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 George Montgomery  (1916 - 2000)

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Lived/Active: California/Montana      Known for: western subject sculpture and painting

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George Montgomery Letz is primarily known as George Montgomery

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Ad Code: 3
George Montgomery
from Auction House Records.
Custer's Final Moments
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
George Montgomery was primarily an actor who was in 87 films, but he was also an architect, sculptor, painter, writer, and furniture designer. As a sculptor, he depicted western subjects including cowboys riding horses and was inspired by the works of Remington to take up sculpture. In 1975, he began working in bronze. and created about 50 pieces included depictions of his friends and costars from his long career, such as Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagan, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. One of his most personal works has a permanent home at the Mission Hills Country Club and is a bronze sculpture of Dinah Shore, her children, and Montgomery himself marks the memorial course named in honor of Ms. Shore, who died in 1994.

Montgomery became a Hollywood celebrity but was born to humble circumstances with the name George Montgomery Letz on August 29th, 1916 in Brady, Montana. He was the last of 15 children born to Ukrainian immigrants. They later adopted four more children, and the family lived on a 20,000 acre ranch. As a child, he did many of the jobs he later depicted as a big-screen western actor such as roping, riding, herding cattle, and black-smithing. He also found time to pursue his art talent, something not encouraged in the busy household.

At the age of 8, Montgomery was inspired to be an actor after seeing his first film. Although he later enrolled at the University of Montana as an interior design student, acting called to him, and in 1935, he withdrew from school and went to Los Angeles.

He was fortunate because in two days, he got his first role in a film, and the job was with Republic Pictures, then the top producer of western films in Hollywood. So at age 19 and still using his given name of George Letz, Montgomery was hired to do stunt work and deliver a few lines in "The Singing Vagabond." He then appeared in a string of Gene Autry films, including "Springtime In The Rockies" and "Goldmine In The Sky". By 1938, with a score of small roles in B-films, Montgomery hit the cowboy big time with a lead in a "Lone Ranger" film, in which he played one of five men who might have been the hero behind the black mask.

In 1940, George Montgomery Letz left Republic for 20th Century Fox, where part of his grooming for stardom included changing his name to George Montgomery and trading in his horse tack for a tuxedo. Moving from supporting to leading man roles, Montgomery's first films with Fox were westerns, like the classic "Riders of the Purple Sage" (1941) but he was quickly channeled into bigger budget pictures with top drawer costars, including "Orchestra Wives" with band leader Glenn Miller. Even notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper could find nothing bad to say about Fox's newest star, reporting to readers that "George Montgomery is about as pretentious as an old shoe" after she met him at a Hollywood gala. Popular with coworkers and audiences, Montgomery was by 1943 one of film's most acclaimed leading men and co-starring with pin-up girl and box office superstar Betty Grable and her million-dollar legs in "Coney Island".

Montgomery had become the leading man in real life to America's favorite singer, Dinah Shore, in 1941. Montgomery married Ms, Shore in 1943 before he entered the Armed Services during World War II. Shore herself contributed to the war effort entertaining the troops, promoting War Bonds and a number of "home fire" programs, while Montgomery served three years active duty in the Army Air Corps. Returning home to his wife and career in 1946, Montgomery found a diverse number of roles, setting aside his chaps for starring roles in comedies like "Three Little Girls In Blue" and as hard boiled detective Philip Marlowe in 1947s "The Brasher Doubloon". One of the first actors to play the immortal Marlowe, Montgomery's performance was shadowed owing to Fox's poor distribution timing, which released the Philip Marlowe mystery as Humphrey Bogart claimed the same character in "The Big Sleep".

In 1947 Montgomery and Ms. Shore celebrated the birth of their daughter, Melissa Ann, and 7 years later adopted a son, John David. Montgomery worked steadily in a diverse roster of films, though he leaned heavily towards westerns, and in 1958 signed on as the star of the popular television series, "Cimmaron City" (1958-60).

Over the years, the eclectically talented Montgomery designed and built 11 houses for his own family and for friends in the entertainment industry, and designed and fashioned custom wood furniture that became so much in demand he opened a small production shop. The 1960s were not entirely happy years, however, and saw his marriage to Ms. Shore end in divorce in 1962, after which she was publicly linked to another rugged, but younger actor, Burt Reynolds. In 1963 Montgomery's private life again made headlines when his housekeeper, suffering obsessive infatuation, attempted to shoot the actor, planning to then commit suicide, but failing in both endeavors.

Montgomery continued to act and expanded into writing and directing, notably with his film "From Hell To Borneo", which he wrote, directed, and co-starred in, opposite Tony and Academy Award winning actress Rita Moreno.

George Montgomery worked in film until the age of 70, retiring after the 1986 movie "The Wild Wind", and in his retirement continued to collect and create works of art. On December 12th, 2000, with his daughter, Melissa Montgomery Hime, his companion Ann Lindbergh and long-time friend Patrick Curtis nearby, George Montgomery took a long last look from the window of his home in Ranch Mirage at the California desert and quietly died from heart failure.


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