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Read Chapter One: Once Upon a Time

‘‘I like to grow naturally instead of being pruned into formality.’’
—Elizabeth Montgomery, TV Radio Mirror
Magazine, November 1969

Elizabeth Montgomery literally grew up on television, making her small
screen debut on December 3, 1951 in ‘‘Top Secret,’’ an episode of her
father’s heralded anthology series, Robert Montgomery Presents, which aired
on NBC between 1950 and 1957. She’d appear in a total of twenty-eight
episodes, but it was in ‘‘Secret’’ that she played none other than the apple
of her father’s eye. Written by Thomas W. Phipps and directed by Norman
Felton, this episode also featured Margaret Phillips (as Maria Dorne), James
Van Dyk (Edmund Gerry), John D. Seymour (Dawson), and Patrick O’Neal
(Brooks):

Foreign service agent Mr. Ward (Robert Montgomery) brings his daughter
Susan (Lizzie) on a mission to a country on the brink of revolution with
spies on all sides complicating the matter at hand.

The ‘‘Secret’’ title may have represented Elizabeth’s off-screen desire for
privacy, while other Presents headings also proved significant, such as ‘‘Once
Upon a Time,’’ written by Theodore and Mathilda Ferro; airing May 31,1954.
This time, Elizabeth played a newlywed who contemplates how different
life might have been had she married someone else.
In real life, Lizzie didn’t just contemplate that notion, she lived it . . .
four times, with Fred Cammann, Gig Young, Bill Asher, and Robert Foxworth.
Ten years after the ‘‘Time’’ episode of Presents aired, Bewitched debuted
with the Sol Saks pilot, ‘‘I Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha,’’ narrated by
Jose Ferrer. The show opened with his first line, ‘‘Once upon a time . . .’’
Whether represented on Robert Montgomery Presents or recited on
Bewitched, it was a fairytale phrase that Lizzie adored and which ignited her
interest in both projects, especially Bewitched. As she recalled in 1989, Bill
Asher was in the room when she first read that term in the initial Samantha
script.
‘‘Okay, I love it!’’ she said.
‘‘That’s it?’’ Bill wondered. ‘‘Once upon a time, and you love it?’’
‘‘Yeah!’’ she mused. ‘‘Anything that starts out that way can’t be all that
bad.’’
It was a spontaneous decision that intrinsically represented the essence
of her carefree spirit which, in turn, contributed in no small measure to the
show’s enormous success.
In fact, before Jose Ferrer got the job, she had asked her father if he
would narrate the Bewitched pilot. In 1991, she celebrated the fiftieth anniversary
of his 1941 classic film Here Comes Mr. Jordan by granting an interview
to Ronald Haver for a special laserdisc release of the movie. It was
here she revealed her father’s decline to speak life into Bewitched, calling his
response, ‘‘very strange’’:
‘‘No . . . I don’t think so.’’
‘‘Why not?’’
‘‘It’s your show.’’
‘‘Ah, ok. All right.’’
Elizabeth was disappointed, and she later told him so. She would have
enjoyed him kicking off Bewitched, her new series in 1964, just as he had
given a jumpstart to her TV career when she made her small-screen debut
on Robert Montgomery Presents in 1951.
For Lizzie, success was at times a burden, especially when it came to public
revelations. For one, her age was a sensitive issue, cloaked in a chicane. But
as author and genealogist James Pylant explains, ‘‘Celebrity genealogies are
always hard to trace.’’ In 2004, Pylant authored The Bewitching Family Tree
of Elizabeth Montgomery for genealogymagazine.com. ‘‘Biographical data
abounds,’’ he said, ‘‘yet there’s no guarantee of accuracy.’’
Elizabeth played into such wriggle room. Various studio and network
press bios document her birth year as 1936 and 1938. In reality, it was 1933,
as recorded in the State of California, California Birth Index, 1905–1995,
published in Sacramento by the State of California Department of Public
Health, Center for Health Statistics.
When she died in 1995, a few obituaries listed her age as fifty-seven,
trimming five years off her birth date. Others offered conflicting details
about her marital status: some said she was single at the time of her demise;
some said she was survived by her fourth husband, Robert Foxworth.
But the ‘‘marital mystery,’’ as Pylant put it, was orchestrated by the
self-protective Lizzie, who kept a step ahead of the press. She viewed her
relationship with Foxworth as confidential. Even their marriage in 1993 was
shrouded from the media. The event took place at the Los Angeles apartment
of her manager Barry Krost and not a soul knew about it until after
the fact.
Nevertheless, she appears on the Social Security Death Index as ‘‘Elizabeth
Asher,’’ the surname of her third ex-husband, Bewitched producer/
director William Asher. There, at least, her birth date is correct—April 15,
1933—although ‘‘Elizabeth A. Montgomery’’ is the name listed on her
death certificate. The ‘‘A’’ is either for ‘‘Asher’’ or ‘‘Allen,’’ the maiden
name of her mother, actress Elizabeth Allen.
According to A&E’s Biography, Elizabeth Montgomery: A Touch of Magic
(which originally aired on February 15, 1999), Lizzie’s middle name was
‘‘Victoria,’’ a moniker sometimes linked with royalty, as is the name ‘‘Elizabeth’’
itself.
But that fits. From the mid-1970s until her demise in 1995, she was
known as Queen of the TV-Movies. On Bewitched, Samantha was crowned
Queen of the Witches (in the episode, ‘‘Long Live the Queen,’’ September 7,
1967); before that Aunt Clara’s (Marion Lorne) bumbling magic mishaps
forced Sam’s introduction to Queen Victoria (Jane Connell in ‘‘Aunt Clara’s
Queen Victoria Victory,’’ March 9, 1967).

Before Lizzie basked in the sparkle of stardom as Samantha, she was born in
the shadow of Robert Montgomery’s fame. The story of who she was
begins with him; the seeds of who she became were indelibly planted by
this versatile actor and political idealist—a father who was just as complex
as his daughter; a daughter who had a father complex.
Five years after his marriage to Broadway actress Elizabeth Allen on
April 24, 1928, Lizzie was born into her privileged childhood, at the peak
of his film popularity.
Talented, handsome, athletic, rich, and famous, Robert had the right
social credentials, coupled with a solid intellect. Before his stable career on
the small screen of the 1950s, he was a feature film legend of the 1930s and
1940s.
Although he was a Republican, and she a Democrat, Lizzie followed in
his social advocacy. It was difficult for her to fathom and accept the scope
of his notoriety before she ever began to question her own. She would later
ponder the harvested influence over a legion of Bewitched buffs, because she
had seen the role celebrity played in her father’s life. Once she glittered
with fame, it was hard for her to embrace praise even from those whose
lives she helped improve.
A political promoter rooted with a conservative outlook, her father held
a stoic position in moderate contrast to her liberal stance; but both believed
in the American dream (and the freedom that goes along with it).
In 1935, he was elected to the first of four terms as president of S.A.G.,
the Screen Actors Guild. It was here his political agenda began to take
shape. In this capacity, he gained publicity in 1939 when he helped expose
labor racketeering in the film industry. He went on to become a lieutenant
in the U.S. Navy Reserve, an assistant naval attache´ at the American
Embassy in London, an attendant at a naval operations room in the White
House, a commander over a PT boat in the Pacific, and an operations
officer during the D-Day invasion of France. He was awarded the Bronze
Star and later decorated as Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.
In 1947, he headed the Hollywood Republican Committee to elect
Thomas E. Dewey as President. That same year he testified as a friendly
witness in the first round of the House Un-American Activities Committee,
denouncing communist infiltration in Hollywood. Following President
Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign, he was called on by the Principal Head of
State to serve as a special staff consultant to television and public communications—
the first individual to hold such a media post for the White House.
Robert came to Eisenhower’s attention because of his affiliation with
Robert Montgomery Presents. During the 1960s he was engaged in a futile
campaign against the practices of commercial TV, which he summarized in
the book An Open Letter from a Television Viewer (J. H. Heineman, 1968).
Also in the 1960s, the decade in which his daughter would begin to turn the
world on with her twitch, Robert served as a communications consultant to
John D. Rockefeller III and a director of R. H. Macy, the Milwaukee
Telephone Company, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
From 1969 to 1970 he was president of Lincoln Center’s Repertory Theatre.
Steven J. Ross is the author of Hollywood Left And Right: How Movie
Stars Shaped American Politics (Oxford University Press, 2011). On April 22,
2012, Ross appeared on C-SPAN at the Los Angeles Festival of Books.
When asked what role Robert Montgomery played in the Hollywood/
political game, he replied:

Robert Montgomery actually had gone to prep school with George Murphy
and the two of them were very close friends and Murphy . . . during
the late ‘40s and ‘50s was a very prominent Republican activist. In fact, he
was Louis B. Mayer’s [MGM executive] point man going around the country
and when in 1952 Eisenhower wanted some help from Hollywood, or
should I say the GOP got Eisenhower help, the two people who advised
him on media strategy were Montgomery and Murphy. And Eisenhower
liked the two of them so much that he basically told his Madison Avenue
firm that had been hired to do the TV, ‘‘You can keep writing the ads, but
they’re going to show me how to appear on TV.’’ Afterwards, Eisenhower
asked both men to come to Washington with him. Murphy kindly deferred
and Montgomery still kept his career but he actually had an office in Washington
to help Eisenhower for eight years with sort of media appearances
and helping him stage his presence. Remember . . . this is a period when
TV is just really emerging as a national phenomenon and politicians don’t
really know how to deal with television. They were teaching them things
like how to use makeup, what color glasses to use, how to face a camera
. . . how to do sound bites . . . how to hold your body, camera angles . . .
everything that a sophisticated actor would learn, they taught to Eisenhower.

As recorded in James Pylant’s expertly researched Bewitching article Robert
Montgomery was born Henry Montgomery, Jr. on May 21, 1904 in
Duchess County, New York.

Beacon is commonly given as his birthplace, though he was actually born in
Fishkill Landing. (Beacon was formed from the adjoining towns of Fishkill
Landing and Matteawan in 1913.) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) promoted
Robert Montgomery’s movie persona as a sophisticated, well-bred
socialite by embellishing the elite family background of its handsome star.
And while the actor was born in a large house on the banks of the Hudson River,
and his father served as an executive of a rubber company, the 1920 Federal
Census leaves a somewhat different impression. Fifty-two-year-old Henry
Montgomery, the vice president of a rubber factory, and Mary W., age
forty-seven, with sons Henry, Jr., age sixteen, and Donald, age fourteen (all
New Yorkers by birth), boarded in a Beacon hotel kept by William Gordon.
Henry, Sr., was a first generation American, his father being Irish and his
mother was Scottish. Mary W.’s father was a Pennsylvanian, while her
mother was from the West Indies. Twenty years earlier, the 1900 Federal
Census shows the newly wedded Montgomerys (‘‘years married: 0’’)
boarded in William Gordon’s hotel, then in Fishkill. Private secretary
Henry Montgomery (Sr.), age 32 (born in May of 1868) and ‘Mai W.,’ age
24 (born in March of 1876) were among the hotel’s many boarders. Mrs.
Montgomery’s birthplace is listed as New Jersey and her mother’s birthplace
is Jamaica. Robert Montgomery’s mother is named in biographies of her
son as Mary Weed Barnard, but her maiden name was actually Barney. At
the time of the 1900 federal census, the Montgomerys had been married a
little over six months, their marriage date being 14 December 1899. Mrs.
Montgomery appears twice on the federal census in 1900, the second
instance being as ‘May W. Barney,’ age twenty-five, born in March of 1875
in New Jersey. Her marital status was indicated as single, then written over
to read married. She is named as a daughter of eighty-one-year-old Nathan
Barney, who rented a Third Street home in Brooklyn, wife Mary A., age
fifty-six (born in October 1843), sons George D., age thirty-four (born in
October 1865 in Connecticut), Nathan C., age twenty-seven (born in June
1873 in New Jersey), and Walter S., age eighteen (born October 1882 in
New Jersey). A twenty-three-year-old Irish servant also made her home
with the family. Mr. Barney was born in Pennsylvania, and Mrs. Barney
was born in ‘Jamaica,W. I.,’ a fact consistent with what MayW. Montgomery
supplied in 1900. According to Genealogy of the Barney Family in America,
Mary Weed Barney was born on 30 March 1875 in Bayonne, Hudson
County, New Jersey, to Nathan Barney, Jr. and his second wife, the former
Mary A. Deverell. The Barney genealogy identifies the parents of Henry
Montgomery, Sr., as Archibald Montgomery and the former Margaret
Edminston of Brooklyn. Henry Montgomery, a one-year-old, is found in
the household of Irish-born Archibald Montgomery—a prosperous shipping
merchant—and Margaret (born in Scotland) on the rolls of the 1870
Federal Census in Brooklyn.

In 1970, Robert Montgomery gave an interview to Richard Lamparski
for his book, Whatever Became Of . . . ? Volume III (Ace Books, 1970). He
explained how he had to support himself after his father, ‘‘an executive with
a rubber company,’’ died and left the family without an income.
As Lizzie expressed to Ronald Haver in 1991, ‘‘Daddy had to quit school
and go to work, to help support the family; and his father just kind of fell
apart.’’
That’s putting it lightly. According to Pylant, Henry, Sr. was depressed,
suffered a nervous breakdown, and subsequently committed suicide:

Not only did Robert Montgomery have to cope with the tragedy of his
father’s death, he had to face a financial crisis as well as the social stigma of
having a suicide in the family. Henry Montgomery’s nervous breakdown
was also a public reminder of the scandal that unfolded in newspapers a
generation earlier when Archibald Montgomery, Robert’s grandfather, was
accused of being an insane alcoholic. The charges against Robert’s grandfather
were dismissed, yet the damage had been done to the family name.
Whispers of a nervous breakdown, insanity, alcoholism and suicide were
devastating to a prominent family’s social standing. Wire reports of Henry
Montgomery’s suicide caused the story to be spread in newspapers across
the country.

On October 25 and 28, 1884, respectively, The Brooklyn Eagle published
the articles, ‘‘Is He Insane? The Predicament of a Well-Known South
Brooklyn Man’’ and ‘‘The Montgomery Suit: Withdrawal of the Suit at the
Insistence of the Family,’’ both about Archibald.
On June 25, 1922, The Philadelpia Inquirer published the item below
titled ‘‘Man Jumps To Death From Brooklyn Bridge: Hundreds See Suicide
From Trolley To Rail’’:

A man believed to be Henry Montgomery, of Brooklyn, leaped to his death
from the Brooklyn Bridge this evening, in the view of hundreds of pedestrians
and surface car and elevated train passengers. He leaped from a passing
car to the bridge roadway, stepped to the rail without looking back and
jumped.

On June 26, 1922, The Denver Post published the following item under
the heading ‘‘Wealthy N.Y. Rubber Firm Head Drowns Himself In River’’:

Henry Montgomery, 45 years old, of Brooklyn, wealthy retired president of
the New York Rubber company, committed suicide late Sunday afternoon
by jumping into the East River.Montgomery, who had been suffering from
a nervous breakdown which forced his retirement ten months before, had
apparently planned to take his own life, and left instructions for notifying
his relatives.

Either way, Henry (Sr.) left his family penniless, and his son Robert
(Henry, Jr.) was forced to pick up the slack—as a railroad mechanic and oil
tanker deckhand—and he was none too pleased about it. Fortunately, by
the late 1920s, and following ineffectual attempts to become a writer, he
became an established Broadway actor, joining his stage peers in the mass
migration into film as talkies came into play.
But his subsequent tumultuous relationship with Lizzie may have been
ignited by the resentment and the frustration he experienced in his preacting
days. No doubt those years helped to foster a strong work ethic that
he would later instill in Lizzie. But initially, it was no pleasant experience.
What’s more, a future family tragedy would further loosen and then only
entangle the father-daughter link between Elizabeth and Robert Montgomery.

Elizabeth and her father did not always see eye to eye, and they were definitely
on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but their lives were in
many ways similar. He was educated at exclusive private schools, as she
would be later (at his instruction). She made her theatrical stage debut at six
years old in Red Riding Hood’s World (a French language stage production at
the aristocratic Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles); his theatrical film
premiere occurred much later in life (with the comedy, Three Live Ghosts, in
1929); but they both loved acting (after his initial objection to her vocational
choice).
Contracted with MGM, Robert would later be pigeonholed as that
carefree leading man; just as Lizzie would later be typecast as a lighthearted
leading witch. And just as she would later distance herself from Samantha
(with a list of edgy TV and motion picture roles), Robert tried to break the
happy-go-lucky mold and waxed psychotic in several feature films, including:
The Big House (a prison movie released in 1930 that set the pattern for
similar future films) and Night Must Fall (a 1937 thriller in which he played
a mysterious brutal killer who terrorized the countryside).
The latter earned him an Academy Award nomination. He received a
second Oscar nod in 1941 for Here Comes Mr. Jordan, this time, portraying
an angel.

On a flight to his next fight, boxer Joe Pendleton’s (Robert) soul is prematurely
snatched from his body by the newly deemed Heavenly Messenger 7013
(Edward Everett Horton) when his plane crashes. Before the matter can be
rectified by 7013’s supervisor, the celestial Mr. Jordan (Claude Raines), Joe’s
body is cremated; so Jordan grants him the use of the body of wealthy Bruce
Farnsworth (original character unseen), who’s just been murdered by his wife
(Rita Johnson). As Joe attempts to remake Farnsworth’s unworthy life in his
own clean-cut image, he falls for Betty Logan (Evelyn Keyes).

Lizzie failed to win an Emmy for playing a witch on Bewitched (for
which she was nominated five times, with a total of nine nominations
throughout her career); her father failed to ace any formal acting award for
playing a seraph (or a psycho).
In 1945, legendary film director John Ford became ill on the set of They
Were Expendable, and Robert stepped in as his replacement, making his first
mark as a director. After receiving this initial tech credit, he turned out an
unusual, controversial production titled Lady in the Lake (1947), a Raymond
Chandler mystery thriller told in the first person through tricky subjective
camera angles (much like Lizzie’s Missing Pieces 1982 TV-movie). Playing
the hero (private eye Philip Marlowe), he was seen on the screen only
twice—once in the prologue, then within the body of the film, when he
briefly crossed in front of a mirror. All other scenes were shown from his
point of view, as if seen though his eyes. Robert went on to direct and star
in several other films that received varied response before retiring from the
big screen, and turned his attention to politics, TV, and the stage.
On Broadway in 1955, he won a Tony Award for best director for the
play The Desperate Hours. He later formed Cagney-Montgomery Productions
with early screen idol James Cagney to produce The Gallant Hours
(1960), his final effort as a film director. Cagney was fond of Lizzie, and
later became a mentor of sorts, maybe something even closer.
As she told Ronald Haver for the 1991 laserdisc release of Here Comes
Mr. Jordan, Cagney was one of her dad’s closest friends who was like a
second father to her, and it never occurred to her that Cagney was a big
star.
Another larger-than-life celebrity who both Elizabeth and Robert
Montgomery befriended was film legend Bette Davis. Lizzie would later
take the lead in the 1979 TV-movie, Dark Victory, a remake of Davis’ 1939
motion picture; Bette had co-starred with Robert in 1948’s June Bride
(directed by Bretaigne Windust). In time, Lizzie and Bette became closer
friends than Bette and Robert, and he became jealous; not so much of
Bette, but of Lizzie. But as Bette recalled to author Charlotte Chandler in
Bette Davis: A Personal Biography—The Girl WhoWalked Home Alone (Simon
and Schuster, 2006), Robert left little to be desired or envied. She even
went as far as to describe him as ‘‘a male Miriam Hopkins,’’ a reference to
her arch rival on the big screen.
Actress Hopkins had well-publicized arguments with Davis (who
reportedly had an affair with Hopkins’ then-husband, Anatole Litvak) when
they co-starred in the films The Old Maid (1939) and Old Acquaintance
(1943). Davis admitted to very much enjoying a scene in the latter movie
in which her character forcefully shakes Hopkins’ character. There were
even press photos taken with both divas in boxing rings with gloves up and
Old Acquaintance’s director Vincent Sherman standing between the two.
Davis never came to such blows with Robert Montgomery on the set
of June Bride, but she came close. She explained in Chandler’s book:

He was an excellent actor, but addicted to scene stealing. He would add
business in his close-ups which didn’t match mine, so that there would only
be one way to cut the film—his way. Mr. Montgomery understood films.
(Director) Windust, who was not a film man at all, never noticed, and I
couldn’t have cared less. Montgomery was welcome to all the close-ups he
wanted. I act with my whole body.

In 1991, Elizabeth told Ronald Haver that her father and Davis didn’t
get along. After Lizzie had moved out of the Montgomery homestead,
Robert would call and invite her to dinner.
‘‘I can’t,’’ she’d reply. ‘‘I’m going over to Bette’s.’’
‘‘Oh,’’ he’d say, and hang up.
After meeting at various social events in New York, Davis became
somewhat of a mentor for the young inge´nue. In fact, while only in her late
teens, Lizzie was invited by Davis to her home in Maine on a street named,
‘‘appropriately enough,’’ Elizabeth said, ‘‘Witch Way.’’ That name represented
Davis’ reputation and not Bewitched, which was years from creation.
But for the moment, the witch reference seemed to fit Davis and, as Lizzie
told Haver, ‘‘She knew that.’’
One weekend on Witch Way, Lizzie and Bette picked beans from Davis’
garden and later strung them inside the house, while sitting in front of her
fireplace. Shortly after, an argument ensued between the two, Davis stalked
out of the room, and then stopped in her tracks. She turned to face Lizzie
and said, ‘‘Betty—when they do the story of my life, you should play me,
and I’m not sure that’s a compliment.’’ Lizzie thought that was funny; Bette
Davis was the only person Elizabeth Montgomery ever allowed to call her
‘‘Betty.’’

According to James Pylant’s Bewitching Family Tree:

Elizabeth Montgomery’s death certificate gives her mother’s maiden name
as Elizabeth Allen, a Kentucky native. The 1930 federal census of Los
Angeles County, California, shows Robert Montgomery, age twenty-five,
born in New York, Actor, Motion Pictures, and wife Elizabeth A., also
twenty-five, born in Kentucky, and a fifty-year-old servant lived on Blackwood
Drive in Los Angeles. The age at first married for both was twentythree.
The couple had married on 14 April 1928 in New York, and the
following year they moved to Hollywood when Robert signed a contract
with M-G-M. Elizabeth was the couple’s second child. Tragically, their first
born, Martha Bryan Montgomery, died at age fourteen months in 1931.

In May 1965, Movie TV Secrets magazine published the article, ‘‘Witches
Are People Too,’’ by Jackie Thomas. It explained how Robert was devastated
by the loss; how tiny Martha’s death left him in a state of severe
depression that immobilized him for months. A friend who knew the
Montgomerys described his condition:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as shaken as Bob. All his life seemed to
be invested in that child; when she died something in him died with her. I
don’t think he has ever really recovered. Something inside him was twisted
and destroyed by Martha’s death.

Lizzie was interviewed for that same article. She addressed her father’s
strict reign over her youth, one that seemingly increased with time, as if in
gradual reaction and retaliation to her little sister’s death, a young sibling
she never knew. Little by little, her father’s stern rule nibbled away at her
self-esteem until the day she died in 1995. But thirty years before in May
1965, it was a different story.
She said she was too sure of a great many things. Being the daughter of
a star had its effect on her. Not that her father went out of his way to make
things easier for her, because he didn’t. In fact, she said, at times he bent
over backwards to go in the opposite direction. ‘‘Maybe that was his problem,’’
she thought. ‘‘He gave me the best of everything—clothes, education,
things like that, but he demanded a lot, too. Dad is a very complex
man. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to come up to Martha in his eyes.’’

However, five months prior to that she told TV Radio Mirror:

I never replaced Martha in his heart, but I did help to soothe his grief.

As was explained in Richard Lamparski’s book, Whatever Became Of . . . ?
Volume III, between 1928 and 1950, Robert Montgomery was married to
‘‘actress Elizabeth Allan’’ (with an ‘‘a’’), an actress best known for her 1936
pairing with Ronald Coleman in the 1935 film, A Tale of Two Cities. But
this Elizabeth Allan, born British in Skegness, England, in 1908, was not
Lizzie’s mother, nor was she ever married to Robert.
A little over two decades later, the American actress Elizabeth Allen
(with an ‘‘e’’) was born ‘‘Elizabeth Ellen Gillease’’ on January 25, 1929 in
Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1972, she co-starred on ABC’s The Paul Lynde
Show, playing Lynde’s on-screen wife in this series that was executive produced
by Bewitched’s Harry Ackerman, and William Asher and Elizabeth
Montgomery under their banner production company, Ashmont Productions.
But this Elizabeth Allen was not Lizzie’s mother either, nor was she
ever married or related to Robert Montgomery.
However, a second American actress named Elizabeth Allen (with an
‘‘e’’) arrived on the scene before Gillease. James Pylant provides the details
in his Bewitching article:

Elizabeth Daniel Allen was born on 26 December 1904 in Louisville, Jefferson
County, Kentucky, to Bryan Hunt Allen and the former Rebecca
Lowry Daniel. Elizabeth Montgomery’s maternal grandparents—like her
paternal grandparents—were newlyweds at the time of the 1900 federal
census enumeration. Fifty-seven-year-old widow Ellen W. Daniel, born in
Indiana in February of 1843, owned a house on Brook Street in Louisville,
Kentucky, which she shared with daughter Lizzie W., age twenty-five; son
William A., age thirty-five, daughter-in-law Mollie, age thirty-six, and
daughter Rebecca Allen, age twenty. Except for Ellen Daniel, all were born
in Kentucky. Rebecca Allen’s marital status is given as married, with 0 given
for the number of years married. Bryan H. Allen is listed elsewhere in Louisville,
although his marital status is recorded as single. An inspector for a
gas company, he was born in November of 1877 in Kentucky to a Missouri
father and a Kentucky mother. Rebecca Lowry Daniel Allen—Elizabeth
Montgomery’s beloved Becca—was born in June of 1879 in Kentucky (as
per the 1900 census), but her death certificate gives 5 June 1886 as her
birth date. Her death certificate also identifies her mother’s maiden name as
Wright. Daniel family genealogists show that Ellen Wright was the wife of
Coleman Spencer Daniel, who died in Louisville on 8 June 1898, two years
before Mrs. Ellen W. Daniel is shown on the rolls of the twelfth federal
census as a widow. Daniel family records show Ellen Wright Daniel died
two years later on 7 June 1902. The same record gives 16 February 1843 as
her birth date, which agrees with what is found on the 1900 census. Coleman
S. Daniel and Ellen Wright wedded in the bride’s native Switzerland
County, Indiana, on 20 May 1864. The daughter of John W. Wright, who
represented Switzerland County in the state legislature, Ellen Wright was
only six months old when her mother, Ellen (Lowry) Wright, died at age
36. Her father remarried the following year to Rebecca D. Saunders.
Clearly, when Ellen (Wright) Daniel named her daughter Rebecca Lowry
Daniel, she did so in honor of her mother and stepmother.

It was Lizzie’s grandmother Becca with whom she formed a special
bond (and who eventually introduced her to the potentially lighter side of
life, like horse racing and gambling.)
Becca moved with her daughters Elizabeth Allen and Martha-Bryan to
New York City in the early 1920s where Martha-Bryan had a role in the
Broadway play, He Who Gets Slapped, which played at the Garrick Theater.
In all, Martha-Bryan, mother to Lizzie’s first cousin, Amanda (a.k.a.
‘‘Panda,’’ a childhood playmate), was in two dozen plays at one point before
she met her husband-to-be Arthur Cushman.
Into this mix, Elizabeth Allen also performed in several live stage productions
until she married Robert Montgomery on April 14, 1928. She
received superb reviews for many of these plays, such as with Revolt, of
which The New York Times said, ‘‘The lovely Miss Allen is poised for leading
lady status anytime soon. She always brings freshness to her roles.’’
Allen and Robert were married at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration
also known as ‘‘The Little Church Around the Corner’’ on 29th
Street between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. The church was also
the home of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild, of which she and Robert were
members.
She retired almost immediately at Robert’s request for her to concentrate
only on being his wife. Lizzie chatted about Elizabeth Allen to Modern
Screen in May 1965:

Mother is a marvelous person. Just great. It’s her attitude toward people
that’s so marvelous. She’s a very warm, outgoing, generous human being.
She’d acted on Broadway (that’s where she met Dad); so did her sister,
Martha-Bryan Allen. Both of them got reviews that are so extraordinarily
good, they make you sort of proud. Mother did light comedy; she costarred
with Lee Tracy and Elizabeth Patterson. But she gave up her career
when she married Dad and I don’t believe ever regretted it for a moment.
She loves her house and she and Dad gave my brother and me a wonderful
childhood. It just couldn’t have been happier, healthier or more fun.

When Lizzie was a stage-struck teen, Robert tried to sway her decision
from acting by using his wife a prime example. According to the August
1967 edition of Screen Stars magazine, Robert told Lizzie that her mother
was wise to forfeit her career to marry him and raise a family. He went on
to tout his wife as the toast of Broadway, but that she knew her career
would be detrimental to raising children. ‘‘It’s difficult to know who your
real friends are,’’ Robert added. ‘‘Worst of all, acting requires the constant
rejection of your real self. Sometimes you don’t even know who you are
anymore. Imagine what that does to a family!’’
Lizzie wouldn’t have to wonder about the consequences; she’d experience
them first hand.

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