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Elizabeth Montgomery Dies of Cancer

May 19, 1995|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elizabeth Montgomery, the mischievous witch with the nasal twitch who brought her enchanting whimsy into America's living rooms for eight years, died Thursday morning.

The star of "Bewitched," who later forsook her single-dimensional character and became one of the best known and diverse actors in made-for-TV movies, was 57, according to her family, but several film anthologies list her birth year as 1933.

She died after a long struggle with cancer, said her agent and spokesman Howard Bragman.

With her when she died at home in Beverly Hills was her husband, actor Robert Foxworth, and her three children from a previous marriage.

Daughter of actor Robert Montgomery and stage actress Elizabeth Allen, her first TV work came in 1951 as a summer repertory player on her father's "Robert Montgomery Presents." Thirteen years later she had perfected her craft to the point where she was a convincing, otherworldly Samantha Stephens, the crafty, always entertaining heroine of "Bewitched." But she was not the prototypal hag with a cackling voice and a wart on her nose. Instead, she was stylishly clad, impeccably groomed and a cunning sophisticate.

After Samantha and her clan left the airways, Miss Montgomery made a dramatic metamorphosis and ended her career portraying deadly killers, hardened women or hapless victims.

She had given some hint of her diversity before triumphing in the popular TV series. Early in her career she had parts in several seminal TV dramatic series: "Studio One," "The Twilight Zone," "Kraft Theatre," "General Electric Theatre," "Alcoa Presents" and "Armstrong Circle Theatre."

She also was on Broadway in "The Loud Red Patrick" and "Late Love" and she received the Theatre World Award for most promising newcomer in the 1953-54 season.

"Bewitched" ran from 1964 to 1972, garnered several Emmys and beguiled the nation as Samantha herself beguiled her mortal husband, advertising executive Darrin Stephens, played first by Dick York and later by Dick Sargent.

To get her way or solve problems, she would threaten to use her magical powers.

First she pondered the pending sorcery and then wiggled her nose to bring forth samples of the unearthly pranks that would befall those who had crossed her.

There also was a veritable coven of her brethren on the show.

She had a cousin, the dark-haired, sometimes sinister Serena (also played by Miss Montgomery); a father, Maurice (the famous Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans) and a mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead, a veteran of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre Co. with several major film credits).

All were constantly prevailing on her to follow their mildly wicked ways rather than remain the normal American wife and mother she had become.

Many critics thought the "Bewitched" crew was the most talented group of actors assembled for a single show and it became the most successful series ABC had produced up to that time.

At the time of the series, Miss Montgomery was married to its producer-director, William Asher (the third of her four husbands and father of her children).

A year after the show left the air, Miss Montgomery began appearing in TV films in which she was either menacing or menaced.

The first of these was "The Victim," followed in 1974 by "Mrs. Sundance" and in 1975 by a memorable "Legend of Lizzie Borden."

She earned an Emmy nomination (one of nine nominations throughout her career) for her work as a sexually and emotionally abused heroine in "A Case of Rape."

The show, broadcast in 1974, earned one of the 10 highest ratings ever for a made-for-TV film.

She remade "Dark Victory," the Bette Davis tear-jerker, for TV, starred in the interracial melodrama "A Killing Affair" opposite O.J. Simpson and was featured in "The Awakening Land," a 1978 miniseries.

In the 1980s she was seen opposite Kirk Douglas in "Amos" and in 1990 with Foxworth, later to become her husband, in "Face to Face."

In 1993 she became Blanche Taylor Moore, the North Carolina cashier who killed one husband and a boyfriend and was on her way to poisoning her second husband with arsenic when she was apprehended.

This year she was seen in "Deadline for Murder: From the Files of Edna Buchanan." She was Buchanan, the colorful Miami police news reporter.

She also tackled more significant subjects, working for liberal causes and narrating "The Panama Deception," a documentary that criticized the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. The film won an Academy Award for best feature documentary of 1993.

Miss Montgomery also made feature films, among them "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell," "Johnny Cool" and "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed."

She was a veteran of more than 250 television shows, an amateur artist said to have exceptional talent, and a political advocate for many causes, primarily Amnesty International and the fight against AIDS.

Her "Bewitched" co-star, Sargent, publicly discussed his homosexuality in 1991 and to show her support she joined him as a grand marshal of the 1992 Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in West Hollywood.

Miss Montgomery summed up her busy career in 1992, telling an interviewer she was pleased with the variety of her characters over the years.

"They all have different kinds of 'feels' to them and that's probably one of the reasons why I've done them. I get letters from people saying one of the things they like best about what I've done since 'Bewitched' is that they never know what I'm going to do next."

In addition to Foxworth, she is survived by two sons and a daughter.

She had asked that any donations in her memory be made to the William Holden Wildlife Assn. in Kenya or the Los Angeles Zoo.

Services are pending.

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