OBITUARY:Elizabeth Montgomery

As the good witch Samantha Stephens in the situation comedy Bewitched, the blonde-haired, green-eyed Elizabeth Montgomery became one of the biggest stars on American television in the Sixties and Seventies.

The show was based on the storyline of an advertising executive marrying a woman who turns out to be a witch but craves a life as a "normal" housewife, although she cannot resist twitching her nose to have the dishes washed, the kitchen cleaned and the laundry folded. It was apparently a one-joke comedy, but Bewitched ran for eight years, with viewers anxious to learn of the latest antics of Samantha and her even "witchier" mother, Endora.

Montgomery was born in Los Angeles in 1933, the daughter of the actress Elizabeth Allen and the stage and screen actor Robert Montgomery, who was one of the first film stars to work prominently on television. She trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Art, in New York, and made her television debut in her father's series Robert Montgomery Presents, in a story entitled "Top Secret" (1951), at the age of 17. She appeared in another 26 episodes of the programme over the next five years, as well as acting in other live dramas in series such as Armstrong Circle Theater, Kraft Theater, Studio One, Warner Brothers Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Montgomery's many other television appearances included guest roles in Appointment with Adventure (1955), Climax (1956), Suspicion (1958), Cimarron City (1958), The Loretta Young Show (1959), Riverboat (1959), Wagon Train (1959), The Untouchables (1960, nominated for an Emmy award for her portrayal of the sex siren Rusty Heller), Twilight Zone (1961), Burke's Law (1963 and 1964), Rawhide (1963) and 77 Sunset Strip (1963), before finding fame in Bewitched.

Montgomery was actually the second actress to be approached for the role of Samantha Stephens, after Tammy Grimes turned it down. Montgomery and her husband-to-be, the director William Asher, were looking for a show to work on together and, after reading the script, she told the programme's co-creator William Dozier, "This is a series I just must do, that's all."

Montgomery and Asher were hired and Bewitched became the second most popular programme on American television during its first series, in 1964- 65. It was the first "fantasy sitcom" on the small screen and was set to be followed by others such as I Dream of Jeannie, although that genre had already become a part of cinema, most notably in I Married a Witch, the 1942 film starring Veronica Lake.

Dick York and, later, Dick Sargent played Montgomery's screen husband, Darrin Stephens, and Agnes Moorehead acted her mother. Montgomery also played Samantha's mischievous identical cousin Serena and provided the voice of "Samantha" in a 1965 episode of the Flintstones cartoon series. Since it finished in 1972, Bewitched's 306 episodes have been regularly repeated around the world.

In the Seventies, Montgomery turned to drama and acted in some of the most popular television films screened in the United States: The Victim (1972), as a woman in a remote farmhouse stalked by a psychotic killer during a thunderstorm; Mrs Sundance (1974), as the widow of the Sundance Kid, who is duped into believing that her husband is still alive; A Case of Rape (1974), as a married rape victim; The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) as the infamous New England spinster tried for the axe murders of her father and stepmother; and Dark Victory (1976), as a woman dying of a brain tumour, in a remake of the 1939 Bette Davis classic cinema feature. More recently, she played the Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter Edna Buchanan in The Corpse Had a Familiar Face (1994) and Deadline for Murder (1995).

Montgomery's other screen appearances included the television films A Killing Affair (1977), Jennifer: A Woman's Story (1979), Belle Starr (1980), When The Circus Came to Town (1981), Second Sight: a love story (1984), Amos (1985), Between the Darkness and the Dawn (1985) and Sins of the Mother (1991); and the mini-series The Awakening Land (1978) and The Rules of Marriage (1982).

She also appeared in half a dozen films, including The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), Johnny Cool (1963), Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). On stage, her Broadway debut as Janet Colby in Late Love, at the National Theater (1953), won her a Theater World Award for Most Promising Newcomer. She later narrated the theatrical documentaries Cover Up: Behind the Iran Contra Affair and The Panama Deception.

In all, Montgomery received eight Emmy Award nominations for her television work, including five for Bewitched. A keen artist, she wrote and illustrated an unpublished children's book, Annabelle, and sold several water-colours. She was also active for the Aids Project, Amnesty International and the peace movement. Three times divorced, Montgomery lived until her death with her fourth husband, Robert Foxworth, with whom she appeared in several television films.

Elizabeth Montgomery, actress: born Los Angeles 15 April 1933; married 1954 Frederick Gallatin Cammann (marriage dissolved 1955), 1956 Gig Young (marriage dissolved 1963), 1963 William Asher (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1974), fourthly Robert Foxworth; died Beverly Hills, California 18 May 1995.

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