George Montgomery

George Montgomery
George Montgomery

Ronald Bergan’s obituary in “The Guardian” in 2000:

For fans of straight, no-nonsense, taciturn cowboy heroes in traditional westerns, with much bang-bang and a little kiss-kiss, George Montgomery, who has died aged 84, was just the ticket. Out of the scores of pictures he made during four decades, more than half of them were good, solid westerns, at that time the staple of cinemas, especially towards the end of the 1950s.

The handsome, well-built Montgomery was certainly made to be a Hollywood he-man. Born George Montgomery Letz, the youngest of 15 children of an immigrant Russian farmer, he was raised on a remote Montana ranch, where he learned many of the roping and riding skills he displayed in his films.

At the University of Montana, where he majored in interior design, he boxed as a heavyweight and was also active in athletics. But he dropped out after a year and moved to Los Angeles to find work as a stuntman.

In 1935, he was hired to perform stunts in the Gene Autry western The Singing Vagabond. Billed as George Letz, he continued as stuntman and bit-part player in further Autry movies. He also appeared in The Lone Ranger serial (1938).

In 1940, he was given a contract by 20th Century-Fox, who changed his name to George Montgomery, and immediately gave him a good supporting part in The Cisco Kid and the Lady, starring Cesar Romero. His first leading role came in The Cowboy and the Blonde (1941), where he played a rodeo star who “tames” a shrewish actress (Mary Beth Hughes).

Montgomery’s future wife, Dinah Shore, the toothy singer with the mellifluous voice, claimed that she fell in love with him on seeing him in the picture. They were married two years later, but not before Montgomery had affairs with Hedy Lamarr and Ginger Rogers.

Rogers was his co-star in William Wellman’s Roxie Hart (1942), the basis for the musical Chicago. Although, as the newsman reporting the murder trial of an amoral showgirl, he was outshone by his leading lady, it was one of Montgomery’s best films.

In the same year, he starred as a military cadet standing up to the bullying commander in Ten Gentlemen From West Point, opposite Maureen O’Hara, and as a trumpeter (dubbed) with the Glenn Miller band in Orchestra Wives.

By now, Montgomery was one of Fox’s regular leading men, usually filling in for more charismatic stars such as Tyrone Power and Don Ameche. He served well enough as support to two of the studio’s resident blondes, Betty Grable in Coney Island (1943), and June Haver in Three Little Girls In Blue (1946). But his stolid personality didn’t suit fluffy musicals.

Montgomery, who had served for three years in the Army Air Corps during the second world war, found westerns more in his line. However, he first tackled the role of private eye Philip Marlowe in The Brasher Doubloon (1947), based on Raymond Chandler’s The High Window.

On leaving Fox, Montgomery began his “have gun, will travel” career in a plethora of entertaining, politically incorrect (vis-a-vis “Red Indians” and women) low-budget movies, mostly under journeymen directors such as Sidney Salkow, William Castle and Ray Nazzarro.

Montgomery, sounding more and more like Clark Gable, rode alone into many a lawless town and cleaned it up. He played the title role in Davy Crockett – Indian Scout (1950); was Fenimore Cooper’s Hawkeye in The Iroquois Trail (1950); and the outlaw Bat Masterson in Masterson of Kansas (1955). In the TV series Cimarron City (1958), which he produced, he played a peace-loving rancher who becomes mayor and aids the townsfolk during the city’s boom days in the 1890s.

Montgomery’s few non-westerns were blood-and- thunder adventures like Huk! (1956), in which he defends his rice and sugar plantation in the Philippines from a guerrilla army. Montgomery would return to the Philippines in the 1960s to produce, direct, write and star in four unconvincing action movies concerned with fighting the Japanese. He was good as a war-weary army sergeant in the seemingly endless Battle of the Bulge (1965), but the roles became fewer and fewer.

Instead, he concentrated on furniture-making, painting and sculpture at his desert home in California. One of his bronzes was of his old friend Ronald Reagan on horseback.

Montgomery, who divorced Shore in 1963 after 19 years of marriage, is survived by a son and daughter.

George Montgomery, actor; born August 19, 1916; died December 12, 2000

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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