I want to start off by thanking everyone that’s given me ideas, both in the comments of these articles and on Montana Facebook groups.
For instance, two of these celebrities – Charley Pride and Dirk Benedict – I’d never heard of. The other two are big actors that most will know.
So why do celebrities come to Montana? After all, a quick glance at this ongoing series will tell you that most aren’t born here.
This 2010 article form the Los Angeles Times mentions some of the tax burdens those coming to Montana can feel. After all, we only have property taxes here, no sales tax…and we like it that way because most of us don’t have money.
Anyways, you won’t find too many divorces among this bunch. Here are their stories.
Sports were more to his liking, however, and by ’52 he was pitching baseball for the Negro American League team, the Memphis Red Sox. That led him to the Boise Yankees, a sure trip to New York and the big leagues if he played his cards right. He didn’t, and an injury sidelined him, and his chances. After that it was skipping around to a team here and there before serving a two-year stint in the Army.
His military service up, Pride headed back home. A Helena Independent Record article from October 1986 says that Charlie Pride left his wife in 1960, “borrowed $400 and caught a train to East Helena, where he played on the Class C minor-league Pioneer League team.” He joined on April 15 and was done on May 9, having pitched three games.
I'm not quite certain on the timeline, but it appears that from there he went to Missoula, playing for the Missoula Timberjacks, a Pioneer League farm club team that was affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds. It was 1960 and it didn’t work out. Charley got a construction job in Helena (did he go back, or was Missoula first? I'm not sure), but kept his baseball dreams alive for two more years, trying out for the California Angels and the New York Mets before calling it a day.
Nothing much came of that, however, and Pride most likely wiled his time away in Helena, doing construction by day and playing what backroom bars he could nights and weekends. It wasn’t until 1965 that things took off, and Pride was signed to RCA by producer Chet Atkins.
By 1967 he was performing at the Grand Ole Opry, the first black performer to do so, and from 1969 to 1971 he managed to release eight singles that reached to #1 on the Country Hit Parade charts. His ‘Best of’ album went gold and in 1972 the song he sang with Paul Newman for the film Sometimes a Great Notion was nominated for an Academy Award.
By 1983 Charley Pride would earn his 29th and final #1 hit with “Night Games.” In 1986 he left RCA in favor of 16th Avenue Records, mainly because he felt he was being shunned by the label in favor of younger artists. The move earned him a #5 hit and an introduction to a younger country audience. In 2000 Charley Pride was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Dirk headed to Washington for university and graduated from Walla Walla’s Whitman College. By 1972 Dirk had gotten his first film role, in 1972’s Georgia, Georgia. The film was directed by Swede Stig Björkman and was from a Maya Angelou script. The first screenplay written by an African American woman was a big deal, and with Stig’s European connections, the film was entered into the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival. In other words, the film didn’t make any money, and Dirk continued to look for work.
He did some Broadway with a run of Butterflies are Free and then did the same gig in Hawaii, which led to a guest spot on Hawaii Five-O. That in turn led to Sssssss, a film in which a character named Dr. Stoner creates a…well, you’ll have to check it out.
Many did, and the film grossed $1 million. Unfortunately that was $30,000 less than the damn thing cost to produce. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown learned from that before they produced Jaws two year later, in 1975.
For Benedict’s part, the horror lead led to W, the first film appearance of Twiggy. That led to Chopper One, a TV series that lasted a year in ’74, a time that also saw him do some bit parts on Charlie’s Angels. It wasn’t until 1978, however, that Benedict’s career-defining moment came. That was the year Battlestar Galactica was released.
During this time, Dirk got prostate cancer. He fought it off, and says that it was his macrobiotic diet more than anything that allowed him to do so.
During the 80s, Dirk did a lot. A major role was as “Faceman” on The A-Team, which lasted four years, until 1986. A string of forgettable film roles followed, most more low budget than the last. A 1987 run at Hamlet at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre was panned by critics something fierce.
In 1986, Dirk Benedict married Toni Hudson, an actress that had a lot of different TV show appearances during the 80s, and also played Denise in the 1985 movie Just One of the Guys. They most likely met on a 1984 episode of The A-Team called “Blood, Sweat and Cheers.” The two had two sons before calling it quits in 1995.
The 2000s and 2010s have been slow for Dirk Benedict, but he has gotten some TV work here and there. It’s his work on TV in the 1980s, however, that most will remember him for.
MacDowell was lucky her acting career didn’t end right then and there. Besides the crappy movie, her accent was terrible (to producers, at least), and Glenn Close was brought in to dub over her lines, giving them an English accent to replace the southern drawl MacDowell had yet to shed. Four years in the Actors Studio helped with that, and probably also had a lot to do with her getting her big film break, in Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 film Sex, Lies and Videotape.
MacDowell received an Independent Spirit Award for the film, which also won the Sundance Film Festival that year. A few other movies followed, but MacDowell had her next big break with 1993’s Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. Next was Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994 with Hugh Grant and then Multiplicity in 1996 with Michael Keaton, another famous Montana celebrity.
Although MacDowell has made more than twenty movies since the late-90s, none of them have been a hit, and I doubt you’d know many of their names.
MacDowell arrived in Montana sometime in the 1990s, when she was married to Paul Qualley, as far as I can tell. Following her divorce, however, the area seemed to have soured for her…though I’m not sure she ever sold her ranch.
Beginning around 2012 it seems that MacDowell decided to come back to Montana from South Carolina, and for good. And according to a Washington Post article form August 2013, MacDowell enjoys her ranch in Montana.
“There are a lot of things I want to do there with conservation,” she said in that interview, and goes on to say how important the idea of conservation is to her and her children. What’s more, she’s not just the type that’s going to put out flowery talk, not backing it up with action.
“I’ve already made a substantial commitment to wildlife by putting my land in the easement,” she said “It won’t be developed. It will remain there in perpetuity — will be there for the wild life.”
That’s a pretty good attitude, and it’s the attitude Montanans like to see Montana celebrities taking. Honestly, when you’re neighbors know that you’re doing a good job, they’ll leave you alone and they won’t tell others you’re there. Yes, there’s still a thing called ‘honor’ in America.
Town and Country Magazine reported in December 2013 that the ranch MacDowell is talking about is actually quite the place, 3,000 acres in fact, and working. Her kids were raised on both the ranch and her home in Asheville, North Carolina, although she sold the latter in 2013.
Her children want to be actors as well, and one, Rainey MacDowell, actually performed in a play in Missoula recently. I can’t help think we’ll be hearing more from these transplants as Montana becomes their home.
The younger Lithgow went to Harvard and then headed to Broadway, in 1973. His first role was in The Changing Room and he won a Tony. His first film role was Broadway-related, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz.
Lithgow’s first Academy Award nomination came in 1983 for The World According to Garp and then the next year he received another for Terms of Endearment, losing out to Jack Nicholson. It’s his 1996-2000 run on NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, however, that many Montanans probably know Lithgow best from. The run earned the actor three Emmy awards, giving him four in total (his first was from an episode of 1986’s Amazing Stories).
I’ve heard that his wife graduated from high school in Conrad, Montana. I also heard that even though Lithgow is Hollywood celebrity with name recognition, there’s still people in Montana that don’t know who he is, as seen from this comment on a previous article:
John Lithgow tried to pay for his groceries at the Big Fork IGA and they wouldn't take his check because he didn't have ID....store policy!
My wife is from Montana, and we have a little cabin on a lake there, and we disappear there -- at least in the summers and oftentimes during the year. That's an extraordinary retreat. We ride horses, ski in the winter, swim in the summer, play tennis and golf. It's all the stuff I never gave myself -- gifts I never gave myself as a young man.
So what does a great actor do when he’s in Montana? Lots of outdoor stuff, relaxing on the lake, and just taking it easy.
“I also paint,” Lithgow said in an 2009 interview. “Actually, when I started out, late into my teens, I was far more interested in being a painter than an actor, and I maintain that as a hobby. When I'm in LA, I rent a painting studio and disappear there for hours and oil paint.”
John Lithgow is a big supporter of the environment and the land around his home, as seen in this 2014 University of Montana report on the Flathead Lake Biological Research Station.
“At a time of deep concern for the Earth’s fragile environment,” Lithgow said when $1 million was being raised in 2011, “the Flathead Lake Biological Station continues to do a magnificent job monitoring the Flathead’s complex water system.”
“All of us who treasure this beautiful lake owe the station a great and ongoing debt of gratitude,” he finished, and that’s the kind of Montana celebrity we like, and would like to see more often. And why aren’t they so vocal in the legislature? That’s where we need their voices the most.
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