This week local Village of Hamburg resident Ed Beck returns to share space in my column with another interesting story on another noted Hamburg resident who made a name for herself in the entertainment field. Of course, if you remember the hit television program, Gunsmoke, you will be forgiven for showing your age; but then reruns of the popular 1960s show are still shown on local TV.
It was one of my favorite shows during the decade when television was much simpler. Certainly by today’s standards it would probably be considered “corny.” However, I must admit I am one from the older generations who still is entertained by Miss Kitty and Sheriff Matt Dillon in the program’s local television reruns.
Beverly Louise Neill, later known as Amanda Blake, came to live on East Eden Road in Hamburg with her family when she was 10.
Buffalo-born Beverly Louise Neill was one of only two cast members on the hit television series “Gunsmoke” who was entitled to call Marshal Dillon by his first name “Matt.”
With her stage name and red hair, the beautiful Amanda Blake, a one-time Hamburg girl, surely set a record with 568 episode playing the same character each week for 19 years. As Miss Kitty Russell, the owner of the Long Branch Saloon, Miss Kitty’s personal problems and business woes would always be embedded in the popular TV series. And naturally, her difficulties would become shared by her romantic interest, the U.S. Marshall, Matt Dillon.
As fans of Gunsmoke, we knew that if Miss Kitty happened to be absent from an episode, Amanda Blake must have been either on vacation or sick, which meant the episode lacked some of its usual sparkle. The interplay between Matt Dillon and Kitty not only added to the show’s appeal, but created most of its appeal.
The real Beverly Louise Neill spent her junior high school years in Hamburg and was a member of the Class of 1946.
The daughter of Jesse and Louise Neill, both natives of Alabama, they resided in Kenmore for several years and then moved south to Hamburg, at the end of their daughter’s elementary years.
Her father, a successful banker who was a vice president at a downtown bank, along her mother, encouraged their daughter to follow her passion: acting.
She attended the former Studio (Arena) Theatre School and studied with the late Jane Keeler, a prominent mover-and-shaker in the local arts scene. Years later, while still starring in Gunsmoke, Beverly returned to Buffalo, especially to visit the aging Keeler.
American television’s Amanda Blake was in real-life, Beverly Louise Neill from Hamburg, a member of the Class of 1946.
After leaving Gunsmoke in 1974, Beverly made a few TV appearances. During a daytime show interview, she confessed that the time had come to be herself, rather than Dodge City’s foremost “madam,” conceding the more truthful occupation of Miss Kitty publicly for the first time. Up until then, Kitty Russell was usually referred to as a “saloon proprietor’ or just as a successful “business woman.”
In those more innocent days of television, of course, running a saloon with “dance girls” was edgy enough for prime time portrayal, an acceptable, slightly sanitized picture of the Old West and of its man-catered culture.
Over the next 15 years, Beverly Neill was to direct her life toward another passion, the welfare of wild animals. As an early advocate and (later on, a huge) financial supporter of PAWS (the Performing Animal Welfare Society) Blake had prohibited the use of animal furs on the set of Gunsmoke.
Given that special spirit and her residual celebrity, she was eventually memorialized in 1997, some eight years after her death, with the establishment of the Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge, located in Herald, Calif.
During the years at her home near Phoenix, she and other like-minded advocated formed the Arizona Animal Welfare League, which today remains the oldest and largest “no-kill” animal shelter in Arizona.
Freed from her professional role as Amanda Blake-the actress, Neill made several trips to Africa, where she fell in love with the wild beauty of the Maasai Mara Reserve.
Her final years found Neil at home, living in the PAWS sanctuary in Galt, Calif., so that she could be close to the animals that she so adored.
Beverly Louise Neill/Amanda Blake, died in 1989, at the age of 60, from HIV related ailments.
She had been married four time, never had children and left her sizable estate to provide for animal advocacy.This week’s story was written by Ed Beck.
Photo– courtesy Patricia Long Stark.
Reference - Internet Encyclopedia.
Anyone wanting to submit photographs and/or materials can call the Town Historian Jim Baker at the Hamburg Town Hall on either Wednesday or Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at 649-6111 ext. 2400.
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