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SAMANTHA GETS HER WAY
by Joe Hyams

The Saturday Evening Post
March 13, 1965
Zip-zip, ratings zoom
Bewitching Liz Montgomery finds the twitch, the part and the man.
    Inside Liz Montgomery's dressing room was the kind of tumult you associate with the Babylonian, pre-television days of Hollywood: a makeup man patted Panstick onto her forehead; a script girl went over some line changes and vanished; a press agent stood by while Liz crayoned an X on certain recent photographs which she considered unflattering; the executive producer dropped in to compliment her on yesterday's work; she inspected some costumes the wardrobe woman brought in and vetoed one dress because it would make her look hippy.

     An assistant director knocked politely on the door. "We're ready, Liz," he said.
     Liz put a piece in a jigsaw puzzle of the Acropolis, snubbed out a cigarette, rose from a chair covered in artificial leopardskin and paused for a critical moment in front of the full-length mirror. With thumb and index finger she tweezed a false eyelash into place. Satisfied, she left for the set. Every movement expressed the confidence of a star.

     Beside the camera her husband, director William Asher, was smoking his third Cigarillo. Given coffee in a Dixie Cup - black, no sugar - Liz sipped and read the lines with Dick York, who plays her screen husband. Asher explained the way he wanted her to react in the scene.

     "It's like the other night at dinner," he said. "You were offended, but you didn't know what to say. This time you've got the answer: the witch twitch. It's Samantha's way of coping."

     Liz nodded and looked for a place to set the coffee cup. The man who had brought it materialized and took it away.

     "Are you ready, George?" the assistant asked the prop man. George nodded. "Ready," said the assistant. The actors took their places. "Action!" said Asher.

     Liz sat down on a couch next to a pretty brunette who was flirting with York. The camera moved close up on Liz's face. The cameraman nodded as, in the viewfinder, Liz showed irritation, then anger. Asher, behind the camera, his face anticipating the reaction of each player, whispered "Zip-zip!" and his nose gave a rabbit-twitch. At the same moment Liz's pert nose wrinkled in the charming way that is familiar to the millions of Americans who watch
Bewitched on Thursday evenings.

     Off camera a prop man pulled an invisible wire. The brunette's elaborate coiffure began to unravel into a catastrophic mess, Liz was slyly triumphant. The scene was obviously a "take."

     An observer would have been justified in assuming that here was a lady who was smart, powerful and sure of herself. After a lifetime of being best known as Robert Montgomery's daughter, she has quite suddenly become front-runner in the current crop of TV actresses. She is glamorous and professional, a standard candidate for the flack's standard handout that she is really just like the girl next door.

     The offscreen Liz does bear a remarkable physical resemblance to the attractive but unexciting housewife next door. Her teeth are uncapped, and she has a chip, front and center, where she fell in a bathub at the age of 12. Like most natural blondes, her hair is streaked from the sun. And like most housewives, she has a daily routine that would hospitalize a husband. In her rented Beverly Hills house she gets up every weekday morning at 5:30, puts on a flower-print, terry-cloth housecoat before rushing to the kitchen to prepare orange juice and coffee for Asher, who breakfasts in bed. (She has coffee and a cheese-and-bacon sandwich when she gets to the studio.) Next she feeds Zip-Zip, the cat, and looks in on her infant son, who is still asleep. By 6:30 she has gathered up the day's shooting script, brushed her hair (she never wears curlers) and is at the garage door.

     If Liz finishes work at Columbia Studios before her husband, she waits for him in her dressing room or in his office. If he finishes first, he waits for her. They drive back together to Beverly Hills, usually getting home about 7:30 P.M.

     They have a few minutes to play with the baby before he has to go to sleep. Asher showers and shaves while his wife washes off her makeup. They have a Martini in the living room, then sit down to a dinner prepared by the maid, who has already left for the night. All week nights are spent at home. On Thursdays the Ashers watch
Bewitched on television. Occasionally Liz squirms as she sees herself on the screen. She almost always wishes she could redo a scene or two. But basically she enjoys the show. "Like most people," she says, "I secretly hope that it's true - that there are witches like Samantha and that families like hers really do exist.

     On weekends the Ashers go to football games, ride bikes, shop for antiques for the home they plan to buy, occasionally entertain another couple or go to the movies. (Liz has seen every Disney movie at least once," says Asher) On Saturday nights lately they've been taking turns cooking beef Stroganoff.

     So far so good for the nice couple next door. Yet in nearly every other way, on the surface and in the interior, Liz is an expensively nonaverage person.

     For one thing, the Ashers are making great gobs of money. Besides salaries, they own 20 percent of
Bewitched's profits, and share in residuals and merchandising royalties. It could run up to two million dollars. If Liz doesn't drive to the studio with Asher in his Mercedes 220 SE coupe, she takes her own XK-E Jaguar. The bikes they occasionally ride are deluxe Italian models.

     This way of life could, of course, seem average to someone who knows no other. Liz was born in Hollywood, the daughter of actress Elizabeth Allen and Robert Montgomery, then at the peak of his film popularity. She had a privileged childhood, over-shadowed by the larger-than-life figure of her father. Montgomery was talented, handsome, rich and famous. He had the right social credentials and solid intellectual and athletic abilities. For some daughters the presence of such a father can, as psychologists generally agree, be a crushing experience. Fortunately for Liz, it was not - even though there seem to have been some predictable aftereffects.

     "Liz was always imaginative and dramatic," Montgomery says. "She told me at an early age that she wanted to be an actress, and I encouraged her. I said that when she was ready to make her debut I wanted it to be with me."

     Liz's school vacations were usually spent with her parents in England, where her father was producing films. Liz, who had learned to ride a horse when she was three, took jumping lessons in England and frequently rode with her father in the English countryside and London's Hyde Park - memories which have remained close to her.

     The year before Liz was to graduate from Westlake School for Girls in Beverly Hills, the Montgomerys were divorced. Liz went to live with her father in New York, where he was an NBC executive. She was enrolled at the Spence School, an upper-crust establishment like Westlake. Liz graduated from Spence in 1951, was presented to New York society at the Cotillion Ball and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her father was the producer-star of
Robert Montgomery Presents, one of TV's earliest and most popular series. He decided it was time to keep his childhood promise to Liz, and his instinct was right.

     She made her professional debut in
Top Secret, a one-hour drama, playing her father's daughter. The roles were especially for them. Liz's reviews were good. Mr. Montgomery collected them all and presented them to her with a note: "Don't believe any of it. Much love, Dad."

     NBC executives added Liz to the regular cast of Montgomery's show, and during the next two years she appeared in a variety of roles, without achieving much notice. Most stories written about her had a common angle: Elizabeth Montgomery happened to be the daughter of Robert Montgomery.

     Soon after her 20th birthday Liz married Frederick Gallatin Cammann, Harvard '51, the scion of an old and socially prominent New York family. Soon afterward, Mr. Cammann became a stage manager on
Robert Montgomery Presents.

     The marriage lasted only a year. Liz flatly refuses to say what went wrong with it, but a family friend reports, "Freddie just couldn't measure up to her father."

     The following year Liz married Gig Young, a handsome film and stage star who bore more than a passing physical resemblance to her father. But after six years, this marriage too began to show signs of trouble. It is a fair guess that Young also could not live up to the qualities of an idealized father. Liz took the standard tack of all dissatisfied actress-wives. She came out of semiretirement and went back to work again, making three films.

     One of the pictures was
Johnny Cool, which introduced Liz to William Asher, a prominent TV director. "We were both emotional basket cases when we me," says Asher. "Maybe Liz had never been loved, never been happy before. I don't know. I wouldn't want to speculate."

     Liz got a Mexican divorce from Young and married Asher a very short time after they finished shooting the film.

     Can Asher compete with the idealized father image? Most people in Hollywood think he can, largely because he is so different from the suave, handsome Robert Montgomery. Asher is stocky, muscular, tanned, with bushy brows and close-cropped hair. He looks more like a retired prizefighter than a director. A strong and dominating man, he is the antithesis of Liz's first two husbands. She calls him "the greatest director I know, because he's a sensitive, compassionate person."

     Today Liz leads the rich, full life without the stigmata of a "poor little rich girl." She still rides a horse. She plays tennis and paints and has completed a children's book. She has found in
Bewitched a role that fits her like stretch pants, and, as the prize, a husband with a mind of his own who can stand just as tall as her father.