In 1937 a University of Montana freshman named George Montgomery Letz breezed into Hollywood from Great Falls. Handsome and strong, the ex-farm boy dropped his last name and worked as a stunt man for John Wayne before he was discovered for B-picture stardom. He made about 50 Westerns, rescuing such beauties as Eve Arden and Maureen O’Hara. But if he usually got the girl, Montgomery rarely won over the critics.
Now, at 60, he is getting the good notices he always hoped for—but as a sculptor, not an actor. His subjects are cowboys and Western historical characters. Working first with wax, he then casts the figures in bronze. Dr. Carl Dentzel, director of the Los Angeles Southwest Museum, says Montgomery’s sculpture is “very good, realistic and accurate. He has a delightful flair.” Twenty-two of the pieces—with titles like Cassidy and Sundance Going to Mexico, Custer’s Final Moments and The Legend (John Wayne on horseback)—are now on exhibit at the Palm Springs Desert Museum. Prices range from $75 to $45,000, and he’s already sold six.
Though he never had any formal training, Montgomery says he has always been a frustrated artist. That was one of the reasons he began designing furniture in the early ’40s. Eventually Montgomery went into the custom furniture business and lost a fortune.
The youngest of 15 children, he grew up on a ranch not far from where Western artist Charles Marion Russell painted and sculpted. “I drooled over his work,” says Montgomery.
The ex-actor says he sculpts every day including weekends. “If I hadn’t started sculpting, I think I’d have been a real bum.” It was Montgomery’s screen image that first attracted ex-wife Dinah Shore. Legend has it that she saw his film The Cowboy and the Blonde 15 times. They met in 1943 when Dinah was appearing at the Hollywood Canteen and were married the same year. They had a daughter, Melissa, now 29, who is the mother of two, and they adopted a son, John David, 22, who sells auto parts. Shore and Montgomery were divorced in 1962, but in the Hollywood tradition are still good friends. “I’ve never remarried because I just don’t want to be tied down,” Montgomery says.
He lives in a 10th-floor apartment with a gorgeous view of Los Angeles. One of the two bedrooms is his studio. Yes, sometimes he thinks about making another film. “But,” he adds, “why embarrass myself?”