Montgomery Pittman (1917–1962)
Montgomery Pittman was a television writer, director, and actor noted for writing the movie Come Next Spring set in a fictional version of Cushman (Independence County) in the 1920s. Other credits include writing and directing episodes of The Twilight Zone, Maverick, and 77 Sunset Strip.
According to his California death certificate, Social Security records, and other official documents, Montgomery Cherlez Pittman was born in Louisiana on March 1, 1917; however, his World War II draft card gives his date of birth as March 1, 1920, and place of birth as specifically New Orleans. His parents’ names are often given as John Griffin Pittman and Mary Belle Thompson, but he is not listed as a member of their household in the 1920 federal census for Waldon, Grady County, Oklahoma. One of the stories he told was that he was orphaned and taken in by the Pittman family. Pittman’s father (or adoptive father) was born and raised in Cushman, and his mother (or adoptive mother) was born in Marion County. The family had four other children: daughters Grace Ida, Laura Opal, and Joni Ray, and son Herschel Graydon. Following the death of Belle in 1926, John Griffin Pittman remarried and had at least two other children; the second marriage ended in divorce.
Pittman told so many seemingly conflicting stories about himself and his life that it is difficult to discern fact from fiction. Pittman’s step-daughter Sherry Jackson said that his full name was Montgomery Cherlez Pittman, information that corresponds to what is on Pittman’s California death certificate. He always said that he lived with the Pittman family in Cushman during the 1920s, but his name fails to appear on any census reports for Cushman during the time he alleges he lived there, although the names of his parents do appear on earlier Cushman censuses. His parents are listed on the census reports as general farm workers and renters, and it indicates that the family often moved.
One tale Pittman often told was that he began in show business by running away from home in Cushman and joining a traveling carnival in Batesville (Independence County) as a snake oil barker.
Pittman’s military record shows that he enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard, Field Artillery Branch, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on September 16, 1940, over a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The National Guard gives his occupation as unskilled amusement, recreation, and motion picture involvement. His formal education level is given as grammar school, and he is listed as single without dependents.
Following the war, Pittman ended up in New York City, seeking employment as an actor. There, he was befriended by movie star Steve Cochran. At Cochran’s behest, he moved to California in 1949 to try to break into movies as an actor. Cochran hired Pittman as caretaker for his Los Angeles home. During the early 1950s, Pittman had bit parts in movies and on television; only a few were credited, such as Professor Warren in Untamed Women (1952), but nothing memorable with the possible exception of an uncredited appearance as an intern in The Enforcer (1951), starring Humphrey Bogart.
In Hollywood, Pittman was introduced by Cochran to Maurita Gilbert Jackson, the widowed mother of three children, including child actress Sherry Jackson. Steve Cochran was best man at their wedding on June 5, 1952, in Torrance, California.
Following his marriage, Pittman began to concentrate more on screenwriting and less on acting, billing himself as Monte or Monty Pittman. He often wrote material for which he would play small guest roles, beginning with teleplays for anthology shows such as Four Star Playhouse and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. Four Star Playhouse was an early production of Four Star International, which included fellow Arkansan Dick Powell as one of its members.
In 1955, Cochran hired Pittman to write his next film, one that he intended to produce. Pittman wrote in a key role for his step-daughter Sherry Jackson, who would play Annie Ballot, the mute daughter of Cochran’s character, Matt Ballot. The movie, set in the 1920s in the fictional Arkansas mining town of Cushin—likely a variant of Cushman—was called Come Next Spring, the title derived from an old Ozarks saying. The film premiered in February 1956 in Little Rock (Pulaski County) at the Center Theater with star Steve Cochran appearing in person. A square dance took place before the show started.
In 1957, Pittman co-wrote the screenplay for Tarzan and the Lost Safari starring Gordon Scott. In 1958, he wrote the script for Money, Women, and Guns, which starred Jock Mahoney, Kim Hunter, and Tim Hovey.
As a result of his screenplays, Pittman’s writing talents were soon in demand. He was hired by ABC/Warner Bros. to write teleplays for TV shows including 77 Sunset Strip, Sugarfoot, Maverick, Cheyenne, Surfside 6, and Colt 45. During the same time period, he wrote teleplays for The Deputy for NBC and The Twilight Zone for CBS. Three of his scripts for Twilight Zone are memorable: “Two,” “The Grave,” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.”
Pittman became close friends with Will Hutchins, star of Sugarfoot, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., star of 77 Sunset Strip. Both men admired Pittman’s writing and directing abilities, and Hutchins even stated that Pittman’s contributions saved the Sugarfoot series for its two final seasons.
By 1958, Pittman had begun directing many of his own teleplays and a few written by others. Even though he refused to give up acting, he never directed himself in a teleplay. At this point, Pittman reverted to using the name Montgomery rather than Monte/Monty.
At the height of his career, Pittman promoted the career of his step-daughter Sherry Jackson. She was featured in episodes Pittman wrote and directed of 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman, Surfside 6, and The Twilight Zone, as well as episodes of Maverick and Riverboat that Pittman wrote but did not direct. His other two stepchildren, Curtis Loys Jackson III and Gary L. Jackson, were also involved in acting, but Sherry had the longest and most successful career.
Pittman and his wife, Maurita, had one child together, Robert John Pittman (1956–1990), and they promoted him as a child star for television. Pittman wrote a teleplay with a role for his son in a 1960 episode of 77 Sunset Strip. Then Robert landed a continuing role in the series Dennis the Menace as Dennis’s friend Seymour Williams in thirty-two episodes, 1960–1963.
At age forty-five, Pittman suddenly developed a tumor on his neck, and a physician diagnosed it as cancerous. Although the tumor was removed, the cancer proved fatal for Pittman, who died on June 26, 1962. Pittman is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.
For additional information:
Desmond, John. “A Somewhat Forgotten Figure to Some Extent Remembered: Notes on Television Director, Script Writer, and Occasional Actor Montgomery Pittman.” Bright Lights Film Journal, October 31, 2010. Online at https://brightlightsfilm.com/NOTES-ON-TELEVISION-DIRECTOR-SCRIPT-WRITER-ACTOR-MONTGOMERY-PITTMAN/#.W3RII8JrzIV (accessed October 26, 2018).
MacDonald, J. Fred. Who Shot the Sheriff? The Rise and Fall of the Television Western. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1986.
Robertson, Ed. Maverick: Legend of the West. Beverly Hills, CA: Pomegranate Press 1994.
Zicree, Marc Scott. The Twilight Zone Companion, 3rd ed. Hollywood, CA: Silman-James Press, 2018.
Zimbalist, Efrem, Jr. My Dinner of Herbs. New York: Limelight Editions, 2003.
Van Buren, Arkansas
Last Updated: 10/26/2018