2005-05-29 17:01:01 UTC
By MICHAEL RISINIT
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: May 28, 2005)
Cushman Road in Patterson is lined with stone walls and old trees,
unremarkable in its similarity to many Putnam County roads.
But the byway off Route 311 near the Patterson Baptist Church was an
emotional touchstone for the actress who could wrinkle reality by
wiggling her nose. Elizabeth Montgomery, best known for her role as
friendly witch Samantha Stephens in the TV series "Bewitched," spoke
often of her family's home on Cushman Road, according to a new book. It
was an affection that was readily apparent, a Patterson resident and
"She loved it," said Lou Erskine, 85, a one-time actress who moved to
Cushman Road because of her friendship with the Montgomery family. "She
loved the feeling she got from sitting out on the grass in the evening
and hearing the (singing) from the Baptist church right around the
Elizabeth's mother, Elizabeth Allen Montgomery, a well-received
Broadway actress, died in the white house in 1992, and the property was
sold. But for the seven decades it was in the family, Montgomery spent
childhood summers there and sprinkled references to her Patterson home
throughout the television series, which ran from 1964 to 1972.
The Patterson florist delivered flowers to the Stephens home at 1164
Morning Glory Circle, Samantha shopped at a Patterson department store
(a small-screen, artistic liberty) and daughter Tabitha attended
Towners Elementary School. Local roads are referenced, and Montgomery's
cousin was the model for Serena, Samantha's zany cousin on "Bewitched,"
whom Montgomery also portrayed.
Her cousin - or cuz - in real life, Amanda Cushman Coley, said
Montgomery told her she was the inspiration for Serena. Coley still
lives on Cushman Road, where she suspects Montgomery would have
periodically returned if she hadn't died of cancer in 1995 when she was
"We were like sisters," said Coley, 73. "Every time I talked to her,
she mentioned (the Patterson home). This is what she was nostalgic
"Bewitched" wasn't the only 1960s sitcom to call the region home. Rob
Petrie continually tripped over the ottoman in his New Rochelle living
room, "That Girl" Ann Marie tried to leave her Brewster roots behind as
an actress in the Big City, and "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" mixed
the publishing and show business worlds with family life in Larchmont.
For Montgomery, though, Patterson was more than a locale. Her adoration
shows up on several pages of Rita E. Piro's "Elizabeth Montgomery A
Bewitching Life." The 220-page book relies on published quotes from the
actress's many print interviews during a career stretching from the
1950s to the 1990s, which included stage, movie and TV appearances.
"We couldn't wait to leave for the farm every summer. We left
California for upstate New York practically the day after school let
out. Our life in Patterson was a paradise for us. That's why I placed
Darrin and Samantha in the town," she told a fan magazine in 1968. "If
I can't be there year-round, then at least Samantha can."
The book, Piro said, was a product of a year's research and was spurred
in part by Sony Pictures' "Bewitched" movie, which will open June 24
and stars Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. She has previously produced
books on Judy Garland and Jean Harlow.
"I was quite taken with the fact she was such a normal person," said
Piro, 37, a New York City private school teacher who grew up watching
the hit show in reruns. "She always used her powers for good. She
always wanted to be in roles that made a difference in people's lives."
Montgomery's family was part of Hollywood's Golden Age and beyond, with
connections to Washington and Wall Street. Her father, Robert
Montgomery, was born in Beacon, went on to roles as a sophisticated
leading man for MGM and became a decorated naval officer in World War
II. He also directed stage, screen and TV productions and was an
adviser to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Her brother, Robert "Skip"
Montgomery Jr. appeared in movies and TV shows before becoming a
Carmel Town Engineer John Karell and his wife bought the Cushman Road
home in 1997, aware of its significance. Much of the Cushman/Montgomery
holdings became Wonder Lake State Park. A picture of the home can be
found on at least one Internet site dedicated to the Montgomery family.
"I like old homes," Karell said. "Once in awhile, you see somebody come
by and take photographs. But I never paid too much attention to it."
For Montgomery, Patterson was about picnics, horseback riding and
spending time in a cabin at Wonder Lake, according to the book. She was
a down-home person, said Erskine, who appeared in the TV series "Alfred
Hitchcock Presents" and "Kraft Television Theater" and several Broadway
plays. Her husband, Howard Erskine, and Robert Montgomery, worked
together on Broadway productions.
"She was not Hollywood at all," Erskine said. "It was really rather
thrust upon her."