Miss Kitty: Amanda Blake’s Cheetahs

Born in Buffalo New York on 20th February 1929, Beverly Louise Neill was a descendent of Kate Berry, the celebrated American Revolutionary War heroine, who warned the Continental Army that the British were approaching shortly before the Battle of Cowpens in 1871. Relocating to California with her parents, she started a course at Pomona College, but decided to quit a year later to pursue a career as an actress after becoming involved with a local community theatre.

At the age of 20, having changed her name to Amanda Blake and touted as ‘the young Greer Garson,’ she won her first movie role in Stars in My Crown (1950) a drama about a Civil War Veteran’s who becomes the gospel minister of Walesburg, a lawless town where he struggles to gain acceptance. In 1950, she also featured in Duchess of Idaho with Esther Williams and Lena Horne, as well as the film noir Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard. A string of minor film and television appearances ensued in productions such as Scarlet Angel (1952), Sabre Jet (1953), A Star is Born (1954), The Glass Slipper (1955) and High Society (1955). It seemed that in spite of her feline beauty and seductive husky voice, Blake was never to be a major leading lady or a huge Hollywood star.

Above: Gunsmoke – Miss Kitty Season 7 Episode 3 (1961)

In 1955, she accepted a part on a new television series called Gunsmoke. Originally a radio programme, set in Dodge City, Kansas during the 1870s, Blake was cast as Miss Kitty Russell, the feisty dancer and later, the proprietor, of the Long Branch Saloon. She would appear on small screens across America as Miss Kitty for nineteen seasons until she asked to be written out in 1974, remarking that, ‘nineteen years is a hell of long time for someone to be stuck behind a bar.’ The show ran for one more season after Blake’s departure, with the final episode airing on 31st March 1975. Continue reading

Star 80: The Stellar Dorothy Stratten

It was around 11 p.m. on the evening of 14th August 1980 and Dr Stephen Cushner was growingly increasingly concerned. The private investigator hired by Paul Snider, the friend with whom he shared an apartment, had rung to say that Snider’s phone was not being answered. Knowing that Snider was home, Cushner broke down the door; the scene that greeted him was one of unimaginable horror. Lying naked and bloodied were the bodies of Snider and his estranged wife, the stunning model and Playboy playmate, Dorothy Stratten.

Only 20 years-old at the time of her death, she was born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten in Vancouver on 28th February 1960; her parents had emigrated to Canada from the Netherlands and had two other children, John who was a year younger than Dorothy, and Louise who arrived in 1968.

Whilst working at a local branch of the fast-food restaurant Dairy Queen, at the age of 17, Dorothy caught the eye of Snider, a club-promoter, pimp, drug-dealer all round shady character, who was nine years her senior. Noting her statuesque height and curvaceous figure, which provided a striking contrast to her angelic face, Snider saw the young woman as his path to fame and fortune, apparently telling a friend ‘That girl could make me a lot of money.’ Continue reading

Heavenly Blues: The Soul of King Curtis

Curtis Montgomery was born in Fort Worth, Texas on 7th February 1934. Along with his sister Josephine, he was adopted by William and Josie Ousley, taking their family name. Experiencing a comfortable and stable childhood in the affluent Texan city of Mansfield, his parents encouraged their son when he began learning to play the saxophone at the age of 12, in the hope of emulating his idols Lester Young and Louis Jordan.

As a member of his high school band, it became obvious to all who heard him, that Ousley’s talent was something special. Rejecting the numerous college scholarships he was offered, Ousley instead joined the Lionel Hampton Band. A renowned musician and bandleader, Hampton had been involved with some of the most respected names in the industry, such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker.

Ousley moved to New York, the home of the American Jazz scene in 1952. He found work as a session musician, and recorded with artists like Nat Adderley, Andy Williams, Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and The Coasters, contributing to their 1958 hit, Yakety Yak. For the next decade, having taken the moniker King Curtis, he continued to work with major stars, as well as making an impressive number of his own recordings after signing with Capitol Records; notable albums from that period were Have Tenor Sax, Will Blow (1959), The New Scene of King Curtis (1960), Trouble In Mind (1962) and Soul Serenade (1964).

Above: King Curtis – Soul Serenade (1964)

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Diamond Geezer: George Cole’s Lobster

Born in Tooting on 22nd April 2015 and adopted at ten days old, George Cole spent his childhood in Morden, his earliest memory being his mother’s ire when she discovered he had sold a pair of new shoes to a rag-and-bone man in exchange for a toy windmill. Whilst he excelled academically, Cole first love was acting, and as he later remembered, ‘I was always in plays at school and in school concerts – you could say I liked to show off.’

After leaving school at the age of 14, he worked first as a butcher’s delivery boy and dreamt of joining the Merchant Navy, a dream that was hastily abandoned when he landed a role in the musical comedy The White Horse Inn and then Cottage to Let, which was turned in to a film in 1941, starring Alastair Sim and John Mills. Sim and his wife offered Cole and his mother lodgings and Cole was to live with them until he married the actress Eileen Moore in 1954.

Between 1941 and 1947, Cole would appear with Sim in eight films, most notably The Belle’s of St. Trinian’s and Blue Murder at St. Trinian’s in which Cole played Flash Harry, a spiv who encouraged the girls to get up to all sorts of mischief, and Sim their indulgent headmistress, Miss Fritton. Oher significant roles included the part of ‘the Boy’ in Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and Curley, a member of the Lancaster Crew in the 1945 war film Journey Together, with Richard Attenborough and Jack Watling. The latter enabled Cole to draw upon his own experiences as an R.A.F. radio operator from 1944 to 1947. Continue reading