Wednesday 29 May 2019

Darren the First

Was there ever a show with more replacement actors than Bewitched?

There were two Louise Tates, two Gladys Kravitzes, two Darrin’s fathers and, of course, two Darrins.

Dick York played the original and far superior Darrin Stephens. His departure from the show in 1969 couldn’t be helped, though the decreasing numbers of fans didn’t know the reason until years later.

York was part of a group of actors who made the rounds in Chicago in the radio days before moving to New York. He once recalled he appeared on three radio soaps every weekday, Rosemary, This is Nora Drake and Young Doctor Malone. “I was three different characters—a good guy in the morning, a very bad guy in mid-afternoon and an inbetween guy in late afternoon” he once told columnist Erskine Johnson.

Here’s a story from King Features’ TV Key column of May 8, 1965, when Bewitched was in its first season. York reveals he was surprised at the audience the show attracted.
'Bewitched' Keeping Top Ratings Intact

HOLLYWOOD — "Dear Darrin: Please send me a picture of you and your witch."
This is the kind of mail actor Dick York of the "Bewitched" series receives. He's the fellow who plays husband to Elizabeth Montgomery, the beautiful witch with the puckering lips, who is getting all the attention these days. York doesn't mind being second fiddle—as a father of five kids, he's just glad to be in a hit. And he's rather proud fans believe in the character Darrin Stephens, a man strong enough to handle a bride with such devastating powers.
"Samantha is really trying to be human," says York. "That's part of her charm."
When "Bewitched" leaped to the top of the ratings early last fall, scoffers felt such popularity was only temporary. Weekly magic tricks, they thought, would soon pall and viewers would lose interest in the loving witch and her normal husband.
But the cynics guessed wrong. In New York, for instance, viewers are considered sophisticates, yet the series has a huge following every Thursday.
York Is Surprised
"This surprises me," says York. "I thought we might catch the teen-agers and young couples, but I didn't expect to snare the city slickers. They seem to love being taken in week after week."
Right now plans for next year are hatching. York was ruminating on what avenues the Stephens couple could travel. "There's the thought we should have a child," he says, "or perhaps twins with one inheriting her mother's witching skills.
"I like the idea," Dick continued. "Can you hear me as the proud father saying, 'Will your daughter stop turning my son into a toad!' "
Could a man handle a wife who is a witch?
"I think a man would like to try," answers York. "Life would never be boring. And the children would always be amused by their mother's talents."
Wires Help Tricks
Most of Samantha's tricks are done by wires coated with "invisible paint." and they're impossible to see on film. The "Bewitched" special effects men have been remarkably successful in making objects look as if they're flying in space.
"Sometimes we have mishaps," says York. "In one scene, a tray, filled with sandwiches and rigged by wires, was supposed to pass between Samantha and her mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead). But, just as it moved between the ladies something happened and sandwiches flew all over. At least it got a big laugh from the crew."
Actor York is in awe of the special effects men's talents. "Our tricks are becoming more complicated." he says. "The more bizarre the better says the public. We can't let up in the magic department."
However, stunts can lose their initial impact. "Most of the laughs are played off the people," says York. "And some stunts are not worth all the effort put into creating them.
"For instance, in one episode, Endora wished to help out in buying the couple a house. The two women stand in an empty room, and Endora says. 'Wouldn't a chair look nice here,' pointing to an empty space. Immediately a chair appears.
"Well, she goes through the house creating furniture and our crew is going crazy running in with chairs, tables and lamps. The idea was to furnish an empty house in a jiffy so a neighbor (Alice Pearce) could enter and do a double take. Then Alice comes on ane does the take, but none of this surprised the audience—they were in on the stunt."
Big Change For York
Playing husband to a witch is a big change from York's last series role, that of a social service worker in the ill-fated series, "Going My Way," starring Gene Kelly, which happened to be opposite "The Beverly Hillbillies" on Wednesday nights.
"True, we got shot down by the opposition," says York, "but we also had our story problems. Originally I was cast as a Protestant minister who had been a boyhood friend of Kelly the priest. Friendly barbs about our youth were supposed to take place.
"I think the producers were afraid to make this comment between two ministers, so I became a social worker. Again, I'm only guessing, but I think Leo McCarey pushed the idea as far as it could go in the pictures 'Going My Way' and 'The Bells of St. Mary's'.' "
Now safely ensconced in a solid hit, York can go home to a wife and five kids without worrying about where the next part is going to come from. As husband to a witch, he holds up his end firmly, and he's head man at home.
"With five kids in the house we always have confusion." he says, and he likes it. "But there are times when I'd like to borrow a few tricks from Samantha."
When York left the series, producer Bill Asher told the Los Angeles Times: “After five years in a part an actor wants to move on to something else—and I don’t blame him.” Asher was less than forthright. He knew Dick York was a sick man.

It was a number of years before York spoke about what was wrong with him. Here’s a story from one syndication service dated April 5, 1989 where he talks about it.
Bedeviled By Disease, Dick York Fights Back

Newspaper Enterprise Association
ROCKFORD, Mich. (NEA) — When Dick York was an actor in Hollywood, starring in the popular TV series "Bewitched," he had a supernaturally entrancing wife named Samantha. The story line was that she would get him out of the scripted predicaments" by wiggling her nose to bring about legerdemanian solutions.
Today Samantha is long gone. But York continues to call on wonderworking to cope with his dilemmas. He has fallen on real-life hardtimes. He is in fact dying of chronic emphysema here in the middle of Michigan. Yet he is still able to wiggle up an enchanting solution to the problem of facing his own mortality.
The solution is beneficence. Wiggle. York has subordinated his own terrible worries to an overriding concern for others. He believes that love is the real magic in the world, and mercy is its manifestation. So he has formed a small charitable group and is devoting what remains of his life to helping homeless people.
The group is called "Dick York Acting for Life," and York runs it out of the living room of his modest rural home. He is joined in the endeavor by his actual wife Joey and a handful of friends around the state. He is thin, frail and always out of breath, but he insists he is not too far gone to be a force for goodwill.
It's bewitching spirit, to be sure. And in this case befitting. York has been wrestling with adversity since he was born into privation during the Great Depression. He says his family was so poor it could not afford to bury a brother when he died, and so, "We had to steal into a cemetery at night to lay him to rest."
York turned to acting to escape the travail, and, at 15, starred in the CBS program, "That Brewster Boy." He went from radio into film work in the 1950s, and then became a familiar face on television during the 1960s. Besides "Bewitched," he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's shows and on Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone." York was still battling misfortune, however. He injured his back in a Gary Cooper movie, became dependent on pain killing prescriptions, and it caught up with him in 1969. He passed out on the set of "Bewitched" that year, had to be taken to the hospital and was unsympathetically dropped from the show.
The drop soon turned into a free-fall dive. He says he could not get a job "in a school play." His savings disappeared, he ate his way up to 300 pounds, and he lost his home to the mortgage company. He wound up cleaning apartment units to try to make ends meet. In 1976, he was forced to take welfare assistance. Then there was the emphysema. York says he used to be a heavy smoker, but there were other causes too.
York says he is routinely tied to an oxygen tank. And the back pains continue. But he has passed the time when he gave in to despair regarding his condition. Now he concentrates on the misfortunes of others.
The involvement began last year when York read about a congressional rule (the McKinney Act) that was put in effect some time back to give items of government surplus to worthwhile enterprises. He then started calling government agencies in the upper Midwest to get surplus commodities turned over to homeless people in Michigan.
York says he ran squarely into stone walls at first. He likewise got entangled in bureaucratic red tape. He says people would say "yes" one day, then "no" the next, and wonder why he would ask in the first place. Eventually, though, he rallied his small organization, raised donated funds to cover expenses and got results. The results were that in 1988 York says he got enough surplus to "clothe 15,000 people head to foot." In addition, he jimmied hundreds of excess sleeping bags out of the government, and whole truckloads of cots, mattresses and blankets. He also got some food for the homeless sent to the Salvation Army in Grand Rapids.
"The plight of the homeless is everyone's problem," York says, "because any of us could be there at one time or the other. I can see myself as a guy on the street, and I think most people can do that. There's no good just looking the other way; we're going to solve this problem together, or it won't be solved." He stops to catch his breath. And to adjust his oxygen tube. And, remarkably, to smile. "I'm not going to stop with 15.000 people," he goes on. "I want to help millions. I mean millions. Before I die I would like to give clothes, food and adequate housing to every man, woman and child in the United States."
The address for "Dick York Acting for life" is P.O. Box 499, Rockford, Mich. 49341.
York died February 20, 1992, helping others until he physically could not. The Grand Rapids Press told how he donated $15,000 to a group to buy and outfit a mobile kitchen to serve hot meals to firefighters and police at disaster scenes, and the money to buy 1,000 blankets to stock two trailers in case of a major natural disaster.

There were two Darrins. There was only one Dick York.


  1. Far superior is an overstatement. Dick and York and Dick Sargent had different styles. York was loud and high pitched funny. Dragent was more subtle in his annoyance as Darren. Together, they could have done Sergeant York! LOL

  2. What a great guy. I remember watching Bewitched as a kid in the '60s and Dick York was the only Darren I knew. I either drifted away from the show as I got older, or the Dick Sergeant episodes were never shown in Scotland. It wasn't until many years later (late '90s or early '00s) when the show was aired on daytime TV that I was surprised one day to see a different Darren. Dick York? As I said, what a great guy.

  3. I had a close friend who did late night radio in Grand Rapids. He told me Dick was a night owl, and would raise money for various causes by phoning friends and organizations at night. Dick used to call his show and they would talk for hours. Told me Dick was a super nice, real person. By this time he was in great pain, but still was funny and had a great attitude. He had given me Dick's home phone number. I put it in my Rolodex really intending to call during the weekend when I had time to sit and introduce myself. Two days after that, Dick passed. Remember it like it was yesterday. We all have a few regrets in our lives. For me, that was one of the great regrets.

    1. The two saddest words in the English language - 'if only'.