The Spell is Cast
The 1960s was a magical era for Prime Time television viewing. That decade also had a noticeable supernatural twist with such shows as The Munsters, The I Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, etc. As many Americans began exploring "alternative" realities (albeit via drugs), television shows whole-heartily embraced worlds bigger and often hidden from our own. Most notable among these was a highly successful show called Bewitched.
The premise was simple: successful businessman marries and settles down in suburbia to raise a family. Bewitched was laced with old-fashioned values, many were actually more from the 1950s than the swinging decade of the 1960s. Of course, like many shows of the time, there was a twist; this successful businessman just happened to marry a witch. With a twitch of her nose, this witch could literally make miracles happen. However, this witch longed for nothing more than a "normal" life as an average American housewife. And that's just what she tried to do. Of course, any sitcom aficionado knows that nothing is that easy in TV land.
For eight years Bewitched had a successful run with the enchanting Elizabeth Montgomery playing witchly wife Samantha Stephens. While there is no doubt that Miss Montgomery made the show appealing, a key ingredient to the success of Bewitched rested squarely on the capable shoulders of its mortal husband played by Dick York. For 5 years, Dick York poured his heart, soul, and body into his portrayal of advertising executive Darrin Stephens. Unfortunately, his body would not last the full 8-year run of the series.
It has now become pop-culture legend with jokes and references to "the two Darrins on Bewitched." After the 5th season of Bewitched, Dick York left the show and was replaced by Dick Sargent. The producers never explained the switch, which wisely they shouldn't have. Dick York was gone, but "Darrin" was still there. Every actor offers a unique interpretation of a character. And even though Darrin Stephens was technically the same man, Dick York and Dick Sargent played him quite differently. Everyone has his or her favorite Darrin, but this article will focus on some of the reasons Dick York felt he had to leave the show.
Dick had a varied career before joining the cast of Bewitched in 1964. He appeared in radio, television, and film. Fate would choose to intervene in Dick's life in a terribly painful way in 1959. During the filming of the movie They Came to Cordura, Dick was operating a railroad handcar when, in an upswing of the car's mechanism, he unknowingly lifted the lever fully bearing the weight of a co-star. The result was a shocking and jarring injury to the muscles of Dick's back. Dick himself explained it as, "The muscles along the right side of my back tore. They just snapped and let loose." It was the beginning of a life-long battle with chronic and debilitating back pain.
Medicine was remarkably different in 1959 than it is today. There weren't as many options such as surgery and rehabilitation therapy. Often the "best" medicine was to take a pill or two - or three. Doctors would generally give painkillers as the preferred choice of treatment. Dick fell victim to this promise in search of a pain-free life. But like so many panaceas, there would be a downside. Dick opted to avoid surgery and came to rely heavily on the pain pills just to function. There has been speculation that he was "addicted" to drugs, a charge that chagrined Dick deeply. He wasn't "addicted" so much as he depended upon prescribed painkillers to get through days all too often filled with excruciating pain. He certainly wasn't addicted to drugs for any hedonistic reasons.
There has been much speculation and rumor regarding Dick's exit from Bewitched. Some say that studio executives had finally had enough and fired Dick. Some say Dick was too strung out on drugs to continue. The truth, as it usually is, is really fairly simple: Dick himself chose to leave the show because of his intense back pain. He was not fired. No ABC executive forced him out. Elizabeth Montgomery wasn't mad at him for "missing too many shows." William Asher did not dismiss him on the spot after his seizure on the set. Dick finally knew he could no longer handle the rigors of the, often very physical, role of Darrin Stephens.
The events of the day Dick fell ill are well know to most true-blue Bewitched fans. While filming a scene for episode number 167 "Daddy Does His Thing." Dick suffered a seizure and collapsed. His body finally revolted against never-ending back pain, too many pain pills, and physical exhaustion. Dick was rushed to a hospital where, to the great disappointment of many, he made the decision to resign from Bewitched. It was a decision that troubled Dick greatly, but he felt he had no other option. ABC and William Asher hoped he could continue with the show (everyone did really), but it was not to be. Bewitched would continue, but without Dick York.
Dick's life after Bewitched has occasionally been sensationalized by the press: "Former Bewitched Star Lives in Poverty." Such headlines are aggravating because they are not true. After the show, Dick merely led the life any ordinary "mortal" would. His high-salaried
The world was entering the 1970s and things changed greatly for Dick. The greatest disappointment to Dick's many fans was that inevitable typecasting and
Dick's greatest role was that of humanitarian. It was with unselfish passion that he poured himself into organizing help for the homeless. Unfortunately, during his last years, Dick suffered from his debilitating spine condition and Emphysema. But even that could not quell his spirit. Although oxygen-dependant, Dick spent countless hours making phone calls gathering every possible resource to aid those who needed it most. It is a legacy that still survives. Dick passed on
For many Bewitched fans Dick York was the one and only Darrin. Circumstances beyond his control forced Dick to leave a role he enjoyed greatly. Those who knew him - family and fellow cast mates - describe Dick as a genuinely good human being. His innate goodness and gentility of soul certainly shines through in his TV and film portrayals. It's hard to look back at 1960s television and not think of Dick York and remember his touching, funny, and deliciously well-timed performances as the befuddled Darrin Stephens.
Dick always held a bit of remorse and guilt for leaving his most famous role - not because of the loss of fame or money, but because he felt that he had let many people down. But, as a line from and old movie once said: "A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others." In that regard, Dick let no one down. As a human being, he was a tremendous success. He touched, and continues to touch, many, many lives. To those who knew and loved him, he is still missed to this day. To those who knew him only through his acting roles and humanitarian kindnesses, he is also missed. Dick York's legacy will not be forgotten.