For ‘Gunsmoke’ fans, it’s hard to imagine Amanda Blake as anything other than the only saloon proprietress you’d ever want. Combine the show’s incredible longevity – a nigh-unheard of 19 seasons – from 1955 to 1974, with viewer’s undeniable love for Miss Kitty herself, and you’ve got the recipe for one of the Western genre’s most beloved personalities of all time.
Yet Blake, like so many Golden-era actors, held quite humble beginnings. Before her decades of wrangling rascals, she was just a city girl from Buffalo, New York.
The only daughter of a banker, Blake – born Beverly Louise Neill in 1929 – would first try her hand academically at Pomona College. Quickly realizing that university wasn’t for her, the future Miss Kitty would then take to a “normal city job” before ever considering a life in the limelight. In fact, her very first job was as a telephone operator earning a mere $40 per paycheck.
Ever the savvy soul, however, Blake would use the position to hone her diction skills. Realizing she had a knack for and with the spoken word, she would soon find local radio work in New York. There, she caught the acting bug, and wound up performing dramatic readings as part of a local women’s club.
‘Gunsmoke’s Amanda Blake was a Hollywood Star Before Miss Kitty Role
Once she got a taste for theatre, Amanda Blake never looked back. According to classic television trade MeTV, her first foray into acting for an audience came on the stage via summer stock plays in New England.
It was here that famed studio MGM discovered her, and it wouldn’t be long before she was starring in Hollywood films. The studio “saw her as its next Greer Garson, a 1940s MGM film star who earned five consecutive Best Actress nominations at the Oscars,” MeTV cites.
With this in mind, Blake’s debut came in the studio’s ‘Stars in My Crown’ in 1950. She would also
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, which led to over a dozen Hollywood roles before her role as Susan Ettinger in 1954’s original A Star is Born.
After a few congruent guest appearances on television shows, Blake would then land the role of a lifetime as Miss Kitty Russell on CBS’s masterpiece: ‘Gunsmoke.’ All in all, she would star in a whopping 425 of 635 episodes until 1974, a year before the show’s end.
This, however, is only scratching the surface of the incredible life of Amanda Blake – who once brought a lion to the set of ‘Gunsmoke.’ She would even go on to become one of the first to ever successfully breed cheetahs in captivity. “Miss Kitty” til the end!