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Dick York: A Special Magic

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Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 12:00 am

Dick York is best known today as the original Darrin Stephens on the classic television series Bewitched. He played Darrin for five years, suffering debilitating back pain and yet never failing to give his all. When he left the show in 1969, after suffering a seizure on the set, many felt that it really didn't matter, and the viewers wouldn't care much. The network downplayed their switch to a new Darrin, Dick Sargent. And yet, when the show returned, without York, for a sixth season it tumbled in the ratings, falling 13 places. For its final two seasons, it would be out of the top 25.

As early as 1965, Dick York talked about the way he was overlooked in an interview with TV Guide. When asked about critics not seeming to notice his consistently fine work on the show, he replied, "maybe it's me. I don't think so, but the only way to tell if it's me or not is to kill me off in one show, give the witch another husband and see if I'm missed." Unfortunately for the series and its fans, the replaceable Dick York turned out to be not-so-replaceable after all.

Richard Allen York was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 4, 1928. His father, Bernard, was a salesman . . . when he could get the work. His mother, who was only sixteen when Dick was born, worked off and on as a seamstress. They were poor and would be poorer yet because the Great Depression was just around the corner. Later in life, Dick remembered that his mother would often tell him that she had eaten when he knew that she hadn't, because there wasn't enough food to go around. "You had to be an actor growing up then," he recalled. "You didn't want your parents to know you knew your toys were secondhand."

By the time Dick was ten, the York family moved to Chicago. Dick loved movies, but couldn't afford to see them, so he would stand outside the Vogue Theater and look at the posters and scene stills, imagining the movie based on these images. Even though the average ticket price was ten cents, York later wrote, "a dime was a hell of a lot of money in Chicago in 1937. We're talking about men killing one another, fighting over the garbage outside of restaurants."

One day a sympathetic young woman noticed Dick looking at the pictures advertising the epic Cecil B. DeMille film The Crusades. Feeling sorry for the boy, she paid for his admission. While watching the film, he decided then and there he wanted to be an actor.

Eventually, his mother operated a beauty shop and the little family lived in part of the basement below. The walls were unfinished and their tiny living space consisted of a kitchenette, couch, kitchen table, and Murphy bed. Dick slept on a cot. Dick later recalled that when people in the building climbed the stairs to their apartments in the upper floors, tiny bits of plaster dust would fall from above. Still, they were thankful to have a roof over their heads.

By this time his parents scrimped and saved enough to enroll him in The Jack and Jill Players, a children's dramatic school located on the ninth floor of a building on S. Wabash in Chicago. This training led to work on local Chicago radio and ultimately his first big break and first paying job as That Brewster Boy during World War II. Dick would later recall that it was "an imitation of the Aldrich Family. Eddie Firestone, who originally played the title role, joined the Marines. I was 15 when I auditioned and got the part." Now, Dick would be able to help support his family.

The show lasted two years and when it was finished Dick was sure he was "washed up." His mother playfully told the seventeen year old, "With your gray hair and wrinkles you'll never get another chance." Soon afterward Dick was in serious negotiation to play Henry Aldrich on The Aldrich Family. "They were auditioning to replace Ezra Stone, and I was one of the people they were considering. Then Jim Jewell, who wrote, produced and directed Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, called and asked me if I would come over and play Billy Fairfield. I told Mr. Jewell that, to tell the truth, I was being considered for Henry Aldrich. He asked if I would play Bill Fairfield until I heard from the Aldrich people and I said yes."

It turned out that another actor got the part on the Aldrich show, so Dick was free to continue to play Billy Fairchild. The show had been on the air with different players since 1933 and told the story of that all-American teenager, Jack Armstrong, and his adventures around the world with his friends, siblings Betty and Billy Fairchild and their Uncle Jim. (This series, incidentally, was the inspiration for the popular Saturday morning children's cartoon series Johnny Quest in the early 1970s.) Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy was sponsored for many years by Wheaties and made famous the slogan "The Breakfast of Champions".

Live radio performing was hard work, and Dick later recalled a funny blooper he made on the show. He had a line where he is supposed to say, "We'd better get Jack out of there; he'll be eaten by the alligators." It came out as, "We'd better get Jack out of there; he's eating all the alligators."

Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy proved lucky for Dick in another way. It was on this show that Dick met Joan Alt when she came in one day to do a commercial. Dick was fifteen at the time and didn't pay much attention to this gangly twelve-year-old girl everyone called "Joey". Three years later they would meet again and this time, it was love at first sight . . . or second sight to be exact. "You would be very surprised at what strides a girl can make between 12 and 15," Dick noted. Dick played Billy for six years until the show ended its run in 1951. By this time Dick was twenty-two years old and decided to move to New York to further his career.

By this time Dick and Joey were an item, and he discussed the situation with her. She felt sure that if he stayed in Chicago that "something would come up." But Dick was adamant; he knew if he wanted to breakthrough—especially with stage roles—he would need to go to New York. He decided he would go first, and if he became successful he would send for Joey.

He moved to New York, took a room at a YMCA, and hit the pavement. For the first year he didn't have much to show for it except a few bits on radio here and there. Dick was still determined to make a go of it, but he decided he had to have Joey with him. He sent for her, and they were married on November 17, 1951.

Things soon picked up for him professionally. He was cast as the romantic Russ McClure on the radio soap opera This Is Nora Drake. Dick was now a busy New York radio actor with additional roles on another daily soap, Rosemary, and the private eye series Michael Shayne. Dick enjoyed working on radio and developed a good reputation. Soon he was enjoying a steady income, not to mention the psychic rewards. "Radio allowed people to act with their hearts and minds," Dick later said in an interview with Filmfax magazine.

It was working on the radio show Michael Shayne that led to Dick getting a key supporting role in a juicy Broadway play, Tea and Sympathy. Dick was playing a drug addict on the Shayne program and so impressed the writer of the show, Deke Hayworth, that he arranged for Dick to see his agent who was also impressed by the gangly and expressive York. She sent him out to audition for Elia Kazan who was directing the play, Tea and Sympathy.

Tea and Sympathy is about a sensitive seventeen-year-old boy who isn't interested in the usual manly pursuits and so he is labeled a homosexual at college. The headmaster's wife sees the agony that the boy is suffering and tries to help him, but with consequences. Handling the auditions on Kazan's behalf was his friend Karl Malden, who had worked with Kazan in both the Broadway and film versions of A Streetcar Named Desire. "He was from Chicago and was in New York maybe a year or two and he read for me," Malden recalled of his audition with Dick. "I put him down as a definite possibility. It finally came down between him and another actor. He got the part. He was a wonderful actor and a very nice man." Dick would recall that at this audition with Malden, he initially read for the part of the bully who makes the sensitive young boy's life a living hell. "But I told Karl Malden . . . that I felt I was better suited for the boy's friend." Dick later said he went to the washroom and when he came out Malden told him to come back in and read for the other part.

Dick got the role of Al and opened the play on September 30, 1953. The play starred Deborah Kerr and John Kerr and ran 712 performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. With considerable pride, Dick would recall for the rest of his life the day that Paul Newman approached him on a subway. "He told me it wasn't going in his direction, but he wanted to tell me how great I was in Tea and Sympathy."

Dick's success in this play led to a contract with Columbia Pictures, where over the next four years he would make several films. The first was a musical remake of the 1942 Rosalind Russell film My Sister Eileen. "I had to sing and dance in that movie," York later recalled. "I never danced a step in my life, so naturally my first motion picture was a musical and Bob Fosse was the choreographer." The source material was also used as a Broadway musical (also starring Russell) in 1953 called Wonderful Town, but this film, while basically the same story, couldn't use the same musical numbers used in Wonderful Town so a new score was written by Jule Styne, and Leo Robin.

The film is about two sisters from Ohio—one an aspiring writer named Ruth (Betty Garrett replacing Judy Holliday who dropped out of the film) and the other an aspiring actress named Eileen (Janet Leigh) who move to New York to seek their mutual success. Ruth narrates the story and has many of the film's witty lines, while Eileen, with her innocent good looks is always the center of attention. Even though Ruth is often overshadowed, she loves her sister and will do anything for her and will always protect her. The sisters move into a Greenwich Village basement studio apartment and we meet many of her neighbors including Ted Loomis, a body builder nicknamed "The Wreck," who looks out for the girls. Dick was cast as Loomis after Aldo Ray turned the part down as being too small. Jack Lemmon also stars as the publisher for whom Ruth wants to work. This would be the first of three films that Dick would appear in with Jack Lemmon. The director was Richard Quine, who also wrote the screenplay with Blake Edwards. Janet Leigh in her autobiography had fond memories of My Sister Eileen: "We were a young, spirited, talented, ambitious conglomeration of energies. It was a six-month labor of love. No one wanted it to end, and it was a sobbing group who gathered for the farewell party." The film turned out to be a success despite mixed reviews.

In 1956, Dick returned to the Broadway stage taking over the role of the cowboy that Albert Salmi had created in Bus Stop opposite Kim Stanley. One day the director of the play told York that Kim Stanley didn't think that he was being menacing enough to her in a climactic scene where Dick has to grab Stanley and throw her to the floor. Stanley thought that Dick was too nice of a man to hurt anybody. The director asked Dick to prove Miss Stanley wrong. Beginning with that night's performance Dick performed the part of the cowboy with a new ferocity and when he grabbed Stanley she felt it, and her black and blue bruises would prove it. This went on for a few performances until Stanley came to Dick and told him simply, "Okay, Dick" and Dick replied, "Okay, Kim." They both understood—she now believed in him as the cowboy and it was okay for him to pull back —a bit.

By this time Dick was appearing frequently on television, especially the live TV shows produced in New York such as The Good Year Playhouse, and a Gore Vidal story titled Visit to a Small Planet. Later Vidal expanded his TV script into a full-fledged Broadway play starring Cyril Ritchard (who also starred with Dick in the TV version) and wanted Dick to repeat his role from the TV version in the Broadway play. Dick turned him down, and accepted another Broadway play about space travel, Night of the Auk.

On paper Night of the Auk sounded like a good bet, with a cast that, in addition to Dick, included Claude Rains, Wendell Corey, Martin Brooks, and Christopher Plummer. Furthermore, it was directed by a man with considerable theater experience who was just making his mark in films, Sidney Lumet. Night of the Auk was the story of five men, the first men on the moon, who while returning to earth have to deal with the fact that they left one of the crew behind to die on the moon. While dealing with this guilt, more men die on their way back to Earth, and by the time the space ship lands, nuclear war is breaking out! It didn't make for a fun night at the theater, and the reviews were not enthusiastic. Brooks Atkinson, the dean of New York theater critics, thought the play packed in a little too much, but thought that the players did a good job. Still, it was a depressing show and it closed after eight performances, whereupon Gore Vidal called and told Dick, "Ha, ha, you got on the wrong spaceship."

Night of the Auk turned out to be Dick's final stage play. From now on he would concentrate on films and television—lots and lots of television. Incidentally, Dick would work in another Gore Vidal scribed teleplay titled Honor with a cast which included Ralph Bellamy and Leo G. Carroll. "Dick York's subdued portrayal of a war weary, young Confederate officer was the only notable performance in the production," according to the New York Times.

Dick's first film after My Sister Eileen teamed him with Aldo Ray, Philip Carey and Chuck Connors in the postwar Japanese occupation drama Three Stripes in the Sun (1955). In this film, U.S. troops (including York as Corporal Muhlendorf) help poor kids who live in an orphanage near their military base, and in so doing, one of them—an anti-Japanese bigot (the Aldo Ray character)—falls in love with a Japanese woman.

Dick followed this modest film with one of his most popular. Operation Mad Ball (1957) reunited Dick with director Richard Quine, writer Blake Edwards and star Jack Lemmon and a superb supporting cast which includes Ernie Kovaks, Mickey Rooney, Arthur O'Connell, and Kathryn Grant. Operation Mad Ball is a service comedy that takes place at the 1066th General Hospital Base in France shortly after the Second World War. Private Hogan (Lemmon), is a smooth operator in the Bilko mode, except better looking. He decides that the men on base need a big party to boost morale and let off steam—a mad ball. Of course there is an obstacle in the form of Captain Lock (Kovaks). Dick has a prime supporting role as Captain Lock's assistant, who works against his commanding officer to make the mad ball a reality. The film is a rollicking farce with lots of slapstick and a terrific title song, sung by Sammy Davis, Jr., that gets the proceedings off to a great start.

Dick later recalled the film in an interview in Filmfax: "I was supposed to be helping Ernie, but I wasn't. I was really working with Jack Lemmon and Mickey Rooney who were trying to get the mad ball going. Ernie was using this Vicks inhaler in his scenes and that gave me an idea. I told [director] Dick Quine that I bet I could get to Kovacs, and to watch for something at the end of the scene. So we did the scene and Ernie's upstaging me with this inhaler. 'You got that, Bowun?' and I say, 'Yeah, I think I can handle that, sir!' At that very moment I whipped out an inhaler and took a sniff. Ernie looked at it and his eyes got big and round. Dick Quine yells, 'Cut!' and Kovacs says, 'You son of a bitch. I set up this inhaler gag through the whole scene, and you knock it off.'"

Operation Mad Ball turned out to be one of Columbia's most popular releases of 1957 and the film scored some solid reviews, as did Dick. "Dick York is fine as the stony faced clerk corporal who acts as the liaison between the enlisted conspirators and his boss, Captain Kovacs," wrote the critic for the New York Times.

Next on Dick's movie agenda was a role as a hardened trail hand in Delmer Daves' Cowboy (1958). Glenn Ford leads a cattle drive joined by a greenhorn who has always dreamed of being a cowboy —Jack Lemmon, in his third and final film with Dick. "Westerns aint a lot of fun when you've got 3000 head of Mexican cattle that spook every time a mouse farts," Dick recalled of the challenges the cast and crew faced. "We chased those suckers for miles and miles. We finally got to the stampede scene and these damn cattle were so tired that they had to set up dynamite charges to get them to run!"

Cowboy was based on the true life experiences of Frank Harris (the character Lemmon plays) who wrote a book titled "My Reminiscences as a Cowboy". The film was adapted to the screen by Edmund H. North and Dalton Trumbo, but Trumbo received no screen credit because as a communist and one of the Hollywood Ten, he was still blacklisted.

Dick followed this film up with The Last Blitzkrieg (1959) which has shades of Stalag 17 and casts Van Johnson as an American soldier in a German POW camp who is, in reality, a German spy. Dick and Larry Storch play two POWs in the same cell block.

The more significant picture of this year for Dick was They Came to Cordura (1959) which would have severe repercussions on Dick's life and career. In They Came to Cordura, Gary Cooper plays an officer branded a coward during the 1916 American punitive campaign in Mexico against Pancho Villa in retaliation for Villa's murderous attack on a U.S. border town. Rather than having him resign in disgrace, Cooper is put in charge of selecting soldiers worthy of valor as the United States gears up for entry into the First World War. The men selected include Dick, Tab Hunter, Michael Callan, Richard Conte, and Van Heflin. They are sent on what is described as a suicide mission that also involves the daughter of a Senator (Rita Hayworth), trekking through a hostile desert to a remote rail station at Cordura. Along the way the five men selected by Cooper become more desperate and less heroic as Cooper finds a chance to redeem himself. The film was directed by Robert Rossen, who had previously directed All the King's Men and would go on to direct Paul Newman in The Hustler. The film was shot on location in Utah and Nevada.

In later years, Dick would point to director Robert Rossen as endangering the cast during the arduous location shoot. "Anyone who would let Gary Cooper and the entire cast go charging on horseback without first finding out what kind of footing the horses had is nuts and cannot possibly direct a motion picture," Dick later recalled in Filmfax. "Cooper's horse hit slate and went sliding. Then the horse behind him came up and we went bam, bam, bam. Everyone in that picture could have been kicked to death by those horses. Rossen was a good director, but he was an alcoholic."

But it was a freak accident while filming a scene involving a railroad hand car that would scar Dick's life and career: "It was the last shot of the day and tomorrow we would wrap Cordura. In the scene, Cooper and I were propelling a hand car carrying several wounded men down an abandoned railroad track. As we passed the camera I was on the bottom stroke of this sort of teeter-totter mechanism that made the hand car run. I was just lifting the handle up as the director yelled 'Cut!' and one of the wounded cast members reached up and grabbed the handle. Now, instead of lifting the expected weight, I was suddenly, jarringly, lifting his entire weight off the flatbed—180 pounds or so. The muscles along the right side of my back tore. They just let loose."

In his autobiography, Dick would label this a "beginning" and so it was—the beginning of the end. "And that was the start of it all—the pain, the painkillers, the addiction, the lost career," as Dick would later explain. But first he would struggle through another decade. A decade where he could go months and even years without the pain, but then out of the blue it would hit him like a ton of bricks.

He would make one more film and it is without a doubt the best role he would have in films, and with a stellar cast. Inherit the Wind (1960) was directed by Stanley Kramer and was inspired by the 1924 Scopes trial, which involved a Tennessee teacher who taught Darwin's theory of evolution. The trial was a media circus in its day and involved two giants of the era—noted defense attorney Clearance Darrow defending the teacher and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan consulting for the prosecution. The cast assembled by Kramer was distinguished. Spencer Tracy would play a character inspired by Darrow, and Fredric March was cast as the Bryan-like character. Gene Kelly played a cynical newspaperman based on H.L. Mencken. Dick got the plum role of the teacher, named Bertrum Cates in the film, who is accused of teaching evolution. The cast also includes Donna Anderson (as York's girlfriend, a minister's daughter), Claude Akins, Florence Eldridge (March's real life wife playing his on-screen wife) and Harry Morgan as the judge presiding.

Dick has fond memories of the film: "When I did Inherit the Wind, I learned about teaching school. I also found out what a fundamentalist was. I had to convince myself that Scopes was taking a stand because he felt it was right and not because he was some smart ass. When I did that, Kramer said, 'Why don't you write the first scene?' So, I wrote that first scene when you see me talking to the kids."

Working with screen titans like Spencer Tracy, Fredric March and Gene Kelly was also a pleasure. Dick recalled jovial storytelling by the actors between scenes in the court house. He also realized what a superb screen actor Tracy was. "We were doing a scene in the courtroom and Tracy turned and looked at me in the middle of the scene and his eyes were ablaze and he spat out the question that he had to know: 'Do you want to go on with this case?' And in that electric moment my reaction was as good as anything I've ever done, because Spencer Tracy made it that way." Dick holds his own in the film despite its star power. He is particularly strong in a scene where he reacts to an angry mob outside his cell.

Inherit the Wind received glowing reviews when it was released, but performed poorly at the box office. The New York Times lauded Dick's performance, "There is a young man on trial, a hayseed hero, played stalwartly by Dick York."

This was to be Dick's final feature film. From this point forward he would appear extensively on television. He already had been seen in such diverse series as The Untouchables, Father Knows Best, Studio One, and The Millionaire (Dick would be the only guest star on this series to get the million dollar check twice). But the series that Dick appeared most frequently on was Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He appeared six times on that classic suspense series and once in its successor The Alfred Hitchcock Hour between the years 1957 and 1963, though Dick was quick to stress that he never met the great director himself.

These Hitchcock episodes contain some of Dick's finest work. His first guest appearance came in a 1957 episode titled "Vicious Circle" and cast Dick as a hit man assigned to kill his own girlfriend. The episode was directed by actor Paul Henried, best known for his role as Victor Laszlo in the WWII classic Casablanca.

Dick made two Hitchcocks in 1959. The first, "The Dusty Drawer," is about a man (Dick) seeking revenge against a fellow boarding house resident, a bank teller, who he believes cheated him of $200 from a deposit made years earlier. Dick followed this up with a tale of the future titled "The Blessington Method" which teamed Dick with Henry Jones in a story about an agent (Dick) of an organization that redresses the problem of too many people living too long and thus upsetting the balance of nature.

In 1960, Dick is cast in "The Doubtful Doctor" playing a business executive who relates strange events to his psychiatrist. His wife is played by Gena Rowlands and the program was directed by Arthur Hiller, who would later recall Dick as a "very good and sensitive actor." His fifth Hitchcock appearance was "You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life" which was directed by one of the series co-producers and a longtime Hitchcock associate, Norman Lloyd. It tells the story of a woman who is attacked in her home by an intruder while her husband (Dick) is working late at the office. When taken to a police line-up she wrongly accuses another man of the crime.

His final Hitchcock Presents episode is "The Twelve Hour Caper" and it's probably the best of a superb lot. This light-hearted tale has Dick as Herbert Wiggam, who works at an investment firm for a tyrannical boss. Wiggam enlists two of his associates to join in an attempt to steal $565,000 in bonds.

In October of 1963, Dick appeared on the hour-long Alfred Hitchcock Hour in a play titled "Terror at Northfield" which cast him as a small town sheriff doggedly investigating a murder. The episode was based on an Ellery Queen story and written by Leigh Brackett, the screenwriter praised by director Howard Hawks with the quote, "She writes like a man." (Brackett wrote several films for Hawks including The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, and Hatari.)

Dick also appeared in two excellent episodes of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. The first, televised in February of 1960, is the chilling episode "The Purple Testament" written by Serling and telling the story of a lieutenant during World War II who can look into the faces of his platoon and see who will be the next to die. His follow-up TZ episode aired almost exactly a year later is the much lighter "A Penny for Your Thoughts" about a timid bank clerk (Dick) who develops the ability to read other people's minds.

Dick always believed that one of his most rewarding TV experiences was working on Playhouse 90 opposite the great stage and screen actor Paul Muni in an episode titled "Last Clear Chance." By this time Muni was having problems remembering his lines and so together they came up with an idea of giving the Muni character a hearing aid that was hooked up to a radio receiver in his pocket. When necessary, Muni's wife would use this to feed him lines. Later Muni came to Dick to thank him for his understanding and also to tell him that if he ever did anything again he wanted Dick to work with him. As it turned out, a year later Muni was going to appear in a play and called Dick to ask him to play the part of his son. Dick had to decline the offer because he was already committed to other projects.

In 1962 Dick committed to his first weekly TV series, co-starring with Gene Kelly and Leo G. Carroll. Going My Way was based on the popular 1944 Bing Crosby film. In the TV version Gene Kelly is cast as Father O'Malley who comes to the aid of an aging parish priest (Carroll). Dick was cast as Tom Colwell, a childhood friend of Father O'Malley (Kelly, by the way, was 16 years older than Dick) who runs a community center. He and Kelly show the great rapport that began when they appeared together in Inherit the Wind. Years later Dick's wife, Joey, would recall coming to the set and being introduced to Kelly by Dick. "He [Kelly] had a gleam in his eye and said, 'Dick she's not as ugly as you said she was.'" The quick thinking Mrs. York got the last laugh when she replied, "Why thank you, Mr. Astaire."

In all there would be 30 episodes of Going My Way filmed for the 1962-63 television season and Dick appeared in all of them, but his old back ailment started acting up midway through. He had more shots and therapy, but the pain continued. One day after returning from seeing some doctors, Dick came to the Going My Way set to find ramps built and places where he could ease himself into position and lean against the wall to take pressure off his back. "Gene Kelly was not only the star of that series, he was also the producer of that series," Dick later wrote, "Never a word was spoken, but Gene Kelly wears a hat and he's a lot of different people under it. That was one of them."

The show was canceled after that initial season, despite an upswing in its ratings during the summer of 1963. It didn't take Dick long to find another series. Originally, the show that became known as Bewitched was proposed as a vehicle starring Broadway actress Tammy Grimes as the witch who falls in love with a mortal. A young actor named Dick Sargent was selected to play her TV husband. But then Grimes decided to pass on the series and return to New York to do a play. Enter the talented and beautiful Elizabeth Montgomery who, like Dick, had been making frequent guest-appearances on TV and had just starred in a pair of films, Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? and Johnny Cool. In the latter film she played a gangster's moll, but, more importantly, she met the man who would become her husband, William Asher, the director of Johnny Cool. Both Elizabeth and Asher wanted to find a project that they could work on together and when Grimes passed on the witch project it came to the attention of the Ashers. Both liked the concept and were enthusiastic about the show. Now they needed to focus on the casting of the other key roles.

It was Elizabeth who ran into Agnes Moorehead at a department store and approached her to play her mother witch, Endora. Moorehead played coy at first, but the $5,000 pay check just to appear in the pilot eventually changed her mind. The role of the husband, Darrin Stephens, was almost equal to that of the beautiful young witch played by Elizabeth and the chemistry had to be right between the two for the show to be successful. Bewitched above all was a love story—and love stories must be convincing.

Dick Sargent, who was approached for the Tammy Grimes pilot was considered again, but he had moved on to other projects. Richard Crenna was a well-known television actor who had just come off the TV series The Real McCoys (1957-63) and was considered a real possibility, but he wasn't eager to jump back into series television so quickly. Enter Dick York.

Dick came into his audition with Elizabeth ready to go. They read very well together. After the audition, Dick jumped onto Elizabeth's lap and said to nobody in particular, "Don't we look cute together?" In fact, they did. Being the wife of the man who would direct most of the episodes of the show (as well as co-produce) and being the star of the show, Elizabeth would have a great deal of say on who would be her on-screen husband. She obviously okayed Dick, and years later Bill Asher would say, "He was just too perfect for the part. Once that reading was done we knew we had found Darrin."

The cast reading for the pilot of Bewitched was to be held on Friday, November 22, 1963. That very morning, astonishing news was broadcast — President Kennedy had been shot while in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Later came the confirmation that the president was dead. The question was whether or not to continue that day. Except for Agnes Moorehead who had to be in Canada to do her "One Woman Show", everyone came in for the reading. It seemed they simply needed to be around other people. Instead of focusing on the reading, however, they hugged and comforted one another and talked about what had happened. It was a cruel beginning for what would become one of television's most magical series.

At ABC, they eventually looked at the pilot, and in the spring of 1964 the network picked up the series for their upcoming primetime schedule. Bewitched premiered on September 17, 1964, and was the highest rated new program for the week. Running in the Thursday 9:00 to 9:30 ET time slot in the 1964-65 season, Bewitched would rank as the second most watched program in the entire season, behind only that perennial hit western series Bonanza. Reviews were excellent. Harriet Van Horne, critic of the New York Telegram wrote, "The chief charms of Bewitched are Elizabeth Montgomery, an authentic beauty with a cool comic style, and Dick York, who plays with a boyish zest that could slide into cuteness but doesn't . . . Agnes Moorehead, managed to look regal, sinister, and utterly glamorous." Cleveland Amory in TV Guide wrote, "Between you and me and Halloween we are Bewitched by Bewitched."

In many ways Bewitched was three shows in one. It was first a love story. It's hard to find a couple (perhaps Rob and Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show) who were as passionate about each other on an early 1960s sitcom as Darrin and Samantha Stephens. Many shows include tight embraces, romantic and passionate kisses. Their fights (usually over Sam's use of witchcraft) were followed by tender apologies and a steamy kiss. Dick later stated that he found it easy to perform such scenes with Elizabeth—she reminded him of Joey. Samantha and Darrin were newlyweds and they acted like newlyweds.

It was also a standard sitcom. Many early episodes had standard sitcom conventions like the new wife struggling to be a good homemaker for her hard-working husband. She tried to cook his favorite dishes, like the one his mother made. The show even included one of the most recognizable sitcom conventions—the disapproving mother-in-law. Samantha's mother just can't understand why Darrin (or Darwin or Dobbins, or what's his name) won't let Samantha be herself! Thus Endora often sets up the conflicts, and many of the plot twists are due to her attempts to prove the shallow, egotistical, and stubborn nature of mere mortals.

Finally, the show was supernatural. Try as she might to be an average mortal housewife as per Darrin's wishes, Samantha inevitably reverted to what she was. According to Bill Asher, "The audience is waiting for that twitch," with which Samantha magically could resolve all problems and make everything right again.

Dick's edgy, slightly neurotic, and yet sweet and tender performance as Darrin was one of the major reasons for the success of the show. Early on, the publicity about the show tended to concentrate on the witches—Elizabeth and Agnes —much to the chagrin of those who felt that Dick was being ignored. Agnes Moorehead bonded with Dick. According to Bewitched historian Herbie J. Pilato, "Dick York absolutely loved Agnes Moorehead . . . quite simply the relationship between Dick York and Agnes Moorehead was the exact opposite of the relationship between Darrin and Endora." Moorehead was a very religious lady, having grown up as the daughter of a fundamentalist minister. She saw Dick as a kindred spirit. "I probably understand him better than the others. He's rather profound, you know," Moorehead told TV Guide in 1965. "He has a spiritual quality. I am a religious girl. I have great faith. This creates a rapport between us." Dick wasn't a fellow fundamentalist, but he was spiritual. "I believe in God. I'm looking, and I'm open to any and all ideas and thoughts that can come close to pinpointing why all of us are here."

Moorehead was also outspoken about those who ignored York's contributions. "This is ridiculous," she stated. "It's a Number One show. You have to assume the supporting parts are pretty well done. Dick plays a very important part. Nobody can hold up a series by himself or herself without support, unless it's a one-man or one-woman show. Ignoring Dick isn't constructive criticism. It's absurd." She was echoed by the show's producer, Danny Arnold: "I think Dick is underrated and underestimated as an actor. He has a very good understanding of comedy; he is equally proficient in drama. I've seen his work. He's very good." Arnold added, "The critics are shallow . . . People are sympathetic to the witch solely because her relationship to him." Frequent Bewitched director Richard Michaels said, "York was Darrin. He knew instinctively how to create a character constantly surprised at what was going on around him." Montgomery herself downplayed any feeling that Dick was under appreciated. "I don't think anyone underestimates Dick as an actor, because I believe anyone who watches him work appreciates his talent." Dick, himself, was philosophical about it: "The two witches are by far more spectacular than I am. I'm just a human being. And I'm identified by the critics as being just like themselves."

By this time Dick and Joey had a family of five children (Kim, Mandy, Stacy, Christopher, and Matthew). Elizabeth Montgomery told TV Guide in 1965, "He constantly talks glowingly of his wife and children." Dick put his family first. "I don't work because I love it," he said. "In our household, work is something Daddy does to provide us with things we need for our physical comforts . . . I love other things more than my work." He had hobbies: writing children's stories, painting, and sculpting. He and Joey were often invited to Hollywood parties, but most of the time they declined. When he wasn't working, it was family time. The family lived in a large old Spanish two-story home with adobe walls and a red tile roof situated in the Hollywood hills. The house had five bedrooms and two baths, and while it wasn't a Hollywood mansion, it was comfortable. The house also had a swimming pool. Sharing the house was a cat named Bowser. Dick built a hi-fi system for his den, "It's relaxing for me. I bought the girls three identical record players, and then I added better speakers and other little extras for them. They're crazy about music, so one record player just isn't enough."

The first two seasons of Bewitched went relatively smoothly for Dick. He did have back pain, but it was controllable. The crew built him a back rest that he could lean against between scenes. The shows were hugely entertaining. The first season dealt a great deal with the adjustments of married life for Samantha and Darrin and introducing the various characters who made the show one of the best ensembles in television. Along with Montgomery, York, and Moorehead, the cast included the delightful Marion Lorne as the recurring character of Aunt Clara, a sweet, but somewhat doddering old witch who accepts Darrin. David White was well cast as Darrin's sometimes unscrupulous boss, Larry Tate. Alice Pearce and George Tobias were excellent as the Stephens' neighbors, Gladys and Abner Kravitz.

The second season introduced baby Tabitha. Several episodes were devoted to her arrival and the parents' adjustment to having a baby in the house over whom hung a puzzling question—was she witch or mortal? One of the finest of the second season episodes is "Divided He Falls" which contains what is considered to be one of Dick's best performances. The episode deals with Samantha and Darrin planning a vacation, but work interrupts their plans and Darrin has to put nose to grindstone. Enter Endora, who divides Darrin in two. First, there's the fun-loving party animal Darrin, and then there's the hard working Darrin, who's all business. It was a tour de force for Dick.

The second season also introduced Paul Lynde as Samantha's practical joking Uncle Arthur. Lynde and Dick perform superbly together in "The Joker Is a Card" in which Arthur gives Darrin an amulet which he claims will protect him from Endora. All Darrin he needs to say is the magic word "Yagazuzi." Joey York would recall Lynde coming to her at a wrap party and telling her that he thought that Dick was the funniest man he had ever worked with. The ratings for Bewitched remained high in its second season with the show ranked #7 in audience overall.

For the first two seasons the show was shot in black and white, but by season three, primetime was in the throes of the color TV revolution and Bewitched joined the move away from black and white. The cast had hit their stride and the scripts were still of a high caliber, but this was the season that Dick began experiencing more severe back problems. He missed two episodes, but only one was related to his back problem. The other was missed because of the death of his father. Asher "graciously" gave Dick some time off.

One of the best episodes of the season is very romantic "Charlie Harper, Winner." Charlie Harper is an old school friend of Darrin's and has made a fortune, which he spends lavishly on his wife (played by Joanna Moore). Samantha, tired of the wife bragging about all she has, conjures up a mink coat. Darrin finds out and begins to think that she is disappointed in him because he can't provide her with all the luxuries of life. In the wrapup scene, Samantha speaks a prophetic line, telling her beloved spouse that she could never conjure up another Darrin Stephens.

The third season also introduced the talented Kasey Rogers as Louise Tate, wife of Larry. Rogers would later describe Dick as, "a hell of a comedian and his rubber face and reactions were off the wall and very funny." Bewitched ended the third season still in the top ten—ranked at #8 among all the shows on television.

The fourth season was, professionally, the best for Dick. While he missed four episodes due to his increasingly bad back (in fact he missed a full month due to his health), he was also honored by his peers with a nomination for an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a comedy series. The night of the Emmy telecast while the Bewitched cast (including Elizabeth Montgomery and Agnes Moorehead, both nominated) gathered, Dick decided to spend the evening at home with his family watching the telecast on TV. Joey York later said that Elizabeth Montgomery called the house inquiring about whether Dick was going to attend. She explained that Dick was going to spend the night at home with the family enjoying the program. He lost out to Don Adams for his very funny, but increasingly one-note, Maxwell Smart on Get Smart.

While Dick's back was bothering him greatly it certainly didn't affect his performances which were as energetic and funny as ever, especially in an episode like "I Confess" where Darrin dreams about what life would be like if Samantha announced to the world that she was a witch. Then there was the very funny "What Big Ears You Have" in which Darrin's ears keep growing every time he tells a lie—and he has to lie to keep Samantha from finding out about a surprise he has in store for her. The fourth season found the show falling for the first time out of the top ten, but still ranked a very strong #11.

At first, the shooting of the fifth season of Bewitched went along smoothly. From late June to late November of 1968 the cast had completed roughly twenty episodes for the season. But in the past two years Dick York had been a man working under increasing pain. Despite this, York was a trouper and his suffering was never evident in his energetic performances. He was also in demand away from Bewitched having just signed to join Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish in a television adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace. Dick played the male lead, the same character Cary Grant portrayed in the famous film released in 1944.

After the series took a holiday hiatus the show returned in early 1969 to begin filming an episode titled "Daddy Does His Thing" with guest star Maurice Evans appearing as Samantha's father. York had a prominent role in the original script of this episode, which would deal with Samantha announcing that she was pregnant again (as Montgomery was in real life). Dick was not feeling well and for the first time he didn't even look well on camera—in the existing footage he looks thin, drawn, and tired. He had been suffering from the flu and his back problems prevented him from getting adequate sleep. On this particular day he filmed a scene in the morning, feeling "confused and disorientated." When the cast and crew broke for lunch he went to see his doctor who gave him a shot of Vitamin B12 to help him get through the rest of the day. He returned to the set without eating.

The next shot being planned involved Dick and Evans on a scaffold (as if they were levitating above a room). Dick climbed up the scaffold and sat there with Evans as the scene was being lit. They were an estimated fifteen feet up in the air. As the setup continued with a tiny light flickering in front of his eyes, Dick began to feel increasingly ill. He tried to go over his lines with Evans, but the elevation, the hot lights, the flickering red light, his hunger, and general rundown condition got to be too much, and he asked a member of the crew to help him down. Then, Dick suffered a seizure and the next thing he would remember was waking up on the floor with David White, a man he considered "his dearest friend on the set," looking down on him, panic-stricken. Dick was rushed to the hospital. He would never return to the Bewitched set.

Joey was contacted and William Asher picked her up and together they drove to the hospital. Mrs. York later said she was the one who forced the issue of Dick leaving Bewitched with Asher prior to his visiting Dick in his hospital room. Joey asked Asher—almost pleaded with him—to allow Dick leave the show. His health and well being needed to come first. Asher went into Dick's room and came right out with it, "Do you want to quit?" and Dick replied, "If it's all right with you, Billy." Asher told him, "OK, kid, I'll tell 'em." Then for the first and last time Dick and Bill Asher hugged. Asher later said, "I persisted in keeping him because he was the best actor for the part. He had a wonderfully facile face—that's what you need if you're going to be married to a witch. But there came a point when he couldn't go on."

The years after Bewitched, the last roughly quarter of a century of Dick's life, were bitter sweet. He lost his career and went broke, but he still had Joey and his kids. He ultimately found a cause that filled his last days made a difference for many people. The first year and a half he was pretty much on his back. "After 18 months I was healed up but I was afraid." The fear was due to his damaged reputation. Some thought that part of the cause of his problems was that he was a pill popper. Years later Joey York would deny that Dick had ever been a pill popper, "If he had, how could he have given such consistently fine performances." Still the way he left the show aroused suspicions in some in Hollywood and so Dick decided not to pursue his career. Instead he and Joey used what savings they had and bought an apartment building. "We rented to people who were on welfare and a lot of times they couldn't pay the rent. We wouldn't throw them out, so we lost the building."

With their savings gone they did what they could to survive. He and Joey cleaned apartments and the youngest boys still living at home helped out by selling newspapers, collecting cans, and later working as busboys. Dick also collected a small pension and unemployment. Physically Dick went down hill. He gained a great deal of weight, reaching a high of 306 pounds. "All my teeth rotted and broke off. We ate a lot of potatoes and noodles. I went out for every job they sent me on. I auditioned to direct a school play for $600, but I wasn't good enough."

Finally by the early 1980s, Dick decided that enough was enough. He went on a diet and managed to bring his weight down to his normal 160 pounds. He borrowed money to get dentures. He got an agent who put his name back in circulation again. Lo and behold he got work. He appeared, looking much as he did during his Bewitched days on episodes of Fantasy Island and Simon and Simon. He joined several other stars of yesteryear including Rick and Harriet Nelson, Jerry Mathers, Barbara Billingsley, in a pilot titled High School, USA, which didn't sell. Then he did a project produced by Johnny Carson, which paid him $1000 for half a day's work. Then suddenly there were no more offers. He found out his agent had failed to register him properly with the Screen Actor's Guild. He was told he had many other calls, but since he wasn't correctly registered they couldn't pass on the offers to him. At this point he began to teach acting in Hollywood. He later recalled that that went well for a while.

By the late 1980s, a life-long cigarette habit caught up with him and he developed emphysema. He lost the modest house he and Joey were living at in Covina, California, and moved to Rockford, Michigan to care for Joey's elderly mother. When her mother died they stayed on in the house. They were living primarily on his $650 per month Screen Actors Guild pension. Meanwhile Dick was slowly dying as he became dependent on oxygen tanks and it became increasingly difficult for him to leave the house. But he still wanted to contribute. He still had a name. People still knew and fondly recalled "The first Darrin" who according to TV viewer polls was not only the first, but the favorite Darrin.

He began to fill the void in his life by going on a crusade on behalf of the homeless. He read extensively on the subject of homelessness and found out about The McKinney Act, a federal law that set up government surplus giveaway programs but which was hampered by a lot of red tape. He determined to cut through the red tape, and he didn't even have to leave the house. Instead he used the telephone and contacted radio hosts across the nation who were thrilled to have Dick York on their shows. He would, of course, reminisce about his career, primarily Bewitched, but the major focus of the calls was on the plight of the homeless and how people could help. He set up a network that could cut the red tape and supply thousands of items including coats, cots, boots, and sleeping bags to homeless shelters around the country. "His greatest contribution is heightening awareness of this problem nationally," a Salvation Army official in Michigan recalled in a 1992 article. "He's very ill but he finds his way around the country by phone. People listen. When he talks, they respond." At one point he was able to deliver 15,000 changes of clothes from an Army surplus company in Illinois. When he complained in interviews that the homeless didn't get enough vitamin C, over 5000 cans of orange juice concentrate were delivered to a Salvation Army shelter in Grand Rapids, Michigan. York called his organization Acting for Life.

In the last few years of Dick's life he got a good deal of media attention. First he was a recognizable celebrity who people often wondered "What happened to . . ." and second, despite his own failing health, he was giving it all to help others. When he was asked how he felt he replied, "I feel wonderful—it's the body that's dying . . . Wouldn't it be wonderful if one old has-been actor with a hose up his nose could help millions of people?"

His family was supportive. "There is no difference in how things are today from when we were in Hollywood," Joey said. "It's all been thrilling, and it still is." His son Matthew put it this way, "Our poorest time financially was our richest in love."

His health finally gave out in early 1992. He entered Blodgett Memorial Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and died from complications from emphysema on February 22. Over one hundred friends attended his funeral. Joey recalled one of Dick's most treasured mottos, "Just look at your fellow man and you'll do what's right." His son Matthew said that Dick was not only his father, "He was my hero." And so he was a hero to many thousands who never met him but were helped by his acts of kindness.

He also wanted to leave a bit of himself behind in another way. He began writing, in the 1980s, his autobiography, which he titled "The Seesaw Girl and Me". It was really a love story about his life with his "seesaw girl", Joey. He bared his soul in this unconventional biography. The book is different because it reflects the creativity, not to mention quirkiness, of its author. Love is front and center in the book—bitterness is not. We do get glimpses of pain and sadness—Dick exposes his soul, but that soul runneth over with love, understanding, and compassion. It skips from one time frame to another and back again. He writes of his childhood, his early career, various movies and television programs, Bewitched, of course, and perhaps most harrowingly about his pain and addiction and the dark years and how he was able to come out of the darkness.

But the book always comes back to the love of his life—Joey and how together they faced life and all its trials, tribulations and quiet triumphs together. He couldn't get it published in his life time, but years after his death it was published in hardback by New Path Press. In its pages the kind and gentle soul of a mere mortal lives on.

Charles Tranberg is the author of five books on classic Hollywood including I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead and the recent Robert Taylor: A Biography. All of his books can be found on Amazon.com or on the publishers website:

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