Samantha doll by Ideal
Fundamentalists, take note: America just loves witches. And long before Hermione Grainger came along, there was Samantha.
Bewitched is one of the best-loved sitcoms of all time. Its setting was a gem of simplicity: an immortal witch falls in love with a very mortal human and the two get married, choosing to live a nice, quiet, normal human life in the suburbs. Naturally, there are complications involving her family, his family, nosy neighbors, and business associates who think they're hallucinating when they catch a glimpse of witchcraft in action.
As a formula, it worked wonderfully, and did so for eight years, between 1964 and 1972, for a total of 254 episodes. And that was just in its initial prime-time run: its early syndication period continued to win time slots, and can still be found on cable channels today. It won two Emmys out of its numerous nominations, both times for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy (for Alice Pearce, as Gladys Kravitz, and Marion Lorne as Aunt Clara). Though not the sort of television show one bragged about watching if one were in a more highbrow crowd, it remains a guilty pleasure of the over-30's.
The majority of the show's plots and complications revolved around the juxtaposition of the super-powered woman in the normal suburban (Westport, Connecticut) setting. Samantha had incredible abilities, but had made an agreement not to use them within the home. Her mother, Endora, despised the fact that her daughter was married to a mortal, and treated poor Darrin as contemptibly as her wicked imagination would allow (which usually resulted in him turning into a mule or some other situation impossible to explain away). Since a witch could do nothing to reverse another witch's spells, all Samantha could do was try to cover the situation up from the prying eyes of neighbors, and convince Endora to have a change of heart. Dr. Bombay was a literal witch doctor (well, warlock doctor) who could be called from anywhere to treat an immortal's illnesses, which usually resulted in some weird mixup of powers, or a drastic change in appearance.
The show abounded in outrageous and memorable charcacters. Paul Lynde appeared infrequently as Arthur, Samantha's trouble-loving brother with powers equal to her own. Aunt Clara was a witch who, as she got older, lost track of things and often forgot how to reverse some spells she'd cast which went awary. Larry Tate, Darrin's boss, was a bit of a smarmy jerk who often found himself on Endora's hit list, or else had to explain Darrin's in-law shenanigans to confused clients. Elizabeth Montgomery, the star, sometimes played a doubled role as Serena, Samantha's twin (except for the dark hair) cousin, who had absolutely no compunctions about using her own powers, whether they did ill for others or not. And neighbor Gladys Kravitz could always be counted on to be peeking through the window blinds at the various goings-on, which she would duly report to bored husband Abner.
The show was always extremely family-friendly; kids loved to watch the characters - especially the 'first' Darrin, Dick York, who wore his heart on his shirtsleeve - get into scrapes that they just couldn't explain away, thanks to some witch's weird spell. The show did tend to booze things up a bit, however; befitting the times, characters could always be counted on to ask for, and receive, a stiff martini. The show endured the entire period of the hippie-dominated late 1960's, and it showed: topical cultural references were common, and Samantha was always dressed in the latest fashion trends.
For that matter, Samantha always looked fabulous, no matter what she wore. Actress Elizabeth Montgomery was always extremely lovely, but also likeable and funny - the perfect choice to make audiences feel at ease with having a witch in their living rooms once a week. Dick York's twitchy Darrin forever seemed extremely ill-at-ease with his wife's heritage, and Endora's constant picking on him delighted viewers. Agnes Moorhead played the character of Endora to perfection, and is best remembered for this role - which is perhaps a bit unfair, given her beginnings in Orson Welles's Mercury Theater company.
The show continues to be popular today. Audiences tune in for the silly humor, ridiculous situations, and - perhaps most of all - because of its predictability. No matter what scheme Endora has thought up, no matter what cosmic forces play havoc with Samantha's powers, we know pretty much what we're going to get when we tune in to an episode of Bewitched. It is this comfortability (despite the strange premise of the series) that brings viewers back again and again.
Elizabeth Montgomery - Samantha Stephens/Serena
Dick York/Dick Sargent - Darrin Stephens
Agnes Moorehead - Endora
Erin & Diane Murphy - Tabitha
David & Greg Lawrence - Adam
Maurice Evans - Maurice (Samantha's father)
Paul Lynde - Uncle Arthur
Marion Lorne - Aunt Clara
Alice Ghostley - Esmerelda (the housekeeper)
Bernard Fox - Dr. Bombay
David White - Larry Tate
Alice Pearce/Sandra Gould - Gladys Kravitz
George Tobias - Abner Kravitz
- Elizabeth Montgomery was married to William Asher, the show's producer-director.
- Although played by Montgomery, the character of Serena is shown in the credits as being played by 'Pandora Sparks.'
- Paul Lynde, despite numerous roles in film and on stage, is mainly known to the public for his role as Uncle Arthur and also as the center square celebrity on long-running game show Hollywood Squares.
- The Stephens' street address was 1164 Morning Glory Circle, Westport, Connecticut.
- Raquel Welch appeared as a stewardess in a first-season episode - not long before she gained fame as being the most beautiful woman in the world.
- The character of the Stephens' daughter Tabitha got her own self-titled show in the 1977-78 season, in which she played a young woman working at a TV station who happened to have secret powers.
- In 2005, a statue was erected to Samantha in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, home of the famous 17th-century witch trials, which Sam herself attended in a 1970 story comprising two episodes.
- In 1994, cable channel Nick At Nite had viewers vote on who was the more powerful: Samantha, or Jeannie from I Dream Of Jeannie. Samantha won with 58% of the vote. (We suspect Endora may have tampered with the count.)