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Celebrating The Charms Of ‘Bewitched,’ 50 Years Later

Celebrating The Charms Of 'Bewitched,' 50 Years Later

The first episode of the television show that made
its mark with the endearing force of a nose twitch aired on ABC
in the fall of 1964. Five decades (and a disastrous remake) later,
the Paley Center for Media is set to host a two-day marathon of select
“Bewitched” episodes in honor of the show’s 50th anniversary (which took place this month on the 17th). 

Author and “Bewitched” aficionado Herbie J Pilato was asked
to curate the seven episodes chosen to air September 27 and 28 at Paley Center locations in New
York and Los Angeles.

“The neat thing about it is that [“Bewitched”] is going to
be on a big screen, and it will be the first time the general public will be
granted that opportunity,” he told Indiewire.

Surprisingly, “Bewitched” isn’t so easily accessible in the
digital age. Case in point — the series is currently only available from Netflix on DVD, and Hulu only has assorted episodes from the first two seasons
available for streaming. (Sony Pictures Entertainment just released the complete
series last October on DVD.)

READ MORE: How Not to Write About Classic Television

Pilato, who has written four books on the show and is the founder/executive
director of the Classic TV Preservation Society, found it difficult to pinpoint
the seven episodes to feature: “They first said to me, ‘okay, we can only show seven
episodes’ and I was like how do I pick seven episodes of a show I think has 254
great episodes?”

In the end, he chose the seven episodes he thought would
provide the best insight into the series. “I wanted to choose segments that were representative of the
main message the series, that allowed proper representation of Elizabeth
[Montgomery] and each of the main actors the show is known for,” Pilato said.

The show was cultivated, for the most part, under the
helm of director William Asher. He directed more than 100 episodes of the ‘50s
hit “I Love Lucy” and is frequently dubbed the “inventor of the sitcom.”

“Bewitched” tells the story of the union between a witch who
marries a mortal advertising executive and the whimsical adventures that occur as a
result of disproval on their mixed-race marriage — mostly from the supernatural
side of the family, along with Samantha’s attempts to hide her magical
background in order to maintain the image of an ordinary housewife.

Asher was the then-husband of actress Elizabeth Montgomery
who played the role of charismatic witch Samantha. The couple married in 1963
and Asher convinced Montgomery to do “Bewitched” with him during a period in
her life where she considered giving up on her acting career.

Dick York played Samantha’s human husband, Darrin Stephens from
1964 to 1969 until he had to leave the program due to debilitating pain
associated with a back injury. He was replaced with Dick Sargent, a naturally
controversial switch, who played Darrin for the rest of the series. Agnes
Moorehead portrayed Samantha’s meddling mother Endora and David White was Larry
Tate, Darrin’s self-serving boss.

Pilato said Dick Sargent was the more calm and gentle of the
two Darrins, but gave one of his best performances as Darrin in episode 183
“You’re So Agreeable” (one of the seven to premiere at the Paley Center).

The show ran on ABC for eight seasons — from 1964 to 1972, the
series switching from black and white to color on its third season in 1966. During that time, “Bewitched” and its cast picked up several Emmy and
Golden Globe nominations — Asher winning the Emmy for Outstanding Directional
Achievement in a Comedy in 1966, Alice Pearce (Gladys Kravitz) also taking the
Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy that year and Marion Lorne
(Aunt Clara) won the same Emmy in 1968. Pearce and Lorne were awarded
posthumously.

Another episode of note in the lineup is number 17, “A Is for
Aardvark,” which Pilato described as a favorite of Asher’s. Pilato wanted to
include it because he said it was an episode that got to the heart of the
series — the fact that despite their differences, Darrin and Samantha love each
other for who they are.

True love, hiding the true self, being an outsider and
prejudice were some of the show’s central themes — themes that related to a ‘60s
and ‘70s audience fraught with social upheaval, searching for an escape in the
fantastical fun of “Bewitched,” but instead discovering resonance.

“The beautiful witch and all her kooky but endearing
relatives — Aunt Clara, Uncle Arthur, etc. — testify to the unreliability and
small-mindedness of stereotypes (in this case, of witches and warlocks), and the
single most biased character in the series, Endora, is constantly proven wrong
and given her comeuppance,” said David Bushman, TV curator at the Paley Center
in an email.

“I think ‘Bewitched’ also resonates culturally as one of the
‘secret sitcoms’ that were so prevalent in the late fifties and into the
sixties — including shows like ‘My Favorite Martian,’ ‘My Mother the Car,’
‘Mister Ed,’ and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ – all featuring protagonists who were
hiding some secret that they felt would have resulted in society judging them
harshly,” Bushman added. “All these shows sort of poked fun at that idea, and reaffirmed the
notion that it was OK to be different or unconventional.”

Pilato said themes of isolation present with Samantha’s character drew in a large following with minorities, such as the black community. 

“There’s also a huge gay following attracted to the show
because of that. Also, Elizabeth advocated for AIDS — and Dick Sargent, the second Darrin, came out [in 1991],” he said. 

Paul Lynde, who played the role of Endora’s mischievous
brother, was a good friend of Montgomery and Asher’s. His sexuality was well known in the entertainment scene, but never acknowledged publicly.

In addition to addressing social issues, “Bewitched”
influenced pop culture sphere. NBC’s “I Dream of Jeannie” followed ABC’s
“Bewitched” to compete in ratings after taking note of the show’s success in its
debut season. 

“Bewitched” also enabled the productions of other shows such as
“Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Charmed” in the late ‘90s. Pilato even said that the “Harry Potter” franchise would have not existed without Samantha.

Not to mention the “Bewitched”
similarities found in “Mad Men”
 — Don Draper and Darrin would certainly have
a lot to talk about.

“But you know what? If something is good, it’s good,” Pilato
said of the classic’s lasting popularity. “The only thing dated about it is the clothes and cars.”

Check out more information on the “Bewitched” marathon event,
including the full episode lineup and tickets, on the Paley Center’s website.

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