Montgomery, Robert, LCDR

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Last Rank
Lieutenant Commander
Last Primary NEC
00X-Unknown NOC/Designator
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1944-1945, USS Columbia (CL-56)
Service Years
1941 - 1946
Lieutenant Commander Lieutenant Commander

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

Home State
New York
New York
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Geraldine Reardon, HM3 to remember Montgomery, Robert, LCDR.

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Contact Info
Home Town
Fishkill Landing
Last Address
Beacon, CT
Date of Passing
Sep 21, 1981

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 Unit Assignments
US NavyUSS Barton (DD-722)USS Columbia (CL-56)
  1942-1942, USS No Name (PT-114)
  1942-1942, USS No Name (PT-68)
  1943-1943, USS No Name (PT-107)
  1943-1944, USS Barton (DD-722)
  1944-1945, USS Columbia (CL-56)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1942-1942 Guadalcanal Campaign (1942-43)/Guadalcanal-Tulagi landings
  1944-1944 Normandy Campaign (1944)/Operation Overlord
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity:

Today's radio feature is the Lux Radio Theater's presentation of The Unguarded Hour from December 4, 1944. The intro & curtain call are interesting in that they touch on Lieutenant Commander Robert Montgomery's Naval service. He's recently been released from four years of service from the Naval Reserve, having been awarded the Bronze star for his service on the destroyer USS Barton during the raid on Normandy on D-Day. CB Demille also tells of the story of the Barton (and Bob) being spared during battle due to an unexploded German shell that landed on the deck.

Capt. Robert Montgomery, Rons 5 and 4. XO PTs 107, PT 68 and XO PT 114. Division Commander of PTs at Panama. Bronze Star. Also light cruiser USS Columbia CL 56 and USS Barton DD 772 at Normandy.

Other Comments:

Robert Montgomery was already an Oscar winning actor before the war; having started in motion pictures in 1929. After World War II broke out in Europe, Montgomery enlisted in London for American field service and drove ambulances in France until the Dunkirk evacuation. Upon America' entrance into the war, Montgomery joined the U.S. Navy and served as Naval Attache on British destroyers hunting U-boats. He attended torpedo boat school, became a PT boat commander, and participated in the D-Day invasion on board a Destroyer. Montgomery served five years of active war duty, was awarded a Bronze Star, the American Defense Service Ribbon, the European Theater Ribbon with two Battle Stars, one Overseas Service Bar, and promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander.

   It's hard to say how Robert Montgomery is best remembered; is it as the sophisticated leading man in the glossy M-G-M productions of the early 1930's; the Academy Award nominated actor in Night Must Fall and Here Comes Mr. Jordan; the real life naval lieutenant during WWII; the director who added two very significant films to the genre of film noir; the Emmy Award winning television producer/director/actor; the Tony Award winning Broadway director; the man who coached Eisenhower on his public appearances; the father of Elizabeth Montgomery, star of Bewitched; or perhaps he isn't remembered at all...certainly not as well as he should be. Not one biography has been written about this versatile actor and complicated man. His contributions seem to have been reduced to a footnote in pieces about other people and subjects. His film career often seemed to be a study in frustration, especially during what would prove to be his most prolific period; Montgomery himself lamented "So little of what I did in Hollywood gives me any pride of achievement. Three or four pictures out of sixty-odd. It's not very much." That estimate is probably a little conservative, but with endeavors as wide-ranging as the aforementioned, Montgomery certainly qualifies as a renaissance man. His story is an interesting one, one that has been left untold for too long...

N.Y. TO L.A.  (1904 - 1929):
   Robert Montgomery was born Henry Montgomery, Jr. in Fishkill Landing, New York, in a large house on the banks of the Hudson River on May 21, 1904, the first of two sons (brother Donald was born in 1906) born to Henry Montgomery and Mary Weed Barnard. (In 1913 Fishkill Landing united with the adjacent Matteawan and became Beacon, for this reason Beacon is frequently sited as Montgomery's birthplace.) His father was Vice President of the New York Rubber Company and the family was comfortably off, although M-G-M later embellished the family's financial circumstances to enhance the wealthy playboy image they were promoting.

   Montgomery attended the fashionable Pawling School for Boys in Pawling, New York and in 1918 was sent abroad to continue his studies in England, France, Switzerland and Germany. In 1922 Henry Montgomery, Sr. died and when the estate was settled the family found itself penniless which resulted in Montgomery finding employment as a mechanic's helper with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and as a deckhand aboard a Standard Oil tanker.

A CASE OF IDENTITY (1929 - 1935):   
   M-G-M was one of the largest and most important studios of the era. Formed in 1924 when the Metro studio merged with Goldwyn studios and Louis B. Mayer, M-G-M specialized in glossy, larger-than-life productions. After playing a bit part in the Garbo vehicle The Single Standard Montgomery was cast in Three Live Ghosts and then had the part of a college student in So This is College. After playing opposite Joan Crawford in Untamed and Norma Shearer in Their Own Desire Montgomery found himself typecast in the role of sophisticated playboy. A tuxedo became his uniform and a martini and a cigarette were his ever-present props.

  In 1930 Montgomery received an important role in the prison drama The Big House, which was a significant departure from what he had been doing. Montgomery delivered an excellent performance as the frightened young prison inmate. Despite this obvious display of dramatic ability, in an amazingly short-sighted move, M-G-M saw fit to return him to the same parts he had been playing before.

RISE UP AND WALK (1936 - 1941):   
   On February 15, 1936 the Montgomery family expanded to include a son, Robert, Jr., known to the family as "Skip". The Montgomery's also moved in 1936, from Beverly Hills to Holmby Hills.

   The Screen Actors Guild boycotted the Oscars in 1936 and denounced the producer run Academy for selling out actors and operating as a bargaining operation for talent. On May 10, 1937 the Guild members voted to strike, demanding recognition for the Guild.

Producers gave in to the demands and thirteen producers signed the first SAG contract that established a minimum wage for actors, including stunt men and extras. Montgomery, as President of SAG declared it the "victory of an ideal."

   Montgomery also helped send gangster Willie Bioff to the Federal penitentiary when the Screen Actors Guild was being intimidated by Bioff and the Capone mob. After having his tires slashed, Montgomery hired two former FBI men to gather information on Bioff, which he then presented to Henry Morgenthau, then Secretary of the Treasury.

STORM (1942 - 1944):
   Anxious to contribute to the war effort, in 1940 Montgomery made an unpublicized visit to France, much to M-G-M's consternation, where he volunteered and drove an ambulance for several weeks. Upon returning to the United States, he and friend and fellow actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. determined to enlist in the service. Montgomery and Fairbanks applied for a commision in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Montgomery was sent to the Intelligence Section in the map room of the U.S. Naval Attache's office in London where he worked as an assistant.

He then returned to the U.S. where he was assigned to set up a naval operations room in the White House.

   Due to his military service, Montgomery was unable to attend the Febraruy 1942 Academy Award ceremony in which he was nominated as Best Actor for Here Comes Mr. Jordan. The oscar that year went to Gary Cooper (for Sergeant York.)

   In 1942 Montgomery saw action at Noumea, Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal and New Georgia and was operations officer aboard a destroyer during the D-day invasion of France. He also commanded a P.T. boat in the South Pacific.

   Among the military honors bestowed upon Montgomery were the Bronze Star and being decorated as a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor. Montgomery was retired from the Navy with the rank of Lt Commander.

   When Montgomery returned to the U.S. in 1944 he had a serious case of tropical fever, but recovered enough to accept his first acting role in three years.

   John Ford had offered him a leading role in what turned out to be Montgomery's only war film, They Were Expendable. When the company arrived on location in Miami Montgomery suffered a panic attack. Unsure of his ability to act after the three-year hiatus, he confided his fears to Ford who allowed him the time to prepare before filming his scenes.

Montgomery later described Ford as the "best (director) I ever worked with...he was a genius." And when Ford fell and fractured his leg before filming was complete it was Montgomery he called upon to finish the job. There were several scenes left to film including many battle sequences; "...Duke (John Wayne) and I were visiting him (Ford) in the hospital when the telephone rang." Montgomery recalled in a 1980 interview, "It was Eddie Mannix from the studio, wanting to know when he'd be back. He said: 'I'm not coming back...I'm staying here and getting my leg right. Then I'm going back to the navy.

Montgomery'll finish the picture.' That was the first I heard of it. It was quite a shock."

WAGES OF FEAR (1947 - 1949):
   In September of 1947 forty-three members of the film industry, Montgomery among them, received subpoenas from the House Un-American Activities Commitee (HUAC). Orginally formed in the late 1930's, HUAC first concerned itself with opposing President Roosevelt's New Deal and other legislation which they deemed as tainted with Communism. HUAC reached Hollywood in 1940 when the testimony of ex-Communist John L. Leech was leaked to the press; Leech had named a number of prominent Hollywood actors as Communists, including Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Fredric March, Franchot Tone, Lionel Stander and Jean Muir. The Screen Actors Guild was outraged at the time and rallied around the accused, but as the strength of HUAC's attacks on Hollywood increased, a sense of every-man-for-himself emerged.

   After WWII ended and the Cold War began, a strong current of anti-Soviet, anti-Communist fear began to surge through the United States. By 1947 things in Hollywood had come to a head and the industry was being accused of using films to impart communist messages to the nation. Of the forty-three called to testify, nineteen refused to cooperate and sighted their first ammendment rights in declining to answer questions; these nineteen were termed "unfriendly" witnesses.

Montgomery along with actors George Murphy and Ronald Reagan had repositioned themselves and SAG regarding the menace of Communism, largely due to the changing attitudes of the nation. When the trio arrived in Washington they were counted among the twenty-three  "friendly" witnesses.

THE PEOPLE YOU MEET (1950 - 1958):
   Attracted by the still unexplored possibilities of television, Montgomery debuted a new series in January of 1950. Robert Montgomery Presents was a weekly anthology series with an hour-long format. Montgomery not only produced the program, but hosted each episode and also occasionally starred in the series. The show was a success and won an Emmy as Best Dramatic Program in 1952. It had been nominated in the same category in 1951 and would be nominated again in 1953.

Montgomery also received a nomination as Best Actor in 1952. The highly regarded series ran for eight years on NBC. It was on her father's show that 18-year-old Elizabeth Montgomery made her acting debut in 1951.

   In 1950 Montgomery starred in his last feature film, the mystery yarn Your Witness, which he also directed.

  Montgomery moved from California back to New York and on December 5, 1950 he and Elizabeth Allen were divorced. (Elizabeth Allen remained in New York where she died on June 28, 1992.) Four days later, on December 9, he married the former Mrs. William Hale Harkness, Elizabeth "Buffy" Grant Harkness,  in Sag Harbor, on Long Island. The couple divided there time between an apartment on East Seventy-second Street in New York and a house on Hook Pond in East Hampton.

        In 1952 Montgomery assisted Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Presidential campaign by coaching Eisenhower on his public appearances and speeches. Under Montgomery's careful attention, Ike became one of the most relaxed and confident speakers, especially during television debates. When Eisenhower was elected President he appointed Montgomery "special consultant on TV and public communications." When Richard Nixon lost the 1960 Presidential election to John F. Kennedy, Eisenhower, who had offered Nixon the services of Montgomery and been turned down, said "(Montgomery) never would have let him look as he did in that first television debate..."

   In 1953 Montgomery produced another television series, Eye Witness, which featured stories about people who had witnessed crimes. This show did not catch on as Robert Montgomery Presents had and was relatively short-lived.

   In 1955 Montgomery turned his attention to the Broadway stage, directing a play, The Desperate Hours. Written by Joseph Hayes and starring Karl Malden, Nancy Coleman and Paul Newman the play earned a Tony award as Best Dramatic Play and Montgomery also won as Best Director. Montgomery's daughter, Elizabeth accepted the award on his behalf.

The Desperate Hours was made into a feature film that same year starring Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March.

MAN LOST (1959 - 1970):
   In 1959 Montgomery and actor James Cagney formed Cagney-Montgomery Productions and produced a biopic about Admiral "Bull" Halsey, whom Montgomery had served under during WWII. The film, The Gallant Hours was directed by Montgomery and starred Cagney as Halsey. Robert Montgomery, Jr. had a bit part in the film, as did James Cagney,Jr.

   Beginning in the early 1960's Montgomery served as communications director for John D. Rockefeller III. He also was on the board of directors of the R.H. Macy Co., the Milwaukee Telephone Co. and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

   In 1962 Montgomery directed another Broadway play; Calculated Risk was another Joseph Hayes play and starred the husband and wife team of Joseph Cotten and Patricia Medina. The play opened off-Broadway and was well-received. The opening night in New York also went well and the galley copy of the review that the company received that night was a rave. Unfortunately, the newspapers went on strike the very next day. With nothing to publicize their play, attendance dwindled. The same thing was happening all over Broadway and play after play was closing as a result. Cotten, determined not to let the play close had a brilliant idea, he and Medina went on television and advertised the play.

They also appeared on game shows, talk shows and anywhere else they could make a pitch. The ploy worked, "we became known as the miracle on 49th street," recalled Cotten, " and ran the entire season."

        In 1964 Montgomery's daughter, Elizabeth, who had previously been seen in over countless television programs over the past thirteen years was cast as the star of the television sit-com Bewitched, produced and directed by her third husband, William Asher.

   In 1968 Montgomery authored the book An Open Letter From a Television Viewer in which he expounded on his theories on television.

   In 1969 Montgomery served as President of the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre.

RECLINING FIGURE (1971 - 1981):
   Having sold the Hook Pond property, Montgomery and his wife spent their summers in a place on the water in North Haven, Maine and winters in an ancient farmhouse in the Canaan valley, in northwestern Connecticut.

Montgomery spent most of the 1970's in retirement and on September 27, 1981, at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, Montgomery died of cancer. His body was cremated and the ashes given to the family.

--R.E. Lee

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