With a twitch of her nose, Elizabeth Montgomery cast a spell on viewers as the sly sorceress, Samantha Stephens, on Bewitched. Off screen, she was equally enchanting. “Elizabeth was the least arrogant star I’ve ever met,” recalls Herbie J. Pilato, author of Twitch Upon a Star and executive producer of the new documentary Elizabeth Montgomery: A Bewitched Life. “She channeled that down-to-earthiness into Samantha, and we all loved her.”

Nobody seemed immune to Elizabeth’s charms except perhaps the one person whose approval she desperately craved. “Her father, Robert Montgomery, was a movie star, and her mom, Broadway actress Elizabeth Allen, gave up her career to be his wife,” explains Pilato. “Robert never wanted his daughter to be an actress.”

Undeterred, Elizabeth attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan and convinced her father to book her on his TV show, Robert Montgomery Presents, in 1951. But that didn’t mean he’d come around. While Elizabeth won accolades on Broadway, Robert remained a harsh critic. “He’d send notes like, ‘You didn’t do this right on stage,’” Pilato reveals. 

Efforts to please Papa — like her yearlong marriage to Frederick Cammann in 1954 — failed miserably. “Fred was young, handsome and rich,” says Pilato. “He was of the upper crust of New York, and Robert Montgomery loved that.” But the union was doomed from the start. “She wanted to be a star,” says Pilato, “and Fred wanted a wife.”

Elizabeth’s complicated relationship with her father colored her relationships with men most of her life. Within a year of her divorce, she’d marry Gig Young, an actor twice her age and an abusive alcoholic. “She was just sticking it to her father with marrying Gig, until finally she wised up and just couldn’t take the abuse anymore,” says Pilato.

Despite a troubled personal life, Elizabeth continued to thrive professionally. She appeared on a variety of TV series and earned her first of nine Emmy nominations for an episode of The Untouchables in 1961. While filming the 1963 crime drama Johnny Cool, she fell in love with its director, William Asher, who would become her third husband and the father of her three kids. At last, Elizabeth found happiness at home and at work. The couple teamed up on Bewitched, which became a surprise hit and a labor of love. “I was never bored on set, not one minute for eight years,” she said. 

As her popularity skyrocketed, Elizabeth used her powers for good. “She was one of the first actresses to advocate for those suffering from AIDS,” Pilato tells Closer. “That tied in with the anti-prejudice message of Bewitched — Samantha and Darrin loved each other despite their differences.”

Behind the scenes, however, trouble was brewing. “William had an affair that broke Elizabeth’s heart,” Pilato says. It wasn’t long before the show ended, as well as their marriage. By the time she met her fourth husband, actor Robert Foxworth, her heart had healed. The couple enjoyed a happy union until Elizabeth’s untimely death from colon cancer at age 62 in 1995.

Elizabeth Montgomery

“Robert’s children adored her. Elizabeth’s children adored her,” says Pilato. Even her difficult father “finally came around toward the end,” says Pilato. “There was no hate, just love.”