Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
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If you make a show about a woman who is hundreds of years old marrying a man in his early 30’s, it might sound pretty weird unless you throw in the fact that she is an all powerful witch. That was the plot device for “Bewitched”, which was the brainchild of Sol Saks back in 1964, and the show would become one of the most popular on television for nearly a decade.
In the first 156 episodes of “Bewitched”, Dick York played Darrin Stephens, the husband of witch Samantha Stephens (played by Elizabeth Montgomery). According to the pilot, the show dealt with “the occult destabilization of the conformist life of an upworldly mobile advertising man.” That sounds like a pretty deep plot for sitcom.
Going back to York and Stephens both playing the same character, the change was a very confusing one for fans. It was in the middle of the fifth season when the Darrin character started to be portrayed by Stephens. York had been in a car accident while filming “They Came to Cordura” three years before, and his back pain was so bad that he could not continue as Darrin. It had been some time coming as York’s condition made it hard for him to even appear in several episodes before that season.
The producers made the switch seemingly overnight, and they actually hoped and thought that nobody would notice. Producer Bill Asher had visited York after he was hospitalized from filming a scene that required him to hang by his hands from a rafter. Asher asked York if he wanted to quit doing the show, to which York simply replied with a “yes.”
It seemed like the “Bewitched” producers already had another actor in mind as Dick Sargent was hired almost right away. There was a change in the character’s personality as he started to act out more against Samantha’s family, but it wasn’t helping out the ratings. Meanwhile, as the show was going on, York developed an addiction to painkillers and was posted in bed because of his back. York’s career suffered as a result, even though there were plenty of movie offers that he never received due to technical errors.
Darrin Stephens being switched out wasn’t the only time that the producers of “Bewitched” tried to pull off a swap hoping that nobody would notice. Alice Pearce played the original Gladys Kravitz, who was the neighbor next door that was always sticking her nose in the Stephens’ business. Pearce passed away four years after the show started, and Sandra Gould was chosen as her replacement. Just like the situation with Darrin, the producers never explained to fans why the actors suddenly changed.
Producers, however, did not know something about Pearce that the audience also didn’t know. Pearce was diagnosed with ovarian cancer before being cast on the show, and found out that it was going to be terminal. Pearce was able to hide the fact that she was sick up until the time that she passed away.
You might remember that throughout the show, Darrin and Samantha had two children. In real life, though, Montgomery had three. Montgomery was pregnant during the first season of “Bewitched” and had to wear loose clothing to hide her stomach. That was never put into the show, but Montgomery was pregnant two more times during filming, and both of those pregnancies were written into the show. So basically Montgomery had two sets of twins, but left half of them on set.
The magic that the producers tried to pull in their casting was not all that great, but the magic on the actual show was something to be admired for its time. There were no fancy special effects like there are today, and budgets weren’t as large. To create the magic, Montgomery would have to cast a spell and then stand completely still. Stagehands would then swoop in and perform the magic act themselves such as an object moving before yelling “action” so Montgomery could move again.
The special effects would improve dramatically for the “Bewitched” movie in 2005 starring Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. Unfortunately, the film didn’t do the show any justice and was called one of the worst of the year. Oh well, at least “Bewitched’ is still running syndicated episodes these days.