Amanda Blake

Amanda Blake Then And Now

“No woman ever loved a man more than I loved Matt Dillon.” With her fiery red hair and fierce loyalty. Amanda Blake found fame in Hollywood as the stunning Miss Kitty Russell on the long-running western Gunsmoke. Joining the cast in Dodge City, Kansas in 1955. Blake spent the next 19 years on the show with appearances in 425 of the series’ 432 episodes.

Unfortunately, life after Gunsmoke was far less glamorous as she never found a role with staying power. Although she never gave up hope and worked until her tragically early death at 60 years old from liver failure caused by a long battle with cancer. Gone now for nearly three decades. Let’s take a look at how Blake’s legacy lives on as the fiery Miss Kitty of an American classic.

With American roots dating back to the American Revolutionary War where her ancestor. Catherine Moore Barry, warned the American patriots that the British troops were approaching. A classic like Gunsmoke was a natural fit for Blake who was born as Beverly Louise Neill on February 20, 1929 in Buffalo, New York.

Growing up in a loving home where her father worked as a banker. Blake’s life completely changed when her father moved the family to Claremont. California where she was instantly attracted by the lure of Hollywood. Briefly attending Pomona College after high school graduation. Blake knew her true passion was in performing so she dropped out of school and picked up a job as a telephone operator while she spent her evenings performing with the local theater company.

Amanda Blake Traveling Around New England

Traveling around New England performing in summer stock. Amanda Blake was quickly dubbed “the young Greer Garson” as she returned to New York where she honed her talents as a theater actress. Eventually moving back to California, she made her feature film debut in MGM’s 1950 flick, Stars in My Crown.

Two years later, Amanda Blake landed her first television role on the CBS anthology series, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. With dozens of opportunities to follow including film appearances in Duchess of Idaho, Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard, Smuggler’s Gold, Sunny Side of the Street, Cattle Town, Lili and Miss Robin Crusoe. By then, Blake was known for being a “difficult, temperamental dame,” which the actress later said was because “I was unhappy doing dismal pictures.”

Blake befriended Red Skelton and often appeared on his show as Skelton instantly recognized her raw talent saying. “Mandy is the most underrated straight woman in Hollywood. Besides, she breaks up at my nonsense faster than any actress I know.”

Going on to appear in Hollywood Squares and the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Blake’s career completely changed in 1955 when she auditioned for and won the part of Miss Kitty Russell on the new western television series. Gunsmoke, which was based on the radio series of the same name that aired from 1951 to 1959.

While Miss Kitty was an afterthought on the radio program. Blake’s performance brought the character to life as she became a fan favorite thanks to her feistiness and her hidden romantic interest in the show’s leading man, Matt Dillon.

About Miss Kitty

“When I first started, a reporter asked me what Kitty was,” Blake recalls. “I said, ‘Wow, he’s a bum.’ Then I thought it was common knowledge but CBS screamed. Because I almost lost my job.”

Learning to rephrase her response. Blake embraced Miss Kitty as her own saying of the saloon keeper. “There was a man—isn’t there always? He loved her and he left her and then they put a label on her. Kitty isn’t the type to take in washing.

Somehow, I have the idea—don’t ask me how I got it—that Kitty came from New Orleans. Let’s just say that I think seaport cities are more feminine, that they bring out the womanly jungle instinct. So, she drifted, and she’d drift out of Dodge if it weren’t for Matt Dillon.”

Playing Miss Kitty for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, Amanda Blake admitted that she never wanted to be a big star but, instead, wanted to be a working actress, which is exactly why Gunsmoke became her career-defining role.

She’d long given up on the silver screen and, amid her growing success on the western, made guest appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presets, State Trooper, Studio One and Steve Canyon in addition to rejoining Skelton on The Red Skelton Show.

Appearing in the television film Clown Alley in the 1960s. She devoted the rest of the decade to Gunsmoke before wrapping up the series. Afterward, she appeared in the ABC television film Betrayal and snagged guest roles on Tattletales, The Quest and The Love Boat. In 1987, she made her only appearance in a Gunsmoke reunion—Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge.

Diagnose With Oral Cancer

After years of smoking nearly three packs of cigarettes each day. Blake’s health quickly declined when she was diagnosed with oral cancer and opted for surgery to have the cancer removed in 1977. Never fully recovering, she supported the American Cancer Society and traveled the country encouraging people to stop smoking.

In 1984, her advocacy was honored by President Ronald Reagan who presented her with the Courage Award to highlight her efforts. Five years later, on August 16, 1989, Blake died at 60 years old but, even then. Her death created a media frenzy as her physician presumably reported her cause of death was from AIDS and not cancer.

With the media in a full frenzy, reporters suggested that Blake’s fourth and final husband, Mark Spaeth, was bisexual and had contracted AIDS prior to their marriage in 1984. Rumors suggested that Blake’s marriage to the Texas businessman ended in 1985 when he died of AIDS but there is no evidence to confirm the rumors beyond their divorce decree, which is dated for 1985.

The New York Times even tried to settle the rumor and reported Blake’s death in 1989. Stating that she died of oral cancer at 60 years old. After a lifetime of smoking two to three packs of cigarettes each day. Whatever the case, Amanda Blake will long be remembered as the beloved Miss Kitty. Whose love for Marshall Matt Dillon forever kept her in the dusty, western town of Dodge City.

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