“Sam!!!” “Oh my stars!” It takes patience, understanding, and accepting one’s inadequacy being married to a witch and her zany oddball in-laws, especially when your ogre of a mother-in-law Endora zaps you into a fish net. Agnes Moorehead may have depicted the most reviled character in sitcom history. Seen here is an exasperated Dick York — the first and best Darrin Stephens — and a drop dead gorgeous Elizabeth Montgomery in a summer 1968 publicity still for ABC’s enduring, 30-minute Bewitched sitcom.
York recounted in Herbie J. Pilato’s fan-friendly Bewitched Forever tome that “Darrin had to work hard for everything he got in life. He had witches, neighbors, even his own parents to deal with, but he didn’t care. All he wanted to do was to be with Samantha.” York formulated three underlying reasons why the high-strung advertising executive from Westport, Connecticut, pursued a relationship with a supernatural housewife:
- It doesn’t matter what your mother does to me, I just want to be with you. [Darrin jumped back on his feet anytime Endora interfered. She grudgingly came to realize just how much Darrin loved her daughter].
- I don’t expect you to be perfect — I just want you to be yourself.
- I love you, and I want you to know how much I care.
York commanded respect as a capable actor of both dramatic intensity and rubber-faced comedic reactions. Turn the sound off, and York remains funny. It’s a shame that modern-day York incarnation Jim Carrey was not involved in the 2005 theatrical dud toplined by Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman.
Severely injuring his spine in 1959 while propelling a railroad hand car in one of Gary Cooper’s final roles — the Mexican Revolution-era western They Came to Cordura — a decade later the pain medication-addicted actor was on a scaffolding with Maurice Evans [Samantha’s father] shooting the lackluster Bewitched episode “Daddy Does His Thing” when he became dizzy and collapsed. Rushed to a hospital and powerless to work any further, a bedside conference with Montgomery’s husband — producer William Asher — prompted York’s premature exit from Bewitched after completing 75% [22 episodes] of the fifth season. The bland Dick Sargent filled the role for the remaining three seasons, marred by repetitive plots and Montgomery’s waning interest. York’s disappearance was never addressed except for possible jabs the writers took in Sargent’s first filmed episode “Samantha’s Better Halves” where Samantha insists, “But I only want one Darrin!”
Flat on his back for almost two years until kicking drugs cold turkey, nevertheless mounting medical bills, a wife and five children, and an unwise investment in an apartment building in West Covina that the family called home left York’s finances in precarious shape. A shocking mini television comeback in 1983 and 1984 — guest spots on Simon & Simon, Fantasy Island, and the proposed NBC pilot High School U.S.A. costarring Rick Nelson and a bevy of former small screen stars — was fleeting. York’s agent didn’t submit his credentials properly to the Screen Actors Guild, so casting supervisors sent job offers which were never relayed because of the incorrect listing.
Decades of smoking multiple packs of cigarettes daily triggered a bout with emphysema. York finally succumbed to the debilitating lung disease at age 63 in 1992, but not before he became a savior to the homeless, valiantly raising donations via telephone through his Acting for Life charity. A month before his death, a bearded, gaunt York proudly revealed in an on-camera interview with Entertainment Tonight that over 20,000 people had been clothed and more than 250,000,000 meals had been served. The things we do for love.
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