Amanda Blake (born Beverly Louise Neill, February 20, 1929 in Buffalo, New York; died August 16, 1989 in Sacramento, California) was an actress and animal breeder best known for playing the saloon keeper "Miss Kitty" on the television series "Gunsmoke" from 1955 to 1974.
Amanda Blake was the only child of Jesse Neill, a banker, and his wife, the former Louise Puckett. The family moved frequently, living for a while near West End Memorial Hospital in Birmingham while she attended Phillips High School.
The Neills later moved to Claremont, California and she worked as a telephone operator and enrolled briefly at Pomona College before taking up acting in community theater. She won a few bit parts at MGM and was eventually labeled a "young Greer Garson" and given a contract under the name "Amanda Blake". She made her star debut as Faith Radmore Samuels in the 1950 film version of Joe David Brown's novel Stars in My Crown.
In 1956 Blake was cast as Kathleen "Miss Kitty" Russell in the long-running television series "Gunsmoke". For nineteen years and hundreds of episodes she donned a full bustle and curly red wig to portray the proprietress and former entertainer at the Long Branch Saloon. She left the show just before its final season in 1975.
She reprised the role of Miss Kitty for the 1987 television movie "Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge". She continued to take guest roles in the concessional drama alongside various comedy sketches and game-show appearances. Her final feature film roles were in The Boost, a drug-addiction drama starring James Woods and Sean Young, and B.O.R.N (both 1988).
When not filming the series, Blake moved to Texas, and later Phoenix, Arizona with a third husband, Frank Gilbert. They became active in animal welfare causes and visited game preserves in Africa before establishing a their own successful breeding program for endangered cheetahs. She helped found the Arizona Animal Welfare League in 1971 and later became a major supporter of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which had been founded by Gunsmoke's animal trainer Pat Derby.
Blake had been a heavy cigarette smoker and had surgery for oral cancer in 1977. She turned much of her attention to promoting the work of the American Cancer Society and made fundraising appearances throughout the country. In 1984, she was presented with the society's annual Courage Award by President Ronald Reagan.
Blake died at Mercy Hospital in Sacramento in August 1989. It was initially reported that the cause of death was cancer, but later revealed that she had contracted AIDS from her fourth husband, Mark Spaeth. Blake's body was cremated and, at her request, her ashes were scattered at a game preserve in Kenya by her friend, ABC News wildlife correspondent Roger Caras. The PAWS animal preserve in San Andreas, California was made the beneficiary of the proceeds from an auction of her personal memorabilia. In 1997, the Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge opened at Rancho Seco Park in Herald, California.
- "Amanda Blake Died of AIDS, Doctor Says" (November 8, 1989) The New York Times