I am a huge fan of the classic TV sitcom Bewitched. The show, about a beautiful witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) married to a mortal named Darrin (Dick York, then Dick Sargent) aired for eight seasons between 1964 and 1972 but has been in syndication ever since and is available in its entirety on DVD. Author Herbie J. Pilato has written two books about the iconic series along with an excellent biography of its star Elizabeth Montgomery. But just when you thought there was nothing more to say about this show, which also starred Agnes Moorehead as Samantha’s meddling mother, Endora, here comes Adam-Michael James’ encyclopedic tome The Bewitched Continuum: The Ultimate Linear Guide to the Classic TV Series.
In an era when printed books are supposed to be on life support, James’ incredibly fun book is a true throwback. About the size and heft of a Manhattan phone book, The Bewitched Continuum is a glorious content-packed resource that provides detailed information about all 254 episodes of the series. But it doesn’t stop there. Because Bewitched was cancelled without a proper final episode (they thought they were coming back for a ninth season), the author provides his idea for the perfect series finale. He also includes a wonderful appendix chock full of entertaining features. “By the Numbers” lists all sorts of interesting tidbits (e.g., the number of times Samantha is rendered powerless, the number of times Darrin is fired by his boss Larry Tate, the number of spells Endora casts on Darrin, and every single way that Endora mangles Darrin’s name — Durwood, Darwin, Dum-Dum, Dobbin, etc.). In the insanely researched McMann & Tate Database, Adam-Michael lists every known client of Darrin’s advertising agency and even includes the dollar-amount that the account earned for the company (if that was mentioned on the show). There are also fun details about every witch, warlock, and mortal that appeared on Bewitched including many actors who played multiple roles. Finally, you can have fun arguing with the author’s list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Episodes.
If you’re a Bewitched fan, click here to learn more about the book on Adam-Michael James’ website or here to purchase The Bewitched Continuum. I spoke to Adam-Michael James by phone about this labor of love.
Danny Miller: At a time when we keep hearing that printed books are nearly dead, it’s so cool to see this massive tome come out! Was it always your intention to publish your book in this form?
Adam-Michael James: The publishing industry has changed a lot, of course, but I still think people like holding books in their hands. And when you’re talking about a television show from the 1960s and 70s, it kind of makes more sense to have a hard-copy book. I tried to give the whole book a vintage look so it seems like it came from that era.
I see that author Herbie J. Pilato provides the foreword and helped to edit the book. Were you reluctant at first to compete with his existing books about Bewitched?
I always saw this book as the perfect addition to Herbie’s wonderful books about the show. Herbie mostly wrote about the behind-the-scenes aspects of Bewitched, he was lucky enough to have conducted interviews with Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York and Dick Sargent, and many other people associated with the show. I wanted to do something else entirely and Herbie was very supportive. Initially, I just wanted to have a quick conversation with him but he ended up being involved with this book every step of the way. It was so great to have an editor who obviously knew the subject backward and forward and loved it as much as I did. I’m so grateful for his role in the book.
I loved this show so much when I was growing up. I was very interested in your “By the Numbers” section. So many of those numbers just fly in the face of my “memory.” I still repeat Darrin’s mother’s cry of “Frank, I have a sick headache!” I can’t believe she said it so few times on the show!
I was amazed by stuff like that, too. I had the idea to do that from the beginning of my research so I’d make extensive notes on every episode that I watched and count things like that. I was like, “What do you mean Phyllis only had seven sick headaches? That’s it? Really?” These moments affected us so strongly that our memories play tricks on us. Did you know that Maurice Evans only appeared on the show 10 times as Samantha’s father?
No way! I would have sworn he was on there dozens of times.
I know. Some of these people are so iconic that we just think we’ve seen them more often. Maurice just made 10 appearances out of 254 episodes and yet we’re still talking about him 50 years later! Now that’s a powerful presence.
Have you had the chance to talk to any of the original cast members?
I went back to L.A. for the Bewitched Fan Fare last fall and met Erin Murphy who played Tabitha. It was a great four-day event. When Erin came in at the end with 87-year-old Bernard Fox who played Dr. Bombay, the crowd went nuts!
I remember watching the movie Titanic when it came out and saying “What’s Dr. Bombay doing there?” when Bernard Fox first appeared in the film.
I know that some people who were on these iconic shows tend to distance themselves from them later on in their lives so I love how Erin Murphy seems to embrace the role she played. And is there any actor who ever grew up to look exactly how we thought she would?
I know! Isn’t it crazy how much she looks like Elizabeth Montgomery today?
What was it about the show that made you such a fan?
I was eight years old when I saw my first episode — I remember exactly what was happening in the scene. Samantha was in front of a restaurant and this guy played by Dick Wilson (who was most famous for being Mr. Whipple in the Charmin commercials) was bothering her. Samantha just twitched her nose and a bucket appeared above Dick’s head, dousing him with water. I had never seen anything like that on TV and I was immediately hooked. Without sounding too corny, I think the show got me to believe in magic — a feeling we can all have within ourselves that anything is possible.
I loved how Samantha was such a reflection of the times, including the burgeoning women’s movement. I’ll never forget this one episode when Darrin is going off on her while she’s brushing her hair before bed. She can’t take another second of his harangue so without even turning around to look at him, she waves her hand in his direction and he’s suddenly on the couch downstairs as Samantha continues brushing her hair. Now that’s empowerment!
(Laughs) Oh, yeah, I know exactly which episode you’re talking about — that was in 1968! That’s the thing about Bewitched — it happened to air during a very pivotal time in our country with the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the anti-war protests. Watching how the show evolved over its eight seasons is like seeing a microcosm of how our country was changing. Did you know that in the final episodes of the series, Samantha isn’t even wearing a bra?
No, I did NOT know that! But looking at Elizabeth Montgomery from the first episode to the last reminds me of Mary Tyler Moore’s transition from Laura Petrie to Mary Richards. They had a similar progression.
Very much so.
I know people have been arguing about the two Darrins for decades. I remember being shocked by the switch as a kid. When Dick Sargent suddenly appeared on the scene, I thought he was mean compared to Dick York. But you know — and I’m just realizing this right now, I’ve never thought about it before — the new Darrin came on exactly during the time when my own parents were going through a hideous divorce. I may need to take this to a therapist but I think I transferred some of those feelings onto poor Dick Sargent. Where’s my old dad? Where’s my old family?
Oh wow. I can see how you’d make that connection in your head. The two Darrins are such a hot-button topic. I admit that I used to like Dick Sargent better. It was only when I was doing research for the book and watched every episode twice that I really came to appreciate Dick York. It’s interesting that you remember Dick Sargent as being “meaner” because I always thought just the opposite. I used to see Dick York as quite a blowhard!
It’s all so complicated for me. I remember thinking that Dick York’s Darrin loved Samantha more but did not accept her powers whereas Dick Sargent was less affectionate but also less judgmental about her witchcraft. I guess I need to call my therapist! But I’ve also come to appreciate Dick Sargent as I’ve gotten older. And what a hard thing it was for him to do as an actor.
I know. That’s a pretty thankless job — stepping into a hugely popular role knowing that many people are going to hate you for not being someone else! Of course this happens in soap operas all the time. I also work for a soap opera website so I’m very used to that. But some people still can’t get over the “new” Darrin to this day!
Even as a kid I used to think about the issue of Darrin not accepting his wife’s witchcraft. How can he deny that part of her? It brings up all sorts of stuff, like not accepting people because they are gay or a different race. I wonder if they discussed those analogies at the time. And, of course, we later learned that Dick Sargent was gay himself although closeted.
In terms of the public, yes, but I think they all knew on the set and didn’t care. But, as I’m sure you recall, the show had a lot of messages about tolerance and acceptance at a time when that was definitely not the norm.
Absolutely. Like the episode where Tabitha has a black friend and makes herself black and then finally gives herself black polka dots and her black friend white polka dots.
Yes. And remember the Thanksgiving episode when they went back to Plymouth and Samantha talked about the prejudices against people who looked or spoke differently?
Sure. And “witches” were certainly a very persecuted group in our country’s history who were often killed because of their perceived differences. It’s not that far of a jump to how people of different races or sexual preferences were treated in this country during the time the show was airing. Of course I’ve always thought of Paul Lynde’s Uncle Arthur as TV’s first openly gay character!
(Laughs.) I think one of the beautiful things about Bewitched is that you can experience it one way as a kid and then get a whole different layer when you watch the show as an adult.
I remember when the big movie version of Bewitched was being made in 2005, Nicole Kidman and Shirley MacLaine seemed like such great choices for Samantha and Endora. What went wrong?
I have to admit that I could never bring myself to see it. But some of the people involved with that movie are involved with this new pilot that ABC is doing and I have to say that I’m cautiously optimistic about that. I was afraid they were going to do a straight-up reboot which would never work but to focus the show on Samantha’s granddaughter could be very interesting.
Yes, I think that could be great and bring the best parts of the show into the 21st century. Hey, does Erin Murphy still act? Because it would be so cool to get her to play grown-up Tabitha, the mother of the main character.
Oh my God, that would be so awesome. And it would make the fans of the original series so happy.
Damn it, now I want to watch every episode of the show again. It’s going to take me weeks!
Well, at least you now have a reference guide to consult as you’re watching!