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Bewitched by ‘Black Widow’ : Television: Elizabeth Montgomery found the reality-based story of a woman who poisoned people too fascinating to pass up.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elizabeth Montgomery, who was everyone’s favorite witch Samantha on the classic ‘60s sitcom “Bewitched,” would love to make audiences laugh again.

But she certainly doesn’t in her latest TV project, “Black Widow Murders: The Blanche Taylor Moore Story,” airing at 9 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39). Montgomery stars as a North Carolina woman, currently on Death Row, who poisoned her father, her first husband and a boyfriend with arsenic and then tried to kill her second husband, a minister.

Why she chose “Black Widow Murders” over comedy is simple: “There are no comedies out there,” Montgomery says with a sigh. “Have you seen any good two-hour comedies on TV?”

So while Montgomery is waiting for that “wild, sophisticated, outrageous” comedy script to bewitch her, she finds herself, like most TV performers today, doing reality-based movies like “Black Widow Murders.”

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But Blanche Taylor Moore is not your garden-variety murderer. A “religious” widow and grandmother who lived in a trailer park and worked in the local grocery store, she had been abused as a child and harbored a deep distrust of men.

“She is so complex,” Montgomery says. “You don’t know how many corners, nooks and crannies she has. . . . It took a while to figure out just where to crack that thin line between normality and insanity.”

Moore could charm the birds off the trees, Montgomery says. In fact, “they have had to separate her in prison because she keeps enchanting the wardens. She is an extraordinary woman with an amazing, magnetic personality. People were hooked before they even realized what happened to them. One of the abilities she had was to truly listen to somebody. You find out a lot by listening.”

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Montgomery did get to meet with the real Rev. Moore, who barely survived his wife’s poisoning. Even when lying near death in the hospital, he refused to believe his wife had been trying to kill him.

“The man doesn’t deny he was just totally entranced by her,” Montgomery says. “He thought she was the most wonderful thing who had ever lived.”

And if Moore had been a bit more patient, Montgomery believes she would have gotten away with all of the murders. But when the Rev. Moore confessed he had had an affair during his first marriage, she immediately wanted to get rid of him.

“I think she just lost it,” Montgomery says. “She couldn’t handle the fact that this man, who was everything her father was not, turned out to be this two-timing monster. If she had waited, they never would have caught her, never. She was just too clever.”

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Montgomery tried to do something “a little bit different” with her look for Moore, which included dying her blond hair dark red and going “a bit more exaggerated with the makeup. We don’t resemble each other at all, but I knew she had dark hair. I tried to do the best I could.”

Though Montgomery has played murderers before--she wielded a mean ax in 1975’s “The Legend of Lizzie Borden"--Moore was the most challenging to bring to life.

“It was hard work,” she says. “But the hard work I love, just because of what she was, what she looked like and how she handled people--the sort of mental whiplash she put herself through. She could be fine one minute and then barrel down another highway someplace. You never knew when she was going to turn right or left.”


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