7 things you never knew about the great Amanda Blake of Gunsmoke

"Kitty" was an apt name for this feline lover.

What would Gunsmoke have been without Miss Kitty? We found out in season 20. Amanda Blake left the western after its 19th season. The network canceled the series in season 20, in a move that has to be considered more than coincidence.

As the spitfire saloon owner of Dodge City, Miss Kitty quickly became a fan favorite. The redhead’s will-they-or-not relationship with Matt Dillon kept romantics on the edge of their couches for two decades.

Born on February 20, 1929, Blake portrayed Kitty Russell for a third of her life. She left us too soon at the age of 60 in 1989. Outside of her acting career, Blake worked as an animal activist and promoted cancer awareness.

Let’s take a look at some fascinating facts from her life.

1. She was born Beverly Louise Neill.

Amanda Blake is not her real name. An only child and daughter of a banker, Beverly Louise Neill came into this world in Buffalo, New York, where she lived until a teenager. She then moved to California. Neill was a descendant of Revolutionary War hero Kate Barry, who warned that the British were coming prior to the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina.

2. She first worked as a telephone operator.

Blake attended Pomona College for a time. She later took a job as a telephone operator earning $40, which helped hone her diction skills. That led to some radio work and performances doing dramatic readings at a local women’s club.

3. She was signed by MGM studios as a “Greer Garson replacement.”

Blake began her dramatic acting career on the stage, performing summer stock in New England. MGM discovered her and signed the young Blake to a contract. The studio saw her as its next Greer Garson, a 1940s MGM film star who earned five consecutive Best Actress nominations at the Oscars. Blake made her screen debut in 1950 in the MGM picture Stars in My Crown.

4. Jan Shepard was her roommate.

Jan Shepard was a familiar face on television westerns, appearing several times of shows such as The VirginianLaramieRawhide and, indeed, Gunsmoke. Her time on Gunsmoke was a reunion of old friends, as Shepard and Blake once lived together as roommates. As Shepard recalled in a 2018 interview, Blake, “a frisky lady,” would dress in character to go for her auditions on Gunsmoke. Shepard was present when Blake got the call telling her she had won the role of Miss Kitty.

5. She brought a lion to the set of Gunsmoke.

It’s a good thing cowboys don’t ride zebras. In 1974, in her final season on Gunsmoke, series star Amanda Blake brought her pet lion to work. His name was Kemo. The incident made headlines. Amanda Blake’s Lion Upsets ‘Gunsmoke’ Set, declared The Toledo Blade on February 27, 1974. The headline sensationalized things a bit. Kemo was but a wee cub. And the “upset” was more of a cuddle party and adorable noise disturbance.

6. She was one of the first people to breed cheetahs in captivity.

Amanda Blake may have played a character named Kitty, but off-camera she devoted her life to another type of feline. Unbeknownst to many people, the actress was a successful animal breeder. In fact, she was one of the first people on the planet to successfully breed cheetahs in captivity. So how does one go from acclaimed actress to innovative cat breeder? After Gunsmoke wrapped in the 1970s, Blake decided to spend more time devoted to promoting animal welfare. Blake also had a wild animal compound at her home in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lived in retirement. The actress kept Kemo on the grounds with other large cats. Along with her second husband, Frank Gilbert, Blake used the compound to experiment with breeding cheetahs. Learn more about her feline breeding.

7. She was a big traveler.

Blake loved to explore the globe, venturing to the Galapagos Islands and Kenya. She visited Africa several times. Late in life, she settled on a 20-acre ranch in Galt, California, operated by her friend and animal trainer Pat Derby. The PAWS charity welcomed former Hollywood animals to retire on the ranch, such as Christopher the cougar, who was in Lincoln-Mercury car commercials.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
error: Content is protected !!