(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Actor Factor: The Witches Are Out

Bewitched celebrated its 45th year on television this past September. After its premiere in 1964 it became ABC's biggest comedy hit up to that time, finishing at an impressive number two in the Nielsens that year. It is one of a select few shows that hasn't been off the air since its premiere, and now the entire series is available on DVD.

One of my favorite shows as a kid, I think every child of the seventies has fond memories of staying home sick from school (or just playing hooky) and watching reruns of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. As an adult, though, I discovered the seldom-seen-in-reruns black and white episodes of Bewitched on Nick at Nite, and it has since become one of my favorite shows of all time.

Most people remember Bewitched as a silly supernatural show of the sixties and early seventies, but it is far more than that. It tackled issues of prejudice and intolerance long before it was commonplace or even acceptable on television. I have collected every season on DVD, after arduously saving them to VHS over the years, and after re-watching episodes for the umpteenth time, I have put together a list of the five episodes of Bewitched that every member of the GLBT community MUST see. Yes, I said “MUST” and all in capital letters. The shows are all from the first two seasons, and two of them are, timely enough, Halloween episodes.

“The Witches Are Out” from season one is the first episode where witches are presented as a minority group. They are referred to as such in the episode in which one of Darrin' clients (portrayed by Shelley Berman) wants his Halloween candy represented by a wart-nosed, broom-riding witch. Meanwhile, Samantha and her witch committee are trying to actively combat the negative images associated with witches during Halloween.

When Samantha stumbles upon Darrin's illustrations of a stereotypical witch, she is hurt and incensed. Darrin doesn't quite understand, but immediately supports Samantha, and instead comes up with a campaign portraying a sexy witch. The client shoots down the idea, but he is Dickensian-ally visited in the night by protest-sign-carrying witches who convince him of the error of his ways. This episode also marks the first appearance of Marion Lorne as Aunt Clara.

“A is for Aardvark”, also from the first season, does not have a particularly gay sensibility, but it is arguably the best episode of the entire series and my personal favorite. In it, Darrin sprains his ankle and Samantha, through witchcraft, makes the house obey his every wish. It is Darrin's first real taste of the power at a witch's command, and he quickly falls victim to the overwhelming lure of witchcraft. Through the experience, Darrin and Sam both learn the value of the unconventional love they share. Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York turn in extraordinary performances. Notably, the episode is directed by film star Ida Lupino.

“There's No Witch Like an Old Witch” (again from season one) portrays a depressed and aging Aunt Clara finding value and purpose as a babysitter for mortal children. Although her young charges are delighted with her magical tricks and stories of flying from rooftop to rooftop, some parents are uncomfortable with Aunt Clara's eccentricities.

Aunt Clara ends up before a judge to plead her capability and value as a babysitter. The show tackles ageism and parental fear of that which is different as all the while Clara attempts to pull a rabbit from her pocket book, delightfully bungling the spell each and every time. Lorne would go on to posthumously win an Emmy for her role.

“The Joker is a Card” from season two marks the first appearance of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur. Need I say more? I don't, but I will. This is possibly the funniest episode of Bewitched ever. Endora's practical-joke-playing younger brother, Arthur, is introduced and delightful havoc ensues. Arthur convinces Darrin he can combat Endora's meddling with magic of his own, complete with duck calls and cowbells. "Yaga-zuzzie, yaga-zuzzie, yaga-zuzzie-zem!"

“Trick or Treat” is the second season's Halloween episode in which Endora wants Samantha to go away with her to the “Sacred Volcano” to escape the disturbing (to witches at least) revelries of Halloween. Darrin refuses, and Endora (in the guise of a gypsy girl portrayed by a very young Maureen “Marcia Brady” McCormick) turns Darrin into a werewolf. Dick York's transformation is both hysterical and ridiculous, but the resolution, in which Samantha challenges Endora to confront her own prejudices, is some of the most thought-provoking television ever produced. No — really!

The preceding episodes are but a sample of Bewitched's finest, especially from a GLBT perspective. Honorable mentions also go to “Witches and Warlocks Are My Favorite Things,” (season three) in which a coven of witches questions the suitability of Tabitha being raised in a mixed marriage, and “Samantha's Power Failure” (season five) in which the Witches' Council strips Sam, Serena, Uncle Arthur and Tabitha of their powers (this is also a personal favorite of my partner Chris — that reverend who does movie reviews around here). Oh, and “Samantha and the Loch Ness Monster” (season eight) just makes me laugh ridiculously. Serena as a mermaid! Do I need to say more? I could, but I won't.

All eight seasons of Bewitched are now availableon DVD, and there is talk of releasing the entire series in a boxed set. The earlier seasons, especially the first two, are must-sees for classic TV fans and new viewers alike.

The last three seasons with Dick Sargent (a gay icon in his own right) lack the originality of the earlier episodes and draw on many “remade” scripts from the first few seasons, but they remain entertaining and make the perfect viewing option when you are home sick from work ... or when you're just playing hooky.

"Calling Doctor Bombay! Emergency! Come right away!"

The Actor Factor: A View from Both Sides of the Camera is by James Jaeger, Los Angeles based actor and resident television critic of Movie Dearest.


  1. Ever watch the daytime soap Passions?
    A wild spoof of Bewitched, Dark Shadows & traditional soaps!

  2. You have named several of my favorite episodes. I love bewitched and always have although I think for different reasons than you do. I admire the love that Darrin and Samantha share. I am a stay at home mother and I see a lot of my relationship in Darrin and Samantha. I too love the message of tolerance it sends


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