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Robert Montgomery (actor)

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Robert Montgomery
Montgomery c. 1950s
Henry Montgomery Jr.

(1904-05-21)May 21, 1904
DiedSeptember 27, 1981(1981-09-27) (aged 77)
New York City, U.S.
  • Actor
  • director
  • producer
Years active1924–1960
(m. 1928; div. 1950)
Elizabeth Grant Harkness
(m. 1950)
Children3, including Elizabeth Montgomery
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1941–1946
Rank Lieutenant commander[1]
UnitUSS Barton (DD-722)
Battles/warsWorld War II
Awards Bronze Star Medal w/ Combat V
Combat Action Ribbon
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two stars
Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal with two stars
World War II Victory Medal[1]
3rd and 8th President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
Preceded byEddie Cantor
Succeeded byRalph Morgan
In office
Preceded byGeorge Murphy
Succeeded byRonald Reagan

Robert Montgomery (/mɒntˈɡʌməri/; born Henry Montgomery Jr.; May 21, 1904 – September 27, 1981) was an American actor, director, and producer.[2] He began his acting career on the stage, but was soon hired by MGM. Initially assigned roles in comedies, he soon proved he was able to handle dramatic ones, as well. He appeared in a wide variety of roles, such as the weak-willed prisoner Kent in The Big House (1930), the psychotic Danny in Night Must Fall (1937), and Joe, the boxer mistakenly sent to Heaven in Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941). The last two earned him nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

During World War II, he drove ambulances in France until the Dunkirk evacuation. When the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941, he enlisted in the Navy, and was present at the invasion at Normandy. After the war, he returned to Hollywood, where he worked in both films, and later, in television. He was also the father of actress Elizabeth Montgomery.

Early life


Henry Montgomery, Jr.,[3] was born in Fishkill Landing, New York (now Beacon, New York), to Henry Montgomery and his wife, Mary Weed Montgomery (née Barney), and was of Scottish and Scots-Irish heritage.[4][5] His father was president of the New York Rubber Company, and died by suicide in 1922 by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, when the family's fortune was gone.[6]


Lobby card for Their Own Desire (1929)

Montgomery settled in New York City to try his hand at writing and acting. He established a stage career, and became popular enough to turn down an offer to appear opposite Vilma Bánky in the film This Is Heaven (1929).[7] Sharing a stage with George Cukor gave him an entry to Hollywood and a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he debuted in So This Is College (also 1929). One writer claimed that Montgomery was able to establish himself because he "proceeded with confidence, agreeable with everyone, eager and willing to take suggestions". However, author Scott Eyman wrote in 1997 that he had an "off-screen reputation as one of the chilliest, most pompous actors ever to find his way to Hollywood."[8]

During the production of So This Is College, Montgomery learned from and questioned crew members from several departments, including sound crew, electricians, set designers, camera crew, and film editors. In a later interview, he confessed, "it showed [him] that making a motion picture is a great co-operative project." So This Is College gained him attention as Hollywood's latest newcomer, and he was put in one production after another, his popularity growing steadily.[7]

Montgomery initially played exclusively in comedy roles; his first dramatic role was in The Big House (1930). MGM was initially reluctant to assign him the role, until "his earnestness, and his convincing arguments, with demonstrations of how he would play the character" won him the assignment. From The Big House on, he was in constant demand. He appeared as Greta Garbo's romantic interest in Inspiration (1930).

Montgomery in the trailer for Night Must Fall (1937)
Lionel Barrymore's 61st birthday in 1939, standing: Mickey Rooney, Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable, Louis B. Mayer, William Powell, Robert Taylor, seated: Norma Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, and Rosalind Russell
Montgomery, Admiral "Bull" Halsey, and James Cagney on the set of The Gallant Hours (1960)

Norma Shearer chose him to star opposite her in The Divorcee (1930), Strangers May Kiss (1931), and Private Lives (1931), which led him to stardom.[7] In 1932, Montgomery starred opposite Tallulah Bankhead in Faithless, though the film was not a success. During this time, Montgomery appeared in the original pre-Code film version of When Ladies Meet (1933), which starred Ann Harding and Myrna Loy. In 1935, Montgomery became president of the Screen Actors Guild, and was elected again in 1946. Montgomery played a psychopathic murderer in the thriller Night Must Fall (1937), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

After World War II began in Europe in September 1939, and while the United States was still officially neutral, Montgomery enlisted in London for the American Field Service and drove ambulances in France until the Dunkirk evacuation. He then returned to Hollywood and addressed a massive rally on the MGM lot for the American Red Cross in July 1940.[9]

Montgomery returned to playing light comedy roles, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) with Carole Lombard. He continued his search for dramatic roles.[7] For his role as Joe Pendleton, a boxer and pilot in Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Montgomery was nominated for an Oscar a second time. After the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, he joined the United States Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander, and served on the staff of the commander of Destroyer Squadrons 5 and 60; commanding officer PT-107; aboard the light cruiser USS Columbia; as an assistant naval attache at the U.S. Embassy, London; and as the executive officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 5 (PT-5).[10]

In 1945, Montgomery returned to Hollywood, co-starring and making his uncredited directing debut in They Were Expendable, where he directed some of the PT boat scenes when director John Ford was unable to work for health reasons. Montgomery's first credited film as director and his final film for MGM was the film noir Lady in the Lake (1947), adapted from Raymond Chandler's detective novel, in which he starred as Chandler's most famous character, Phillip Marlowe. It was filmed entirely from Marlowe's vantage point; Montgomery appeared on camera only a few times, three times in a mirror reflection. He also directed and starred in Ride the Pink Horse (1947), also a film noir.[11]

Active in Republican politics and concerned about communist influence in the entertainment industry, Montgomery was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. The next year, 1948, Montgomery hosted the Academy Awards. He hosted an Emmy Award-winning television series, Robert Montgomery Presents, which ran from 1950 to 1957. The Gallant Hours (1960), a film Montgomery directed and co-produced with its star, his friend James Cagney, was the last film or television production with which he was connected in any capacity, as actor, director, or producer. In 1955, Montgomery was awarded a Tony Award for his direction of The Desperate Hours.[12]

In 1954, Montgomery took an unpaid position as consultant and coach to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, advising him on how to look his best in his television appearances before the nation.[13] A pioneering media consultant, Montgomery had an office in the White House beginning in 1954.[14]

Montgomery has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies at 6440 Hollywood Boulevard and another for television at 1631 Vine Street.

Personal life and death

Montgomery in 1939

On April 14, 1928,[15] Montgomery married actress Elizabeth Bryan Allen (December 26, 1904 – June 28, 1992), sister of Martha-Bryan Allen.[4][16] The couple had three children: Martha Bryan, who died at 14 months of age in 1931; Elizabeth (April 15, 1933 – May 18, 1995), an actress best known for her 1960s television series, Bewitched; and Robert, Jr., (January 6, 1936 – February 7, 2000).[17] They divorced on December 5, 1950.

His second wife was Elizabeth "Buffy" Grant Harkness (1909–2003), whom he married on December 9, 1950, four days after his divorce from Allen was finalized.[18]

He died of cancer on September 27, 1981, at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.[19] His body was cremated and the ashes were given to the family.[4] His two surviving children, Elizabeth and Robert Montgomery Jr., both died of cancer, as well.[20]


Year Title Role Notes
1929 The Single Standard Extra Uncredited
Three Live Ghosts William Foster
So This Is College Biff
Untamed Andy McAllister
Their Own Desire John Douglas Cheever
1930 Free and Easy Larry
The Divorcee Don
The Big House Kent Marlowe
The Sins of the Children Nick Higginson
Our Blushing Brides Tony Jardine
Love in the Rough Jack Kelly
War Nurse Lt. Wally O'Brien
1931 Inspiration André Montell
The Easiest Way Jack "Johnny" Madison
Strangers May Kiss Steve
Shipmates John Paul Jones
The Man in Possession Raymond Dabney
Private Lives Elyot Chase
1932 Lovers Courageous Willie Smith
But the Flesh Is Weak Max Clement
Letty Lynton Hale Darrow
Blondie of the Follies Larry Belmont
Faithless William "Bill" Wade
1933 Hell Below Lieut. Thomas Knowlton, USN
Made on Broadway Jeff Bidwell
When Ladies Meet Jimmie Lee
Another Language Victor Hallam
Night Flight Auguste Pellerin
1934 This Side of Heaven Actor on screen in theatre Uncredited cameo: clip from Another Language (1933)
Fugitive Lovers Paul Porter, aka Stephen Blaine
The Mystery of Mr. X Nicholas Revel
Riptide Tommie Trent
Hide-Out Jonathan "Lucky" Wilson
Forsaking All Others Dillon "Dill"/"Dilly" Todd
1935 Biography of a Bachelor Girl Richard "Dickie" Kurt
Vanessa: Her Love Story Benjamin Herries
No More Ladies Sheridan Warren
1936 Petticoat Fever Dascom Dinsmore
Trouble for Two Prince Florizel Alternative title: The Suicide Club
Piccadilly Jim James "Piccadilly Jim" Crocker Jr.
1937 The Last of Mrs. Cheyney Lord Arthur Dilling
Night Must Fall Danny Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
Ever Since Eve Freddie Matthews
Live, Love and Learn Bob Graham
1938 The First Hundred Years David Conway
Yellow Jack John O'Hara
Three Loves Has Nancy Malcolm "Mal" Niles
1939 Fast and Loose Joel Sloane
1940 The Earl of Chicago Robert Kilmount
Busman's Honeymoon Lord Peter Wimsey Alternative title: Haunted Honeymoon
1941 Mr. & Mrs. Smith David Smith
Rage in Heaven Philip Monrell
Here Comes Mr. Jordan Joe Pendleton Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
Unfinished Business Tommy Duncan
1945 They Were Expendable Lt. John Brickley Also directed during illness of John Ford (uncredited)
1947 Lady in the Lake Phillip Marlowe Also directed
Ride the Pink Horse Lucky Gagin Also directed
1948 The Saxon Charm Matt Saxon
June Bride Carey Jackson
1949 Poet's Pub Dancer Uncredited
Once More, My Darling Collier "Collie" Laing Also directed
1950 Your Witness Adam Heyward Also directed
1960 The Gallant Hours Narrator Also directed

Television credits

Year Title Role Notes
1950–57 Robert Montgomery Presents Host
1957 What's My Line? Mystery Guest Aired Jan 13, 1957
1958 Navy Log Host Episode: "The Butchers of Kapsan"

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1942 Philip Morris Playhouse Man Hunt[21]
1947 Lux Radio Theater Ride the Pink Horse
1948 Suspense The Black Curtain[22]
1948 Suspense In A Lonely Place




  1. ^ a b "Montgomery, Robert, LCDR". Together We Served. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  2. ^ Bird, David (September 28, 1981). "Robert Montgomery, Actor, Dies at 77". The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  3. ^ "Patterson Through the Years". www.historicpatterson.org. Retrieved July 4, 2024.
  4. ^ a b c Lee, R.E. "Robert Montgomery Biography". The Earl of Hollywood. Archived from the original on August 17, 2016. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  5. ^ "Elizabeth Montgomery's Family Tree" Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Bewitched.net; retrieved August 4, 2010.
  6. ^ "3 DROWN IN HUDSON, 4 AT ROCKAWAYS; Boy Loses His Life Trying to Rescue Crippled Companion". The New York Times. July 3, 1922.
  7. ^ a b c d "Garbo's Lover in 'Inspiration' Was Lucky Role for Montgomery". The Milwaukee Journal. March 22, 1945. p. 1.
  8. ^ Eyman, Scott (March 13, 1997). The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926–1930. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 295. ISBN 978-1-4391-0428-6. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  9. ^ Eyman, Scott (June 23, 2008). Lion of Hollywood. New York City: Simon & Schuster. p. 279. ISBN 978-1-4391-0791-1. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  10. ^ Fitzgerald, Claire (July 8, 2023). "'They Were Expendable' Actor Robert Montgomery Actually Served in the US Navy During World War II". War History Online.
  11. ^ Mayer, Geoff; McDonnell, Brian (2007). Encyclopedia of Film Noir. ABC-CLIO. p. 355. ISBN 978-0-313-33306-4.
  12. ^ "Robert Montgomery Tony Awards Info". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  13. ^ "Behind the Scenes: Robert Montgomery". The New York Times. March 1, 1956.
  14. ^ Brownell, Kathryn Cramer (2014). Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-4696-1792-3.
  15. ^ New York, New York, Marriage Index 1866–1937
  16. ^ "Elizabeth Allen a Bride". The New York Times. April 15, 1928. p. 27.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "R. Montgomery Marries". The New York Times. December 12, 1950. p. 47.
  19. ^ "Robert Montgomery, actor-producer, dies". The Galveston Daily News. United Press International. September 28, 1981. p. 6. Archived from the original on December 4, 2018. Retrieved January 17, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ Pilato, Herbie J. (2012). Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. XV. ISBN 978-1-58979-749-9.
  21. ^ "Radio Highlights". Harrisburg Telegraph. July 31, 1942. p. 11. Retrieved August 18, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
  22. ^ "Radio's Golden Age". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 38, no. 3. Summer 2012. pp. 40–41.

Further reading

  • Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1997. ISBN 1-55750-937-9. OCLC 36824724