Sisters at Heart: A Gift to Bewitched and Its Fans

This month we are looking at stories about some unique television writers. Today we are looking at a large group of writers who were lucky enough to write an episode for Bewitched.

Photo: wikipedia.com

In 1969, Marcella Saunders, a young teacher at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles realized that her freshmen students were not able to read the short stories and poetry in their textbooks. She decided to try to teach them about writing using a television series. Her students were fans of Bewitched, Room 222, and Julia so she contacted the studios for each program. Bewitched was the only show to respond to her.

Saunders was able to meet with star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband William Asher who produced and directed the show. She said most students at the school were unable to read, write, or comprehend at a high school level; 44% of students read at a third-grade level and less than 1% were at their ninth-grade level.

elizabeth-montgomery-bewitched
Photo: closerweekly.com

The Bewitched cast and crew invited the 26-member class to visit the set of Bewitched, and they paid for the transportation of the class from school to the studio. The students were impressed with their tour and decided to collaborate on a teleplay for the show with their teachers’ supervision. They wrote a script titled “Sisters at Heart” and presented it gift-wrapped to Montgomery and Asher. Montgomery and Asher were impressed with the quality of the script. Elizabeth said, “We’ve had bad scripts submitted by professional writers that weren’t as well written or creative.”

Barbara Avedon - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Barbara Avedon
Photo: alchetron.com

Asher said the script only needed a little bit of reworking and asked Barbara Avedon if she would work with the class. Avedon, who had written for a variety of shows including The Ann Sothern Show, The Donna Reed Show, Bewitched, and Cagney and Lacey, agreed. She visited the school and described the scene she entered upon: “I was horrified. Locker doors were hanging off their hinges. There wasn’t a blade of grass in sight.”

Avedon said that she explained that they had to expand the script to fit a full half-hour. She promised the kids that no changes would be made without their approval. To work with industry requirements, the final script credited the teleplay to Avedon and Asher and the story to the students who were all listed in alphabetical order. Asher produced and directed the episode.

The class was able to attend a production and rehearsal meeting. The State of California gave the high school a grant to allow students to participate in the filming and post-production work. Screen Gems, along with Montgomery and Asher individually, also contributed to the funding. Two additional trips were planned, allowing fifty students to visit the set. Asher sent 30 copies of the script to be used in classrooms.

Saunders considered the project a great success. She said kids who thought they could not write were now writing three pages of script. One of Dick Sargent’s favorite memories of the show was one of the high school students who was given the role of assistant director. At one point, the kid screamed “Quiet on the set.”

The show became the thirteenth episode of season seven; it aired December 24, 1970 and was rerun around Christmas 1971. Montgomery introduced the episode by telling viewers that it “evoked the true spirit of Christmas . . . conceived in the image of innocence and filled with truth.”

Photo: pinterest.com

So, what was the episode about? The concept is that Tabitha’s (Erin Murphy) friend, Lisa Wilson (Venetta Rogers), was visiting. Lisa is African American and Tabitha is Caucasian. Tabitha is excited that they get to spend a few days together and says they will be sisters. Lisa’s father Keith (Don Marshall) works with Darrin (Dick Sargent) at McMann and Tate. Darrin fails to land a million-dollar advertising account with a toy company owned by Mr. Brockway (Parley Baer) because Brockway is racist and when he stopped by the house, he assumed Lisa was Darrin’s daughter and his wife was Lisa’s mother Dorothy (Janee Michelle) because Lisa mentioned her father worked at the agency.

Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) takes the girls to the park and when they announce they are sisters, another kid tells them they can’t be sisters because they have different skin colors. Tabitha creates a spell so that both girls have spots in the other’s skin tone. When Samantha finds the girls, she tells Tabitha to reverse the spell. She can’t, and Sam realizes that Tabitha wants the spots to remain subconsciously so they can be sisters. She explains to the girls that their appearance does not prevent them from being sisters, so Tabitha is able to reverse the spell before Lisa’s parents arrive.

In the meantime, Mr. Brockway tells Larry Tate (David White) that he wants Darrin removed from the account. When Darrin and Sam host a Christmas party that Lisa’s parents are at, everyone is introduced and Mr. Brockway realizes Darrin is married to Samantha. Mr. Brockway says to put Darrin back on the account, but when Larry learns he originally removed him because he thought he was married to a black woman, Larry tells him they don’t want his business. To teach Brockway a lesson, Samantha puts a spell on him so he sees everyone, himself included, with black skin. Realizing how unfair he has been, Mr. Brockway returns to the Stephens to apologize and is invited to Christmas dinner, which is an integrated turkey, white and dark meat.

Elizabeth And Husband William Asher - Elizabeth Montgomery Photo (7716361)  - Fanpop
Photo: fanpop.com

Montgomery always mentioned this episode as her favorite. Of course, the entire series was about overcoming prejudice but it was witches who were stereotyped. The episode received The Governor’s Award at the Emmy Awards in 1971.

I love this story at so many levels. How great that a teacher cared enough about her students to think outside the box to help them learn to read and write, and that Montgomery and Asher cared enough about the kids to give them such an amazing opportunity. I would love to know if any of those students ended up writing for a living. What a fun experience! And what a great Christmas message. 

Trick or Treat? The Halloween Episodes of Bewitched

Happy Halloween! It doesn’t seem right to discuss Halloween episodes without considering the series that made witches fun—Bewitched. During its eight years from 1964-1972, Bewitched produced five Halloween episodes.  Let’s discuss each of these shows in more depth.

bewitched

The Witches Are Out – 1964  (Episode 7, Season 1)

The show opens with Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and three of her aunts, including Clara (Marion Lorne), in her living room complaining about humans’ tendency to portray witches as ugly old crones. Endora, (Agnes Morehead) absent, is apparently in France where she is said to spend every Halloween avoiding the holiday. Darrin (Dick York) is designing a campaign for a company that makes Halloween candy.  The client, Brinkman, wants a stereotyped ugly witch for his logo.  When Sam sees the sketches for the new campaign, she and Darrin have a fight. He designs a beautiful witch instead, and when the client does not like it the next day, and Darrin refuses to design a logo with an ugly witch, Larry (David White) fires him. Feeling bad about Darrin losing his job, the aunts and Samantha pay a visit to Brinkman while he is sleeping.  They turn his phone into a snake, “twitch” him to a spot where he is ready to be shot by the Foreign Legion, and finally turn him into an old witch before he begs forgiveness and agrees to show them in a favorable light. The next day he has Darrin rehired and uses the beautiful witch. Things turn out great for everyone because it turns out fathers buy most of the Halloween candy, and they like the beautiful witch so sales skyrocket.

Fun Fact:  This is Aunt Clara’s first appearance in the show.  She mentions her door knob collection and when Brinkman wakes up the next day, all 150 of his door knobs have been taken. In real life, Marion Lorne did have a door knob collection.bewitched-7

Trick or Treat – 1965 (Episode 43, Season 2)

This was my favorite Halloween episode. Endora (Agnes Moorhead) wakes Sam up to tell her to be ready to go to the “sacred volcano” in four hours for Halloween.  Sam refuses because they are having the Tates and a client and his wife for dinner. While they are talking later, Sam gets a box of ugly witch decorations delivered.  Endora is furious thinking that it came from Darrin; actually it was sent by Larry and made by the client’s company. Endora goes to visit Darrin at work. He tells Endora he will not encourage Sam to go the volcano.  Later that night as they are waiting for their company to arrive, Endora turns herself into a little girl in a gypsy costume, played by an adorable Maureen McCormick. When Darrin opens the door to give her candy, she tricks him and turns him into a werewolf.  Sam immediately retrieves her mother as the little girl, and Endora pretends to forget the spell.  Sam makes her sit in the den to think about it.  As they are entertaining their guests, Darrin is in and out of the room, cutting his long nails when they grow, and running upstairs to shave his face and hands.  When he becomes a full-blown werewolf, he goes outside to hide and runs into Larry and the client.  The client loves the “costume”.  When Darrin goes upstairs to “change,” Sam tells her mother that she is behaving just like the stereotype witch humans portray them as and to the one person who believes in them.  Endora changes Darrin back to himself, turns back into herself, and stays for dinner.

Fun Fact:  Maureen McCormick also appeared on I Dream of Jeannie and My Three Sons before becoming a regular on The Brady Bunch.

 

Twitch or Treat – 1966 (Episode 81, Season 3)

Endora creates a house across the street from Sam and Darrin so she can hold a Halloween party there. Darrin forbids it, so she changes the party to Sam and Darrin’s house. Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde) arrives early and has most of the funniest lines in the show. Mrs. Kravitz (Alice Pearce) goes to spy on the house for Halloween, and Uncle Arthur twitches her back to her own front door.  When she turns around, she sees a man arriving at the Stevens’ home with a cat which he changes to a beautiful woman.  She calls the city councilman running for re-election to tell him there is something fishy in the neighborhood he needs to deal with.  The rest of the show occurs at the party.  When the councilman and his manager come to the door, Uncle Arthur has them walk through it only to be in the backyard.  This happens several times and then they try a window and the same thing happens so they can’t get to the party.  During their predicament, the cat/woman decides she likes Darrin and curls up at her feet and asks him to scratch behind her ears; he of course has no idea she’s a cat.  The councilman finally gives up and goes home.  The girlfriend is turned back into a cat at midnight.  At that point, Endora recites her “The Night Before Halloween,” but Arthur keeps interrupting with funny lines, and she gets so annoyed she puts him in the middle of a fountain and takes her guests to the Riviera.  One of the best moments in this show is when Sam waves and says “Hi Willie,” and we see Willie Mays across the room.  Darrin, surprised and speechless, finally asks if that is indeed Willie Mays.  Sam says of course, and Darrin asks if he is “you know”, and Sam says “with a career as amazing as his, could he be anything else.”

Fun Fact: Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz, played by Alice Pearce and George Tobias, played Mr. and Mrs. Fenimore  in the Doris Day movie, The Glass-Bottom Boat in 1966.  Paul Lynde was also in the movie. The Kravitz house on Bewitched later became the house for The Partridge Family.

 

The Sane and Safe Halloween – 1967 (Episode 115, Season 4)

Samantha reads Tabitha a Halloween story before bed.  The Stevens have decided to raise Tabitha as a human with the same traditions and books other children her age have. When Sam leaves the room, thinking her asleep, Tabitha brings three of the book characters (an elf, a goblin, and a jack o’lantern) to life. Once again, Samantha refers to Endora being in France where she spends every Halloween. Samantha makes Tabitha a leopard costume.  Across the street, Gladys Kravitz (now played by Sandra Gould because Alice Pearce died from cancer) is fixing her nephew’s costume, a jack o’lantern that is identical to the character from Tabitha’s book.  She explains to him why they are not going to the Stevens’ home for candy. While Sam and Tabitha go trick or treating, the three book characters catch up to them.  Thinking they are friends of Tabitha’s, Sam invites them along.  At the first house, the woman handing out candy suddenly has a beard.  Sam reprimands Tabitha, thinking she used her powers to do that. At the next house, someone freezes the man handing out candy and the elf grabs a bunch more.  Now Sam is really mad and tells Tabitha she has to go home and right to bed. When they get home, Sam sees the open book with the characters missing and puts two and two together.  She goes back to look for the characters.  In the meantime, Gladys’s nephew who runs away from her sees the three characters, and they decide to play a joke by sending the other jack o’lantern back with Gladys.  Sam arrives shortly after and makes all three characters go home with her. In the meantime, the jack o’lantern with Gladys throws a pie at a woman handing out dessert and Gladys takes him home.  When they get home and she can’t remove his head, she gets worried.  When he gets a chance he runs off. In the meantime, Sam realizes she has Gladys’s nephew. When she goes to look for the real jack o’lantern, the elf turns the nephew into a goat.  Just in time, Sam gets home, has Tabitha put the three characters back in the book and then turns the goat back into a boy just as Gladys comes looking for him. Luckily, he can’t remember the evening at all.

Fun Fact: Although we never hear them, the Bewitched theme song had lyrics.  Singer Steve Lawrence recorded a version of the song and lyrics.

 

To Trick or Treat or Not To Trick or Treat – 1969 (Episode 177, Season 6)

The show opens with Sam making final fittings to Tabitha’s princess costume.  Endora pops in and gets mad when she sees witches’ costumes.  Sam tells her she is heading up UNICEF in the neighborhood. Endora and Darrin get into an argument about trick or treating.  Neither will give in and Darrin (now played by Dick Sargent) insults Endora.  When he gets the office, he realizes that he is slowly becoming a witch.  He heads home and apologizes, so Endora returns him to normal, but then he insults her again and she turns him back into a witch. Sam agrees not to trick or treat for UNICEF if Endora fixes Darrin.  In the meantime, Larry is upset because their client’s wife is head of UNICEF and is mad Sam quit.  Darrin tells Sam she can’t fight his battles.  After Sam and Tabitha leave to trick or treat, he takes the UNICEF kids out.  Sam and Tabitha see him and help out.  While they are at the school UNICEF party, the client and his wife think Darrin looks so good as a witch, they want that for their new trademark.  They make lotion and the witch is the “before” look. When they get home, Sam tells Endora that she’s given the stereotype witch more publicity than most people. Endora restores Darrin to normal, and Darrin introduces Sam, the “beautiful” witch to the client who likes the idea and uses the good witch as the “after” photo for their lotion. This was the weakest episode of the bunch.  Apparently, the writers could not come up with a new idea because they did an almost identical writing of the first Halloween episode.

bewitchedtotrick1

Sad Fact:  Dick York had a seizure on the set on season five.  He had excruciating back pain from an injury he sustained making a movie in the 1950s.  He stepped down from the show, never received royalties from reruns, and died on welfare. When Dick Sargent replaced him, the show never referred to Uncle Arthur, Aunt Clara, or the Kravitzes again.

 

The first four Halloween Bewitched episodes are treats and well worth watching.  The last episode is a trick, and like the series itself the last three years, is tired and lacking interest.  Skip that show and watch The Glass-Bottom Boat instead. If you’re looking for an unusual theme party, play the episodes that feature Uncle Arthur and use the best one-liners as part of your menu and decorations.

See you in November.