Robert Montgomery (May 21, 1904 – September 27, 1981) was an American actor and director.
Montgomery was born Henry Montgomery, Jr. in Beacon, New York, then known as "Fishkill Landing", the son of Mary Weed (néeBarney) and Henry Montgomery, Sr. His early childhood was one of privilege, since his father was president of the New York Rubber Company. After his own father committed suicide in 1922, jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, the family's fortune was gone.
Montgomery went to New York City to try his hand at writing and acting. He established a stage career, and became popular enough to turn down an offer to appear opposite Vilma Bánky in the film This Is Heaven. Sharing a stage with George Cukor gave him an in to Hollywood, where, in 1929, he debuted in So This Is College. Montgomery entered the moving picture industry during the revolution of the talkies, which made it more difficult to impress the studio. One writer claimed that Montgomery was able to establish himself because he "proceeded with confidence, agreeable with everyone, eager and willing to take suggestions". During the production of So This Is College, he learned from and questioned crew members from several departments, including sound crew, electricians, set designers, camera crew and film editors. In a later interview, he confessed "it showed [him] that making a motion picture is a great co-operative project."
So This Is College gained him attention as Hollywood's latest newcomer, and he was put in one production after another, with his popularity growing steadily. He initially played exclusively in comedy roles, but portrayed a character in his first drama film in The Big House (1930). The studio was initially reluctant to assign him in such a role, until "his earnestness, and his convincing arguments, with demonstrations of how he would play the character" won him the assignment. From The Big House on, he was in constant demand. Appearing as Greta Garbo's romantic interest in Inspiration (1930) started him toward stardom with a rush. Norma Shearer chose him to star opposite her in The Divorcee(1930), Strangers May Kiss (1931), and Private Lives (1931), which led to stardom on a high rank. During this time, Montgomery appeared in the original pre-Code film version ofWhen Ladies Meet (1933), which starred Ann Harding and Myrna Loy.
Montgomery in the trailer for Night Must Fall
In 1935, Montgomery became President of the Screen Actors Guild, and was elected again in 1946. In 1937, he was nominated for theAcademy Award for Best Actor as a psychopath in the chiller Night Must Fall, then returned to playing light comedy roles, such asAlfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) with Carole Lombard, but continued his search for dramatic roles. He was again nominated for an Oscar in 1942 for Here Comes Mr. Jordan. During World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. And served on the USS Barton DD-722 which was part of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, In 1945, he returned to Hollywood, making his uncredited directing debut with They Were Expendable, where he directed some of the PT Boat scenes when director John Ford was unable to work for health reasons.
Montgomery's first credited film as director was Lady in the Lake (1947), in which he also starred, and which brought him mixed reviews. Adapted from the Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe detective novel, the film is noteworthy for the revolutionary way it is filmed entirely from Marlowe's vantage point. Montgomery himself only appeared on camera a few times, three times in a mirror reflection. He also directed and starred in Ride the Pink Horse (1947), a film noir.
Active in Republican politics and concerned about communist influence in the entertainment industry, Montgomery was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. The next year, 1948, Montgomery hosted the Academy Awards. He hosted an Emmy Award-winning television series, Robert Montgomery Presents, in the 1950s. The Gallant Hours, a 1960 film Montgomery directed and co-produced with its star, his friend James Cagney, was the last film or television production he was connected with in any capacity, as actor, director or producer.
In 1954, Montgomery took an unpaid position as consultant and coach to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, advising him on how to look his best in his television appearances before the nation. A pioneering media consultant, Montgomery had an office in the White House during this time.
Montgomery has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies at 6440 Hollywood Boulevard, and another for television at 1631 Vine Street.
Montgomery married twice; actress Elizabeth Allen (sister of Martha-Bryan Allen) in 1928, with whom he had two children, and Elizabeth Grant Harkness, whom he married in December 1950, less than a week after his divorce from his first wife was finalized.
Montgomery died of cancer in 1981 at age 77 in New York City. His daughter, actress Elizabeth Montgomery (1933–1995), and son, Robert Montgomery, Jr. (1936–2000), both died of cancer as well.