Has anyone ever noticed what a very female world "Bewitched"
is? Unlike its ripoff/counterpart "I Dream of Jeannie",
which is dominated by male bonding and is framed by an ultra-masculine
portion of the already hierarchically male military, the space
program, "Bewitched" is teeming with feminine interactions
and a distinctly female sensibility. If you don't believe
me, check it out yourself on the "TV Land" cable
channel: they've brought my favorite show back at 9:30 weeknights,
and not a moment too soon.
The strongest, most complex relationship on the show is between
mother and daughter. Samantha's position - caught between
two worlds - is played out in her relationship with Endora.
It's a genuine conflict: she accepts mortal life and marriage
but she most definitely does not give up her magical heritage.
She's a witch, and says so, if not always proudly then matter-of-factly.
The downside to giving Samantha this conflict, essentially
a dramatic rather than a comic one, is that Elizabeth Montgomery,
ostensibly the show's star, often seems like she's on the
sidelines. True, she's the focal point of the Endora-Darrin
conflict, defending her mother to Darrin as much as she defends
Darrin to her mother, but there's often a feeling that she
doesn't get the juicy comedy material to play. She runs the
risk, especially in some of the later episodes, of being the
straight woman rather than the comedienne, of seeming like
something of a guest at her own party rather than the center
Mary Tyler Moore encountered the same problem as her show
progressed, although in her case it was more a matter of the
gaggle of supporting players stealing the spotlight rather
than something so central to the show's premise. Of course,
both Montgomery and Moore were savvy enough to play to the
considerable strengths of their ensembles. The calculated
outrageousness of Paul Lynde's Uncle Arthur or Bernard Fox's
Dr. Bombay make an interesting counterpoint to the appealing
thick-headedness of Ted Knight's Ted Baxter and Betty White's
horny yet sugary-sweet Sue Ann Nivens.
In addition, Samantha's mediator role - one that many females
take on in family relationships - played off a significant
strength of Montgomery's as an actress. She's a great listener
and an excellent re-actor. This skill, as well as her concentration,
make even her most unbelievable conversations believable,
whether she's talking to a leprechaun, a horse, a husband-changed-into-a-goat,
her child or a dopey client.
She certainly listens to her mother (though she may not like
what Endora has to say). Of course, with Agnes Moorehead,
who could find the acid in a bowl of syrup, that's not difficult.
In fact, it looks like a pleasure for an actress. It's significant
that Montgomery and Moorehead are two of only three principal
actors who played the same role for all eight seasons. David
White's Larry Tate, a caricature of a stereotype, was the
third, keeping the same face with the same character for the
show's entire duration. There were not only two Gladys Kravitzes
- the dementedly funny Alice Pearce and the serviceable Sandra
Gould - but also two Louise Tates, the sharply snotty Irene
Vernon and the warmer but less secure Kasey Rogers.
The dual-ing Darrins have, of course, become famed in song
and story, although what has gotten lost in the comparisons
of Dick York with Dick Sargent is how little the switch affected
the show's innate structure.
What, after all, is "Bewitched" about? On one level
it's simply light fantasy like its cinematic forebear, René
Clair's I Married A Witch. On another, it's a reworking
of classic sitcom themes, à la "I Love Lucy":
straight-laced husband endeavors, in vain, to keep wacky wife
from perpetrating mischief. (Sitcom creators have continued
to mine this vein as recently as "Dharma & Greg".)
On a sociological level, "Bewitched" is clearly
a parable for feminism. A strong, confident, capable woman
with enormous powers is literally roped into domestication.
Her husband, under the guise of protecting their marriage
and maintaining his own status, forbids her from using those
powers. How many women still feel straightjacketed by their
mates' narrow view of their proper roles? Friedan's Feminine
Mystique was published three years before "Bewitched"
premiered in 1964, and women's liberation blossomed into a
potent force during its run - with nary an on-screen mention.
It wasn't necessary, and indeed would have made the tensions
on the show unbearable: the battle was being played out already,
week after week.
On another level, the mother-in-law's constant disapproval
of her mortal son-in-law can be seen as an allegory of snobbery.
Substitute "blue-collar" for "mortal"
and "old money" for "witchcraft" in the
80% of scripts with Endora disparaging Darrin and the shows
would play almost exactly the same. Endora often refers to
a high-flying high life that Samantha has given up for marriage,
including rubbing elbows with European nobility, landed gentry
and the literati. For the rootless, classless American, these
still hold nearly as much magic as the incantations uttered
by the various witches and warlocks.
But the spell still isn't quite complete. What explains the
show's continuing popularity? I believe one reason is that
it expresses a number of female fantasies. In contrast, "Jeannie"
not only took place in a masculine world, it also expressed
a potent male fantasy: capturing and subjugating a beautiful
woman, one who could be reduced to the size of a Barbie doll
and bottled up when she was naughty or inconvenient.
The fact that Jeannie's owner/master refused to take advantage
of the sexual possibilities inherent in the situation, and
that Jeannie herself seemed more sexually aware than Tony
(her frequent jealousy of the few fly-by-night dates he went
on with other women) served only to titillate viewers, especially
male viewers. ("If I had a beautiful blonde genie who
called me 'master,' I can think of a few things I'd be wishing
for," must have been a refrain in, oh, tens of thousands
of horny male teenagers' heads during the late 1960s).
More overt acting out of the sexual situation, however, besides
putting Jeannie outside the bounds of 1960s TV "morals,"
would also have destroyed the premise of the show. As with
"Bewitched" and feminism, it would have made too
obvious what was more powerful on an unspoken level. The show
declined even further in comic quality when Tony and Jeannie
got married, since much of the illicit thrill of having a
female genie, i.e. a sexual relationship outside the prescribed
bounds of marriage, was the requirement that her very existence
remain a secret. This is, again, the masculine fantasy of
"owning" a desirable, available woman that no one
else - except the ineffectual best friend - can know about,
much less get access to.
Of course, this fantasy has its price. Tony's frequent hysteria
that Col. Bellows, the Air Force and NASA will discover Jeannie's
existence and true identity is an expression not only of his
concerns about his career but of his losing "ownership"
of this woman. Marriage, which made public this private relationship,
made his hysteria even more hollow than it was before.
"Bewitched," in contrast, detailed the price that
women paid (suburban slavery for a husband, home and family)
but also a fantasy that made that price bearable. "Bewitched"
allowed a housewife to have the faults she knows are present
in her husband to be magnified for her inspection - all
without her conscious action. Endora's malevolent spells
- making Darrin's ears grow when he lied, giving him total
recall that turned him into a self-absorbed boor/bore, emphasizing
his narcissism, stinginess, snobbery, laziness - ironically
served as the secret wish fulfillment of countless wives.
Superego Samantha was then given the privilege of correcting
those faults - another wish-fulfillment situation for the
average woman, who would have liked curing her husband's ills,
from which she often suffered more than he, to be as simple
as twitching her nose. If Samantha's rather unconscious support
of Darrin through all these expressions of his mortalness
starts to wear on viewers - she often comes off as a Goody
Two-Shoes, albeit with an increasingly sardonic wit as the
series progressed - remember that she only represents the
light side of her personality.
Her cousin Serena - pouty, sexually aggressive, whiny, flighty
and vain - is literally Samantha's darker, brattier side,
an expression of the selfish side of Samantha's ego. What
Serena wants, she goes after. Actually, she's a rather ballsy
woman, while Samantha is what you might call aggressively
Her psycho-sexual implications aside, Serena is really the
best of the evil twins on TV, and the most believable (funny
that a fantasy witch should be a believable character, but
there it is). The black wig, the beauty mark, the pale makeup
and the hilariously mod clothing all help, but it's really
Montgomery's acting skill that creates the illusion of two
separate characters. Even with the clumsy split-screen technology
of 1960s TV, Montgomery as Serena sounds, moves and behaves
so differently than Samantha, some people actually forget
that it's one actress playing both parts.
Patty Duke, who also played "identical cousins"
in her early 60s sitcom, did what she could to separate the
two characters, with what she called, in her autobiography
Call Me Anna, a vaguely European accent for Cathy,
the refined (non-American) cousin. She apparently wanted to
take the separation even further, she wrote, but was held
back by the time demands of appearing in a weekly series and
the producers' fear that an actual Scottish accent would be
difficult for the audience to understand. By the way, William
Asher, the main director/producer of "Bewitched"
and Montgomery's husband in real life during "Bewitched"'s
run, also worked on "The Patty Duke Show" in its
early years. I guess he had a thing for identical cousins.
Maybe Sidney Sheldon, who actually created Duke's show as
well as "I Dream of Jeannie" did as well, but Barbara
Eden never made anyone with an I.Q. higher than Roger Healy's
believe that Jeannie's dark-haired sister was anything but,
well, Barbara Eden in a dark wig speaking in a baritone voice.
It didn't help that the evil sister was also named Jeannie
- parents in old Persia apparently didn't have too much imagination.
With Endora a vengeful, clever id, Serena a sexually precocious
ego and Samantha a smart, sane but subdued superego, we have
represented the elements of a distinctly feminine personality.
We even have Aunt Clara representing Samantha's dream state
- in some ways the true heritage of her subconscious. In Marion
Lorne's inspired playing, Aunt Clara's jumbled phrases, missed
connections and half-remembered incantations are the clearest
expression that Darrin will remain forever frustrated in his
attempts to turn Samantha into a "normal" wife and
In fact, the real reason the show declined somewhat in quality
in its later years had little to do with Dick Sargent's replacement
of Dick York - he brought some sardonic wit of his own and
played down the hysteria, which helped as the show progressed
(after all, how surprised could he be the 50th time Endora
popped in unannounced at breakfast? Both Darrins may have
been boobs, but they weren't idiots.)
What really hurt was that Marion Lorne's passing eliminated
Aunt Clara as a character. Alice Ghostley, wonderful as she
was as Esmeralda, lacked both a blood connection to Samantha
and a sort of goofy pride in her own wackiness, and her own
witchiness, that Lorne brought to Clara.
Faced with this powerful coven of females, it's no wonder
Derwood, er, Darrin often feels at a loss. The force of femalehood,
its mystery, power and terror, is too strong for this frustrated
Madison Avenue man to master. But it's precisely the tensions
inherent in his attempts to do so that makes "Bewitched"
so strong and so compelling.