Decades before Sabrina the Teenage Witch weaved her magic in a prime-time American situation comedy, another female practitioner of the mystic arts had already cast a spell across viewing audience's worldwide. Her name was Samantha. The series was Bewitched.
Originally inspired by two Hollywood movies; I Married A Witch (1942), and Bell, Book and Candle (1958) this long running series chronicled the adventures of Samantha Stephens (played by Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of Hollywood star Robert), a seemingly normal housewife who was in fact a 'white witch', and husband Darrin; a NY advertising executive for the company of McMann and Tate. Samantha performed her magic (by simply twitching her nose or snapping her fingers) much to the consternation of Darrin who didn't approve of anything supernatural. Further pressure was put on the pair by Samantha's mother Endora (former Oscar nominee Agnes Moorhead), who in turn didn't approve of her daughter being married to a mere mortal (she would refer to him as 'Dumb Dumb'), and would use her own particular brand of magic to cause domestic strife.
As if the Stephen's didn't have enough to contend with, Darrin's boss, Larry Tate (oblivious of Samantha's 'special talents') was a money grabbing slave driver who expected Darrin to pander to the very whim of every client on McMann and Tate's books even if it included using the attractive Samantha to act as the perfect hostess in the Stephens' own household. There were also the nosey neighbours, Abner and Gladys Kravitz, and a host of Samantha's family members who would stop by the Stephen's household now and then for, in Darrin's eyes, an extremely unwelcome visit. The most popular of these with the audience was Aunt Clara (played with delightfully eccentric vagueness by veteran actress Marion Lorne) who always got her spells wrong. The least popular with Darrin (after Endora) was Samantha's identical cousin, Serena (also played by Elizabeth Montgomery although billed as Pandora Spocks. Matters grew even worse for Darrin when Sam gave birth to a daughter, Tabitha, who was possessed of the same powers as her mother. However, one wonders just how much sympathy the audience had for Darrin and how much they actually revelled in his discomfort when he can best be described as somewhat in the 'drippy' side!
The show was produced by Montgomery's husband, William Asher, and over it's 8-year run it saw many cast changes. The most notable of these was leading man Dick York who had suffered from back problems for many years. Eventually York was unable to continue and so was suddenly replaced by Dick Sargent, who had actually been the producers original choice to play the character but had proved to be unavailable. The transition proved to be a smooth one due to the two actors physical likeness and near itentical performances. Mrs Kravitz was played by two actresses (Sandra Gould took over after the death in 1966 of Alice Pearce), and Larry Tate's wife, Louise, was also played by two actresses (Irene Vernon from 1964 untill 1966 and Kasey Rogers for the remainder). Five years after it finished Sam and Darrin's daughter Tabitha returned in her own series in which she was a young adult working for a TV station. (In spite of the fact that she would only have been 11 years old!).
The format was revived for a Bewitched movie in 2005 starring the usually excellent Nicole Kidman, but it failed to enchant critics and public alike. A great shame, as the original, with a simple premise, charming performances from an assured cast of professionals and engaging scripts, effortlessly ensured that Bewitched the TV series still showing in reruns worldwide continues to conjure a smile long after other shows of its time have lost their original sparkle.
Published on November 29th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus (1999 & 2006) for Television Heaven.