In the 1970s, actress Belinda Montgomery made a name for herself playing vulnerable, imperiled heroines in a variety of television guest roles and Movies of the Week that made her a primetime fixture throughout the decade. Attractive and intelligent, she distinguished these roles by providing an air of wisdom and maturity that belied the naiveté of these characters. As she got older, Montgomery's screen image continued to mature, as she began to essay a series of confident, assertive authority figures--often in the medical profession--who learned to resolve conflicts on her own. Similarly, Montgomery herself prospered and matured in the industry so that she was able to make the most of the opportunities presented to her, without having to experience the pitfalls that so many of her peers, who also started at a young age, dealt with. After more than 30 years in the business, Montgomery took time off to focus on caring for her elderly parents, as well as resume her studies and develop a new reputation for herself as an accomplished painter and artist. Her artwork can be seen on her website, www.belindamontgomery.com. While she has not completely turned her back on acting--she still maintains an agent and appeared on the big screen in 2010 in "TRON: Legacy"--Montgomery now enjoys focusing her time on mastering her other talents and abilities. She graciously consented to an interview with Hill Place Blog to discuss her acting days, as well as share insights about her current work as a painter. In our conversations, Montgomery comes across as warm and likable as expected from her screen image, but with a tough, assertive edge that underscores how she does not suffer fools gladly. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Belinda Montgomery for opening up her heart and memories for this interview. A special Thank You is also in order to her husband Jeff Stillman, who demonstrated the utmost patience while I kept his wife busy on the phone with my numerous questions about her acting career.
Belinda Montgomery was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the daughter of accomplished actor Cecil Montgomery, who was active in television, radio and theater in Canada. Montgomery recalls how her father, "was an Irishman who came to Canada in 1948. He had a couple of different jobs and then a friend of his was an actor going to a reading for something and invited my dad along. He said, 'We've got radio here in Manitoba that's going to broadcast across Canada and they want to do a weekly series.' The radio series was called 'The Jacksons,' and it was about a family on the prairies. For a lark, my dad auditioned and got the role of this irascible old Irishman named Tim Murphy. And because this was a radio show, you know, nobody knew what he looked like. Just like “A Prairie Home Companion,” the show was broadcast, live, from various Canadian towns, now and then. And because this was a radio show, you know, nobody knew what he looked like. So before the show began the announcer would introduce the cast and people would applaud when the actor would come out. And then they'd say, 'Here's Cecil Montgomery as Tim Murphy!' Well, they loved Tim Murphy, and they couldn't wait to see him, and my dad would come out and he was like this, I don't know, 32 year old guy. Tall, handsome, young guy with a thick head of black hair and was met with an eerie silence. (laugh) And then the cast would start to do the show, and as soon as my Dad would talk everybody would go 'Oh!' recognizing his voice and they'd start to applaud!"
Because of her father's success in radio, Montgomery eventually followed in his footsteps and became an actress as well. "He would go in three or four times a week to do these live broadcasts and sometimes I would go with him into the CBC studio. It was just this fascinating world. So I'm there this one time and we're waiting for them to start to record the show, and the director is in a panic because this kid who was supposed to play a little boy hasn't shown up. They don't know what happened to him and it's live. So they look around and the director says, 'What about Belinda? Do you think she could do this?' My Dad says, 'Do you think you want to be in the show?' And I said, 'Yeah!' (laugh) So they gave me the lines to read and I did them a couple of times and went off into a corner with my dad to rehearse and then they started to record. I had a very husky, gravelly voice as a kid, (lowers her voice) 'like this,' so I could easily play little boys. And so that's how I started as an actress! I started by playing little boys on the radio! (laugh)"
Because of her natural talent and mature professionalism that belied her youth, Montgomery soon made a name for herself as a prolific child actress working in radio and television throughout Canada. She recalls how, "I never performed in school plays because I was already doing them professionally. My sister and I did a couple of television shows that went right across Canada that were live on the CBC. One was called 'Brandynose,' it was a Christmas story that was a play on 'Rudolph.' It was a big fiasco from the moment it started. Sets started to move on their own in the background, actors forgot their lines and walked off and came on again, windows moved, just strange things occurred on-air. And my dad and Helene Winston, who was a wonderful Canadian actress, were standing there helpless and trying to hold back laughter. And this was dreadful because it was going live across Canada. So they all pulled it together anyway and it looked like a surreal 'I-don't-know-what' but the audience loved it. Everybody just kept going: I was supposed to make an entrance coming through a front door. The door wouldn't open and I'm trying to get it open and my sister's standing right beside me and we're supposed to go in and say some line and it's a cue for other things to happen in the scene. So I thought, 'Well, there's a window and it's open!' So my sister Tanis and I climbed through the window, just as the camera panned over and they catch us coming through the window, which was totally bizarre, since I had just been knocking at the door, so now I'm crashing into somebody's house through the window. And we started to say our lines and I could see the other actors off in the side with tears coming down their faces, because they were laughing so hard, it was so ridiculous. But we somehow got through it. After that I thought, 'Well, who wouldn't want to be an actor?' (laugh)"
Even though she was already laying the groundwork for her acting career, starting at an early age, and continuing throughout her life, Montgomery always painted. She readily acknowledges that she would have focused on a career as an artist if she had not pursued acting as her professional vocation. Montgomery recalls that "as a kid, a Van Gogh exhibit came through town and my dad took me and that was it. I was just inspired by the colors and the magic of his paintings. I always painted on my own throughout my acting career. When I was 10 years old, I drew a portrait of a face that was 3 feet by 4 feet and it was black and white. It was black down one side, and white down the other side. A newscaster in Canada, Warren Davis, bought it. He was a friend of my father's and he said he had to have it so he bought it and put it up prominently in his living room over his fireplace. It was my first sale, for $50.00. To me, that was a lot of money. (laugh)"
When Montgomery was 11 years old, her father moved the family to England, and she lived for a period of time in London. During those years, Montgomery focused more on her schoolwork, but acknowledges that, "Somebody saw my sister Tanis and I when my dad was doing some show and he said, 'Oh, we'd love to have them for a commercial!' So Tanis and I did a chocolate TV commercial and we had fun doing that. But we didn't really do any acting over there. We were primarily in school during that time, and trying to understand the language. (laugh) We were in London for two years and dad did work on the BBC. We moved around London quite a bit. As a kid, I was not fond of that because I was very, very shy. Going into new schools, being introduced into new classes--Oh my God, I thought I would die! I didn't like being over there only because I felt like the odd one out. And different teachers would say, when a question would come up, 'Oh, let's ask the Yank!' I mean, I didn't know these people. I didn't know what they were talking about half the time, and so I'd sort of stand up there and try to get through answering their question. A couple of times I'd say under my breath, 'I'm not a Yank!' It was pretty much rainy and moldy and damp for the two years we lived there and my dad couldn't stand it. He said, 'What the Hell?! What was I thinking coming back overseas?! We're leaving!' So my poor Mom had to bundle everything up together. There were three kids--my brother, my sister and myself--and we took a ship back to Montreal, Quebec. We had our little English accents by that time. I just absorbed it, you know how kids do. I came back sounding all breathy like Hayley Mills, and my sister came back, Oh God, sounding like a Cockney. We don't know where she got it from. It used to drive my father insane. I think that's another reason why we came back. My sister would wake my parents up in the middle of the night and say, [Cockney accent] 'Daddy! May I have a drink of water!' and he'd say [Canadian-American accent] 'If you ask for it properly in English!' (laugh)"
When Montgomery returned to Canada, she found the adjustment challenging because, "I was thirteen when we returned, which was a really awkward age, you know? You're so self-conscious and you're in adolescence and early puberty. I was glad to be going back, but we didn't go back to Manitoba because my dad wanted to move to Toronto. So we spent the next several years in Toronto. I went to high school there and I did a lot of modeling there. I was shy, so my mother thought 'OK, I'm going to send Belinda off to modeling school.' So she enrolled me in a modeling school run by a wonderful woman. They had deportment classes where you'd learn to keep your head up and photography, etc., and my mom thought, 'Oh, that'll be nice for her!' The career sort of took off with modeling and my sister Tanis joined in and we used to do a ton of modeling for magazines and catalogues. When Twiggy came to town, I was in a show with her. I have a front-page newspaper clipping of me, with my hair really short, and there I am with Twiggy in the same show. We had a lot of fun. She was such an icon at the time--this must have been 1966 maybe?-- and she was lovely. She was really sweet and very, very shy. We just kept staring at her, you know, because we all wanted to look like Twiggy, although some of us were not destined and I was one of those. (laugh) I wasn't going to be a stick no matter what I did."
Being back in Canada ultimately provided Montgomery with further career opportunities as an actress. She landed the lead role in the CBC television special "Hey, Cinderella!" (1968), an adaptation of the classic fairy tale. "Cinderella" was notable for being directed by Jim Henson and featuring early appearances of his legendary Muppets, especially Kermit the Frog. As she recalls, "I'd go to the CBC to visit my dad, because he was doing a couple of series there, and somebody said, 'You know, Belinda would be really good for this show 'Barney Boomer.' What do you think?' And I don't know if I even auditioned for it, but the show was a kids’ show in the afternoon and it was a lot of fun. So I did that for, I don't know, a year or a year and a half and then I was working with Jim Henson in his TV special 'Hey, Cinderella!' He came in from New York, I think, or from L.A. I was 17 years old when I did that. There was a big audition for it and every actor my age went down there to read for it. I was lucky enough to get it. It was so much fun and he was such a lovely man. He was just charming and laid-back and there was never any stress on the set. I believe that that show was where he introduced Kermit the Frog and the character really developed from there. And so Kermit was sitting there espousing what he had to say in such a tongue-in-cheek manner that the dialogue also spoke to adults on a different level, which was unheard of in children's programming back then. And the wonderful Frank Oz was my dog Rufus in that show! He was so delightful and sometimes, when the camera would stop, we might be sitting there and Rufus would be saying something to me and I'd be sitting there talking to Rufus and then, 'Wait a minute! Frank! What are we doing? I'm talking to a Muppet here! We're having a conversation!' Frank would stay in-character and just kept the conversation going through Rufus and it was lovely. He was just a delightful man and, of course, he went on to complete anonymity! (laugh)"
Even though the Muppets were still relatively unknown at the time, Montgomery found that, "When I was working on 'Hey, Cinderella!' I found it very easy to maintain that suspension of disbelief and really believe in the Muppets as real characters and as actors in the scene, especially with the evil sisters in the show. They were also Muppets and they were just so funny. Joyce Gordon was a wonderful Fairy Godmother, she was a well known Canadian actress, she was just terrific. Pat Galloway played the evil Wicked Stepmother and she had been a great theatrical actress. We just had the best time ever. Jerry Nelson played Featherstone and he also did the voice of Stepsister #2. He was a brilliant guy. We had such a wonderful time shooting it. We shot this show at Laurence Productions in Toronto. I remember having a meal break or something where they couldn't take the time to get me out of my Cinderella costume. So I said, 'Why don't I just go like this?' So I took my wand and I had my diamond tiara on along with my ball gown--it was after the Fairy Godmother had changed me into the princess in the storyline--and there I am going down the street with Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson to a cafe with me dressed up as Cinderella. When we walked in, it was like an apparition had walked in. People sort of did a double-take like 'Am I dreaming? Have I had too much to drink?' I loved doing that, of course, being a teenager and startling people, so that was a lot of fun."
Eventually, Montgomery's work with the CBC landed her a seven-year contract with Universal Studios in Hollywood. Montgomery recalls that the contract came about because, "I had done some period piece for educational TV in Toronto. I had also done another TV show in Toronto. It was a Harold Pinter play called 'The Basement,' and was very risqué. It was the story of this girl with these two men and she comes into their lives and looking to be taken in. I've forgotten what the play was all about now. We rehearsed it for three weeks and then we shot it like a Canadian version of the 'Hallmark Hall of Fame.' Some of the stuff I played in it, I was coy and a bit of a vixen and I had to get under the sheets and I don't have any clothes on in the story, as I'm snuggling up to Gerard Parkes in the scene. And, of course, I had stuff all down my front, material all plastered all over me so I wasn't nude at all, but from the back I looked like I was naked. And it caused such an uproar in Canada! I was on the cover of TV Guide in Canada saying 'Oh golly! But I wasn't naked at all!' with a big picture of me looking like a baby! (laugh) The Prime Minister of Canada called for an inquiry and said 'How could they put something that looked like it should be Rated R or whatever on television! There was nudity!' He couldn't believe it! He wanted a copy for himself. Everybody made a lot of fun about that! Of course he wanted a copy for himself! (laugh) It was the educational program that brought me to the attention of Eleanor Kilgallen, who ran the talent program with Monique James at Universal. And this was before I was 19 years old!"
When Montgomery learned about the offer from Universal, she didn't believe it at first because, "I was off touring around the provinces in this play called 'Boeing, Boeing.' Melanie Morse, who was the daughter of actor Barry Morse, was in it. Steven Sutherland and his brother David Sutherland were also in it. David was a wonderful Shakespearean actor and we did this silly farce and I had so much fun. It was winter and we were traveling around in a bus, going from town to town and we just had a great time. I think it was when we were in Frederickton, New Brunswick that I got a phone call at the hotel. They said, 'There's a call for you, Belinda.' I picked up the phone and this woman said, 'Hello, my name is Eleanor Kilgallen from MCA and we’d like to ask you to come to Hollywood and take some meetings at Universal Studios.’ And I just went, ’Oh, come on!' and I hung up. (laugh) I thought it was my girlfriend being silly and just having me on and I thought, 'Well, that's really dumb!' And then there was a call back and I said, 'I'm not gonna listen to this anymore, Annie! It's just too stupid!' and I hung up again. The third time she rang she said, 'My dear, before you hang up on me again, I really am Eleanor Kilgallen and you can check me out. I'm with MCA in New York, affiliated with Universal Studios.' And I sort of took a breath in and went 'Oh!' So obviously I apologized for hanging up in her ear three times. She said, 'Would you like to fly out to meet us in Los Angeles?' And I said, 'I don't know. I'm on tour with a play right now!' (laugh) She said, 'I know you are, dear. Where are you? What is the weather like there?' I said, 'Well, I think there's 7 feet of snow outside the door.' She said, 'OK, well I hope you're bundled up. You know, why don't you call me back when the play is finished?'"
Uncertain about whether or not to pursue this opportunity, Montgomery was ultimately convinced by her father to take it seriously, "I told him about the phone call and he said, 'Eleanor Kilgallen called you?' I said to him, 'I don't really know if I want to go down to Los Angeles.' Just then, 'Hey Cindrella!' had played on television and everybody was making a big fuss about it. And what is the next thing I get? I get a call from my agent for a 'Silent on Camera'--an 'S.O.C.' in a commercial--and my dad said, 'That's the way it's going to be up here. You're going to do these things and then you're going have to try and make a living doing something else or, you know, doing commercials or whatever. You might have a real opportunity down there in Hollywood with this Universal prospect. I think it would be really foolish not to investigate this. Come on, you need to go down there.' After he convinced me, Eleanor Kilgallen first brought us down to New York to meet her. My father and I met with her at her big offices at MCA and here was this woman who was the perfect New York businesswoman. She had succeeded in a business where only men had dared travel. Eleanor and her partner, Monique James, who headed up the Contract Player system in Los Angeles, were very instrumental in starting--Oh my God!--everybody's career all during the 1960s and I came in at the tail end of all of this in 1968. She was a self-confident woman with a glamorous Jackie Kennedy pageboy, a perfect Chanel suit and she greeted us when we came into her large office. We had a wonderful conversation and she talked to me about what it might be like to go to Los Angeles and she asked if I would like to go and of course I said, 'Yes!' and then we were off! A huge limousine met us upon arrival at LAX and drove us to Universal Studios."
All these years later, Montgomery still has vivid memories of her first impressions of Universal, "The big Black Tower at Universal, where all the executives worked, was the tallest building in the Valley at the time. You could see it for miles, you know? There was the Sheraton Universal hotel at the top of the hill and the Tower was down below. Because I was underage, they sent my dad a ticket as well and we both flew out to Los Angeles. It was so exciting. They had a little motel across the street from Universal where we stayed. And this motel had a wonderful little cafe where the waitresses had aprons on and little hats that you'd see in movies. They had the best homemade apple pie there. Anyway, we stayed at that motel and just walked across the street for our meetings. We went straight to Monique James' office where she brings me in and had Claire, her assistant, there. She sat me down and shook my hand. I remember her saying, 'Oh, Belinda! It's such a pleasure to meet you!' She would frequently take a big suck on her cigarette, that was held in an elegant black cigarette holder, and blow it out to the side. Even though she was very tiny and about five feet tall, I thought she was the most elegant woman alive. So she makes appointments for me to go and meet the guys in the Tower. I met the guy with the big glasses, Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal. And then I had a meeting with various other people. And I was trying to be really adult and sophisticated having all these meetings. Then they sent me to an office of a man with a plaque outside his door named 'Edd Henry,' with two Ds to his name. I thought maybe the second D was supposed to be his middle initial, or maybe they spelt Ed differently in Hollywood. I left that meeting and went back down to Monique's office. I must have been so uptight about all the meetings because, when I sat down to talk to her, she asked [deep sophisticated voice] 'Well, darling, how did it go?' I couldn’t catch my breath or answer her. I think I had been so terrified by all these meetings! So she immediately called for her assistant, 'Claire, darling! Come in here! Please get Belinda an aspirin and a glass of water...Immediately!' (laugh) When we continued talking Monique asked 'Would you like to join us here? I've seen your work, I saw the educational TV show that you did and we'd like to have you here at Universal. We're going to send contracts up to your lawyers and begin the process. It's going to take a bit of work because we have to get you a Green Card!' It was very difficult at that time to get a Green Card, as it usually is. Even though I had a job to come to, and Universal was offering me, you know, a 7-year contract, it was still a bit of an effort and challenge to get the Green Card, but eventually I got it."
Because Montgomery was moving to Los Angeles to work at Universal, it inspired her family to join her out there to pursue their own opportunities, "My parents and siblings were able to join me in Los Angeles about four months after I moved here." Once she was able to move to LA, she quickly went about the business of finding a home and becoming acclimated to her new environment, "Monique James set me up with an agent in Los Angeles at International Famous Agency--IFA--named Wilt Melnick. He was a delightful man, so sweet, and so protective of me because, really, I was such an innocent and here I was--I wasn't even 19 years old yet, and I'd moved to another country with just a suitcase. So I come down here and Wilt goes around town helping me take a look at apartments. Because I didn't know how to drive yet--we find an apartment right around the corner from the studios. It was a little old apartment building and I had the upstairs unit. It was one bedroom and tiny and there was a backdoor that went downstairs from the kitchen and, of course, there were stairs going up the front of the building where you would enter in into the living room. I remember, in the beginning, I would go away for the weekends with new friends, or Monique would want me to go to some social gathering to meet some people. My downstairs neighbor would come up and say, 'Belinda, you've left your door open, again! It was wide open.’ And I'd say, 'Oh my God! You're right! I'm not used to my Mom not being here to close and lock the doors!' (laugh) I was very fortunate to have people looking out for me. I quickly learned to be more careful and lock my doors and look out for myself. I realized I was in a different city and country, and learned to be responsible for protecting myself."
Montgomery also remembers how her downstairs neighbor provided her with her first sense of the quirky and offbeat nature of living and working in Los Angeles' entertainment industry, "Lance Rimmer was my neighbor who lived in the apartment below me. He was wonderful and handsome and was a cowboy stunt man up at the Universal Studios show. They were doing the studio tour and stunt shows back then, even though it wasn't as big as it is now, of course. He would do the gun-fights in the Western shows. When I would look out my kitchen window every morning, there would be Lance leaving for work. I'd see him leave his apartment with a black cowboy hat on, black shirt, black pants, and black cowboy boots with spurs. He would get into his big, black Cadillac and would drive off to go to work. And I thought, 'Well, that's just the way it is in L.A. Everybody sort of dresses the part, I guess!' My first introduction to L.A. and, already, I have a neighbor who dresses like this all the time! (laugh) It was a wild time. I lived there for about a year, and Lance was a wonderful neighbor."
Once Montgomery was settled living in Los Angeles and ready to start working, she quickly acclimated to the camaraderie and environment of working at Universal, "It was great. You'd be up in make-up at 6:00 in the morning. And all the make-up rooms were in a big building next to the wardrobe building. We were just above Alfred Hitchcock’s little studio house. We'd see Hitchcock going into his little abode there. After we'd finish in make-up, it was 8:00 or 9:00 when we'd be called to the set and sometimes you'd see Hitchcock walking around and looking--not at you, but deep in thought, doing something in his head, of course. So that was always kind of extraordinary to witness. When we'd go to make-up, there were SO many rooms. Well, there were two floors and they were all make-up rooms, right?, When you entered the front of the building you'd see the list of names of all the shows and actors shooting at that time--'The Virginian,' 'Marcus Welby,' 'Ironside,' 'Dragnet,' 'Adam-12,'--all these different shows and you'd go to the make-up room for the show you were working on and you started chatting with the make-up artists while they prepared you. The breakfast was prepared downstairs by this older woman. She had a huge personality and very loud voice. She'd say, 'Who wants to have waffles this morning?!' If we went down there, and you talked to her, you might get some onions thrown on. You'd definitely have scrambled eggs and bacon and toast with your breakfast plate. So you're having your make-up put on while drinking orange juice and eating bacon and eggs. And then you'd see somebody that was getting made-up four rooms down and you'd say 'Hi' and chat with them. We would go into wardrobe next and we had these great wardrobe people there that knew our figures and measurements. If you were under contract, they knew your dimensions so they had these clothes ready for you when you went in to try them on. And then they'd do little nips here and tucks there and bring in the waist here and there. We knew everybody on the lot at Universal. It was like a big family. It was very comfortable. There was a great camaraderie among the personnel working at Universal at that time. It was kind of a wonderful period. I was appreciative, even at the time, to have been one of the last of the Hollywood contract players."
In addition to the camaraderie between the other contract players and the crew members, Montgomery also enjoyed her time at Universal because of the support she experienced from the executives at the studio, "I didn't have to audition much for parts at Universal. Monique would get the scripts and then she would call me and say, 'I have a script for you. I'm going to send it over to you. Read it and tell me what you think.' After I'd read it, she'd ask, 'Would you like to do it?' Most of the time, they were great. I was just eager to do all of it because, you know, I was so new down here that I thought, 'Yeah, I want to do everything!' I think there were a couple of movie scripts that were sent over. They were feature scripts that I didn't want to do. One was, 'The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart' (1970) with Don Johnson. It was like a psychedelic movie. They were talking about me doing that and I just thought 'I don't think I want to do it.' If I had done it at that time, I guess I would've met Don, whose wife I later played on 'Miami Vice.' Another film I turned down was one that was directed by John Erman, who I already worked with on 'Marcus Welby,' that I can't remember the name of, but it would have involved a lot of nudity. Even though I was dedicated as an actress, I really balked at showing my 'whatever' on camera 50-feet wide, you know? And directors who wanted me to do nudity would say to me 'Oh, but you know, it doesn't matter because there'll only be a small crew: the cameraman, the soundman, and the A.D.' and I'd go, ‘What about when it gets into theaters and people are oogling my 50-foot boobs!' (laugh) So I turned that down. I didn't figure why I had to take off all my clothes for that part! (laugh) I just felt uncomfortable about it and I made a choice that was right for me. But I was never pressured into doing anything I didn't want to do when I was at Universal."
Even though Montgomery had a positive experience working with Monique James at Universal, she acknowledges the qualities that caused Cristina Raines to have a contentious working relationship with James. As I previously discussed in my Cristina Raines interview, Monique James was known to be severe with actors and actresses she did not bring into Universal and who she disfavored. As Montgomery opines, "I didn't have the same experience with Monique as I read Cristina Raines had with her. Fortunately for me, Monique really adored me like her daughter. She would sign notes to me with a smiley face and an inscription saying 'From your Fairy Godmother,' because she enjoyed the Henson Muppets project that I did, 'Hey, Cinderella!' And she really was. She was my entree into Hollywood. She was my mentor, she was my go-to person. I recognize how Monique would have been different with Cristina Raines because the executives at Universal picked her and not Monique. That was unfortunate because Cristina was a very talented actress. Monique was TERRIBLY intimidating considering she was about 5 feet tall, but she was quite a force, quite an amazing woman. So I knew she could be tough on people.”
Montgomery's first role at Universal was on "Marcus Welby, M.D.," playing a young married woman whose pregnancy is in jeopardy due to medical complications from an earlier abortion. It would be the first of two guest appearances Montgomery would make on the acclaimed medical series. Montgomery recalls, "Richard Thomas played my husband and it was Richard's and my first show in Los Angeles. He had just come in from New York and, of course, I had just come in from Canada. We played husband and wife and we were babies. The episode was so well-received that Universal promoted it for an Emmy, because they thought it was terrific. It was my first venture out and it was wonderful to get that positive feedback. It didn't get nominated for an Emmy in the end, but I think it was a really good role. Richard and I played a couple from Oklahoma who moved to California. Then my character had pregnancy complications so a visit to Dr. Welby was in order. I know we were believable because two of the actors on the show, Jesse and Alan Vint, were from Oklahoma and wanted to know what part I was from. It was a very dramatic show and was so well-received they did a follow-up episode where they brought our characters back. John Erman directed that first 'Welby' episode, and he was a lovely man. On the first day of shooting, John wanted Richard and I to get to know each other, so we all went to lunch up the street at this Chinese restaurant on Cahuenga Boulevard. We sit down and we're looking at the menu and Richard looks up to the waiter and he starts speaking to him in a lot of sing-song kind of sounds. I said, 'Oh my Gosh!' and I look to John and I'm thinking 'Is he making fun of the waiter?!' Not at all, because the waiter starts talking back to Richard. And damned if he didn't know Mandarin Chinese! He ordered the right stuff and we all loved it! (laugh) But, anyway, I had a wonderful experience working with John Erman on 'Marcus Welby.' I also had such a great experience with Robert Young. He wrote me the most lovely letter after he first worked with me. He was such a lovely man. And, of course, I worked with James Brolin and Jimmy was just this young guy at the time who lived up north. I think he used to commute from Universal to someplace like Paso Robles where he had his family and kids. He would do that every weekend. That was a long commute for him. He was really terrific."
Montgomery quickly moved on to other guest roles at Universal, including an appearance on "The Virginian," where she worked with Doug McClure. She recalls how, "I wasn’t crazy about doing Westerns, not because of the subject matter, but because we had tight corset kind of tops on and long, long dresses and kind of lace-up boots because we had to look like the era. And it was dusty and difficult getting on and off horses, you know, but we had a really good time otherwise. I really enjoyed guest-starring on that series. John McIntire was a great, wonderful man to work with. Michael Constantine played my father and he played my father in a number of shows after that… just a great guy. Oh there were a lot of good people I worked with on 'The Virginian.' My favorite, though, was probably Doug McClure. I think he was about 38 at the time, and I was 19. He asked me out while I was working on his show and we became an item. Doug had a house in the Encino hills, and his housekeeper was always going to quit because he always had so many people visiting that it was chaotic. Doug was so generous, he always had people up there for meals and pool parties. He was a big, sweet guy. While we were dating, my parents were moving to Los Angeles from Canada, bringing my sister and brother with them. Doug insisted on having a big limousine pick them up at the airport. So they land at the airport and my parents give me a hug, look over at Doug and say, ‘...Uh, who's this? Doug McClure?!' I said to them, 'Doug has a limousine waiting for you' and they both went, 'What?!' And we get into the limousine and my dad's looking sideways at Doug and thinking 'Uh-huh,' and Doug said, 'I've got rooms for you up at the Sheraton, up above Universal. That way Belinda's nearby and you're up at the hotel and you can relax and get over jet-lag.' By this time, my mother takes me aside and says, 'WHAT have you been doing for the past couple of months?!' I said, 'I've been having a great time!' Which was true, it was a wonderful time in my life. Doug was just the sweetest, nicest guy. Despite our age difference, he was a real gentleman and my parents grew to adore him. My whole family spent time going up to his place up in Encino. I remember Doug said to my dad, 'There's a house for sale, right below me here. I can make an appointment and you can look at it with a realtor. What do you think?’ So my dad said, 'Fine,' and that was the house that they lived in for a number of years. It was a great home and I wish they never got rid of it. It looked out over the Valley and had a swimming pool and fruit trees and everything. Doug and I broke up after 8 months because…I was too young. I didn't understand that at the time, but of course I do now! (laugh) But we remained friends and every time Doug drove down from his house to go to work, he'd beep his horn as he passed my parents house and my dad would say, 'Well, Doug's on his way to the studio!'"
Montgomery's next role at Universal was a co-starring role in the made-for-TV horror film "Ritual of Evil" (1970) starring Louis Jourdan, Anne Baxter, and John McMartin. Montgomery played an heiress terrorized by a religious cult. It would be her first encounter with the horror genre, which she would occasionally return to through the years. She vividly recalls the making of "Ritual of Evil" because of the friendships she would develop with her costars, "Annie--Anne Baxter--treated me like her daughter. After we finished the shoot, she took me home and introduced me to her real daughter Katrina, whose father was John Hodiak and we became friends. Annie lived in Westwood, near UCLA, in a wonderful home. She would take me up to her closet, if I was going on a date to a movie with a guy, and she would say, 'Oh my darling, come in here,' in her whiskey voice, and she would take out a Pucci dress or a Chanel and she'd throw them on the bed and say 'These would look divine on you, darling, take them home. Wear one tonight for your beau.' And I'd thank her and I'd take these wonderful outfits home and I'd wear jeans and an old T-shirt to the movies and then I'd bring them back. I never told her I didn't wear either one because, you know, I had no reason to do that. I lived in jeans, but she was SO generous in offering me her wardrobe and giving me advice on how to be a woman and what to expect from men and stuff."
In addition to Anne Baxter, Montgomery recalls becoming friends with the reserved and refined Louis Jourdan during the making of this TV movie, "Louis Jourdan was just the most amazing man. I was madly in love with him. We shot part of the movie up in Santa Barbara in Hope Ranch at a wonderful house that was supposed to be our estate there. I remember Louis Jourdan would be sitting and reading a French novel off to the side. Nobody approached him except his make-up lady because everybody was sort of terrified. He was a huge movie star. Nobody talked to Louis Jourdan! So we rode up in limousines to Santa Barbara and on the ride back the transportation personnel wanted to pair me in a limousine with Louis. I remember going, 'We're gonna be like an hour and a half in the same car. What am I gonna say?!' They said, 'Oh no, you'll be fine with him.' So we get in the car and he's very polite and he looks over and I said, 'You know, Louis, I guess you think I'm very young because I look very young, right?' And he said, [French accent] 'Well, of course! You are just a baby!' And I said, 'No, really, I'm 28 years old.' And he said, 'You are what?!" And I repeated, 'I'm 28 years old.' I lied through my teeth! I couldn't even get a drink in Santa Barbara because I was underage. He said, 'You're 28?!' I said, 'Yes!' And then he said, 'Oh my goodness!' and then we had the most wonderful conversations because he felt he could relate to me better. I said to him, 'So, Louis, everybody's afraid to talk to you because they think you're so smart and so learned and you're this big movie star and you haven't got time for people.' And he said, [French accent] 'The reason I'm sitting by myself is because nobody is talking to me!' So I said, 'You and I can continue to chat when we get back to the set in Los Angeles?' And he said, 'But, of course!' And so from then on I kidded him about things and I would make him laugh. And, you know, I like people feeling comfortable when I'm working with them. So the first day back on the set in Los Angeles at Universal, we're shooting a scene with Louis and I’m on the set, Louis is sitting over on the other part of the stage reading by himself like before. I looked over and I said, 'Where's Louis?' And the crew said, 'Mr. Jourdan is sitting over in his chair, Belinda.' And I said, 'Well, I'm here! Why the heck isn't he here rehearsing with me?' I said 'Hey, Louis! Are you ever gonna get up and join me?' And we had already arranged this, the two of us, and Louis said, 'Oh, excuse me! I’m sorry Belinda! I'm coming right now!' And the crew's faces, their jaws dropped to the ground. We had banter back and forth and people soon realized, 'They're *joking* with each other?!' It helped Louis break the ice with the rest of the cast and crew and eventually everybody loved Louis. I told Anne Baxter, 'I'm going to marry Louis Jourdan!' She said, 'He's 30 years older than you, has a son your age, and his wife will probably be very interested that you feel that way! You're not going to marry Louis Jourdan!' (laugh) So it was a crush from afar!"
"John McMartin, who was a famous Broadway star, was in 'Ritual of Evil' as well. I thought he was great. Funniest man on the set! Great guy, handsome and he had this shock of white hair. One evening, we all convened at the foyer of the hotel and he said, 'OK, so we're all going out for dinner and then we're going to a bar in Santa Barbara. Are you coming, Belinda?' I said, 'Sure!' So we had dinner and then we went to a bar and they asked, 'You can drink, Belinda? I mean, you're of age, right?' And I went, 'Oh, no problem!' I think I was 19. The waitress comes over and everybody's ordering and they ask me what I'd like and I said, 'Well, I'd like a corkscrew!' (laugh) And the waitress said, 'You want a what?' 'I'd like a corkscrew.' And John McMartin grinned and looked at me and said, 'Do you mean a screwdriver?' I went, 'Yes! That's what I mean!' (laugh) So the waitress said, 'May I see your I.D.?' and I said, 'Why?!' I was like incensed, right?, I was putting on this big act. 'Why would you need to see my I.D. just because I said 'corkscrew' instead of 'screwdriver?' We finally found a bar that would take me without asking how old I was. I had three screwdrivers and I ended up getting sick. I spent the whole night at my hotel trying to stop vomiting. It was like hell night for me. I could barely keep water down. The next day, I knew I had to be up early and on the set. Annie is out there and I think Louis was out there. And there's something about eating sandwiches in the scene I'm shooting with Anne Baxter. John McMartin told the crew I was deathly ill with a terrible hangover. I thought I was keeping it to myself but my face was probably green. So when I'd have to get the sandwich, take a big bite out of it and keep talking and doing my scene with Anne Baxter, they were giving me sandwiches with peanut butter and pickles and mayonnaise. Yecch. The crew was thinking this was just the funniest thing so I'd take a mouthful and I'd do the scene and run off the set to get sick in a bucket. And the crew was just laughing like hell. They thought it was funny that they were witnessing my first hangover. Isn't that dreadful? (laugh)."
Montgomery continued guest-starring on other shows at Universal, including "Ironside" starring Raymond Burr. She warmly recalls how, "I loved 'Ironside,' and Raymond Burr was such a doll to work with. My brother, Lee Montgomery, was also under contract to Universal. He got signed the year after I was, and he's got his own memories of his experience at Universal. I remember once when we brought my aunt Vera over from Ireland, and my brother was so happy to have her here and wanted her to meet Raymond Burr. He burst into Raymond Burr's private dressing room on the lot, which was a little house, and he said, 'Ray! I want you to meet my Aunt Vera!' Burr was still getting dressed and he asked, 'Do you mind if I finish dressing, Lee?' (laugh) Anyway, I had a great time working on 'Ironside.' Don Mitchell and I were an item for awhile. I just adored him. The studio wasn't really thrilled about that…interracial concerns, you know. Of course, this was 1970 and that was a big 'No-No,' at least from the studio's point of view. This was at the same time Peggy Lipton was going with Quincy Jones. Georg Stanford Brown was another actor under contract to Universal. I worked with him on 'Ritual of Evil,' and he was a good actor and he became a wonderful director and he was married to Tyne Daly. So there was nothing unusual about my dating Don. Don was just a wonderful man. He was so handsome and so nice and we had a great time together while we were dating. I'm really glad that we had that time together."
During Montgomery's tenure at Universal, she was occasionally loaned out to other studios and production companies. Montgomery recalls that these loan outs came about because, "These other productions would go to Monique James and she would ask me, 'What do you think of this script?' and I'd read it and say 'Yay' or 'Nay' if I didn't want to do it. She was really mentoring me in picking out vehicles that she thought were good for me, so I could experience working at other studios. One time I was loaned out to do one of the last, I think, 'Playhouse 90s' at CBS. It was called 'Appalachian Autumn.' Arthur Kennedy, Teresa Wright, Estelle Winwood were in it. It was a stellar cast. Philip Alford, who played the little boy in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1962) played the main character in it. He was very, very good in it and we had a lot of fun together. Shooting was a little frenetic because Teresa Wright was trying to do what she thought was a really good performance and the director, Bill Graham, was really hard on Teresa. She was in tears some of the time and I remember I wasn’t quite sure why because she would say, 'Look, I'm doing my best!' so I don't know what that was all about, but it was a little tense on the set. Nevertheless, Arthur Kennedy was just fabulous. He was very intense. So the lightness on that show came, interestingly enough, from Estelle Winwood. I don't know how old Estelle was. She looked like she may have been 95 years old at the time but, you know, anybody over 20 or 30 looked 95 to me. So she'd be sitting there and, I was sitting beside her, and this one time the wardrobe lady comes over and says, [slow, careful, loud tone] 'Miss Winwood, we would *love* it if you could come with us and try that dress on again, because we have to make an alteration.' Estelle said, 'What the hell's the matter with you?! I'm not deaf and I’m not senile! If you ask me properly, maybe I'll go!' (laugh) She was full of piss and vinegar and spunk, and she wasn't having any of this. She just happened to be a little old lady who was sharp as a tack, you know? The only thing old about her was her body, because her mind wasn't. And Teresa Wright was just a gentle, wonderful soul. We had quite an incredible cast when I think about it now. And we had rehearsals. This was one of the last times I would ever do a show where we had rehearsals because it was television, you know? I think we had two weeks over at CBS rehearsing this show. We had this great rehearsal hall on Third St. near the Farmers Market on Fairfax. So that was great to be able to work on something where you knew the characters pretty well."
"Appalachian Autumn" was also memorable for Montgomery because she became friends with its writer, Earl Hamner, "My husband and I saw him about a year ago because my friend Michael McGreevey, who is a darling, produced a documentary about Earl's life and career that I participated in. He wanted to have every person who knew Earl to come out and say hello to him at a screening for the documentary because his health was fading at that point. So we all came out and they showed the movie with the interviews and our recollections of him and he was there to see the love and respect we all felt for him. It was just great. He was in a wheelchair and we were able to come up and kiss him and tell him that we love him. He used to be a neighbor of mine in Studio City up in the hills. When I was shooting 'Doogie Howser,' I had a house in the Hollywood Hills and then I moved to another location in the Studio City hills. I would take my dog for a walk in the maze of streets up in the hills. I'm walking along and I hear this melodic voice of a husband talking with his wife, I presumed. So I look up and there's a white picket fence and Earl talking to his delightful wife, who's in the garden planting flowers. I called out, 'Earl! Is that you?!' And he looked up and he says, ‘Well, look who it is!' And they both come over and give me a hug. So when I'd take my dog for a walk past their place, I would say hi if they were home. They were just darling. Earl was a real sweetheart, I really was very fond of him, and I loved his accent!"
While on loan out from Universal, Montgomery made her feature film debut in the psychological thriller/character study "The Todd Killings" (1971). Robert F. Lyons starred as Skipper Todd, an aimless young man who exerts a dangerous influence on the disaffected youth living in a small Northern California town. Montgomery played Roberta, a young woman living in town who is initially resistant to Todd's interest in her, but whose eventual curiosity about him results in grim consequences for her and her sister. Montgomery admits she was drawn to the film because "I remember the script was so dark and I had never been killed in anything before. So I thought that that would be interesting. I thought the script was very dramatic and good. My intention at the time was to be primarily a dramatic actress, I didn't see myself as a comedic actress. It was only later that I got into other stuff that was lighter like 'Doogie Houser,' so if it was a dramatic role at the time, I wanted to be a part of it. My sister Tanis played my sister and we both were killed in the story, so that made it an even darker story. The lead was played by Robert Lyons, who was a great actor. I don’t think he got the notoriety that he deserved, but he was a fabulous actor. He was very good in this and very frightening. I remember when he would be very scary in a scene he would say, 'You know, Belinda, I'm just acting!' (laugh)"
Even though Montgomery was attracted to the challenge that the script posed, she soon found that working with director Barry Shear proved to be more than she bargained for, "It was a difficult movie to shoot and I remember the director Barry Shear and I would lock horns. He was a brash New Yorker and, I don't know, I guess he just kind of grated on me. I had already worked with him on various shows at Universal. My dad worked with him on the production end for awhile and found him to be very amusing and interesting. Anyway, Barry directed this and I remember Meg Foster was also in this playing a waitress and she was a lovely gal. She had white-blue eyes and looked very exotic. You couldn't take your eyes off of her eyes, you know? I remember Barry coming to me and saying, 'All right, we're gonna have the rape scene and he's gonna tear off all your clothes' and I would stand firm and say 'Well, I'm not going to be naked in this movie! I'm not going to be completely nude because I don't do that!' and he'd say 'Well, we're gonna have to shoot it around you!' And I remember we'd film the bar scene and he was always trying to get women to take off their bras to do all of this stuff and the women were all saying, 'We're not doing that!' And so everybody completely thwarted his ideas of what that film should look like. (laugh) If there was real nudity in that film involving my character, it must have been a stand-in because I refused to do it. So they would show my back when I was running trying to get away and then Robert would pull me down in the scene. I admit that I was very nervous about doing that scene because it was a very uncomfortable moment. I remember Barry saying, 'Here are the rewritten pages!' 'What rewritten pages?' And Barry said, 'Oh, he's going to grab you and he's going to tear your clothes off and then he's going to stuff your panties in your mouth' and I went 'What?!' And he continued, 'Yeah, he's going to do that to shut your mouth,' and I went 'Wrong! That's not in the script I read. That's not what I signed on for!' And Barry said, 'But don't you think it'd make the scene more interesting?' and I said, ‘Maybe for you.’ So I was always fighting off Barry during the making of that movie like a mosquito! Anyway, we shot that rape scene, it made me very uneasy, plus the fact, apart from being 20 years old, whatever the hell I was at the time, some of the studio heads wanted to be there because they heard there was going to be a rape scene, right? I was not happy about that. Of course, if I had been older, I would have just said, 'I'm not doing this scene unless you get all of these guys out of here!' So that irked me like crazy and my wardrobe gal, who was just wonderful, made me a couple of stiff drinks that I downed in the dressing room because I didn't know what to expect. I haven't thought about it in a long time but, yeah, that was a real uncomfortable shoot."
As she continues sharing memories of that film, Montgomery recalls how the making of "The Todd Killings" also proved to be uncomfortable for her mother and sister as well, "They filmed the killing of my character, and my sister Tanis's character, out in beautiful Tujunga Wash. It was our location most of the time, and it was very dry and rocky and reflected that element of the film well. I remember being there to watch the scene where my sister was being killed. Our mother was there and was appalled that we were in the film. ‘I don't want to have to look at a film where both of my daughters are murdered!' and I said, 'OK, well don't see the film.' Anyway, Bobby Lyons comes up to Tanis to murder her and she gasps and goes 'Eek!' and Barry the director says, 'Cut!...Eek?!' I go up to her and I say, 'Tanis! Eek?!' And she says, 'I...I don't know what to say!' So I said, 'Just scream!' And she said, 'Well, I don't really scream' and I said, 'Well, you would if you were going to be murdered!' (laugh) I think the filming of that scene freaked her out but she did another take that worked great."
Back at Universal, Montgomery next worked with William Conrad and Robert Conrad on the TV movie, "The D.A.: Conspiracy to Kill" (1971), which also proved to be a challenging experience for the young actress. Montgomery recalls how, "I liked working with Robert Conrad. I thought he was handsome and nice. He was great to work with, had a great sense of humor. He was a 'workaholic' kind of person. He was just so focused and on top of everything. However, I found working with William Conrad to be just so irritating. He would tell dirty jokes and people felt obligated to laugh. I didn't. I said, 'Really?’ And he'd say, 'Well, it's funny.' And I'd say, 'Well, maybe to you.' And, of course, everybody couldn't believe that I was speaking like that to him. And then, of course, when we'd have scenes to do, I would learn all my lines, but what would he do? He'd try to paste cue cards on your forehead so he could read off them. I wouldn't let him do that to me, but they were everywhere else on the set! They were on every surface that he could put his lines up on so he didn't have to bother learning his script. (laugh) And I just thought it was disrespectful, you know? When I did 'The D.A.: Conspiracy to Kill,' I didn't know much about William Conrad. The next time I worked with him, when I did a 'Cannon,' I liked him even less. But the third time I worked with him was on a TV movie that was supposed to be a pilot for a series, 'Turnover Smith' (1980) and I just thought, 'Oh no! He hasn't changed! He's gonna want to put stickers all over my face with his lines and dialogue.' Mind you, he did it so well! On-screen, he was just great."
During this time, as she was establishing her career in Hollywood, Montgomery started being billed on-screen as "Belinda J. Montgomery." She continued being credited throughout the 1970s with the middle initial "J." until the early 1980s, when she dispensed with it entirely. Montgomery explained that she started being billed with the middle initial because "There was a man who worked in the Universal music department named Rudy Friml Jr. who my parents became friends with. His wife, Dianna, was into numerology and one time while we were visiting at their house, she looked at my name and said, ‘You have to put a middle initial in your name to even it out, or else your career is going to be insane! It's going to be disastrous!' and I went, 'What?!' So she went through all of these different suggestions and one of the initials she came up with was 'X' and I said, 'I don't want to be known as 'Belinda X. Montgomery. I don't think I'm ready for that.' (laugh) So she said, 'You could put a 'J' in your name.' So I became 'Belinda J. Montgomery' all during the 1970s when I had dark hair. And then I did a show where I was blonde and I kept the blonde hair and I stopped using the 'J' because it was driving me crazy. Once I took the 'J' out, some people thought that there were two actresses with the name 'Belinda Montgomery,' one with dark hair with a 'J' in her name, and one who was blonde with no middle initial. So I inadvertently cloned myself, unbeknownst to me. (laugh) The reason I actually stopped using the 'J' is because I was working with Linda Evans on this TV movie called 'Bare Essence' (1982) and she asked, 'Why do you have a 'J' in your name, Belinda?' I told her the whole story and she said, 'Well, I do numerology and I don't agree with Rudy's wife. You don't need a 'J' in your name. Is the middle initial causing you unwanted attention from this, that and the other?' And I said, 'Yeah' and Linda said, 'Then take the 'J' out! 'Belinda Montgomery' works fine!' So I did and there you have it!"
Montgomery returned to the Western genre with the Universal TV movie "Lock, Stock and Barrel" (1971), where she and Tim Matheson starred as a young frontier couple attempting to escape from Montgomery's disapproving father. In the course of their adventures, they encounter a kindly escaped convict played by Claude Akins. Montgomery recalls how, "I loved Claude Akins! Years later he lived in Pasadena close to where I was living at the time and we would run into each other at the dry cleaners and go have coffee with his wife. Apart from Merlin Olsen, he was the kindest man I ever worked with. Claude and I ended up working together many times through the years. I believe he may have put my name in there when I did 'Movin' On' because we adored each other. He told such great stories about John Wayne and all those times he did Westerns with director John Ford and all the great stars. I think Claude never really got his fair share, which he should have, because he was a wonderful actor. 'Lock, Stock and Barrel' was the first thing we did together. Tim Matheson also starred in that and we shot up in the mountains outside Durango, Colorado 12,500 feet up in the air. The horses, imported from Hollywood, needed oxygen masks to survive the thin air. The humans weren’t used to it, for that matter. I remember a scene where there was dynamite under this bridge that was supposed to blow up as soon as we crossed it. So we're filming all these scenes involving the bridge and we're planning to blow it up afterwards, and all of a sudden there's a huge rainstorm. So we broke for lunch. There's thunder and lightning and it's raining like crazy and there's Claude covered with a plastic tablecloth serving lunch to the crew as he did everyday. That's the kind of guy he was. He would be serving food and laughing and the crews loved him because he was just the best. So he's serving us food and we go under a tent to eat and lightning is going on all around us, I hear *big* crashes of thunder! and I've had it! I don't want to be there anymore! I'm walking down to the honeywagons and the A.D. is coming after me asking 'What are you doing?' and I said, 'There's dynamite around that bridge ready to go! I'm going to finish the rest of my meal down here and hope that the rain stops.' So I'm sitting in my little room and Jack Albertson knocks on the door and comes into the room and he says, 'Belinda! You don't have to worry about that, honey! Probably nothing's going to happen!' And I said, 'Jack, you're probably right, but I'd like to live long enough to get to be your age! So I'm going to stay here, if you don't mind, for a little while!' (laugh)"
Montgomery continued with Westerns with the Universal TV movie "The Bravos" (1972) starring George Peppard as the commanding officer of a remote cavalry post. Montgomery played a young pioneer woman traveling west with a wagon train of settlers who encounters the cavalry unit. As with "Lock, Stock, and Barrel," "The Bravos" proved to be a challenging shoot due to the rugged location as well as other unexpected elements she encountered during filming. Montgomery recalls that, "I loved working with George Peppard and we dated for some time afterwards, even though Monique James said he was too old for me. He was wonderful, but it was a Western. (laugh) We had wagons and that horrible dust while we were outside Flagstaff, Arizona on the reservation shooting and so it was just dusty the whole time. We hired some Native Americans who really didn't want to be there and sometimes they would come to the set and sometimes they wouldn’t. So it was a little haphazard working on that film. I remember I had a scene where I was supposed to be lost in the desert. I was gone and suddenly I had come back, I don't know if I was on the horse or if I had staggered back into the little fort there, but my lips were completely dried out and I had frost in my hair because it was so cold at night and I collapsed when I got back into the village, I guess. Well, there was a lot of talk about how they would put the ice on my hair. We had one of the famous Westmore’s in charge of make-up. He decided to put melted wax all over my long dark hair and they shot the scene with the sand flying all over the place and my lips are dried out, etc. and then the director yells 'Cut!' I went to Westmore and asked him how I was to get the wax out of my hair. He said simply, 'Oh, I'll buy you a drink later' and left. I was livid! His wonderful make-up assistant Marina and I were there in the chair for three more hours while she painstakingly tried to crack each piece of wax off of my hair. I wanted to kill him! The next day, they wanted to put the wax back on to continue the scene and I said, 'I'm not doing it!' So they had to find a different way to do it and this time they used baking soda and water and just dripped it on my hair and I said to Westmore, 'Why the hell couldn't you do this the day before?' and he said, 'Oh, well we just didn't think of it.' That's just one of the strange things that happens while you're working. When you look back on it, you can laugh about it, but at the time it's not funny because it's happening to you."
As she reflects further on the making of "The Bravos," Montgomery recalls how "Big Bo Svenson was in it, along with another wonderful actor who was under contract to Universal named Barry Brown. Barry was a wonderful, very serious actor. He was just great. He was just starting his career and was very sweet. He wanted us to be a couple, but it wasn't meant to be. Some years later, Barry called me in the middle of the night and said, 'Did you hear that Pete Duel killed himself?' The press soon descended on me because I had just had lunch with Pete that day at Universal. It was really difficult dealing with all of that because I didn't have any idea he was going to take his life later that day. So Barry and I were really upset about what happened with Pete. And then a couple of years later I get a call learning that Barry had committed suicide. I just couldn't believe it. And Shelly Novack was another wonderful actor at Universal who, in his case, died of a heart attack at too young an age. These were my fellow actors at Universal that I knew and worked with. Shelly was a surfer boy from the Palisades, I think his dad had a surfing shop there. I remember we used to all hang out at the beach together. It was terrible to lose all three of them at such a young age. My experience as one of the last contract players at Universal was ecstatic and also sad because people that I worked with, respected immensely, and cared about had issues and problems that were really deep in some instances. I'm sorry that nobody knew they had such deep problems or maybe we could have helped them, I don't know. That's why Universal is kind of a bittersweet experience. It was a wonderful time for me, just the best, but also a very sad time during these occasions, you know?"
Even though Montgomery's contract with Universal was originally for 7 years, and she enjoyed working there, she chose to leave the studio in 1972 after about 4 years. As Montgomery recalls, "I was under contract for, I think, 4 years and then I left. I wanted to branch out and do my own thing. So I started making the rounds on auditions. I'd go into auditions with a lot of gals that I knew and respected because I had seen their work. We'd go to auditions and see each other and go, 'Oh! You're here! Oh, right! Of course you are!' We always had fun seeing each other. It was good to be proactive and audition because you learned how to land work on your own without a studio looking out for you. It felt like a smooth transition leaving Universal because it felt like I was growing up and out on my own. It worked out well for me. If the director said at an audition, 'That's really good, but I had sort of this in mind instead' and change an aspect of the script, you would be able to go, 'That's fine! Let me read it that way!' I found the whole process great. You could collaborate with the director because he knew what he wanted. Now, you go in front of a camera, and they do a video of you reading and they send it to the director and then that's it. They now look at it and go, 'Well, I like it' or 'I don't like it' and so you don't have that kind of conversation with the director during the audition anymore. That's too bad because I loved having a conversation with the director during the audition. I could ask questions and they would give you a little bit more insight and it was tremendously helpful for everybody."
After leaving Universal, Montgomery guest starred on numerous crime and medical dramas on television, including "The FBI," "Mannix," "Medical Center," "Barnaby Jones," and "The Streets of San Francisco." While her memories of the specific storylines and characters she played remain hazy all these years later, Montgomery recalls how, "Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. on 'The F.B.I.' was the nicest, most lovely man. I remember he always made it an enjoyable experience being on 'The F.B.I.' Mike Connors was the same way on 'Mannix.' He was another joy to work with. He had such a great sense of humor and was very giving and such a wonderful actor to work with. You know, when you had your scenes to do, he was right there acting out his part of the scene while you were doing your close-ups. Chad Everett on 'Medical Center' was another one I loved. Every time I came on that show, and I did that show a lot, I would cry my eyes out for at least half of the show because there was always something wrong with my characters, I had some disease or something. (laugh) We had a really good working relationship and I really liked him and I also liked the producer, Frank Glicksman. I adored working with him, and he really, really liked me and asked me back often, so we had a wonderful association. I don't remember a lot about the 'Barnaby Jones' that I did, except that Buddy Ebsen was this neat guy. I got to know Buddy much better when we did a TV movie years later called 'Stone Fox' (1987) which we shot up near Calgary. I had dinner with Buddy and his girlfriend every night after we finished filming for the day, he shared wonderful stories about being at MGM during the 1930s. He talked about Gable and Shirley Temple and losing the part of The Tin Man in 'The Wizard of Oz' because of the toxic paint they used for the make-up on him, which caused him to go to the hospital, where he nearly died because his skin couldn't breathe. They recast with Jack Haley and used better make-up and paint on him and the rest is history. All the stories that Buddy had--Oh my Gosh!--it was just a treat. He was in his 80s at the time but, boy, his mind was still as sharp as a tack. I also remember how Karl Malden, on 'The Streets of San Francisco' was such a sweetheart. So lovely and welcoming on the set. Michael Douglas was a fabulous young guy. Very mellow, because he was brought up in the business, so nothing was a big deal to him. One of the shows I did with them, I had to play a mute girl and it was driving me crazy. Michael said to me, 'So you thought it was going to be easy--just come up here, didn't have any lines, just sort of mumble and makes sounds, right?' And I said, 'Yeah, I was so wrong! I want to say something so badly, and I can't say anything!' and he said, 'I knew you'd say that!' (laugh) Years later, when I was on 'Man from Atlantis,' Michael Douglas was on the lot shooting 'Coma' (1978). Pat Duffy and I visited him in his dressing room. I remember he was kind of apprehensive because he was making the leap from television to films, but of course we all know now that he's done beautifully and he's surpassed even his father in many ways with his own accomplishments."
One of Montgomery's most notable appearances as a freelancer was her role in the TV movie "Women in Chains" (1972). Montgomery played a fragile young woman wrongly convicted of murder who is sent to a brutal women's prison. Montgomery has very positive memories of the cast on that film, "I love Barbara Luna. She's great. She's a very feisty lady who doesn't take nothing from nobody! I remember she used to call me a nickname, something like 'Muffin Cheeks' or something. What the Hell did she call me? I remember being so irritated by it, I wonder if she'd remember it, because I had this little round face and I was the innocent one in the story. It was really an apt nickname because I played the young one saying 'I really didn't kill anyone!' whatever it was I said! (laugh) Viewing her and listening to me, you would believe her, and of course I'm sure that my character was really a serial killer after all. (laugh) Lois Nettleton was a fabulous actress and beautiful woman and died way too young. I also loved working with Jessica Walter. Jessie is a wonderful actress and she's funnier than hell. She was very interesting to work with because she was very particular with what she wants and requires but I thought she was great to work with. Ida Lupino was also great. I loved her because Ida was such a strong woman and such a great actress. Of course, I just thought, 'God, this is a classic movie star!' and I was just thrilled to be there, working with her. I think my brother Lee worked with her on a TV movie called 'Female Artillery' (1973) and he loved her as well. I had such admiration for her being a trailblazing woman director because there weren't any other women directors at the time. So she was a total pioneer and I thought she was great. I remember an incident where the director, Bernard Kowalski, was filming a scene where we were all locked in and he wanted us to create this impressive and tense atmosphere. So all the doors were locked to help create the mood and suddenly there was a freak fire that started in one of the cells and they were trying to open the doors. People were totally panicking. I don't know how that fire started, and a number of the extras were really shaken by it. I still don't know what really happened that day on the set."
Montgomery next appeared as the title character in the TV movie "The Devil's Daughter" (1973), as an unsuspecting young woman who learns that she is the grown daughter of Satan himself. She tries to make a life for herself independent of the Satanic cult who is coercing her to submit to an arranged marriage with an emissary of the Devil. Montgomery gave a sympathetic and intelligent performance playing a young woman being manipulated from all sides. She recalls how, "It was sort of like 'Rosemary's Baby Grows Up,' right? I was very young so I accepted that part because I thought it would be a lot of fun to play. The people on it were all very memorable. Oh my gosh, Shelley Winters was a nightmare! I mean, she's a lovely woman, but she would just, I mean...Shelley was just high maintenance. The first day we had a big scene to do together, and I'm sitting on the couch with Shelley and the actor from 'Dark Shadows,' Jonathan Frid--who plays her manservant--is standing behind us while we're sitting on the couch. Shelley is trying to tell me something. And as she's telling me and she's going up on her lines, she's snapping her fingers [Montgomery snaps her fingers to demonstrate] she says to Jonathan [mimics Shelley Winters's diction] 'I...uh...how can I do this scene?...You didn't hand me the cigarette...You're supposed to hand me the cigarette!' And Jonathan says, 'Oh! Was I supposed to hand you a cigarette?' and Shelley insists, 'Well, yeah.' So then we did another take and she starts to cough [Montgomery starts mimicking Winters coughing] and so she had a choking fit. And then she had another take, and each take there was something where she blamed poor Jonathan or somebody who was walking in back of the camera for causing her to blow the take. I think we were into 10 or 11 takes and our French director, Jeannot Szwarc, was getting more and more tense. Where other directors might fidget or chainsmoke, Jeannot would change his berets every few minutes. He must have gone through 8 or 9. We were going over schedule and he didn't want any more overtime. Anyway, we were sitting on the couch and I just looked at Shelley and she went on and on so I just pretended to faint on the ground. You know, I feigned a faint! (laugh) And then sat back up on the couch and she started to laugh and I said, ‘Come on Shelley! Let's get on with it!' She started to laugh and then she finally did the scene properly! (laugh). I don't know if she was putting people on to create a feeling of tension on the set, but she was making everybody very uncomfortable. And, when I made her laugh, that's when we all relaxed and got the scene done."
Montgomery recalls having further challenging moments dealing with Shelley Winters during the making of "The Devil's Daughter," "We were shooting up in Monterey, a graveyard scene that was very emotional and I was getting myself ready for it. So we started to shoot, and then Shelley just went [imitates Winters again] 'Uh...uh...You're not really, you're not really gonna do it like that, are you?' And I went, 'Well, yeah.' And she said, 'Uh...you really need to investigate my face...You need to look at my face...Look at my eyes...Look at my nose, my mouth! I mean, look at my face!' I must have looked like a lunatic in that scene--as if I'm looking at a fly on her face or something—because my eyes were looking all over her face! (laugh) Up and down, from her forehead to her chin! You know, she was just doing that to set me off. And then when it came time for my closeup, she was standing off-camera saying her lines and looking at my forehead! So I very gently went up on my toes but she kept looking at the top of my head! Years later, having experienced enough stuff afterwards, I realized, 'Oh, she was just screwing with me!' But I really thought at the time, 'Oh my gosh! Maybe I should be a little taller, so I could make her feel more comfortable?' No, she was just looking at my forehead the whole time to mess with me, and then telling me how to investigate her face was just rubbish! She was high-maintenance in the classic sense of the word. It was hysterical!"
Even though Winters was a challenge to work with, Montgomery still enjoyed making "The Devil's Daughter" because of the opportunity to work with Joseph Cotten, "He was just a delight! I worked with him a couple of times, but this was the first time. He was just a tall, gentle gentleman. We talked and I asked him some questions about his career, but really, I should've been really grilling him about Orson Welles and 'Citizen Kane' and interviewing him and writing about it! You learn these things afterwards and realize, ‘What did I miss?' you know? Oh, Joseph Cotten was such a lovely man! And Robert Foxworth was just great!” "The Devil's Daughter" is notable for its memorably grim ending, where her character is unable to escape her fate and is trapped into marrying the emissary from the devil chosen by the Satanic cult. Montgomery recalls that the filming of the ending "was...what would I say?...it was very somber trying to shoot that ending and then getting up enough emotion at the end where you realize that your character is doomed. (laugh) I remember that ending scaring a lot of people. You know, that movie was written by Colin Higgins, who also wrote 'Harold and Maude' (1971). I used to see him on the set all the time and he signed a copy of the 'Harold and Maude' novelization for me. He was very unobtrusive when he came down to the set. You know, writers can sometimes make their opinions known and he just came down there and sat back and enjoyed everything."
Throughout the 1970s, Montgomery occasionally appeared in feature films including the hit "The Other Side of the Mountain" (1975), the bio-pic about the real-life paralyzed skier Jill Kinmont. Montgomery played a key supporting role as Kinmont's best friend Audra Jo. However, Montgomery acknowledges that she was originally up for the lead role in the film "and then Marilyn Hassett came along and she looked so much like the real Jill Kinmont that she got it and I looked so much like Audra Jo that it was uncanny. When the real Audra Jo and Jill Kinmont visited the set together, the resemblance between all of us was a little eerie. We shot it up in Mammoth and that was such a fun location to work at. It was like one big family and after finishing shooting at the end of the day we would all meet in the Great Room there at the hotel by the fire and have hot toddys and it was just a great shoot. Larry Peerce was our director. He was very funny and a total madman and was very, very tough on Marilyn. Marilyn was well cast in that role because, a few years before that, while shooting some commercial, an elephant actually stepped on her pelvis. She was in traction for six months or maybe even a year in the hospital. So Marilyn could really relate to that role with the scenes involving the hospital and being in traction. I remember it was very difficult for her to shoot that stuff because she was reminded of what she had gone through when she was younger. Dabney Coleman was such a wild man and fabulous actor. He hadn't come into his own yet because it was still a few years away from '9 to 5.' He was handsome and sarcastic and I really adored him. Bill Vint was also in it and he was a fabulous actor. Beau Bridges was lovely and just great. The thing about that film was a number of us didn't know how to ski, and we were supposed to be playing Olympic skiers, right? (laugh) So on the second day there, the ski instructor has us go up to the top of the mountain and then she instructed us to go down! And we went, 'What?!' and she says, 'Go down!' and she instructed us to snowplow--how do you call it?--to break. She would show us how to break if we got into trouble and we just about killed ourselves getting down the mountain--so much so, that a couple of us took off our skis and walked down the rest of the way or we were going to be dead! (laugh)" Montgomery reprised the role of Audra Jo in the sequel, "The Other Side of the Mountain, Part 2" (1978), three years later but acknowledges how, "The bloom was off the rose, so to speak, and it was fun to work on because we all loved getting back together, but it wasn't as good a film. They used so much footage from the first film that there wasn't anything new or exciting about the sequel, but we had a chance to see everybody and I'm glad we did it."
During this time, Montgomery returned to her native Canada to star in "Breaking Point" (1976), an action melodrama starring Bo Svenson as a murder witness who finds his family threatened after he agrees to testify against the mob. Montgomery played his sister in the film. Montgomery recalls how director Bob Clark was, "a great guy who was really laid back and a lot of fun to work with. I remember he was such a good director and Linda Sorenson, a wonderful Canadian actress who played Bo Svenson's wife, became one of my best friends. She's one of the funniest women I know. However, I found Bo to be very difficult to work with. I don't know what was going on with him at the time, perhaps he was believing his own publicity or something, but he wasn't the easiest person to work with on that film. I'll leave it at that."
Montgomery continued working on Canadian features when she starred in "Blackout" (1978), a gritty suspense action film about hoodlums terrorizing the residents of a Manhattan sky rise apartment building during the 1977 power outage that affected New York City. Montgomery played a gutsy resident of the apartment building who assists police officer Jim Mitchum in dealing with the crisis at hand. Montgomery recalls that, "It was a very violent story, but I loved filming it in Montreal. That's one of the reasons I accepted that role, because I thought it would be great working in that city and I had not spent much time there before. There was a lot of partying and festivities in old Montreal when we finished filming each night we would go to these nightclubs and dance until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. I'd be dead now if I tried to do that, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. (laugh) Working with Jim Mitchum was a little surreal because he looked so much like his father that it was frightening. If we had a day off we would go out and see the town together and while walking down the street people would look at us and go, 'Oh! It's Robert Mitchum!' and then they'd take another look because he looked so much younger than Robert Mitchum would have been by that time. During filming, I didn't have much of a chance to interact with Ray Milland, Jean-Pierre Aumont or June Allyson. I was too busy being tied to a bed, kidnapped and harassed by the hoodlums in that film. I only met Ray Milland at the wrap party at the end of the shoot, and that was exciting, but unfortunately I didn't get to work with him."
While working in feature films throughout the 1970s, Montgomery still continued appearing frequently on television and landed the female lead in the short-lived science fiction series, "The Man from Atlantis" that aired on NBC during the 1977-78 season. She played Dr. Elizabeth Merrill, a scientist with the Foundation for Oceanic Research, who teams up with a survivor of the lost civilization of Atlantis, named Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy), to explore the depths of the ocean. Montgomery was attracted to the series because "the script for the TV movie pilot was wonderful. I remember it was so well written that I wanted to be part of it. I remember going in and meeting with the producers, Herb Solow and his colleagues, and we just all sort of clicked. That same day they were auditioning people to play the title role. One of those people was Patrick Duffy, and they were already considering me for the female lead, so I did a little audition on film for them with Patrick. I remember Patrick saying, 'Oh yeah, she's Dr. Elizabeth Merrill' and I said, 'I love Patrick!' and it just worked well between us from the beginning. We had great fun together because we just clicked. So we loved doing the pilot, it was just great. Patrick was very skinny when we did the pilot, but when we shot the series he had really worked out and was buff and looked great. He didn't need any padding under the shirt because by that time he looked like he had been working out all of the time. He had really transformed himself into The Man from Atlantis. I remember he had to wear those horrible contact lenses for the role, which covered his eyes, and I think it gave him a bad eye infection for awhile. And, of course, everyday on the set our makeup artist would have to shave him because he couldn't have any hair on his body and that was only some of the uncomfortable things that he went through. I always said to Patrick, 'You paid your dues on that show, you totally paid for everything!' (laugh)"
Even though Montgomery enjoyed working with Patrick Duffy on "The Man from Atlantis," Montgomery candidly admits that she was not upset that the series only lasted for one season, "I was just really relieved when it ended. I loved the pilot, but the series didn't live up to it. It just became progressively silly and it didn't have to be that way. It's just that the writing wasn't the same because they didn't give the writers enough time and they put these silly shows together. When Patrick and I celebrated the DVD release of the series at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, and we discussed the series onstage with a crowd of people there, I reminded Pat, 'Do you remember that one show where I had to say, 'It's the mudworm and it's heading straight for us!'' (laugh) We couldn't get through that scene and we had to do it, like, eight times and the director was getting really ticked off at us, but it was getting really ridiculous after awhile. It was so silly! I remember the director of the pilot, Lee H. Katzin, who was a very good director, would call us up at night after he saw each episode and he would say, 'What the Hell are you doing with the show?! You ruined it! The writing is terrible! What silly things are you saying?!' And Patrick and I would tell him, 'I'm sorry! We don't have any control over that!' (laugh)"
After "Man from Atlantis," Montgomery continued starring in Canadian-made feature films with her appearance as an undercover police detective in the thriller, "Stone Cold Dead" (1980) starring Richard Crenna as a homicide detective investigates the serial killing of prostitutes who are being targeted by a ruthless sniper. Montgomery was involved with the film because "my best friend Linda Sorenson was in the film playing the prostitute and her then-significant other, George Mendeluk, was the writer/director of that film. They had spent a couple of years getting this off the ground and, when they put it together, they said to me, 'You have to be in this!' I said that I wanted to play the vice cop and they said, 'Oh, you don't want to play the vice cop!' They wanted me to play one of the other hookers who gets up on the stage and takes off her top. George would say, 'Come on! You've got those boobs! Let's show them!' and I went, 'No! I've gone this long, I'm not taking them out! I want to play the cop!' I loved working with Richard Crenna. Everybody had a mad crush on him because he was just the nicest guy and had a great sense of humor. We really were thankful that he did the part. George and Linda were thrilled that he played the lead. He was wonderful."
One of the unexpected plot twists of "Stone Cold Dead" involved Montgomery's character being killed by the sniper before the case is resolved. Montgomery recalls that the filming of the scene was awkward because, "They put the squibs on you to simulate the blood splattering when you get shot. It was outside by the side of the car in the middle of winter, and I remember it was freezing! I had never been so cold because I think we were filming beside the lake in Toronto. They shot this sequence and whoever was putting on this special effect did it wrong and put it on my skin, which you're not supposed to because you're supposed to put it on some sort of material inside your vest or something. So when they went 'Bang! Bang!' and these squibs went off and I'm supposed to fall down, I fell down and George Mendeluk comes over and says, 'OK, Belinda! That was great!' And I said, 'No, it wasn't! I really think I've been shot! My chest really hurts here!' That squib had gone off and really left a burn mark on me. Of course, the medics came over and took a look at it, but it was too late by then. It was not fun and it took several weeks to heal because it was red and raw looking."
In the 1980s, Montgomery continued developing a more mature persona playing confident, professional-type of characters in her film and TV appearances, a trend that started with "The Man from Atlantis." Notable among these roles was her appearance as a tough-as-nails fashion designer in the 2-part CBS TV movie "Bare Essence" (1982), a soap opera set in the fashion and perfume industry, which later led to a short-lived series of the same name. While Montgomery enjoyed her role, she acknowledges that the filming of "Bare Essence" turned out to be one of the most challenging situations of her career, "It was a bit of a silly movie. I called it 'Bare Asses' while working on it. (laugh) Everybody was in it: Linda Evans, Donna Mills, Lee Grant, and Bruce Boxleitner--a lot of very good actors. I particularly enjoyed working with Bruce again because we had such a great time filming 'How the West Was Won' years earlier. Bruce and I had a real brother-sister kind of rapport working on that one. Anyway, it was fun filming 'Bare Essence' in New York and I took my mom with me, so we had fun touring the city. The one thing that was not great was the director, Walter Grauman, who I had worked with before on 'Streets of San Francisco' and 'Barnaby Jones' and he was always very pleasant on those earlier occasions. Well, when we were talking about doing the 'Bare Essence' part back in L.A. before we started shooting, he said, 'We've got three blondes in this. We've got you and Linda Evans and Donna Mills.' And I said, 'Is that all right?' and he said, 'Oh yeah! That looks wonderful!' But when I arrived on the set in New York, he suddenly lit into me and said, 'What the hell, Belinda?! What's with the hair?!' And I said, 'What do you mean? You said you liked it.' He said, 'I didn't say I liked it! I said that we need you to have dark hair!' And I responded, 'Well, that's the first I've heard about it!' So the hairdressers in New York gave me dark red hair for the role, but he continued to be really nasty to me throughout that whole movie and I've never experienced that before or since in my entire career. Walter and I always got along great when we worked together before and so I didn't expect that kind of behavior from him. He was always a very nice man and very complimentary and a good director, and I don't know what happened to him on this show to make him behave that way. Even Linda Evans--who is a fabulous, great lady--noticed. She'd say to me, 'What is with him? Why is he picking on you like this?' I realized that he was basically blaming me for his mistake with the hair. In his defense, there were a lot of logistics and different locations and a huge number of stars involved with that film to coordinate, so it was probably a really challenging movie for him. That was probably the most difficult working relationship I ever had in my career. Even with all the idiosyncracies I've encountered with other actors or directors, most of them have basically been great."
During the 1980s, she continued guest-starring on numerous prime time television shows. As she recalls, "I did a lot of 'Simon & Simon' episodes because I had a great time working with Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker. I became known on that show as their 'non-regular' regular! (laugh) That's what they used to call me whenever I came on their show. Those guys were just the best, and Gerald McRaney used to remind me of the time when we were shooting 'How the West Was Won' years earlier where I played Florrie the outlaw with my own gang. I think it was early in his career and he said that when we finished shooting, I came down to the restaurant, and I was sitting at the bar with the director and I waved at him to come over and join us. He said that he appreciated me inviting him over. I don't remember doing that, but I said to him, 'That's good, because look at you now! I hope you'll always remember to ask me to sit at the bar with you!' (laugh) I also enjoyed working with William Shatner on 'T.J. Hooker.' I remember I had to ride a horse and I think it was one of his own show horses. We shot that in the equestrian park in Burbank and he was just so much fun and I think he liked working with me because I was a fellow Canuck. I just remember a lot of laughs working with him. Another person who was great was working with Angela Lansbury on 'Murder, She Wrote.' I adored her. She's just the wonderfullest. I played her niece in this episode and we filmed that at the Queen Mary. It was a great location and we had our dressing rooms in the cabins down below. One time, Angela and I and Leslie Nielsen were in the elevator with tourists coming up from where our dressing rooms were, and Leslie kept making these farting noises with this whoopee cushion that nobody could see. Leslie kept saying, 'Oh, pardon me!...Oh, goodness, excuse me!' And the tourists kept looking at each other thinking, 'This elevator's moving awfully slowly...when can we got out of here?' When we finally get out, Angela just looks at Leslie and says, 'I guess that's what comes of living alone!' (laugh)"
One of the notable examples of Montgomery's more mature and confident screen image during the 1980s was her performance as the dedicated and concerned psychiatrist on the trail of a serial killer unwittingly released from the asylum in the 3-D slasher horror film "Silent Madness" (1984). Despite its low budget, Montgomery rises above the material thanks to her thoughtful and sympathetic performance. She became involved with the film because, "The director, Simon Nuchtern, pursued me for the role and he sent me the script and said he would very much like me to do it. I had never done a horror film quite like that before, and he said they would be filming in New York. And so the reason I did that film is because it allowed me a chance to live like a New Yorker for a change. I thought that that would be fun. And the movie looked like it would be a lark so I thought, 'OK, well, I'm off!' Because it was shot in 3-D, I remember there were all sorts of complications with the cameras. Our cameraman, Gerald Feil, worked hard to get the camera and lighting right so that he could shoot it both plain and in 3-D. We filmed in an abandoned hospital in New Jersey for a lot of stuff where I'm running through the underground passages with hot pipes and steam all over the place. Nobody was there and we were shooting on the 8th floor and in the basement. When we were in the basement, it was like 100 degrees and everybody was dying from the heat. And there were a lot of scenes of me running around and fighting, so it was a difficult shoot."
Montgomery recalls that filming at the other major location for the film, which stood in for the sorority house where much of the mayhem takes place, also posed its own sets of challenges, "We shot the sorority house scenes in this mansion where wealthy, hippie kind of people were living. The place was painted bright green and orange. The house sort of gave you the creeps and my dressing room was like up the back stairs, because there were two stairways in the house. It was on the third floor attic. There were many rooms up there and you really didn't want to go up alone at night to change clothes because it was kind of eerie. This was a slasher film and Solly Marx, who was a South African stuntman, was killing all the cheerleaders in the film. He was a really nice guy, but very scary in the movie. So all of this stuff is going on during the making of the movie and we leave for the weekend. When we come back on Monday, we see that people are mopping up some blood on the property. Apparently there was a guy who lived in the guest house who committed suicide over the weekend. That really unsettled everybody. It was scary and a pall came over the set."
Montgomery recalls how one of her co-stars made the filming of "Silent Madness" even more challenging, "We had that Swedish actress, Viveca Lindfors, on the film. She was supposed to be the next Ingrid Bergman back in the 1940s. Well, she wasn't and I remember she was talking with all the actresses playing the sorority sisters, purportedly giving them advice on what to do with their careers. She was saying to them, 'Yes! Get out there and bare your breasts! Don't worry about anything! Just do it!' And I said, 'Really? You're going to tell them to bare their breasts for a little horror film? Girls, don't listen to her! That's the silliest thing I've ever heard!' Here I am, trying to keep them from years later having to say, 'Gee, I'm really sorry I did that!' I didn't like Viveca at all. The movie was not an easy experience, but I did have a great time living in New York during the filming of it and a couple of the crew members became good friends, so I'm glad I made that film."
After "Silent Madness," Montgomery started a recurring role on "Miami Vice" (1984-89) playing the role of Sonny Crockett's (Don Johnson) estranged ex-wife. Even though Montgomery appreciated the visibility that "Miami Vice" brought to her career, she readily acknowledges that "I wanted to play a vice cop on that show, any vice cop. I kept saying, 'Just pick me!' and they wouldn't. Anthony Yerkovich, who created 'Miami Vice' was just great but he said to me, 'You can't play that!' and I said, 'Why not? I do not want to play Don’s wife, soon to be an ex! Don has many exes, they're all exes!' and so he laughed and said, 'Well, we think you should play his wife.' And I said, 'Well, that's going to be the end of my character! I want to be a vice cop!' So they couldn't see it even when I sent them a copy of 'Stone Cold Dead' to convince them that I had played a vice cop before."
Even though Montgomery didn't get to play a vice cop, she still readily accepted the opportunity to be part of what proved to be an innovative, trend-setting show. As she recalls, "I ended up arriving in Florida to shoot the pilot and there's Don and he's really glad that I'm there. You know, he's such a ladies man and he's got such great 'it' energy. Whatever that energy is, boy, he's got it. Women just fall at his feet, they always have. So I'm there and we're on the first day's shoot and we've left the hotel. As we're coming back after that first day, we're getting reports that there are riots in the streets because there was a racial incident that had just taken place in the city and it was just terrible. To safely get back to the hotel Don and I hid, lying down, in the back of a van. Our director, Thomas Carter, who happens to be black, thought it would be the smart move for him to drive. So Don and I just look up and said, 'Oh my God! I'm so glad you're here!' And Thomas looked back and said, 'Well, I'm not glad you're here!' When we got back to the hotel, it had been chewed up and the trees and doors and glass had all been smashed. People had thrown things through the hotel doors and we all thought, 'Oh my God!' So we had been there during kind of a difficult time in the city's history. Even though I didn't love that character, I loved all the times I came back to appear on it because it was *the* show at the time. Everywhere I went, people asked, 'What is like working with Don?!' And it was easy to tell them that he was great to work with. He was a crazy guy and I always had a good time working with him. I'm very happy that I did 'Miami Vice.'"
In 1988, Montgomery landed another series as the female lead on NBC's "Aaron's Way." Montgomery starred with Merlin Olsen as a married Amish couple who move to California after learning their son has been killed and left behind a pregnant girlfriend. The series, which also starred Jessica Walter as the mother of the pregnant girlfriend, dramatized the adjustment that the family makes to their new environment. Montgomery remembers "Aaron's Way" as one of her favorite projects and recalls how "we shot the pilot in Adelaide, Australia. We were supposed to shoot in Napa, California but it was the wrong season and they wanted to have the grapes in the wine country in bloom and it wasn't grape season in Northern California at that time. I was very surprised about the location because all of a sudden they were telling us that they were flying all of us to Australia. Getting out there was an adventure because we left at 9:00 at night and several hours into the flight the pilot announced that there was mechanical trouble, one of the engines had frozen up, and that we would be landing in Hawaii. When we landed in Honolulu, the airport was closed and the flight attendants announced that we're supposed to stay on the plane while it's being fixed. After about an hour, I asked them for a status update and I found out that we would all be continuing on another flight to Australia that would be leaving at 1:00 in the afternoon. Because it was about 2:00 in the morning Hawaii time, I asked them what they planned to do about accommodations for the passengers because there were families and children on board. The flight attendant said, 'Well everybody can just stay here' and I said, 'Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Taxi us to the terminal and let us out!' I made them open the doors and we all got on the payphones and I was looking for hotels that could put us all up for the night. I ended up getting rooms for everybody except myself. (laugh) I found myself taking off in a cab with actor Richard Tyson and his brother, going up and down Waikiki Beach in the middle of the night looking for a hotel room. We stopped at one hotel and I went up to the desk and I said, 'Hi, we need a room, any room, for the night.' And the desk clerk asked, 'Aren't you Belinda Montgomery?' And I responded, 'Yes...does that make a difference?' (laugh) He had one room left on the 15th floor and so we took it. There was only one queen sized bed in the room, so Richard's brother combined two chairs out on the patio and creates a bed for himself. I'm too tired to worry about propriety so I joked to Richard, 'Just imagine an imaginary line down the middle of the bed. I'll sleep on this side, and you can sleep on that side.' So we basically go to bed fully dressed and then Richard turns over and jokes, 'I can't go to sleep...I need a bedtime story!' (laugh) They were both perfect gentleman, but I don't think any of us got any sleep that night because it was such an odd living situation we were in. In the morning, I called NBC and the producers and told them the weather was great in Waikiki. They nearly had a fit when they learned what happened to us and they made sure we got another flight to Australia that afternoon, and were on our way. Sometimes, strange things happen when you're working on a TV show."
Once Montgomery started filming the series, she found herself enjoying "Aaron's Way" immensely, "Shooting the pilot in Australia was wonderful. I remember the entire Australian crew was so handsome, they could have all been movie stars. (laugh) During lunch, Merlin and I would sit at a table eating our meals and the crew would kid around with us. One of the assistant cameramen joked, 'You Yanks! You're really a riot! For every glass of wine you have, we have a bottle!' And I joked back to them, 'I noticed!' (laugh) Lunchtime would last for 2 hours and then we'd resume shooting, so it was a very laid-back environment. We had such a wonderful time shooting there. One night, Merlin, who was such a gentleman, went out to dinner with me and Jessie Walter and two Aussie guys came up and tapped Merlin on the shoulder and said, 'You think you're so smart, don't you, you Yanks! Just because you were a big football player! You just think you're the kingpin don't you?' Merlin just looked at them and he said, 'Gentlemen, I'm with these ladies and we're having dinner. I think you've probably had too much to drink.' They still challenged him and said they could take Merlin on. So he stands up and he gets each of them by the scruff of the neck with each hand and picks them up off the ground and sits them down on nearby stools and says 'There. Be good.' And then he rejoins me and Jessie and those guys didn't say 'Boo!' after that. (laugh)"
After NBC picked up the series, Montgomery recalls, "We shot the rest of the series on the old MGM lot in Culver City. Working on 'Aaron's Way' was the most wonderful experience. I loved that experience more than any other project in my career. My character was quite prim and I remember when I went in to audition for that part at NBC, just as I was about to go in and meet with the producers, I saw a framed portrait of Don Johnson on the wall in front of me and I just felt it gave me good luck. I just winked at him and I said, 'Well, here goes, Don! I'm going from playing your wife to an Amish woman!' During the audition, I did a scene that I just loved where I'm telling my son Frank about life and my son is saying, because the family has just moved to San Francisco, 'But, mother, the other women here don't look like you at all! They've got all their soft parts!' and I said, 'Well, that's wonderful, Frank!' So anyway we did this scene in the audition and I felt like I was channeling my grandmother, my father's mother, and a year later the producer Bill Blinn told me ‘You know you got the part as soon as you walked out the door. We cancelled everybody else after we saw you' and I said, "I wish I had known that! It's nice for a girl's ego to hear that about an audition!' (laugh)"
Despite her enthusiasm for the series, "Aaron's Way" lasted only one season. Montgomery candidly admits that, "I was sorry that we only lasted one season because Brandon Tartikoff wanted to get rid of all the family shows on NBC. He thought family shows were a thing of the past and that was unfortunate. Deidre Hall was filming her own series 'Our House' on the stage next door to us and we would have lunch together and she was dismayed that Tartikoff had cancelled her series as well because we both loved our individual shows. I loved shooting that, I loved working with Merlin, I loved working with Jessie Walter again. Samantha Mathis got her start on that series and she was already a gifted actress. Bill Blinn and Jerry Thorpe were wonderful producers. We were a great family and I wish it could have lasted longer."
Soon after "Aaron's Way's" cancellation, Montgomery landed another series, one that would end up becoming her most well-known role. Montgomery starred as the concerned, compassionate mother of the title character in the Steven Bochco/David E. Kelley comedy-drama "Doogie Howser, M.D." (1989-93). Neil Patrick Harris starred as Doogie Howser, with James B. Sikking also starring as his father. Montgomery has very fond memories of working on this series and recalls that she landed the role because, "I went in to audition, as did a lot of my friends. And I remember that, right before the audition, I had just decided to cut my hair very short and I let it go curly. I had been a redhead for awhile in 'Aaron's Way,' and so I went back to blonde. So I went in and read and I got it. In the first year, Neil looked like he really could be my son. It was perfect casting and I think changing my hairstyle back to blonde helped me. I loved my husband and son on the show. Jim Sikking was cast by Steven Bochco because they had worked together on 'Hill Street Blues' and he was marvelous. He had a sardonic way about him and a great, wry sense of humor. Very droll and a wonderful actor. And I loved working with Lawrence Pressman. Larry's just this big sweetheart. I've known Larry forever, since the time we did 'Man from Atlantis' together. And Neil was adorable. He was this great kid. I helped him buy his first house. I guess he was 18 years old at the time, and my then-husband and I went out with him to look at houses. All during my acting career, I had bought and flipped and sold a lot of houses. I was like a 'house addict.' My mother used to say, 'Belinda never saw a house she didn't like and that she couldn't re-do!' So I used to stage houses and put things together and sell houses myself because I loved it. There was no HGTV at the time, I did it all on my own, it was like being an art director or production designer and creating a set. Neil grew up in the business and he has gone on to become this big star. I always expected him to become a director, and he may end up doing that anyway. He's such a showman. He's not shy at all, what can I tell you? He's very, very confident. And we had a great reunion when we did the red carpet together at the Laguna Art Festival where we were both guests and he was emcee of the Pageant of the Masters. He's just a great guy. We last spoke when he was in Santa Barbara and I had an art show up there."
Montgomery also recalls how she deeply enjoyed working with "Doogie Howser" producer Steven Bochco due to his great professionalism and kindness, "I remember Steven saying to me, 'Belinda, this show is going to go for five years. It's going to be a really good show, there's going to be really great writing. You're going to enjoy yourself. Do you want to be on board?' I said, 'Are you kidding?!' He was just the best producer to work for. He was a giant at the time and was a dream producer. My then-husband had been diagnosed with colon cancer at that time and he was being treated at Cedars Sinai hospital. When they operated on him, they found that the cancer had spread and eaten up three quarters of his liver. So I slept at Cedars and I would go to work from the hospital. Steven had heard about this and he called me and said, 'Belinda, I know that your husband is really sick. I just want you to know that I have a jet that is ready and able at any moment to fly you anywhere in the world if you think there's a specialist out there who can help him.' It was one of the nicest and most thoughtful offers anyone's ever given me. It really made me feel like the people I worked for cared about what was happening in my life. I just love Steven, he's a wonderful man. David E. Kelley wasn't around as much as Steven was on that show, but he was also a really great and talented guy to work for. They gathered a wonderful crew for that show. I had worked with the cinematographer, Michael O'Shea, many times through the years on many different shows, so it was a very comfortable work environment. I was really privileged to have worked with everybody on that show. It was a great experience."
While Montgomery enjoyed working on "Doogie Howser, M.D.," she acknowledges there were times she wished she had more to do on the series, "I liked my character very much and they were always trying to think of ways to bring her out there to give her more to do on the series. We talked that maybe she was a potter or she would do this or that. They were having me come over to do more things at the hospital, which was good because otherwise I never saw any of those people in that part of the series, and they didn't see me, because my character's scenes were often at the house. I wanted to break out of the 'mom' thing on the series because you can get caught in that 'mom' mode and get typecast. The irony is that I've had millions of kids on-screen, but I don't have any of my own, though I do have a stepson who is wonderful. I just rented other people's children on these shows. (laugh)"
Despite Bochco's promise that "Doogie Howser, M.D." would last for five years, the show was abruptly cancelled in 1993 at the end of its fourth season. Montgomery recalls that, "It only went for four years, unfortunately. For whatever reason, ABC decided to cancel the show. They pulled the plug on us having a fifth season, even though we had good ratings. That was a disappointment, but we still had a great run. I'm just thrilled we were all together. And, of course, my son went on to complete anonymity. (laugh)" After "Doogie Howser" was cancelled, Montgomery continued working as an actress throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, but slowly started moving away from the business to focus on other aspects of her life. Montgomery explains that, "After 'Doogie Howser' ended, I was running around and acting and doing things for several more years. I shot a couple of more shows after that, but then my parents started having health problems and I was very busy taking care of them. I just couldn't concentrate on acting anymore. My mother needed a lot of help because she had a lot of physical issues and heart problems. I wanted to be available to help them. Many mornings, the phone would ring and I would come out of a dead sleep and learn that something had happened and I would rush over to their home to help them. It was very exhausting. I moved my parents next door. After my mother passed away in 2005, my father lived for another 10 years and I would take him out for his walk and prepare his meals. My father had his own health issues. He also had a balance problem where he would fall and break his hip or his femur or his wrist. That was tough to witness because my dad was this big, strong guy. It's hard to wrap your head around the idea that your parents are not strong anymore. I just didn't have time to focus on my acting career because I was too tired."
After Montgomery's mother passed away, she decided to focus her attention working on her painting and art rather than on her acting career. Throughout her life and career, Montgomery always painted and recalls how "my mother had always said, 'I think you'll go back to one of your first loves,' which was art. And I did. After my mother died, I decided that I needed to go to art school, rather than continue to act, so I went to college out here in the Valley. The primary thing they taught me was to set a deadline for myself in order to bring things to fruition and doing research on the subjects I would paint. That training and discipline has stayed with me and it was a very good lesson. Instead of just talking about a deadline for working on my paintings, you had real deadlines and you had to produce. That allowed me to go off on my own to work on my paintings, and I've been doing a lot of that for the past several years."
Even while she was focusing on taking care of her elderly father, and on her education and art work, Montgomery still found time to appear as Jeff Bridge's mother in "TRON: Legacy" (2010). Montgomery recalls that her participation in that film, "Came out of the blue. They just asked me if I would come up to Canada and play this small part. I think I was cast because I'm Canadian. So I said, 'OK.' I didn't think anybody would even notice me in it. The irony is that more people have come up to me saying, 'I saw you in that!' and I thought, 'Really? You blink and I’m gone.' But I had a lot of fun on that film. Even though it was a small part, we were up there for several weeks. We went up and then they wanted us back to reshoot something and we were like, 'Great!' I went up with my husband Jeff and our dog Lily and we stayed at a great hotel and it was like a great working vacation. Donnelly Rhodes played my husband and I had worked with him before. He's a terrific guy and a big star up in Canada. I also loved working on 'TRON: Legacy' because I was reunited with Bruce Boxleitner on location. It was great to see him again, and I remember my husband and I went out to dinner in Vancouver with Bruce and my friend Linda Sorenson, who lives there now. And, of course, Jeff Bridges played my son and, when I saw him on the set, he was getting ready and I was getting ready, and I said, 'Hello, son' and he said, 'Mom!' and he gave me a big hug! People ask me, 'How could you have played Jeff Bridges' mother in that movie?' and I always have to remind them that it was a time-lapse thing in the storyline, of course, because Jeff and I are almost the same age!' (laugh)"
When asked what she considers the best work of her acting career, Montgomery remains proud of "'Aaron's Way.' I just loved that character and working with Merlin Olson. I also loved this TV movie 'Casey's Gift: For the Love of a Child'" (1990) where I played a grieving mother. And I also loved the TV movie 'Bare Essence' (1982), because I played such a b-tch in it. You know, I enjoyed each of the things I appeared in for various reasons. I was very lucky as an actress and I'm proud of my work. I still have an agent and I'd be up to return to acting if a good part comes up. And I'm continuing to work as a painter. I have a commission that I'm working on right now. And, as I mentioned, I'm still buying houses because that's another one of my passions. My husband Jeff and I recently bought some houses back East that we redid and we're renting them out, and so that's another project that I've been busy with. Back when I was shooting 'Aaron's Way,' in between shooting that show I'd continue to go back to Florida to work on 'Miami Vice' whenever they needed me to come and give Don Johnson hell for being a bad husband and father. It was such a juxtaposition to go from wearing an Amish outfit, to working on this really cool show. And, in between all of that, I was working on two houses I had bought and my agent called and said, 'Belinda, this director wants to see you tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.!' And I'd tell him, 'There's no way! I've got a plumber coming tomorrow!' My agent would say, 'You've got to get it straight! What's more important?!' And I'd say, 'Well, tomorrow, the plumber!' I've always had pulls and tugs in my life and career, so I'm not an actress that will do anything for her art. I mean, I took it very seriously and I'll work whenever I can, but I've got to get there from here! (laugh) I think having other things in my life is why I did as well as I did as an actress. I didn't have to sacrifice my life for my career."
As she reflects on her life and acting career, Montgomery candidly opines, "I really fell into my career because my dad was an actor. As I mentioned before, if I hadn't been actress, I would've been an artist and pursued that full time, because that was actually my passion. I was extraordinarily lucky when the acting took off, and Universal approached me for a contract that brought me down to L.A. Things always came to me. I don't know if that was good or bad, but it meant I was more relaxed about things because I knew something would be just around the corner. Even when I was auditioning during the 1970s and the 1980s, I was really fortunate. I think, because I was kind of a 'people person,' when I would go on auditions, I would chat with the director and really get a feeling about what they wanted and a lot of times be able to accomplish that. I approached things with a steady vision, and I never went off on a tangent because I saw it as a job. I never took it for granted because I knew I was a very fortunate girl to have this opportunity. I have had a wonderful life and was able to earn a good living and have a comfortable lifestyle. I’m appreciative of how my career opened up opportunities for both me and my entire family to create lives for ourselves in the United States. Even though I love my roots in Canada, England and Ireland, I love America. I think America is still the best country in the world, and anybody that wants to denounce it, they've got to go through me! (laugh) I've always been thankful that people still remember me now if I meet them at events, or if I'm shopping in the supermarket. But, now that I'm this older woman and people still care enough to write to me, or say hello to me, it reminds me to be even more appreciative and humble about this business. I think that came from my dad, who was always very appreciative of being an actor in Canada. He would always say, 'Do you know how lucky you are, that we're in this great business? How fortunate we are to be in the midst of all this?' My career provided a whole lifetime of experiences…By playing so many characters in such different circumstances, places and times, I got to inhabit other lifetimes. So, yes, I know how lucky I am."