Answer Man: Whatever became of 'Gunsmoke's' Miss Kitty?

News-DemocratNovember 11, 2013 

Whatever became of "Gunsmoke's" Amanda Blake and Dennis Weaver? -- Ed French, of Belleville

"Gunsmoke" fans were saddened but probably not terribly surprised when they learned that Amanda Blake -- their beloved Miss Kitty Russell -- had died of oral cancer on Aug. 16, 1989.

She was only 60, but she was once a two-pack-a-day smoker and already had undergone surgery for the same disease 12 years earlier. Afterward, the woman who ran the Long Branch Saloon for 19 years on CBS became a fervid supporter of the American Cancer Society.

But three months later, those same fans were in for a major shock. When a battle over Blake's will erupted, her friends announced that she had become the first prominent actress to die of something that nobody in the old wild, wild West had even dreamed of: AIDS.

"There was no recurrence of cancer," her doctor, Sacramento internist Dr. Lou Nishimura, told People magazine in November. "Technically, she died of liver failure brought on by viral hepatitis, which was AIDS-related."

Just how Blake contracted the disease, Nishimura did not know or would not say. After her glory days on television, Blake had semi-retired to her home in Phoenix to work in animal welfare. Known for bringing her pet lion on the "Gunsmoke" set, she helped found the Arizona Animal Welfare League and the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

According to People, speculation was that Blake, who was married five times, got it from her final spouse, Houston developer Mark Spaeth, who was thought to be gay and to whom she was married less than a year. He had died of AIDS-related pneumonia four years earlier. However, Blake's housekeeper told People that Blake swore the marriage had never been consummated.

Whatever the source, it stunned even her closest friends: "She'd just finished an episode of 'Dragnet,'" her agent, Steven Stevens, said. "Her last line when she walked out my door was, 'Get me a job. I want to do another job.'"

After 10 years of hobbling around Dodge City, Kan., as Chester Goode, Dennis Weaver also surprised and saddened fans by leaving "Gunsmoke" in 1964 for his own series, "Kentucky Jones." That show bombed after 26 episodes, but Weaver would still enjoy 40 more years in the Hollywood spotlight.

Fans will remember the Joplin, Mo., native as Marshal Sam McCloud in "McCloud" and in numerous TV movies, including "The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd" and "Cocaine: One Man's Seduction." A long-time vegetarian, the father of three died of cancer at age 81 on Feb. 24, 2006, the same day that another famous CBS-TV sidekick -- Don Knotts -- passed away.

My grandkids have moved into a pre-owned home. It has a closet underneath a basement stairway that has a strong odor of mothballs. What can they do? -- Marilyn Landgraf, of Columbia

When I bought my current home 15 years ago, the main-level half-bath reeked of cigars. I think it took two or three years (and numerous spritzes of Febreze) to fade away, so I feel your pain.

Mothballs apparently are even worse. I read of many people who used them to repel pests in their homes and then wind up in a motel because the smell overwhelms them. That's why you should use them only in sealed containers.

In your case, I hope one of these tips helps:

Most say scrubbing with water and detergent is useless. Instead, set out containers with substances that absorb odors. The most popular seems to be charcoal briquettes or trays of activated charcoal. Others suggest shallow containers of vinegar, baking soda or ammonia.

Heat also may help dissipate the stench, so you might try placing some kind of portable heater -- but please be careful not to start a fire. Also, you'll want plenty of air circulation so, if you can, leave the door open and have a box fan drawing air out or try renting an ozone air purifier. (Keep kids and pets away from any toxic substances.) A few suggest wiping surfaces with alcohol or other methylated spirits.

Other than that, patience is the order of the day -- or maybe a tip from some reader who has conquered the problem. Stay tuned.

Today's trivia

Which two states have neighboring towns named for explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: While we remembered those in the armed services Monday, veterans could have paid homage to Moina Michael. After World War I, Michael began teaching a class of disabled servicemen at the University of Georgia. Realizing those men needed financial and occupational support, she came up with the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds. The idea came from John McCrae's famous poem, "In Flanders Field," which described poppies growing amidst the many graves. In 1921, the American Legion Auxiliary adopted the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for disabled veterans.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or or call 618-236-2465.

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