cancerâonly two months after completing production of
Deadline For Murder
, her second CBS TV-movie as true-life Miami crime reporter Edna Buchanan (her first,
The Corpse Had a Familiar Face
, aired in 1994).
The shining star, the iconic actress, the outspoken political activist, the kind and loving mother to three children (with
producer/director William Asher: William, Jr., Robert, and Rebecca), and the very private and all-too-human woman was gone. It was devastating news for those within her intimate circle and to the millions of fans who continue to worship her from afar.
More than fifteen years after her painful demise, countless Facebook pages are adorned with her name; over 800,000 readers of
once voted her more popular than Barbara Eden, the star of classic TV's other supernatural blonde-led sitcom,
I Dream of Jeannie
(a blatant replica of
that infuriated Elizabeth); and her TV-movies remain classics.
In 1974, she received an Emmy nomination for
A Case of Rape
, which originally aired on NBC (a decade before the network aired the similarly themed film,
The Burning Bed
starring Farrah Fawcett).
became the first issue-oriented TV-movie of its time, helped to change human rights and legislation for rape victims, and registered itself as one of the highest rated TV-movies in history.
In 1975, Elizabeth received another Emmy nomination for ABC's
The Legend of Lizzie Borden
(a namesake and alleged distant sixth cousin that she took a particular delight in portraying), which will soon be remade for the big screen.
Her feature films remain revered as well: 1955's
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell;
Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?
(in which she co-starred with Dean Martin and good friend Carol Burnett); and
, also released in 1963, directed by William Asher (who died in Palm Desert, California, on July 16, 2012, at age 90, due to complications from Alzheimer's disease), whom she met and fell in love with on the set.
Approximately one year later, on September 17, 1964,
debuted and was party to the escapist entertainment that America sorely needed amidst the upheaval of the era. Elizabeth, like her contemporary, actress Jane Fonda (to whom she was frequently compared in appearance and talent), protested the country's involvement with Vietnam. Her father was none-too-pleased with his daughter's political views. Such opposition was an earmark for their entire relationship until the day he died, in 1981, succumbing to cancer, like Elizabeth.
A few years later, she delivered the chilling narration for two controversial feature film documentaries:
(1988), which detailed the murky circumstances surrounding the Iran-Contra affair, and
The Panama Deception
(1992), about the American invasion of Panama (which won the Oscar that year for Best Feature-Length Documentary). Into this mix she, along with Elizabeth Taylor, another legendary actress and good friend, became one of the first courageous few to lend support in the mid-1980s to those suffering from AIDS, then a widespread and misunderstood disease affecting mostly homosexual men.
Subsequently, among her multitude of enthusiasts are those within the gay community. Her appeal and notoriety with this portion of the population is unparalleled thanks in part to her humanitarian efforts for research into AIDS (no longer just a “gay disease”). In 1992, she sealed that acclaim when she served as Co-Grand Marshall for the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade with former
star Dick Sargent (who had recently exited the closet).
Through it all, the central message of
, as she suggested, believed, and trumpeted, was prejudice.
was a sorceress isolated in a mortal world, a
witch out of water
, a repressed housewife instructed by an overbearing human husband (
, played by Dick York, later replaced by Sargent) to never reveal her true identity.
Despite what critics perceived as confinement,
was a free spirit, an independent soul. It was her choice to live the mortal life, and Elizabeth sought to convey the significance of that directive. Liberated women embraced her contributions with
and beyond, and
became the first independent and
woman of the television age. She reflected the progress womanhood had made in the eyes of the public at large. This on the heels of Betty Friedan's blockbuster book,
The Feminine Mystique
which, when released in 1963 (one year before
debuted), documented more than any other single factor the launch of women's lib.
Like many raised in the glare of Hollywood, Elizabeth lived a life that was sprinkled with stardust and littered with trauma. She had loving but disparate relationships, including a core-shaping and life-shifting association with her father, who objected to her liberal views and her initial decision to become an actress.
She loved life and life loved her back, although not always as evenly, particularly in the form of marriages to first husband New York blue-blood Fred Cammann, and her second husband, the troubled and alcoholic actor Gig Young. Her third and fourth husbands, William Asher and actor Robert Foxworth (best known as
st), were equal lights in her life, but like all true love affairs, even these relationships proved uneven.
Eight years after her divorce from Asher, she appeared in the 1982 TV mini-series
The Rules of Marriage
, which co-starred Elliot Gould. They played
, a successful suburban couple who found new partners after separating on their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Like much of Elizabeth's work,
broke the rules, when its characters “broke the fourth wall” and periodically talked to the camera, documentary style, as on contemporary shows
The Rules of Marriage
was not a comedy, and no one was laughing on stage or off.