History, Legacy & Showmanship

Still Casting a Spell: Remembering “Bewitched” on its 50th Anniversary

September 17, 2014 - 8:00 am   |   by
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“Sam!”

The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the premiere of Bewitched, the magical supernatural situation comedy starring Elizabeth Montgomery that ran on ABC from 1964 to 1972 and in syndication ever since. The enchanting series premiered 50 years ago this week, and for the occasion The Bits features a Q&A with a trio of Bewitched and television historians and authors, who offer their recollections and insight into the popular series.  [Read more here...]

Also starring Dick York (1964-69), Dick Sargent (1969-72), Agnes Moorehead, and a bevy of memorable supporting and recurring players, the delightful series was nominated for 22 Emmys (winning three times) and was ranked in the Top 10 in the Nielsen ratings during three of its eight seasons and six times ranked in the Top 25. The show has been available for several years on DVD season sets and a complete series DVD set, but, Sony, where’s a Blu-ray release?

Anyway, let’s (alphabetically) meet the Q&A participants...

Tom Hill   David Pierce   Herbie Pilato

Tom Hill is the Creative Director at TV Land and the editor of Nick at Nite’s Classic TV Companion: The All Nite, Every Nite Guide to Better Living through Television (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1996). The Ithaca, New York, native’s other books include TV Land to Go: The Big Book of TV Lists, TV Lore, and TV Bests (Simon & Schuster, 2001), What to Expect When Your Wife Is Expanding: A Reassuring Month-by-Month Guide for the Father-to-Be, Whether He Wants Advice or Not (Andrews McMeel, 2007) and (with Steve Slavkin) Salute Your Shorts: Life at Summer Camp (Workman, 1986), which inspired the 1991-92 Nickelodeon television series.

David L. Pierce is the author of The Omni-Directional Three-Dimensional Vectoring Paper Printed Omnibus for Bewitched Analysis a.k.a. The Bewitched History Book (Bear Manor Media, 2012). The Salt Lake City native works as a Case Manager for disability insurance. The Bewitched History Book is his first book.

Herbie J Pilato is the writer of The Bewitched Book (Delta, 1992). The author, producer and consultant has also penned Bewitched Forever: The Immortal Companion to Television’s Most Magical Supernatural Situation Comedy (Tapestry, 1996; and updated in 2004), Twitch Upon a Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2012), and The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery: A Guide to her Magical Performances (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2013). The Rochester, New York, native’s other books include The Bionic Book: The Six Million Dollar Man & the Bionic Woman Reconstructed (Bear Manor Media, 2007), NBC & Me: My Life as a Page in a Book (Bear Manor Media, 2008), and Glamour, Gidgets, and the Girl Next Door: Television’s Iconic Women from the 50s, 60s, and 70s (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014). He heads the production company Television, Ink., and was a consulting producer on the DVD season sets of Bewitched, CHiPs, Kung Fu and The Six Million Dollar Man.

The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.

Twitch Upon a Star  The Bewitched History Book  Classic TV Companion

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Bewitched worthy of celebration on its 50th anniversary?

Tom Hill: Bewitched is one of the most beloved and iconic shows in all of classic TV. It deserves to be celebrated any time! It was a long-running hit that really helped define an era, the high-concept sitcoms of the 60s and early 70s.

David L. Pierce: Bewitched has never been off the air since it first broadcast on September 17, 1964. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone (over 25 years old anyway...this younger generation...) that hasn’t heard of it and had fond memories of the show. And in talking with the cast and guest stars all of them only have fond memories of the set, so all that means there definitely should be a celebration of one of the best shows in TV history! Also, on the actual 50th anniversary of the premiere of the series, a group of Bewitched fans from as far away as Australia and Scotland are gathering in Studio City, California, for the Bewitched Fan Fare. The Fan Fare is an event that began in 2000 where eight people gathered in Reno (where one of the group lived) that has grown year over year. In those years following many Bewitched guest stars like Bernard Fox, Erin Murphy, and others have joined us and will join us this year. There will be presentations, guest panels, and memorabilia auctions.

Herbie J Pilato: Bewitched is worthy of any commemoration in so many ways—and on so many levels. First and foremost, it was one of the first television hits for ABC, which was a relatively young network at the time. The show was a hit from the moment it debuted on September 17th, 1964—and it helped to put ABC on the map. Secondly, and from a creative standpoint, the series was one of the most well-written and thought-out sitcoms of all time; it certainly was the most well-written and thought-out supernatural sitcoms of all time. The pilot episode, written by series creator Sol Saks, has gone down in history as one of the finest crafted half-hours of television ever created—in any genre. It not only sets up the premise of the entire series, it somehow manages to have a solid B-storyline (involving Samantha meeting Darrin’s former fiancé). Also, too, prestigious writers like Danny Arnold, who would go on to create Barney Miller for ABC a decade or so later, and Bernard Slade (Same Time Next Year on Broadway, and The Partridge Family on ABC), contributed some of the best scripts in the entire series—and they both helped to set up the sitcom for years to come. Executive producer Harry Ackerman, and director/producer William Asher—who worked together on I Love Lucy a few years before (when Ackerman was a network executive with CBS), teamed on Bewitched which, in many ways, was very similar to I Love Lucy. Both shows featured a mixed marriage. Housewife Lucy, played by Lucille Ball, was married to a Latin man (named Ricky, played by Ball’s real-life spouse Desi Arnaz). Housewitch Samantha, played by Elizabeth Montgomery, was married to a mortal man Darrin, played by Dick York and Dick Sargent (Sargent stepped into the role after York left the series due to a serious back ailment), Lucy utilized humor to deal with life obstacles; Samantha utilized magic. Also, too, the likable charm of Bewitched’s charismatic, versatile and expansive cast was nothing short of astounding. In addition to Elizabeth, York, and Sargent, the show’s performers included the esteemed Agnes Moorehead, David White, Maurice Evans, Marion Lorne, Alice Pearce, Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, and so many more, all of whom came to the show with an extensive list of stellar stage and screen credits. Into this mix, the core themes of the show...  prejudice, strong work-ethic, true friendship...  spoke so clearly to the turbulent 60s in which the show first aired—and continues to strike a chord with the contemporary viewer of our still-unfortunately very troubled times today.

Bewitched

Coate: Can you recall when you first saw the show?

Hill: Strangely enough, I first watched it when I first started working at Nick at Nite! I must have seen it before—but it wasn’t quite the syndication hit that Lucy, Gilligan or Brady were, so I hadn’t see much. I was assigned to write promos, so I sat down and “binge watched” (before there was such a thing). I loved it. First impressions—both Gladys and Abner Kravitz were absolutely hilarious, loved that Darrin worked in advertising... and most of all, I found myself with a serious crush on Elizabeth Montgomery.

Pierce: I answered this very question in the Preface of The Bewitched History Book: The show aired in syndication in the afternoons when I was growing up and I watched it with my mother when I came home from Kindergarten. I was captivated by the supernatural reality presented where I saw people and things disappear, objects float, and historical figures brought back to life. But most of all I was captivated by the gorgeous enchantress known as Samantha played by Elizabeth Montgomery. Liz was so classy, yet funny. And her features were so mesmerizing: her green eyes capped by pointy eyebrows, her cute nose which somehow she managed to wiggle in order for Samantha to perform magic, and her beautiful golden hair. She was perfect. And she definitely was the reason I watched day after day, though the magic happenings were a huge plus.

Pilato: I was only four years old when the show debuted, but I remember watching it first in reruns on ABC in the daytime, and then in prime-time when it began to be broadcast in color, in its third season, which was 1966-1967. In fact, not only do I remember watching the show, but it’s one of my first general memories in life. The first memory I have is watching John F. Kennedy’s memorial service on television. The second was watching an episode of Bewitched (in which Samantha’s next-door neighbors Abner and Gladys Kravitz [played by the great George Tobias and Alice Pearce], separate—and Samantha literally brings them together, by magic, in the middle of the street). That said, the Kennedy memorial telecast would prove somewhat interlocking to the show, as both Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband Bill Asher were friends with President Kennedy. In fact, Asher directed JFK’s famous birthday party event at which Marilyn Monroe sang a breathy Happy Birthday. And as fate would also have it, Bewitched had begun rehearsals on November 22, 1963—the day JFK was assassinated. From there on in, the home viewer embraced Bewitched, and other escapist TV fare like it, to try and forget the troubles of the day. We all wished we could twitch our noses like Samantha to make life easier.

The Disappearing Samantha

Coate: What was the objective with your books?

Hill: The objective of the Classic TV Companion was to sell a million books. Failing that, it was to launch a series of Nick at Nite books. It did neither. It’s a fine book—but reading about every episode turns out to be less fun than watching every episode. I think the best outcome was that I discovered several excellent writers when I divvied up the work.

Pierce: Also from The Bewitched History Book: The intent of this book is to bring the magic of Bewitched to a bigger audience than just Bewitched fans, but also to bring the magic and wonder of the world that was happening around Bewitched to those fans, like me, that weren’t around to experience it all, so that we can see that even though we think we may have it tough, it’s always been that way, but yet humankind still manages to make it without using witchcraft, like Samantha would try to do. Of course, it wouldn’t always work, but at least we could see that someone so powerful was trying to get along the “hard way.”

Pilato: I wanted to write the first Bewitched Book, which was published by Dell in 1992, because the series deserved a literary companion. But I did not want to write just a trivia book. My objective was to explore the meaning behind the show—and what it meant to the cast, the crew—and, of course, the viewers. And I wanted to make sure I involved as many of the cast and crew members as possible. So, I was very blessed to have access to Elizabeth, Dick York, Dick Sargent, and David White; Harry Ackerman, Bill Asher, and so many more cast and crew members. Then when Elizabeth passed away so young in 1995, I knew I had to revise the book in some way, and the result was Bewitched Forever, which was published by Summit in 1996, then revised again in 2001, and then again by Tapestry Press in 2004—which was the 40th Anniversary of the show’s debut—followed in 2005—which is when Nora Ephron released her feature film edition of the series. Meanwhile, too, I had always known I wanted to write a full-length biography on Elizabeth Montgomery, because she was such a wonderful and influential actress and human being, before, during and after Bewitched. And after my initial interviews with her, I realized there was so much information about her life and career beyond Bewitched, that a biography was inevitable

Coate: Where do you think Bewitched ranks among great TV shows?

Uncle Arthur

Hill: Honestly, Bewitched is great, and brought together a wonderful cast, but it was an era of somewhat formulaic writing and directing, so it would be hard to compare it to the very best sitcoms of all time—Seinfeld, Lucy, All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke... sorry! Happy 50th anyway!

Pierce: I think Bewitched is very comfortable being a part of the TV classics like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. It spawned many copy-cats and therefore I would place it in the top 5 of all time.

Pilato: There’s many wonderful television shows in history, of every genre, and Bewitched is definitely in my Top Ten, along with I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Father Knows Best, Star Trek, Kung Fu, All in the Family, Reba, and Frasier—all of which are well-crafted in every level of storytelling, production and performance. And really, there are so many more personal favorites... too many to mention.  

Coate: Which are the standout episodes?

Hill: Two standout episodes are Divided He Falls and Illegal Separation. The first is a tour de force performance by Dick York, who is split into two Darrins (no, not THOSE two Darrins)—a fun side and a hardworking side. The latter spotlights Abner and Gladys Kravitz—as Sam mends their marital troubles.

Dr. Bombay

Pierce: There are so many but I’ll try to narrow it down:

The first episode I, Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha is truly phenomenal as it packs in Darrin and Samantha meeting, dating, getting married, having their honeymoon, Samantha revealing her witchhood, and dealing with Darrin’s ex all within 25 minutes.

A is for Aardvark from Season One also stands out because it essentially explains why Darrin is so against the witchcraft. It’s also a beautiful episode as Samantha reveals that all she truly wants in this world is Darrin, even if she could have anything or anyone she wanted.

And Then There Were Three from Season Two introduces us to Tabitha and Samantha’s twin cousin Serena. It also showed us that Endora had a soft spot in her heart for Darrin, and he for her when he apologizes for accusing her of making Tabitha into an adult by letting the baby have the name Tabitha, which Endora had suggested.

Season Three’s opener Nobody’s Perfect is the first episode aired in color and it also introduced Erin and Diane Murphy as Tabitha, not to mention it was where we learn that she takes after her mother’s side of the family.

The Trial and Error of Aunt Clara from Season Three showed the great love between Samantha and her Aunt Clara who goes on trial to see if she should be stripped of her powers. This episode is also very indicative of the real relationship Elizabeth Montgomery had with Marion Lorne.

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble also known as The Pie Fight episode is always memorable as Darrin and Samantha get into a pie throwing contest when he thinks she is Serena. It’s frightening as it goes along and Endora gets one right to the face along with Serena, but boy is it hysterical!

And Something Makes Three

My favorite episode of the entire series is Allergic to Macedonian Dodos from Season Four. It’s a perfect showcase for Agnes Moorehead’s talents as she really plays up the helpless Endora who has just lost her powers. It’s also great fun to see Aunt Clara with working powers. And, of course, Dr. Bombay makes one of his funny appearances.

One that everyone seems to remember is Season Four’s My, What Big Ears You Have when Darrin’s ears grow to gigantic size after Endora casts a spell on them to grow every time he tells a lie.

Season Five has some great ones even though they don’t have Darrin in them—Mrs. Stephens, Where are You? and Marriage, Witches’ Style, both featuring Serena. It is great to watch Elizabeth play against herself as both Samantha and Serena.

Season Six’s opener, Samantha and the Beanstalk, is memorable as it’s the first one to have Dick Sargent as Darrin. It’s also where Erin Murphy started showing more of her own personality in Tabitha.

Serena Stops the Show from Season Six is also another memorable one as we get to see Serena rock out with singing duo Boyce and Hart.

All of the Salem episodes from Season Seven’s beginning are great as the show shot most of them on location in Salem, MA.

And the Season Eight opener which was in two parts How Not to Lose Your Head to King Henry VIII is great as we get to hear Liz sing.

Cousins

Pilato: Many of the black-and-white episodes from the first season are some of the show’s finest, including A is for Aardvark, in which Samantha gifts Darrin with the power of witchcraft. And from there he realizes that making strides in life and attaining goals don’t mean anything unless you work for it.  Another segment, Charlie Harper, Winner (ironically referencing Charlie’s Sheen’s character from Two and a Half Men, and his latter-day personal life-coaching slogan) is from the fourth season. Here, Samantha and Darrin grow closer as they confront materialism. Then there’s Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember, also from the fourth season, when Samantha and Darrin are thrust into the past and deal head-on with racism and witch burning of Old Salem. The Battle of Burning Oak, from the fifth season, when Samantha and Darrin confront the upper-crest snobs of a private country club; and several more. But my favorite was Elizabeth’s favorite: Sisters at Heart, from the seventh season. It was an episode that directly addressed prejudice, and it was written by the 1971 multi-cultural graduating class of Jefferson High School in Los Angeles.

Coate: Which are the ideal episodes to introduce to someone who has never seen the show?

Hill: Start at the beginning! The first episode is a gem. And stick with Dick York. Dick Sargent could be charming, but he never had the manic comic energy Dick York brought to the role.

Pierce: The pilot episode; Be It Ever So Mortgaged, where they buy the iconic house and where we are introduced to the neighbors, the Kravitzes; Mother Meets What’s-His-Name, where Endora and Darrin meet; The Witches Are Out, which is the first Halloween episode that showed us that the show was really about race relations, and it’s also where we are introduced to Aunt Clara; Just One Happy Family, where we are introduced to Samantha’s father, Maurice; Samantha Meets the Folks, where Darrin’s parents are introduced; A Vision of Sugar Plums, the first Christmas episode and one of the first times we see Samantha in her flying suit; Driving is the Only Way to Fly, which is the first time Paul Lynde guest starred (but not as Uncle Arthur); Alias, Darrin Stephens, where Samantha reveals she’s pregnant; The Joker is a Card, where we are introduced to Uncle Arthur; And Then There Were Three, where Tabitha is born and Serena is introduced; Disappearing Samantha, which is Bernard Fox’s first episode but not as Dr. Bombay; Nobody’s Perfect, The Moment of Truth and Witches and Warlocks are my Favorite Things, where Tabitha’s powers are revealed and tested, Endora Moves in for a Spell and Twitch or Treat, which are Sandra Gould’s first episodes as Gladys Kravitz; Charlie Harper, Winner, where we learn why Darrin is so against the witchcraft; Long Live the Queen, where Samantha is crowned Queen of the Witches; Mirror, Mirror, because it showcases Dick York’s talents plus William Asher is seen briefly with some lines as an irritated driver; Marriage, Witches’ Style, where Serena has really become the character she would remain the rest of the series; Samantha’s Good News, where she reveals she’s pregnant again; Samantha and the Beanstalk, as it has the new Darrin, Samantha’s Yoo-Hoo Maid, where Esmeralda is introduced; And Something Makes Four, which is the birth of Adam; Naming Samantha’s New Baby, where Adam gets his name; all the Salem episodes; Sisters at Heart, which is Elizabeth Montgomery’s favorite episode; How Not to Lose Your Head to King Henry VIII parts 1 and 2 for Liz’s singing and because Dick Sargent and Agnes Moorehead are so funny; Adam, Warlock or Washout, where Adam’s powers are tested and The Truth, Nothing But the Truth, So Help Me, Sam, the series’ last episode.

Allergic

Pilato: Those I just mentioned as well as Long Live the Queen and If They Never Met, from the fourth season; most from the fourth season, in fact, which I consider as the show’s peak season; the opening segments of the show’s seventh season, when Samantha and Darrin journey to Salem, Massachusetts, so she can attend a witches’ convention; and any episode that features Agnes Moorehead, David White, Marion Lorne and Paul Lynde.

Coate: What are your thoughts on the DVD season sets of the series? Will the show ever get released on Blu-ray Disc?

Pierce: I will begin by saying that I am very grateful that all eight seasons are on DVD in beautiful color, crystal clear image, and great sound. With rare exception they are also all complete. However, Sony really dropped the ball on this one as there are so many extras that should’ve been included like the sponsor openings and closings, sponsor commercials, cast commercials, TV specials the cast was in, etc. Other shows like Get Smart, The Beverly Hillbillies, I Love Lucy, and The Dick Van Dyke Show all received releases with all those extras and there is no reason but laziness why Bewitched shouldn’t have had the same treatment. As far as Blu-ray goes, I doubt Bewitched will ever get that treatment. I thought for sure it would happen for the 50th anniversary.

Pilato: I was involved with the initial DVD release, and I thought Sony did a wonderful job with the extras and documentaries, etc. And it would be wonderful to see a Blu-ray release of the show.

Coate: Do you prefer the black-and-white episodes or the color episodes? And do you prefer the first two seasons be seen in their original black-and-white format or in the colorized version?

Pierce: Although I do own the first two seasons in their colorized form and black-and-white form, I prefer the black-and-white. It gives the show a more classic and sometimes more spooky feel. Plus a lot of the times the colorists got the colors wrong anyway based on color still photos from the time.

Pilato: There are two camps on this, just like there are two camps on the “two Darrins” debate. I enjoy the first two black-and-white seasons because the episodes were more “domestic,” regarding Samantha and Darrin’s relationship... from more of a mortal perspective sprinkled with magic; whereas the remaining six color seasons feature more elaborate special effects—which was a mandate placed on the show by ABC. The network wanted to increase the show’s popularity with younger viewers—and that certainly happened. And as to the great Darrin debate, I like to look at it as how Elizabeth told me she saw it: many people viewed Dick Sargent’s second Darrin as the more manic Darrin than Dick York’s initial interpretation of the role. But as Elizabeth said, the character of Darrin became more accepting of the magic by the time Sargent came to play the role. So his response to the magic mayhem was not as spastic as York’s. But I loved both Dick York and Dick Sargent in the part, regardless.

Bewitched: The Complete Series (DVD)Coate: What are your thoughts on the 2005 movie with Nicole Kidman?

Pierce: I had always wanted Nicole Kidman to play Samantha so I was so excited when it was announced she would. But then after seeing the movie and how it wasn’t a direct remake and the mess in directing and casting, I’m really not a fan of the movie (though I do have quite a bit of the rare memorabilia from the movie). Will Ferrell was a terrible choice as he’s what brought in the crass jokes, Shirley MacLaine was awful and did Endora no good...and it was just an embarrassment.

Pilato: I was involved with this film as a consultant, and I think Nora Ephron worked diligently to remain loyal to the original series; and her contemporary take, of making it a movie about a real witch coming to Earth to star in a TV remake of Bewitched was quite clever. And the film also paid quite respective homage to Elizabeth Montgomery.

Coate: What is the legacy of Bewitched?

Hill: I’m not the first to say it, but I think one of the most interesting things about Bewitched was that it dealt with a cultural shift, the newly empowered women of the 60s. Sure, it was a silly and often farcical take—but women taking charge, being powerful, there were some legitimate underlying issues that gave the show a relevance even if only in a more or less subconscious way.

Pierce: I think the legacy is that it showed us that although there are differences in people we can all get along. It also shows that a TV show can be funny and good without all the bad language and sexual situations that happen in today’s TV.

Pilato: The legacy of Bewitched is the legacy of love and mutual respect for all peoples that the show represented... and the legacy of its main star, Elizabeth Montgomery, who brought her real-life down-to-earth charm to playing Samantha; how Elizabeth incorporated her true sense of life priorities into the show; and how she used her fame from the series to not only bring so much joy to the world, but to lend her name, time, energy and money to countless charitable causes... before it became fashionable to do so.

Coate: Thank you, Tom, David and Herbie, for participating and sharing your thoughts on Bewitched on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

---

- Michael Coate

Bewitched Fanfare Convention

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