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George Montgomery, actor, 84

Wednesday December 13 7:54 PM ET

Western Star George Montgomery Dies 

By ANTHONY BREZNICAN, Associated Press Writer 

LOS ANGELES (AP) - George Montgomery, a brawny leading man who started
acting in low-budget Western ``horse operas'' and later starred in
musicals and romantic comedies, has died. He was 84.

Montgomery died of heart failure at his desert home in Rancho Mirage
Tuesday evening, his friend Patrick Curtis said in a telephone interview

The actor appeared in 87 motion pictures in a six-decade career that also
included the ``Cimarron City'' television series. He was married to the
late Dinah Shore for 19 years and counted Ronald Reagan as one of his best

``Ronnie and I have known him for so many years that it will be hard to
imagine him gone,'' Nancy Reagan said in a statement released
Wednesday. ``We send our love and prayers to his family.''

Daughter Melissa Montgomery Hime, companion Ann Lindberg and Curtis were
at his side when he died.

``He's such a tremendous guy. He just turned to look out the window and
went to meet his maker,'' Curtis said.

The actor is perhaps best remembered for playing rough-riding cowboys in
Westerns like ``The Cisco Kid and the Lady'' in 1940 and ``The Last of the
Duanes'' and ``Riders of the Purple Sage,'' both in 1941.

He was also known for his role as a trumpeter in the 1942 musical romance
``Orchestra Wives,'' which starred real-life bandleader Glenn Miller and
actress Ann Rutherford.

The youngest of 15 children, the actor was born George Montgomery Letz in
Brady, Mont., and raised on the family homestead, learning many of the
ranching skills he would display as a Hollywood cowboy.

In 1935, he dropped out of the University of Montana after only one year
and moved to Los Angeles to find work in the movies.

Republic Pictures hired the 19-year-old to perform stunts in the Western
``The Singing Vagabond.'' Montgomery went on to play bit parts and perform
stunts in Gene Autry's ``Springtime in the Rockies'' in 1937 and ``Gold
Mine in the Sky'' in 1938.

Still billed as George Letz, he also appeared in the popular ``Lone
Ranger'' serial picture in 1938.

He changed his screen name to George Montgomery after signing on with the
20th Century Fox studio, where he was offered leading-man roles in movies
like ``Coney Island,'' opposite actress Betty Grable.

He starred in a number of movies in 1942, including ``Ten Gentlemen From
West Point,'' ``China Girl'' and ``Roxie Hart.''

Montgomery married Shore in 1943, and soon left the movies to serve for
three years in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

In 1946, he returned to the screen in the comedy ``Three Little Girls in
Blue,'' and appeared in 1947's ``The Brasher Doubloon'' as hard-boiled
detective Philip Marlowe, a character played by Humphrey Bogart that same
year in ``The Big Sleep.''

A string of low-budget Westerns followed, and in 1958 he took a role on
the popular television Western ``Cimarron City.'' Montgomery left the show
after two seasons, but continued to appear as soldiers, cowboys and
sheriffs in big-screen war movies and Westerns.

He and Shore separated in 1961 and divorced two years later. They had two
children, Melissa Ann, who was 14 at the time, and John David, then 7.

In 1963, the actor grabbed headlines after his housemaid tried to shoot
him to death. A note found in the woman's pocket indicated she planned to
kill him and then commit suicide because she thought he spent too much
time with ``stupid looking glamour girls.''

Montgomery continued to act and directed himself and Rita Moreno in the
1966 smuggler adventure ``From Hell to Borneo,'' which he also co-wrote
and co-produced.

He had only two movie roles in the past three decades, one in the 1972
film ``The Daredevil'' and his last in the 1986 movie ``Wild Wind.''

Most recently, Montgomery's was known for his furniture making,
housebuilding, painting and Western sculptures, using carpentry and
metalworking skills he learned as boy. His talent was chronicled in a 1981
book ``The Years of George Montgomery.''

A private funeral for Montgomery will be held Friday with a public
memorial service Saturday at the Palm Springs Desert Museum's Annenberg

Montgomery is set to be buried at a family plot in Great Falls, Mont. 

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