7 things you never knew about the great Amanda Blake of Gunsmoke

"Kitty" was an apt name for this feline lover.

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Image: The Everett Collection

What would Gunsmoke have been without Miss Kitty? We found out in season 20. Amanda Blake left the western after its 19th season. The network canceled the series in season 20, in a move that has to be considered more than coincidence.

As the spitfire saloon owner of Dodge City, Miss Kitty quickly became a fan favorite. The redhead's will-they-or-not relationship with Matt Dillon kept romantics on the edge of their couches for two decades.

Born on February 20, 1929, Blake portrayed Kitty Russell for a third of her life. She left us too soon at the age of 60 in 1989. Outside of her acting career, Blake worked as an animal activist and promoted cancer awareness. 

Let's take a look at some fascinating facts from her life.

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1. She was born Beverly Louise Neill.


Amanda Blake is not her real name. An only child and daughter of a banker, Beverly Louise Neill came into this world in Buffalo, New York, where she lived until a teenager. She then moved to California. Neill was a descendant of Revolutionary War hero Kate Barry, who warned that the British were coming prior to the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. She first worked as a telephone operator.


Blake attended Pomona College for a time. She later took a job as a telephone operator earning $40, which helped hone her diction skills. That led to some radio work and performances doing dramatic readings at a local women's club. 

Image: The Everett Collection

3. She was signed by MGM studios as a "Greer Garson replacement."


Blake began her dramatic acting career on the stage, performing summer stock in New England. MGM discovered her and signed the young Blake to a contract. The studio saw her as its next Greer Garson, a 1940s MGM film star who earned five consecutive Best Actress nominations at the Oscars. Blake made her screen debut in 1950 in the MGM picture Stars in My Crown.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Jan Shepard was her roommate.


Jan Shepard was a familiar face on television westerns, appearing several times of shows such as The Virginian, Laramie, Rawhide and, indeed, Gunsmoke. Her time on Gunsmoke was a reunion of old friends, as Shepard and Blake once lived together as roommates. As Shepard recalled in a 2018 interview, Blake, "a frisky lady," would dress in character to go for her auditions on Gunsmoke. Shepard was present when Blake got the call telling her she had won the role of Miss Kitty.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. She brought a lion to the set of Gunsmoke.


It's a good thing cowboys don't ride zebras. In 1974, in her final season on Gunsmoke, series star Amanda Blake brought her pet lion to work. His name was Kemo. The incident made headlines. Amanda Blake's Lion Upsets 'Gunsmoke' Set, declared The Toledo Blade on February 27, 1974. The headline sensationalized things a bit. Kemo was but a wee cub. And the "upset" was more of a cuddle party and adorable noise disturbance. Read more about the story here.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. She was one of the first people to breed cheetahs in captivity.


Amanda Blake may have played a character named Kitty, but off-camera she devoted her life to another type of feline. Unbeknownst to many people, the actress was a successful animal breeder. In fact, she was one of the first people on the planet to successfully breed cheetahs in captivity. So how does one go from acclaimed actress to innovative cat breeder? After Gunsmoke wrapped in the 1970s, Blake decided to spend more time devoted to promoting animal welfare. Blake also had a wild animal compound at her home in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lived in retirement. The actress kept Kemo on the grounds with other large cats. Along with her second husband, Frank Gilbert, Blake used the compound to experiment with breeding cheetahs. Learn more about her feline breeding.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. She was a big traveler.


Blake loved to explore the globe, venturing to the Galapagos Islands and Kenya. She visited Africa several times. Late in life, she settled on a 20-acre ranch in Galt, California, operated by her friend and animal trainer Pat Derby. The PAWS charity welcomed former Hollywood animals to retire on the ranch, such as Christopher the cougar, who was in Lincoln-Mercury car commercials.

Image: The Everett Collection

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JamesLScudder 24 months ago
Why was it put out that Amanda Blake and Michael Learned were sisters if Blake was an only child???
Steffi 28 months ago
I just loved Miss Kitty! So sad she died so young😞♥️
Slenoref1 33 months ago
I grew up watching Ms. Blake on Gunsmoke. I idolized her. I named my only Daughter Amanda in her honor. Turns out my daughter has red hair just like Ms. Blake! I still watch Gunsmoke every day to get my Kitty fix.
hummingbirds 34 months ago
Wow! Enjoyed this article on Kitty thank you!
Angelstarr2021 36 months ago
While rumors stated how Amanda Blake needed to be informed in advance if Blacks were to be on the set so she could be absent, this is absolutely FALSE. An example would be the episode, “The Sisters” where three African American nuns traveled through Dodge to reunite two children in their custody with their father. In fact, one of the nuns ran into the Long Branch looking for Matt Dillon. Amanda Blake (Ms. Kitty) rushed over to the nun, placed her arms around her and walked the nun (Susan Balson) over to the Marshall and to Doc to make sure that Balson was ok. So, be careful what you read without data to back it up.
sldaniels 41 months ago
I think Amanda Blake was one of the most beautiful women to grace the screen. She is up there with Maureen O’Hara.
swog85 41 months ago
Amanda Blake was beautiful inside and out. Her portrayal of Miss Kitty Russell made Gunsmoke the best of it's genre, I believe. Kitty was not going to get pushed around by anybody but never lost her feminity just because she was a survivor. It was a special character made so thanks to Amanda Blake who by all accounts was indeed, a special lady. I find appalling any hints that she had a racist bone in her body. It simply doesn't fit with the good, fair and decent person she was in life. Shame on people who say otherwise.
WhiteRook 42 months ago
Amanda Blake had a uncredited role on the tv series Steve Canyon. On the episode was a young Roy Thinnes later to appear on Gunsmoke, but best known as David Vincent on the Invaders.
blondie2 42 months ago
Read that amanda had to be informed the day before if there was going to be a black person on set, so she could absent herself from set. She would not come in to shoot that day. Any history as to why?
kayedeedid blondie2 37 months ago
I have NEVER, EVER read or heard that even rumored. Amanda spent a LOT of time in Africa when she was married to Frank Gilbert and they were raising the big cats. Now, someone who DID have definite and not hidden issues with people of color was Walter Brennan who played Grandpa McCoy on "The Real McCoys". He was an anti-civil rights advocate and is documented to have been quite pleased when Martin Luther King, jr. was assassinated.
BetteHirschelGoulart 42 months ago
I once heard that it was in Ms. Blake's contract that at least once in episodes she appeared in she had to be told that she was pretty. Is that true?
bull!!!!! where did you read this? I do not understand why anyone would try to destroy the reputation of a woman who had such a hard life after her death. Perhaps it is because she can not defend herself. Makes her an easy target
I have NEVER heard or read that.
Dayton 43 months ago
Oh I remember when Matt would sneak into Miss Kitty's Room and they would make some Real Whoopee!!!!!
fivecents 44 months ago
Why the "beauty mark"? When she started playing Miss Kitty, she didn't have the "beauty mark" on her right cheek. It was added later. Or did she always have it, and just covered it with make-up?
kayedeedid fivecents 37 months ago
I'm not certain why the beauty mark became part of the character, but Amanda kept it after she left Gunsmoke. Other people have beauty marks--Tina Louise as Ginger Grant, Rose Marie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and any time you see a lady of questionable repute, you usually have a beauty mark. I think it was popular at in the 50s/60s, but not necessarily the 1870s.
Gerhum195322 45 months ago
This is a great app I love it 5stars I give it
galpaula98 45 months ago
She's quite a lady 😉☺️🙂🤠.
yperdomo 46 months ago
She really was an amazing woman and I am still watching all the reruns episods . I would it loved to see her and James Arnnes kissing eachother but it never happened . I did not know she was the first to breed cheetahs nor she was such an animal lover like me . She was really a clasic lady and so sad she left us at such a young age . She'll always be missed and remembered !!! I really love her !
Tresix yperdomo 45 months ago
Kitty DID kiss Matt only once: in the episode “P.S. Murry Christmas”, Kitty gives Matt a peck on the cheek after wishing him “Merry Christmas, cowboy.” That’s about as romantic as it got between them.
StrayCat Tresix 42 months ago
Ironically, the radio version of Gunsmoke many times alluded to a much more intimate relationship between Kitty and Matt.
Rebpen 46 months ago
This was a wonderful article about Amanda Blake. One that I thoroughly enjoyed. I looked forward to seeing her in Gunsmoke. She broke a bit of bite to it yet you always knew she was soft underneath. Too bad Kitty and Matt Dillon didn’t go farther. 😁
lucy 46 months ago
Miss Kitty was a beautiful woman ♥️
starrmervine 47 months ago
So very interesting, such a smart and classy lady
BeverlyBlake 47 months ago
I have two pages dedicated to Amanda's life and career. AMANDA BLAKE FORUM on Facebook and Pro Board. All are welcome to join.
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