Friday, September 17, 2004

The 40th Anniversary of Bewitched

It was forty years ago tonight that the TV show Bewitched debuted. For those few of you who have never seen the series, Bewitched centred on a witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) who married a mortal named Darrin Stevens (originally played by Dick York, later played by Dick Sargent). In the world of Bewitched, witches were exceedingly powerful, able to conjure up nearly anything with a spell and living thousands of years. As such, they tended to look down on mere mortals. Samantha's marriage to Darrin was then not greeted with joy by much of her family, especially not her overbearing mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead). Endora was very unhappy that her daughter would give up her life as a witch and casting spells to be a common homemaker. Fortunately, for Sam (as she was affectionately called by Darrin), not all of her family shared this attitude. Her favourite Aunt, Clara, had no problem accepting Darrin. Unfortunately, due to her advanced age Clara's powers were failing. As a result, her spells would sometimes go haywire and cause all sorts of chaos, from bringing aliens to Earth to summoning Queen Victoria to the present.

Naturally, Darrin and Samantha chose to keep the fact that she was a witch secret from the mortal world. Even Larry Tate, Darrin's boss at the advertising firm of McMann and Tate, did not know Sam's true nature. This was perhaps fortunate, as Larry's mind was always on making money and bringing new clients to his firm; one can guess what he would probably wanted to use Sam's powers for! Darrin and Samantha's, nosey neighbour Gladys Kravitz (originally played by Alice Pierce and later played by Sandra Gould) kept a constant eye on the Stephens household and was always certain that there was something strange taking place there. Fortunately, her husband Abner (George Tobias) always dismissed any wild (and usually true) claims that she made.

In addition to the regular characters, other members of Sam's family and the witch community would appear from time to time. Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde) was a practical joker who often made Darrin the butt of his jokes. Her cousin Serena (played by Elizabeth Montgomery herself) was Sam's brunette double. She was also the wild child of the family, very much at home in the swinging Sixties. Dr. Bombay (Bernard Fox) was the witch doctor who had to treat Sam any time she fell ill.

I have always thought that in some ways Bewitched has never quite gotten the respect it deserves. Because of its premise, many dismiss it as a bit of fantastic fluff, but like many of the imaginative comedies of Sixties, Bewitched was actually a complex show. It was very well written and its cast, one of the best in Sixties television, consistently gave good performances. At its heart Bewitched was a romantic comedy that centred on the travails of a married couple, albeit an unusual one. At the same time, however, Bewitched was capable of addressing serious issues that might have been off limits if not for not for its fantastic premise. Bewitched tackled such issues as bigotry, capitalism, feminism, and social oppression. Of course, it can also be pointed out that its premise essentially centred on a "mixed" marriage.

Bewitched lasted 8 seasons on ABC before going on to a very successful syndication run. Indeed, it is still being reran to this day, on cable channels such as TVLand and on local channels all over the world. I think it is safe to say that it will still be running forty years from now as well.

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