Bewitched: The Sexiest Nose Twitch on Television

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Welcome to day two of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Today we will be discussing the supernatural family show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens, the suburban housewife with the cutest nose twitch on television! Contrary to other supernatural television characters, Samantha was uncomfortable with her witchy abilities. She wanted the life of a traditional housewife with two children–a boy and a girl, of course–a station wagon, a dog, and a house in a quiet neighborhood where friends could stop by on occasion for a cup of tea and gossip. Instead of cleaning up after her children, Samantha was forced to use her supernatural abilities to clean up the messes created by her meddling mother, Endora, and other various nuisance relatives.

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Publicity photo of Elizabeth Montgomery. Montgomery played the lovely mother, housewife, and secret witch in the supernatural sitcom Bewitched, which of course was released in the magic year of 1968.

It’s not that Samantha is ashamed of her family or her supernatural ancestry. The problem is that her husband is a traditionalist, a corporate fanny-kisser, and Samantha, though she lives in the 1960s, prefers the happy homemaker image of the 1950s, which includes remaining faithful to her husband’s ideals, which include not cheating–and by cheating I do not mean infidelity.

The business ethics of Darrin Stephens include honesty, hard work, and acquiring wealth and achieving success only if it is earned. This list, of course, does not include the use of magic spells or nose twitches. Darrin is proud of his wife for her beauty and dedication to their family, but he is embarrassed by her family, and the fact that his daughter is a witch, and his son is a warlock.

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Dick York as Darrin Stephens and Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens in Bewitched.

When you think about it, although this sitcom was exceptionally popular–it ran from September of 1964 to July of 1972 and ranked in the Top 25 five times during its run–it was shocking sexist for the times. Samantha’s appeal is sexual–she is alluring, bewitching, enticing, charming, and although her husband often ends up looking like a fool in his efforts to prevent his wife from exposing her supernatural abilities, Samantha always remains calm, cool, and silky smooth.

The Cast of Bewitched

Samantha Stephens is played by Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of actor Robert Montgomery. Robert Montgomery was nominated for two Oscars and believed to be the best dressed man in Hollywood, which may explain what appears to be an almost instinctive sex appeal in the performances of his daughter, Elizabeth–she had a great teacher. Elizabeth surprised her father when she enrolled in the Academy of Dramatic Arts, then shocked him again when he was told of her success with her first audition–Elizabeth had landed a role in the show Top Secret, and her father was the show’s star. Elizabeth met television producer William Asher and the two fell madly in love. The two searched for a script  for a show she could star in so they could spend more time together, and discovered Bewitched. Elizabeth designed her own costumes for the show, which were so popular that she eventually created her own clothing line.

Dick York

Dick York as Darrin Stephens in Bewitched. Dick York played the role from 1964 to 1969.

Dick York played Darrin Stephens in Bewitched, an executive with the New York advertising firm of McMann and Tate. York was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. In short, he was hysterically funny! Unfortunately, he also had a degenerative spine injury and was forced to leave the show in 1969. He actually tore all the muscles in his back in 1959 while working on a film with Gary Cooper and never recovered. The pain was unbearable for York, and in 1969 he had a seizure on the set of Bewitched. He was taken to the hospital and never returned to the set. Bewitched continued with Dick Sargent playing the role of Darrin and the show’s ratings dropped immediately and drastically–apparently, the audience loved the wimpy character played by Dick York!

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Agnes Moorehead starred as Samantha’s mother, Endora, in Bewitched.

The Most Dangerous Mother-In-Law in Sitcom History

Samantha’s mother was clearly the greatest source of conflict in this family sitcom. She was more than a meddler, she was a witch in every sense of the word. She did not like her son-in-law and did everything she could to interfere in her daughter’s relationship, inspiring television historian John Javna to refer to her as “The most dangerous mother-in-law in sitcom history!” In fact, Agnes Moorehead was a bit uncomfortable with the role. She was 57 when Bewitched started filming with a 50 year successful acting career that began with the American Mercury Theater starring alongside Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. She won an Emmy, was nominated for five Oscars, and appeared in over 100 films before Bewitched. The audience would never have guessed that she was uncomfortable with the role, though. Agnes Moorehead was a professional in every sense of the word and her performance as the meddling mother-in-law was outstanding.

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The Stephens family in 1971 screenshot for Bewitched. At this point, Dick Sargent had replaced Dick York as Darrin Stephens. Erin Murphy played young Tabitha and David Lawrence played Adam Stephens. Both children inherited their mother’s supernatural powers in the show.  

Bewitched is still believed to be one of the most popular supernatural sitcoms in television history. Although Elizabeth Montgomery had bit parts in films and television shows before Bewitched, this was the show that truly made her famous. The show also won three Emmys, a testament to its popularity. Samantha Stephens was the first “witch” to star in a television show. When Dick York left the show, his disappearance was also a first–it was the first time a lead character left a show without an explanation. Nevertheless, the show continued for three more years in spite of the drop in ratings, due primarily to the popularity of Elizabeth Montgomery.

Little Tabitha (Erin Murphy) also contributed to the show’s popularity. In fact, ABC gave Tabitha her own sitcom in 1977. Tabitha was played by Lisa Hartman who was an adult employed by a television station. The show only lasted a year.

When Tabitha first appeared on the show as a baby she was played by three sets of twins until the producers finally settled on the adorable Erin Murphy. The fans loved the name Tabitha, though. After her first appearance, thousands of babies were named in her honor in the US.

Sources: 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.