Sol Saks, TV's veteran comedy scribe and creator of the long-running and still extremely popular wituation comedy, Bewitched (ABC, 1964-72), has passed away at 100-years-young. Mr. Saks died in Los Angeles on April 16th - the day after what would have been the 78th birthday of Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery (who succumbed to colon cancer in 1995).
The iconic writer penned just one episode of the Screen Gems sitcom, the pilot episode titled, I, Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha.
As the author of Bewitched Forever (Tapestry Press, 2004) and The Bewitched Book (Dell, 1992), I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Saks at his home in Malibu, California.
It was the spring of 1988, and at the time, he was working on a screenplay for a Bewitched feature film. The movie's production changed hands over the years, from Penny Marshall (Laverne & Shirley, ABC, 1976-83) producing with director Ted Bessell (Don Hollinger on That Girl, ABC, 1966-71) to super wonderful producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher later partnering with director and co-writer Nora Ephron for what became 2005's Bewitched feature film (starring Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell and Shirley MacLaine, and on which I served as a consultant).
Ultimately, Mr. Saks was not directly involved with the 2005 movie. But according to harpiesbizzare.com (the best Bewitched and Elizabeth Montgomery online community), and the comments he made on Bewitched: the E! True Hollywood Story (on which I served as a consultant, and which remains the 7th highest-rated True Hollywood Story in E!'s history), he drew inspiration for the original Bewitched TV pilot from the big screen. Namely, two classic motion pictures: I Married a Witch (1942), starring Fredric March and Veronica Lake, and Bell Book and Candle (1958), with James Stewart and Kim Novak - both of which were about a supernatural woman who falls in love with and marries a mortal man (just like on Bewitched).
Before that sitcom, Mr. Saks wrote for such radio comedies as the long-running Duffy's Tavern and for early TV shows like My Favorite Husband; Mr. Adams and Eve, which starred Ida Lupino; and I Married Joan with Joan Davis.
The New York native also wrote the screenplay for the 1966 feature film Walk Don't Run, starring Cary Grant, served for a short time as a CBS executive in comedy development and wrote the 1985 book The Craft of Comedy Writing (which includes the pilot script of Bewitched).
Today, Bewitched remains immortal in syndicated reruns, and in an astoundingly-successful DVD release.
Certainly, Mr. Saks' genius premise, and the show's top writing and directing over its lengthy original run contributed to the show's success. But the core appeal of Bewitched rested with Ms. Montgomery, who went on to appear in some of the most popular TV-movies ever made, including the ground-breaking A Case of Rape (which has become one of the Top Ten highest-rated TV-movies of All-Time) and The Legend of Lizzie Borden (which will soon be remade as a feature film).
Before and after Bewitched, Ms. Montgomery made her presence known - on the big-screen and small, in live stage performances, and in live appearances around the world.
But what exactly is it about Elizabeth Montgomery's super popularity?
The Classic TV Preservation Society, the nonprofit organization for which I serve as Founder and Executive Director, recently conducted a poll of its Facebook members, and what better group of individuals to have comment on Ms. Montgomery's special "magic" appeal.
Below is some of what they said (and please feel free to add your thoughts in the Commentary section that follows this blog).
Greg Ehrbar wrote:
"She was not only a dream woman to those of us who grew up loving her, she was also one the best actresses of the era. She made Samantha Stephens look so easy you could forget that she was playing a role. This may sound dumb, but I often forget that Samantha and Serena were the same person, even though I know it -- know what I mean? When Ms. M appeared on Password [on the ABC daytime edition hosted by the late Allen Ludden throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s] her personality seemed to be a combination of both. And yet when she did dramatic roles, there was yet another dimension not present in the comedic characters. A superb artist and, as Samantha, truly magical."
Neil J. Weiner wrote:
"First real crush!"
Alice Miolée wrote:
"Elizabeth Montgomery and Bewitched are a part of my childhood, my adulthood and that of my children. She had inward and outward beauty, sparkling eyes and a beautiful voice. Her range of dramatic talent knew no bounds. Samantha...a rape victim...a murderess. My current profile pic as taken in Salem. A special, unique, loved and irreplaceable person receives a bronze statue in her most beloved, memorable and 'bewitching' role."
Todd Selsky wrote:
"I always thought of her as a little mysterious. I felt like we never knew much about the real Elizabeth. Sad that she died of cancer at 62. Aside from "Bewitched" I'll always remember her in "The Legend of Lizzy Borden." I was about 11 or 12 when I saw it."
Judith Evers wrote:
"I really liked Bewitched a lot. But I thought Ms. Montgomery did some wonderful work in all of her movies and not just playing the roll of Samantha Stephens. She was one fantastic talent and we lost her much too soon."
Pauline Martindale wrote:
"She is my favorite ever actress! I love her movies and can't wait to see the Samantha Statue in December! And she is a great role model for women and very classy and refined!"
Melissa Byers wrote:
"I've always loved Elizabeth. When I was a kid, I made my own 'witch book' with pictures and articles about Bewitched. I still have it! I watched everything else I could find with Elizabeth in it, as well. She was a woman of talent and great class."
Ray Caspio wrote:
"Bewitched was the first TV show I ever remember watching. It was on a small color television at my grandma's house when I was probably three years old, if that. I was a very precocious kid so it was used to keep me out of everyone's hair. The animated opening sequence combined with the music transfixed me (and I'm still mad the theme from the syndicated episodes wasn't used on the DVD!) and when Elizabeth appeared on the screen, she did the same. I don't know...there was something very accessible, yet private about her, even in that series. I sensed it from an early age. She managed to maintain an air of mystery while portraying such an endearing character. You could tell there was something much deeper going on within her, which is true of all good actors. They're much more than what they present on the surface. Those secrets are part of their charisma. You have to be really good to flesh out a character that's written for a sitcom, in order to present a full person. She did that. Elizabeth, as Samantha, represented possibility to me. Anything I wanted, I could have if I worked for it. She had the abilities to have whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, but she wasn't satisfied with that. Her power was in herself. I wish that would have been more evident in the writing, but hey, it was the '60s and a character like Samantha was a bit revolutionary. I would have ditched the whole 'giving up powers to fit in' mentality...perhaps if it was written today? There are just so many happy thoughts I get whenever I read her name or see her on television. Like Lindsay Wagner's Jaime Sommers (on The Bionic Woman, ABC/NBC, 1975-79) or Lynda Carter's Diana Prince (Wonder Woman, ABC/CBS, 1975-79), Samantha Stephens influenced me greatly. I learned so much about being a good person from all of them. I also learned that we don't always succeed, but we can always try. Beyond Bewitched, I remember some of Elizabeth's television movies where she really got to shine. I recently watched A Case of Rape and Lizzie Borden. Phenomenal. I'm glad these movies gave her the chance to really delve into what she could give as an actor and a person. In Lizzie Borden, I sympathized with her. She played her, phenomenally, as a person, not as a murderer. Her performance in A Case of Rape is spectacular. I'll cut it off before I ramble too much. As a child, she taught me it was OK to be different. As an adult, through her work, she has given me valuable acting lessons about individual truth and being present. And she stood up for equality for all people. An all around fascinating, empowering, endearing, beautiful, charming, intelligent, well-spoken, mysterious, compassionate, complicated, and complex woman. I wish more of her work was available to the masses."
Vince Staskel (CTVPS Board Member) wrote:
"I loved watching Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched. She had such a wonderful way to draw you into her character. You knew right from the start that she was a "good witch" who only wanted to do positive things for people. Samantha has a great deal of power but only used it sparingly for only good purposes. To me spiritually it showed the existence of true love in the world. I followed her career and saw the full range of her acting ability. Yes Ms. Montgomery could also play 'bad' excellently. As her fan who grew so did she as an actor. I was captivated by her. Bewitched was and still is a major part of my life experience. As a youngster television was a big part of my life and Bewitched was one of my favorite shows. I followed the career of Elizabeth Montgomery and was thrilled to see her starring in her own sitcom. Of course her beauty is one of the first things that catches your eye. But in addition to that her acting versatility"
Steve Randisi wrote:
"If I had to describe Elizabeth Montgomery in one word it would have to be wholesomeness. Beauty aside, she was a remarkably gifted actress who made the impossible seem possible. When she twitched her nose to make magic happen, you actually believed it would happen. Her Samantha was the type of person you'd want for a friend - kind, understanding, non-judgmental. Yet, she was capable of being firm if and when the situation warranted it. In later years, I found out that Elizabeth was an activist for many causes that I support. Like all spiritual teachers (and I do believe she was one) she left us way too soon."
David Raymond Morris wrote:
"Elizabeth had a combination of grace, beauty, down to Earth charm and sincerity. Much of the success of Bewitched had to do with that critical likeability factor which she had big time. Her gentle, loyal demeanor played off perfectly against Darrin's caustic and often reactionary behavior. Elizabeth proved beyond that series however that she could also do gritty or unusual roles such as Lizzy Borden or A Case of Rape, which surprised many people who had typecast her in their mind as Samantha Stephens. I must confess personally that Liz will always be Samantha to me, she seemed to BE Samantha."
So, there you have it – and spoken by the people who know the deal: true Bewitched fans.
Overall, Bewitched remains immortal through the brilliance of Sol Sak's original creation, the show's genius production team and superior cast, including: Dick York and Dick Sargent sharing the role of Samantha's oh-so-human husband Darrin; the legendary Agnes Moorehead as Endora, Samantha's feisty magical mother, and, of course, the one and only Elizabeth Montgomery - who's endearing performance as Samantha - the witch with a twitch – Stephens, remains hypnotically timeless.
Herbie J Pilato is a producer/director/writer, and author of a number of media tie-in books (including Bewitched Forever and The Kung Fu Book Of Caine, Life Story – The Book of Life Goes On: TV's First And best Family Show of Challenge, The Bionic Book, and NBC & ME: My Life As A Page In A Book. He's worked for A&E, TLC, Syfy, and Bravo's hit five-part TV series, The 100 Greatest TV Characters. Herbie J is also the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization that helps to close the gap between popular culture and education. For more information, please see www.ClassicTVPS.blogspot.com. To contact Herbie J, or to order any of his books, email: ClassicTVPS@gmail.com.
Read all Herbie J's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Herbie J's Classic TV Corner.
Check us out on Facebook at MediaBizBloggers.com
Follow our Twitter updates @MediaBizBlogger
MediaBizBloggers is an open-thought leadership blog platform for media, marketing and advertising professionals, companies and organizations. To contribute, contact Jack@mediadvisorygroup.com. The opinions expressed in MediaBizBloggers.com are not those of Media Advisory Group, its employees or other MediaBizBloggers.com contributors. Media Advisory Group accepts no responsibility for the views of MediaBizBloggers authors.