Today we're talking with Beckey Burgoyne, author of Perfectly Amanda, Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty: To Dodge and Beyond.
FQ: When did your fascination with Amanda Blake begin? Would you say she's your favorite actress?
My first recollection is still quite vivid because it was the night that the episode "The Badge" aired - February 2, 1970. I was taken with her feisty strength, regal beauty, and of course Kitty's mysterious relationship with Marshal Dillon. Shortly into that episode Miss Kitty left Dodge for she was no longer willing to watch Matt Dillon get shot again. As the commercial came on I turned to my mother and asked, "Is she going off the show?" My mother replied, "Don't worry, she'll be back. It wouldn't be Gunsmoke without her." From that night on I became an avid fan of first Miss Kitty and then of course, the marvelous actress that brought her to life, Amanda Blake.
Yes, she is my favorite actress and through my research for the book discovered that although Gunsmoke made her a household word and provided an incredible 'family' for nearly twenty years, Amanda's talents were not always showcased to the extent that theater or headlining an "A" movie could have done. Bill Swan has explained on numerous occasions that Amanda's beauty and talent in the early years far exceeded Liz Taylor's but as in most things in life, one has to be at the right place at the right time and know the right person. Bill Swan would know as he, too, has lived the life of a working actor for nearly 60 years now.
FQ: You mentioned an interest in writing a bio of Ms. Blake many years ago, but found that somebody else was supposedly working on one so you held off. What were your thoughts when you learned that project never got going and you could write your biography?
When I first learned that someone else, actually two separate authors were going to pen her biography I was quite relieved. I was a young mother just beginning a teaching career living in the Midwest with no such thing as the Internet. I waited and asked for those books for years and Amazon came to be often searched for anything about Amanda Blake. The dream never left totally but simply waited for all the pieces to come together. As I would teach my fifth graders writing lessons I would often mention that there was this book that I was going to write someday.
When I made the decision to give it a try with a miraculous reconnection with Marina Ross, Amanda's Personal Manager, I must admit that I felt a bit frightened. What if I found out horrible things about the actress I had admired for so many years? That concern was legitimate in the world of celebrity but unfounded in this case. Amanda Blake did have a tumultuous life but a very real and wonderful adventure. She was never afraid to admit a wrong or change her ways; such as giving up fur coats. I admire her tenacity and never ending grace with others - both human and furry creatures.
FQ: I loved the story of Ms. Blake overcoming her fear of horses. What is your favorite story about Ms. Blake?
There are so many I would hate to choose but if I must it would probably have to be her first "official" date with Bill Swan and segue to her last conversation to Bill. I can just imagine her horror at disarming Bill so dreadfully and then the bitter sweetness of her final words that still remain fresh in Bill's mind all these years hence. Although those two never married I strongly feel those bonds were never truly severed. Bill was an enormous help to me in writing Amanda's story. He knew her before Hollywood, during Hollywood, and after Hollywood. He knew Amanda Blake. In fact when speaking with Bill just this past week he gave me a precious compliment when he exclaimed that the book really captured the personality of Amanda Blake - she was there. That was my goal from the onset. Bill Swan is a darling!
Her other close friends were also quite instrumental in completing the picture of Amanda. She lived so in the moment and in many circles of friends that her conversations/memories were centered within the present. Therefore those from her animal world activities knew little of Gunsmoke and those from Gunsmoke knew little of her animal world activities - except when she would bring her lion on the set! That part of Amanda's character made fitting the pieces together a bit more difficult.
FQ: There's a lot of information in your book! How did you go about researching Ms. Blake? Were there some time periods that were difficult to get information on?
I began my research with Marina Ross giving me the name of Blanche Davis (Jim Davis' widow) and Steve Stevens. Blanche was an old friend of Amanda's but served closely as her Personal Manager during the late eighties. Steve Stevens was Amanda's agent. My husband and I flew to Los Angeles to attend a Celebrity Showcase in Burbank to meet Steve in the fall of 2007 and at that time he gave me his blessing and kick in the pants to get going because, "It's about time her story was told!" Marina arranged for us to meet Blanche at her home and we developed such a wonderful relationship that we flew out to her 90th birthday party in 2008. From there the connections/doors opened one at a time and yes, sometimes there were rejections. Hindsight tells me those interviews were not meant to be and that the book is complete as it is written. Also, there were three collectors (Amanda fans) that helped me with articles from her career and served as marvelous sounding boards. The Internet was a fabulous source to find people including her relatives and some of her friends. Ben Costello and Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas offered their Gunsmoke books as references as well as giving much needed advice. Sooo all that said, it took a village - to borrow a cliche - to write this book.
The time periods that were difficult to research were of course her pre-Gunsmoke days and in the eighties when her Gunsmoke fame wained for a time. That's where her friends helped out tremendously.
FQ: I was struck by how many people simply gushed over Ms. Blake and how wonderful she was. After reading so much/talking to so many about her, how would you describe Amanda Blake?
There are a couple of phrases that jump to mind. One is Paul Savage and Roger Caras' separate statements that she was the last of the great broads. Another would be the mention of her heart of gold. Personally, I would sum up Amanda Blake as a marvelous human being that simply loved life to the fullest and made sure those in her presence loved it as well.
To learn more about Perfectly Amanda, Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty: To Dodge and Beyond please visit our website and read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.