When I was young I used to love watching Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched,” the 1960s-70s sitcom about the beautiful witch, Samantha Stephens, and her mortal husband Darrin. To her immense credit, Montgomery was able to make Samantha seem like a perfectly plausible witch and an equally believable suburban housewife.
As a girl, what really drew me to Samantha was her power, and I don’t just mean witchcraft. She could handle any situation, and look perfect doing it. It isn’t, of course, easy to live among mortals and carry out boring mortal rituals, like driving to the grocery store and cooking dinner, knowing all the while that you could take care of those mundane tasks in seconds with the twitch of a nose. But she took on this burden because she (inexplicably) loved Darrin and she always succeeded in whatever she set out to do. (It’s often unclear what she sees in the hapless ad exec).
The antics of Samantha’s witch and warlock relatives often played havoc with the Stephens’ home life as well as Darrin’s career. But Samantha repeatedly saves the day, not to mention Darrin’s butt. On quite a few occasions, she is instrumental in securing huge advertising clients for her husband. Of course, her actions were often in response to her witch relatives meddling in Darrin’s client meetings. Still, not only did Samantha always restore harmony but she often came up with an even better plan for the client than Darrin ever could have thought of.
A case in point is an episode in which Samantha’s uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde) tries to impress his girlfriend by displaying practical jokes around the Stephens house. When Darrin’s boss, Larry, and the prospective clients arrive, they are confronted with a string of strange and annoying events: drinks sticking to the table; a boxing glove appearing out of nowhere and knocking Larry unconscious; a the sudden appearance of a barrel of monkeys in the living room– you get the idea.
Anyway, just as the clients are preparing to leave in disgust, Uncle Arthur agrees to stop the nonsense. Samantha quickly arrives at Darrin’s side for the inevitable “explanation.”
“Go ahead and tell them about your plan, that you can enjoy your home without making it a Coney Island funhouse,” says Samantha to Darrin. Of course, Darrin can’t fathom where she’s going with that at first, but the upshot is that Sam saves a huge ad account by quickly thinking up a campaign idea related to the practical jokes — and Darrin gets the credit. All the while, Samantha stands by his side seemingly content to play a supporting role. Of course, the irony is that she is the star of this show and no one even for a moment gives Darrin serious respect.
As long as we’re talking about not getting credit, it also happened to Montgomery herself during the show’s run. According to the blog, Neatorama, Montgomery “also played her deliciously mischievous cousin Serena in several episodes. She was not credited for the role, as producers figured it would be obvious.”
On some levels, “Bewitched” is a silly sitcom. But there was something special about Samantha. She made me long to cast spells and become invisible, but also to remember that you don’t need magic to feel powerful. Her quick intellect and calm, sure manner get her and those around her through some tough situations. Not a bad model to follow, I thought then. And still believe now.
“Bewitched” rose above the average half-hour comedy in the early days of TV, and it’s stuck with me. Does anyone else feel the same about a favorite childhood show?