Montgomery is sly and chilling as arsenic killer
By Bart Mills
Life was placid in shabby-genteel central North Carolina, where Blanche Taylor Moore worked in a grocery store, lived in a trailer park, went faithfully to church, raised her daughters well, gossiped with her friends--and poisoned every man who went to bed with her.
When the police finally confronted her with her crimes, as depicted in "Black Widow Murders: The Blanche Taylor Moore Story" (8 p.m. Monday on NBC- Ch. 5), she was flabbergasted. How dare they accuse an innocent woman, even though everyone close to her seemed to wind up in the cemetery, stuffed with arsenic?
Elizabeth Montgomery is apt casting for this sly, chilling look at psychopathy. Elusive, elliptical, more likely to smile enigmatically than explain exhaustiveiy, Montgomery gets behind the soft formality of Moore's way of speaking and offers convincing hints of the innocence of evil.
"Blanche truly believes she is innocent," Montgomery says. "No, I mean she truly believes she is an innocent. She didn't think what she did was wrong, because of the sexual abuse she said she suffered as a child. People have different ways of dealing with their problems. Once she started on her way, there was no going back."
Blanche Moore is on North Carolina's Death Row, convicted of the murder of her long-time lover. Her first husband, her mother and her father are others whose exhumed bodies revealed large concentrations of arsenic. Her second husband, who nearly died of arsenic poisoning, testified against her at her trial in 1990.
"Blanche was very lucky," Montgomery says. "Thirty or forty years ago she would have sizzled by now. I don' t believe they will wind up executing her. She's appealing at the moment.
"I think she doesn't feel she did anything terribly wrong. It was something she had to do, particularly to the second husband, who was an ordained minister.
Dwight Moore seemed a paragon of virtue, everything her father was not. But Dwight made the mistake of confessing that he had fooled around in the past. That was all she had to hear. Had she been more patient, she probably would havegotten away with killing him."
Montgomery recalls the day the film's cast met for its first pre-production read-through of the screenplay. Many of writer/co-executive producer Judith Paige Mitchell's lines drew laughs, and Mitchell said to the cast, "But I didn't know this script was funny."
"Life is funny even when it's upsetting," Montgomery says. "The more human a story is, the more real and the more true it is, the more likely you are to find unconscious humor in it. You may not see it on the page, but when you say it out loud, you have to laugh."
Montgomery is a woman who likes to laugh, coming as she does from the old school of Hollywood, where life was a lark and work was an agreeable, occasional interruption. She is now 60 but on her the description "girlishness" still fits. Her hair a bright shade of blond, black turtleneck and black pants hugging her form, a gold necklace swinging down to her waist, Montgomery remains as beguiling as when she first twitched her nose on "Bewitched" in 1964. "If someone had said,'Let's make "Black Widow" a black comedy,"' she says, "we could have gone 100 times further without straying from the facts. As it was, I chose in certain scenes to play it the least obvious way, which did bring out the humor and did in fact border on black comedy.
"Usually comedy doesn't fit into the two-hour drama format on the networks. Comedy ends up being killed because the networks are afraid of what some people in the audience might think I say if you don't like it, turn it off and let the rest of us enjoy it. The good funny stuff is relegated to shows like 'Saturday Night Live, where they can get away with things. But you shouldn't have to 'get away with' comedy. You should seek it out."
Although Montgomery's first and longest list of credits was in 1950s TV drama, she became a household name during the eight-year run of "Bewitched." Periodic efforts to revive the show have foundered on Montgomery's complete indifference. Reminded that other shows from that era, like "The Brady Bunch," have inspired reunion specials, she replies cattily, "See what I mean?"
If producer David Kreiff succeeds in getting his project, "Tabitha: Bewitched Again" on the air, it will therefore be without Montgomery's participation or blessing. "Not with me," she says. "I wouldn't do it again because it's been done, and I did it. I did hear one hysterically funny idea--that Penny Marshall wanted to remake it as a feature with
Meryl Streep, Billy Crystal and Dame Edna Everage as Endora!"
Would Montgomery do another series? Try her. "Those 'Bewitched' years were so much fun! I'm not saying that as Pollyanna--they really were! I can wait to do another series. I'm happy doing movies for television."
She doesn't need the money. Her father, Robert Montgomery, was a highly successful producer as well as one of the most successful actors of his time ("Here Comes Mr. Jordan," "The Earl of Chicago" and "Night Must Fall" are his daughter's favorites). Montgomery herself co-owned "Bewitched" and made millions in an era when few other performers did so well. She has had three husbands and has three grown children.
So she's not hurting. "Well, no... luckily," she says. "When I'm deciding what to do, money never enters my mind. Money is wonderful. There are lots of good things you can do for yourself and others. I'd find it difficult to be paid to do something I didn't want to do, such as give voiceovers for something I don't believe in."
Montgomery did contribute her voice to "The Panama Deception." which won this year's Best Documentary Academy Award. She also narrated an earlier film, "Cover Up: Behind the Iran Contra Affair," by the same producer, Barbara Trent. The Panama film assails the media's failure to examine critically U.S. policy in Panama.
Montgomery declines to mount any political hobbyhorse beyond saying that she involves herself only in projects she "finds a connection to." The horses she prefers are thoroughbreds. Next to reading literary novels, her principal pastime is going to the races. And betting, of course.
"I love the track," she says. "I don't own any horses myself because I can lose money perfectly well on other people's horses-though I've been doing very well lately. Santa Anita has been very good to me. I go as often as I can, and when I can't go 1 send my bets with my friends.
"I've ridden since I was three and enjoyed being at the track since I was Five. My grandmother took me when she was supposed to be taking care of me. I think it's just the most beautiful sport and jockeys are the best athletes. There's nothing like a day at the races. There are no phones and if you're lucky you come back richer."
In 1993 Liz gave a brief interview to Entertainment Tonight while making this TV-Movie.
Click on her image to hear the audio clip.
If you are interested in owning the unedited version of this film, email me for details. VictorMas@aol.com
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