Robert Montgomery (1920-85)

Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery
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Robert Montgomery was an American movie and TV actor, director and producer, famous during the 1940s and 50s, and who was nominated twice for the Best Actor Academy Award. He was also the father of actress Elizabeth Montgomery, of 'Bewitched' fame.


He was born Henry Montgomery Jr. on May 21, 1904 in Fishkill Landing, New York (now Beacon, New York), His father, Henry, was president of the New York Rubber Company, and he had a younger brother, Donald. He had a privileged upbringing but in 1922 when Robert was 18, his father committed suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Owing to the Depression, the family fortune disappeared and Henry and Donald had to go out to work.

Henry later went to New York, intending to make writing his career, but on the advice of a friend, he tried his hand at acting and discovered his true calling. He began to appear in numerous amateur productions and quickly established himself as a reliable stage actor. After meeting and working on stage with George Cukor, he was able to get employment in Hollywood and the world of movies. He was a good-looking young man with a noticeable acting talent and in 1929 he signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His debut movie was 'So This Is College' (also in 1929) for which he changed his stage name to Robert.

Young Movie Actor

His movie career began in 1929, with small roles in lightweight movies such as 'The Single Standard' and 'Three Live Ghosts' . He established a reputation for reliably good acting and during the early 1930s he appeared in many movies.

His first dramatic role was in 'The Big House' in 1930 and in the same year he appeared with Greta Garbo in 'Inspiration. Also in 1930 came his big break when he was selected by MGM's leading actress, Norma Shearer, to co-star with her in 'The Divorcee', 'Strangers May Kiss' the following year, and 'Private Lives', also in 1931.

During his movie career , Montgomery co-starred with many of early cinema's most famous actresses, including Madge Evans in , amongst others, 'Lovers Courageous' (1932), 'Fugitive Lovers' (1934) and 'Piccadilly Jim' in 1936. He appeared with the up and coming Joan Crawford in six films, including 'Our Blushing Brides' (1930), 'Forsaking All Others' (1934), and 'The Last of Mrs. Cheyney' (1937).

Montgomery was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as a psychopathic murderer in the thriller 'Night Must Fall' in 1937. He was nominated a second time for his role as Joe Pendleton, a boxer and pilot in 'Here Comes Mr. Jordan' in 1941,,

In all he stayed with MGM for sixteen years with a 3 year wartime service break.

World War II

Even before the US was drawn into the war, Montgomery served in France for six months as an ambulance driver for the American Field Services. After the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, he joined the United States Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander, and he served on the USS Barton (DD-722) which was part of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. During the invasion he was one of the first to enter Cherbourg harbor and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.

Postwar Career

He returned to MGM in 1945 and in that year co-starred with John Wayne in the John Ford directed 'They Were Expendable'. During the movie he directed a few scenes, uncredited, when John Ford was ill. The following year he made his full directorial debut with the film noir 'Lady in the Lake'. in which he also starred as Chandler's most famous character, Phillip Marlowe. It was filmed entirely from Marlowe's vantage point, thus creating a rarity in film: the principal character being only seen on-screen as a reflection in mirrors and windows, and as the narrator speaking directly to the audience. He also directed and starred in another film noir, 'Ride the Pink Horse' in 1947. He finally left MGM to become an independent director, preferring work behind the camera instead of in front.

Montgomery had a brief radio career in 1948 when he hosted CBS Radio's "Suspense" for six months when the show was expanded from 30 minutes to an hour.


Montgomery was always smartly turned out and was widely considered to be one of the best dressed men in Hollywood. For years he did not carry a wallet because it ruined the hang of his jackets.

He was married twice, firstly in 1928 to actress Elizabeth Bryan Allen. The couple had three children: Martha Bryan, who died at 14 months of age in 1931; Elizabeth in 1933 an actress best known for her 1960s television series, 'Bewitched', and Robert Jr.in 1936. They divorced on December 5, 1950.

His second wife was Elizabeth "Buffy" Grant Harkness, whom he married on December 9, 1950, four days after his divorce from Allen was finalized.

In 1935, Montgomery became president of the Screen Actors Guild, and he was elected again in 1946.

Montgomery was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. The next year, 1948, Montgomery hosted the Academy Awards. He hosted an Emmy Award-winning television series, Robert Montgomery Presents, which ran from 1950 to 1957. The Gallant Hours (1960), a film Montgomery directed and co-produced with its star, his friend James Cagney, was the last production with which he was connected.

In addition to his other accomplishments, Montgomery was a pioneering media consultant with an office in the White House from 1954 onwards when he took an unpaid position as consultant and coach to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, advising him on how to look his best in his television appearances before the nation.

He served on the board of directors of several major corporations in the 1960s, including R.H. Macy and Co. and the Milwaukee Telephone Company.

Montgomery died of cancer on September 27, 1981, at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.[ His body was cremated and the ashes were given to the family He was 77.

Robert Montgomery Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations
Best Actor ... Night Must Fall (1937)
Best Actor ... Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Robert Momtgomery Filmography

National Red Cross Pageant
The Single Standard
Three Live Ghosts
So This Is College
Their Own Desire
Free and Easy
The Divorcee
The Big House
The Sins of the Children
Our Blushing Brides
Love in the Rough
War Nurse
The Voice of Hollywood No. 7 (Second Series) (Short)
The Easiest Way
Strangers May Kiss
The Man in Possession
Private Lives
Lovers Courageous
-But the Flesh Is Weak
Letty Lynton
Blondie of the Follies
Hell Below
Made on Broadway
When Ladies Meet
Another Language
Night Flight
Fugitive Lovers
The Mystery of Mr. X
Forsaking All Others
Your Witness
The Gallant Hours Narrator: American Sequences (voice, uncredited)