This week marks the 50th anniversary of "Bewitched," the now-classic television comedy about witches and warlocks that ran from 1964 to 1972, and is known to even contemporary audiences. Modern kids have enjoyed shows such as "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and of course the Harry Potter craze, but we all know Samantha was the original enchanter.
For the uninitiated, "Bewitched" revolved around a gorgeous nose-twitching witch named Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) who was married to a bemused advertising executive husband, Darren (Dick York and Dick Sargent), an ideologue who believed in "earning his keep" and strongly disapproved of his wife using her powers to help them get ahead in the mortal realm (aka the suburbs). Throw in a catchy theme song, some great opening animation, and some colorful characters, and the show couldn't help but become an instant hit. Other beloved personas include Samantha's indulgent warlock dad and her indignant son-in-law-hating mother, played by Hollywood veteran Agnes Moorehead. Then producers went and spiced things up in the third year by introducing the world to darling "Baby Tabitha," the couple's half-witch daughter who took after mom in both the looks and talents departments.
The build-up to the extraordinary television birth was something of an event on the scale of Little Ricky's birth on "I Love Lucy" a decade and a half earlier. The adorable and magical tot Tabitha was played by Erin Murphy, who started acting before she could speak and was a self-described "good kid."
Erin grew up on the show's soundstage set and says she thought of Elizabeth Montgomery as a second mother. In fact, she often gets mistaken for her on-set mom whose real-life daughers are still "like cousins." These days Erin lives on a ranch where she raises horses and alpacas. She has six sons who "bring the chaos" she confesses to thriving on. She is often surrounded by a large group of friends, many of whom are former child actor friends from shows such as "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "My Three Sons," "Little House on the Prairie," and "The Waltons." Over the years Erin kept in touch with her "Bewitched" co-stars, but is now essentially the only cast member still alive. She also attended the premiere of the 2005 movie remake of "Bewitched" starring Nicole Kidman. She enjoyed the movie, and said the only thing that would have made it better was if they had switched Darrens halfway through. Erin still acts, but a number of projects routinely take her away from the set: writing magazine articles, running a martini popsicle business and fighting for autism awareness. In celebration of the long-lived show's anniversary, Erin will host a 24-hour-long marathon to air on Antenna TV this Saturday Sept. 20.
HNGN recently caught up with Erin, who took us on a nostalgic journey to celebrate the classic television comedy's golden anniversary.
HNGN.com: What are your fondest memories from the making of the show?
Erin Murphy: It's a really great place to grow up. I started out on the show on the very first color episode, so the first episode of the third season and then I was on for the rest of the eight seasons. I had a lot of fun, I worked with wonderful people...it was a really, really fun place to grow up. I have memories of working with everybody; I was 8 when the show went off the air so I remember a lot of it.
HNGN.com: Do you have any especially memorable moments on the set? Anything that stands out?
EM: My favorite ones are always when they have the animals there, when they would bring on a pony and turn it into a unicorn. Also seeing the special effects people setting everything up for the magic, seeing behind the scenes was fun.
HNGN.com: Do you remember how they performed the special effects on the show?
EM: When Elizabeth Montgomery wiggled her nose it was filmed at a slow speed and then played back at a fast speed. But for me they figured a baby witch couldn't twitch her nose like that so they had me do it with my finger.
HNGN.com: Do you know what inspired the idea for "Bewitched" in the first place?
EM: They were going to do a show called "The Rich Girl" or something like that, and the premise was that there was a really, really rich girl (who would have been Elizabeth Montgomery) who fell in love with a really poor boy. So she marries him, she could have had anything that she wanted in the world but she chose this poor guy and gave up her money. It's sort of the same thing as a witch who gives up her powers to marry a mortal, so it was a takeoff of that. I don't think most people know that, but that is the true story.
HNGN.com: Do you think the other cast members' personalities were similar to their roles in the show or were they really different people?
EM: I think they were really different. I think Elizabeth Montgomery was more like the character Serena than Samantha, she had a lot of fun when they brought that character on.
HNGN.com: Do you remember when they switched Darrens?
EM: I do. I worked with each of them for three seasons each. Dick York was in so much pain in the end that he had this board on the set he had to lean against because he had a bad back; so he had to lean against that or sit down or lay down. They wrote seven episodes that season without the Darren character altogether. One time he had a seizure on set and after that they decided they had to replace him.
HNGN.com: Were you there when that happened?
EM: I was.
HNGN.com: Was it scary?
EM: I don't remember it being scary. I mean I'm sure it probably was, I remember it, I just don't remember being afraid.
HNGN.com: What was your relationship like with him?
EM: We stayed in touch after, he was very inspirational. As of late he was on oxygen and in bad condition because of emphysema, but he was still working to raise money and gathering mattresses for homeless shelters and things like that, he was a very inspirational guy.
HNGN.com: Was it strange to have Dick Sargent on set as a replacement?
EM: It wasn't; he was really good friends with Elizabeth Montgomery. They had actually offered him the role of Darren first and another actress the role of Samantha so I think he was the only choice when they brought him on set. He was a really great guy. It wasn't like they replaced a nice guy with a bad guy, they were both really great.
HNGN.com: What was your relationship like with Agnes Moorehead (Endora)?
EM: I loved her, she was probably my favorite. It's funny because people ask me more than the other characters if she was scary, but she was the least scary person in the world. She was like my Grandma, I loved her like a Grandma. I thought she was so pretty because she was so colorful with her red hair and purple eyeshadow.
HNGN.com: Was the staff on set patient with you? Was it hard to learn your lines being such a young child at the time?
EM: No, because I grew up on the set (I started acting when I was 11 months old) it's easy, it's always been a part of my life. People were really patient with me too, I was really, really well behaved. I was a good kid.
HNGN.com: Was it strange to have a sort of alternate set of parents on the set?
EM: It's the only life I know, so I grew up with two sets of parents. It seemed normal, but they also did seem like other parents. I know in a lot of ways I'm more like Elizabeth Montgomery in my own life than my own Mom and I think it might be because we spent so many daytime hours together. I definitely have her dirty sense of humor. So much of my personality is similar to hers and so many of her children and family and friends say that I'm so much like her. It's funny because the parts of her personality that I have horrify my own mother.
HNGN.com: Did you keep in touch with most of the cast after the show went off the air?
EM: I did, we talked a bunch of times about doing a "Bewitched" remake, there's even talk about doing it now but I'm still looking at scripts and deciding. We stayed in touch in different ways; Elizabeth Montgomery's children are still some of my closest friends...I see them all the time, they come to parties at my ranch, we go out for lunch, we're Facebook friends. Her daughter Rebecca and I share a birthday, so we're very close. You could say they're more like cousins than siblings, we're really, really good friends.
HNGN.com: I know your twin sister Diane was on the set with you for a bit and then wasn't as you got older. Did that cause any strain in your relationship?
EM: It didn't cause strain at all. They were only auditioning twins for the role of Tabitha and we were fraternal twins so even at the beginning they didn't really use us interchangeably, they would shoot my sister from the back or at a distance. She kind of hated being on set, so I think she was happy to go back home and not do it. Entertainment is either for you or it's not; some people sort of thrive on it, which I do, but my sister hates it. So I think it worked out great, and of course she's one of my closest friends, she's my sister!
HNGN.com: Do you know what happened to the twins that played your little brother on the show?
EM: One works in post-production and the other is a chef.
HNGN.com: Did you keep in touch with them?
EM: I did. We have this group that is sort of every child actor. We started with a party at my ranch and invited every kid actor from every T.V. show we knew from all the generations, so we're kind of all friends. It's like this little secret underground thing.
HNGN.com: Who else is involved in that?
EM: If you name a T.V. show from "The Brady Bunch" to "The Waltons"... we're all in it. There's a certain common ground that child actors share, we have experiences that other people don't, so I think it's easy to fall into friendships based on that. Susan Olsen from "The Brady Bunch" is a great friend, she walks my dogs when I go out of town.
HNGN.com: Who are some of your best friends from the group?
EM: Oh my gosh that's hard... Cathy Silvers who played Jenny Piccalo in "Happy Days" is one of my great friends.
HNGN.com: Do you feel like people still think of you as baby Tabitha or have you moved past that by now?
EM: I think people loved the show so much, so of course they remember me from that. I think I was one of the few child actors who had a steady career in the business as an adult because I'm familiar but I don't automatically look like Tabitha.
HNGN.com: Do you ever get recognized on the streets?
EM: Constantly. I've kind of stayed in the business, I mean I'm still on T.V. and on talk shows. I get a lot of 'oh I know you, I know you' and they almost always get it. At first they sometimes think I'm Elizabeth Montgomery but then they're like 'you're much too young. Did you play Tabitha?' Which is very flattering.
HNGN.com: Was it hard to transition into being an actress as an adult?
EM: It really surprisingly wasn't, but I think it's because I took some time off where I wasn't acting but doing other things in the entertainment business. I worked in casting for years, I worked as a PA, I had all different careers on set. When I thought about coming back to acting people were kind of welcoming and I think it's because I turned down so many things over the years. I think sometimes kid actors keep trying to act right after whatever their big thing is and then it gets to the point where maybe they can't find work and then they can't make the transition later. I think since I kind of walked away from the business they were really welcoming to me when I came back.
HNGN.com: What advice would you give to child actors trying to make the transition today?
EM: Well, I think the best advice you could give to anyone, adult or child actors, is to have something else that you're interested in doing. Acting is great but so few people actually make a living as actors. You can do community theater, but maybe pick a different career, entertainment somewhere or education or something else to fall back on.
HNGN.com: So what are you doing now?
EM: I'm doing a lot of things. I'm doing a play out here in L.A. called "Hollywood Shorts," it's written by T.V. writers and performed by former T.V. actors. That's something I'm really just doing for fun, I'm still acting, I'm an entrepreneur and I own a company that makes frozen martini popsicles. We're all across the country and in Australia and China. I have a ranch where I raise horses and alpacas...I do a million things.
HNGN.com: And what about your home life? I know you have six sons, did you ever wish you could have some magical powers to help you out with that?
EM: Well, I think everybody wishes they could twitch their nose and get the house clean. But I thrive on chaos, so I'd rather be doing a million things at once than one thing, so I think it's fun. I always wanted a big family.
HNGN.com: Did your kids watch "Bewitched" growing up?
EM: Yeah they did. And it's funny, because I don't specifically sit down and watch it myself. I had to remind myself 'oh gosh the kids haven't even seen this' and kind of tell them 'hey I was on this show' and introduce them to it, they love it. It's funny because their teachers always end up knowing who I was and are excited so the kids have to know what the show is.
HNGN.com: You have an autistic son and work with autism awareness organizations. Do you think people are becoming more aware of the condition?
EM: I think they are. There is something in the environment, there's something out there, that has caused the number of cases of autism to rise so drastically. Growing up I truly had never even heard of autism and now the numbers are so great. I was involved with autism-related charities before my son was diagnosed, but as a parent you're there to support other parents and answer questions. I think talking about it openly helps let people know about it because it's a very confusing condition.
HNGN.com: You've also written for magazines, is that something you plan to keep doing?
EM: I love to write, I always thought I'd be a writer when I grew up but I'm still waiting to grow up. I'm writing a book right now on crowd funding of all things. I've written articles about fashion and lifestyle and beauty.
HNGN.com: That's great. Going back a bit, what did you do with the money you got from "Bewitched."
EM: When I turned 21 I got my money from "Bewitched" and I got a house and a horse. It wasn't like lunch money it was real money.
HNGN.com: How do you feel about the upcoming 50th anniversary of "Bewitched"?
EM: I think it's exciting that 50 years later people are still watching the show and are interested in it. It's great that a show we made so long ago is still loved by so many people.
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