Amanda Blake (February 20, 1929 – August 16, 1989) was an American actress best known for the role of the red-haired saloon proprietress “Miss Kitty Russell” on the television western Gunsmoke.
Amanda Blake was born in Buffalo, New York, the only child of Jesse and Louise (née Puckett) Neill. Her father was a banker, and she was atelephone operator before taking up acting. Catherine ″Kate” Moore Barry (1752-1823), one of her ancestors, was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War. She warned local Patriots of Banastre Tarleton‘s approach, giving them time to group and prepare for the Battle of Cowpens(January 17, 1781), a major American victory which helped pave the way for the British defeat at Yorktown. Blake placed a cameo-sized portrait of Barry owned by her family in the Spartanburg, SC local history museum, where it remains on display to this day.
Nicknamed “the Young Greer Garson,” she became best known for her 19-year stint as the saloon-keeper Miss Kitty on the television series Gunsmoke from 1955 until 1974. In 1968, Blake was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. She was the third performer inducted, after Tom Mix and Gary Cooper, who were selected in 1958 and 1966 respectively.
Because of her continuing role on television, Blake rarely had time for films. She appeared in a TV comedy routine with Red Skelton and was a panelist on the long-running Hollywood Squares and Match Game 74. In 1957, she guest-starred as Betty Lavon-Coate in the episode of “Coate of Many Colors” on Rod Cameron‘s syndicated series western-themed crime drama, State Trooper.
After the Gunsmoke reunion film, she made two film appearance in 1988’s The Boost, a drug-addiction drama starring James Woods and Sean Young andB.O.R.N, also in 1988. Blake was scheduled for an appearance in a second reunion film but was too ill to accept the role.
After Gunsmoke, Blake went into semi-retirement at her home in Phoenix, taking on only a few film and TV projects. A lover of animals, she joined with others to form the Arizona Animal Welfare League in 1971, today the oldest and largest “no-kill” animal shelter in the state. In 1985, she helped finance the start-up of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and devoted a great deal of time and money in support of its efforts, including travels to Africa.
Blake reportedly was a one-time board member of the, Humane Society of the United States. In 1997, the Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge opened at Rancho Seco Park in Herald, California. The refuge provides sanctuary for free-ranging African hoofed wildlife, most of whom were originally destined for exotic animal auctions or hunting ranches. She was also an early board member of Actors & Others for Animals in Hollywood in the early 1970s.
Blake, a one-time two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker, had surgery for oral cancer in 1977, and afterward made appearances throughout the country for the American Cancer Society. In 1984, she was the recipient of the society’s annual Courage Award.”
According to the New York Times, Amanda Blake died on August 16, 1989, from complications of AIDS. There was some confusion over the exact cause of her death. When she died at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, California, a statement by the hospital and some of her friends reported the cause of death as cancer. Blake’s death certificate, however, listed the immediate cause as cardiopulmonary arrest due to liver failure and CMV (cytomegalovirus) hepatitis. CMV hepatitis is AIDS-related. These facts of her death from AIDS-related complications were also reported in People Magazine the same year she died, being detailed by other friends and her main doctor