No western is complete without a saloon. And for every saloon, there needs to be a memorable saloon owner. That’s where so many events take place, so the owner of the establishment should have a commanding presence too. Amanda Blake filled that role perfectly as Miss Kitty, who always had sass to throw at those around her on the show Gunsmoke.
Fans adored Miss Kitty Russell and all Blake brought to the table as her. But what happened to Blake outside of Gunsmoke? The show certainly kept her busy; she spent almost two decades as the saloon proprietress. But outside of that, her life was one of rocky marriages and successful animal welfare programs. Catch up with everyone’s favorite sassy redhead, the actress behind Miss Kitty: Amanda Blake.
Amanda Blake had her eyes on the prize early on
It might feel like Amanda Blake (born Beverly Louise Neill) was destined for fame in the western genre. Her first big credits included Stars in My Crown (1950) and Cattle Town (1952). Her first big lead in a movie came with Miss Robin Crusoe in 1954; most of the time, though, she stuck to TV appearances. Finally, in 1955, she ended up on Gunsmoke, to great reception from fans. And after her long run, she wasn’t fully done yet, coming back for Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987). There, she reprised her role as Kitty Russell for the TV movie and appeared in flashbacks to the original series.
Her work on Gunsmoke and various other westerns earned Amanda Blake great respect in the genre. By 1968, she became inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers through the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. She was only the third performer at the time to be inducted, following in the footsteps of Tom Mix and Gary Cooper.
Blake faced personal success and hurdles
Amanda Blake’s personal life was a bit more turbulent, with a lot to mourn and celebrate. She divorced three times, staying with fourth husband Mark Spaeth until his death in 1985. But, while with her third husband, Frank Gilbert, she successfully worked as an animal welfare advocate. In 1971, she worked with others to establish what would become Arizona’s biggest and oldest no-kill animal shelter: Arizona Animal Welfare League. She also helped fund the Performing Animal Welfare Society.
Unfortunately, for all her focus on animal welfare, Amanda Blake made personal health choices that damaged her body. She would frequently smoke cigarettes. 1977 saw Blake requiring oral surgery. But even through this, Blake focused her attention on giving. She threw support at the American Cancer Society and eventually received the group’s yearly Courage Award, presented by President Reagan himself. When Blake passed at the age of 60 on August 16, 1989, the cause of death was murky. Media claimed her doctors attributed her death to AIDS. Meanwhile, those who knew her insisted that – if she did have AIDS – it would have been through an ex, not through any particular lifestyle choices. Ultimately, her death certificate decrees it as “Cardio-pulmonary arrest due to liver failure and CMV Hepatitis.”