Celebrate ‘Gunsmoke’ Star Amanda Blake on Her Birthday

by Amanda Glover
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The late red-headed actress, Amanda Blake, lived a colorful life. From acting to supporting animals, to even surviving cancer, she made a name for herself in Hollywood. These days, she’s remembered as saloon business owner, Miss Kitty Russell on “Gunsmoke.” But today, we celebrate what would’ve been her 93rd birthday!

Believe it or not, her birth name isn’t Amanda Blake. The actress was born Beverly Louise Neill. While studying at Pomona College, Blake discovered her desire to participate in community theater. This discovery led to her desire to pursue acting.

Blake’s schedule became almost completely devoted to acting. She participated in Summer Stock productions in New England. Not just that, but she also joined theater and radio acting in Buffalo during the 1940s. However, the road to stardom doesn’t always come cheap. While pursuing acting, she worked as a telephone operator to financially support herself.

Lucky for the former aspiring actress, she managed to make it to Hollywood! After MCM grew fond of her, the young starlet was able to professionally call herself an actress. The studio even called her “the next Greer Garson.” Who was she? Well, none other than Hollywood’s biggest movie stars of the early 20th century.

But with stardom often comes with more new desires, such as a new name. Amanda Blake officially changed her name from Beverly Neill to Amanda Blake. Apparently, she wanted something a bit more “snappy.” As an Amanda myself, I applaud that response.

Blake made dozens of movie appearances in the early 1950s. Her breakout film was “Stars in My Crown.” However, her biggest and most well-known role was in “Gunsmoke,” which she starred in alongside the handsome James Arness.

Amanda Blake Participated in Charity Work and Animal Welfare Projects

For 19 years, Blake played the role of Miss Kitty Russell in the popular western. However, after almost two decades, she decided it was time to pursue other projects.

The actress was able to survive oral cancer in 1977. She even advocated for the American Cancer Society. This led to former President Ronald Reagan personally giving her the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award in 1984.

Not only was she a proud advocate for cancer research, but she was also a big animal lover. She spent much time supporting animal rights causes. Blake even traveled to Africa to educate herself on animal conservation and helped build the Arizona Animal Welfare League. She even brought her pet lion, Kemo, to the set of “Gunsmoke.” Yes, Outsiders, you read that right. A lion!

Sadly, Amanda Blake’s story came to an end on August 16, 1989. Many believed she died at 60-years-old from her cancer, however, doctors confirmed she died of AIDS complications. Four years prior, her fourth husband Mark Spaeth also died of AIDS complications.

However, many fans continue to remember the late star for her strong acting, charity work, her love of animals, and her kind personality. Happy 93rd Birthday, Amanda Blake!

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