Amanda Blake

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Amanda Blake
Amanda Blake Kitty Gunsmoke 1966.JPG
As Miss Kitty Russell in Gunsmoke (1966)
Born
Beverly Louise Neill

(1929-02-20)February 20, 1929
DiedAugust 16, 1989(1989-08-16) (aged 60)
OccupationActress
Years active1950–1989
Spouse(s)
Don Whitman
(
m. 1954; div. 1955)

Jason Day
(
m. 1964; div. 1967)

Frank Gilbert
(
m. 1967; div. 1982)

Mark Spaeth
(
m. 1984;
his death 
1985)

Amanda Blake (February 20, 1929 – August 16, 1989) was an American actress best known for the role of the red-haired saloon proprietress "Miss Kitty Russell" on the western television series Gunsmoke. Along with her third husband, Frank Gilbert, she ran one of the first successful programs for breeding cheetahs in captivity.

Early[edit]

Amanda Blake was born Beverly Louise Neill in Buffalo, New York,[1] the only child of Jesse and Louise (née Puckett) Neill. Her father was a banker; Blake herself was a telephone operator and briefly attended Pomona College before she took up acting.[2][3] Catherine ″Kate" Moore Barry (1752–1823), one of her ancestors, was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War. She warned local patriots of Banastre Tarleton's approach, giving them time to group and prepare for the Battle of Cowpens (January 17, 1781), a major American victory that helped pave the way for the British defeat at Yorktown. Blake donated a cameo-sized portrait of Barry owned by her family to the local history museum in Spartanburg, South Carolina,[citation needed] and contributed a Moore family heirloom musket to Walnut Grove Plantation.[citation needed]

Career[edit]

In the late 1940s, Blake was signed to MGM as the studio saw her as its next Greer Garson.[2] In 1954, she was in A Star Is Born.[4] Nicknamed "the Young Greer Garson",[5] Blake became best known for her 19-year stint as the saloon-keeper Miss Kitty on the television series Gunsmoke from 1955 to 1974. On February 27, 1974, Blake brought a lion named Kemo on to the Gunsmoke set.[6]

Prior to that, Blake had appeared in a few Hollywood films, such as the 1952 western Cattle Town and in the starring role of Miss Robin Crusoe, a 1954 adaptation of the Robinson Crusoe adventure. In 1968, Blake was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.[7] She was the third performer inducted, after Tom Mix and Gary Cooper, selected in 1958 and 1966, respectively.

Because of her continuing role on television, Blake rarely had time for films. She did appear on a number of television shows, including a recurring comedy routine on The Red Skelton Show, as a panelist on the long-running Hollywood Squares, Tattletales, and the 1970s revival of Match Game, as well as comedy appearances on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. In 1957, she guest-starred as Betty Lavon-Coate in the episode titled "Coate of Many Colors" on Rod Cameron's crime drama, State Trooper. After the Gunsmoke reunion film, she made two feature-film appearances: in The Boost, a drug-addiction drama starring James Woods and Sean Young, and B.O.R.N, both in 1988.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Blake married Don Whitman in 1954 and divorced him in 1956.[1] After the divorce from Whitman, she would go to the 'saloon set' of Gunsmoke. Blake felt like it was home to her on the days when she was not needed.[9] She married Jason Seymour Day Jr. in 1964 and divorced him in 1967.[citation needed] Blake married Frank Gilbert in 1967 and divorced him in 1982.[citation needed] She married Mark Edward Spaeth in 1984. Spaeth died in 1985.[10]

Animal welfare[edit]

After Gunsmoke, Blake went into semi-retirement at her home in Phoenix, Arizona, and took on few film or television projects. She instead devoted more time to her animals.[11] She had been known for bringing her pet lion, Kemo, onto the Gunsmoke set.[6] Kemo lived in an animal compound at her home, at which she and husband Frank Gilbert ran an experimental breeding program for cheetahs. They were some of the first to breed cheetahs successfully in captivity; they raised seven generations of cheetahs.[12]

Blake joined with others in 1971 to form the Arizona Animal Welfare League, today the oldest and largest "no-kill" animal shelter in the state. In 1985, she helped finance the start-up of the Performing Animal Welfare Society and devoted a great deal of time and money[clarification needed] in support of its efforts, including travels to Africa. Blake reportedly was a one-time board member of the Humane Society of the United States. In 1997, the Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge opened at Rancho Seco Park in Herald, California. The refuge provides sanctuary for free-ranging African hoofed wildlife, most of which were originally destined for exotic animal auctions or hunting ranches.[13]

Declining health and death[edit]

Blake was a heavy cigarette smoker and had surgery for oral cancer in 1977. She became a supporter of the American Cancer Society and made fundraising appearances throughout the country. In 1984, she was the recipient of the society's annual Courage Award, which was presented to her by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The popular media later widely reported that Blake's doctor claimed that she had actually died of AIDS. Her close friends have insisted that she was not a drug user or sexually promiscuous, and that she may have acquired the disease from a former husband.[14] On August 16, 1989, Blake died of liver failure brought on by viral hepatitis at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, California.[15]

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1950 Stars In My Crown Faith Radmore Samuels
1950 Duchess of Idaho Linda Kinston
1950 Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard Karen Michelle
1951 Smuggler's Gold Susan Hodges
1951 China Corsair Jane Richards Uncredited
1951 Never Trust a Gambler The Redhead at Police Station Uncredited
1951 Criminal Lawyer Receptionist Uncredited
1951 Sunny Side of the Street Susie Manning
1951 The Family Secret Telephone Girl Uncredited
1952 Scarlet Angel Susan Bradley
1952 Cattle Town Marian Hastings
1953 Lili Peach Lips (red-haired dame)
1953 Sabre Jet Helen Daniel
1954 About Mrs. Leslie Gilly
1954 A Star Is Born Susan Ettinger
1954 The Adventures of Hajji Baba Banah
1954 Miss Robin Crusoe Robin Crusoe
1955 The Glass Slipper Birdena
1955 High Society Clarissa Jones
1988 The Boost Barbara
1988 B.O.R.N. Rosie
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars 2 episodes
1953 Cavalcade of America Nancy Hart Episode: "Breakfast at Nancy's"
1954 Four Star Playhouse Susan Pierce Episode: "Vote of Confidence"
1955–
1974
Gunsmoke Kitty Russell 425 episodes
1956 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Carol Arlington Episode: "Whodunit"
1957 State Trooper Betty Lavon-Coate Episode: "Coate of Many Colors"
1957–
1963
The Red Skelton Show Ruby 7 episodes
1958 Studio One Joan Roberts Episode: "Tide of Corruption"
1959 Steve Canyon Molly McIntyre Episode: "Room 313"
1966 Clown Alley Pickpocket Clown CBS television film
1974 Betrayal Helen Mercer ABC Movie of the Week
1974 Match Game Herself Game show: one week/5 episodes
1974 Tattletales Herself Game show: one week/5 episodes with husband Frank
1976 The Quest Miss Sally Episode: "Day of Outrage"
1979 The Love Boat Nora Knox Episode: "The Oldies But Goodies..."
1982 The Best Little Special in Texas Herself TV Movie Documentary
1983 Hart to Hart Big Sam Episode: "The Wayward Hart"
1984 The Edge of Night Dr. Juliana Stanhower June 19–29, 1984[16]
1986 Brothers Carlotta Episode: "A Penny a Dance"
1987 Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge Kitty Russell TV movie
Including flashbacks to Gunsmoke episodes
1989 The New Dragnet Mrs. Sylvia Wilson Episode: "Nouveau Gypsies", (final appearance)

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b Aaker 2017, p. 1810.
  2. ^ a b MeTV Staff (February 19, 2020). "7 things you never knew about the great Amanda Blake of Gunsmoke". MeTV. Chicago: Me-TV National Limited Partnership (Weigel Broadcasting). Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  3. ^ "Amanda Blake Then & Now!". Albany Daily News. Retrieved 3 August 2020.
  4. ^ Green 1990, p. 188.
  5. ^ "Gunsmoke". GunsmokeNet.com. Archived from the original on September 28, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Browning, Norma Lee (February 27, 1974). "Amanda Blake's Lion Upsets 'Gunsmoke' Set". The Blade. Toledo, Ohio: Block Communications. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  7. ^ "Great Western Performers". Nationalcowboymuseum.org. Retrieved August 15, 2010.
  8. ^ Amanda Blake on IMDb[unreliable source?]
  9. ^ Greenland, David R. (2015). The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television's Greatest Western. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1593937331.
  10. ^ "AMANDA BLAKE, 60, WHO PLAYED MISS KITTY ON LONG-RUNNING 'GUNSMOKE' SERIES, DIES". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Nash Holdings. August 17, 1989. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  11. ^ "Amanda Blake gets 5 baby cheetahs". Boca Raton News. December 19, 1974. Retrieved August 25, 2013.
  12. ^ Caras, Roger A. (2001). A Perfect Harmony: The Intertwining Lives of Animals and Humans Throughout History. Purdue University Press. pp. 194–195. ISBN 978-1-55753-241-1.
  13. ^ The Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge website; accessed August 28, 2014.
  14. ^ "Amanda Blake Died of AIDS, Doctor Says". The New York Times. November 8, 1989. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  15. ^ Stark, John; Hoover, Eleanor (November 20, 1989). "Friends—and Her Doctor—say AIDS, Not Cancer, Killed Gunsmoke's Amanda Blake". People. United States: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  16. ^ "'Miss Kitty' makes debut on soaps". The Montreal Gazette. UPI. June 14, 1984. p. F2.

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]