by Joanne Stang
Submitted by Windjammer as originally appeared in the November 22, 1964 edition of The New York Times.
If any of the poor biddies incarcerated at Salem
had even the most elementary acquaintance with sorcery, they would surely
have arranged to return almost 300 years later as Elizabeth Montgomery.
Miss Montgomery’s existence on Bewitched as the golden,
dimpled queen of the new television season, her crown firmly affixed by
the latest Nielsen ratings, must certainly be the most desirable of all
“I had used the twitch in a moment of pique in another film,” she explained, “and since we wanted a distinctive piece of business to identify with Samantha, Bill remembered ‘that thing you do with your nose.’”
“The audience is waiting for that twitch,” says Asher, a director on the show, “but we never throw it in merely because it looks cute. We save it until Samantha is so sorely tempted to use her witchery that she can’t resist – and that’s the point where the audience is usually saying, ‘Do something!’”
When Miss Montgomery “does something,” magic is sprayed over the set: people and objects pop, disappear, explode, sail through the air, and reappear again in a most disconcerting way. The fact is that Miss Montgomery has an unusually long broomstick, which also holds at least half a dozen other helpers – all trained special effects men. When Samantha wants to do her housework, she has a vacuum cleaner which runs by itself – back, forth and around. The vacuum doesn’t have brushes at its bottom, but a reversible motor, which is controlled offstage with switches. When Samantha recently became angry at her husband (played by a perpetually nonplussed Dick York), deciding to leave him, she became invisible first. Then her suitcases flung themselves out of closets, packed themselves, clumped downstairs alone, and exited out of the front door apparently without human help – but a special effects man was walking on planks above the set, manipulating wires attached to the luggage like puppet strings. The wires were not visible to the cameras because they had been “opaqued out” – neutralized to blend with the background.
An electric bulb, which lights up when Samantha handles it is really joined to wires, which run up her long sleeves, and then are ultimately connected to a 12-volt, battery-operated camper light with no shock hazard.
The chief special effects man, Dick Albain, who has been doing this kind of thing for over 20 years, says he still spends sleepless nights trying to visualize all the special riggings, and stands dripping with perspiration the first time they are tried. “Of course we rig everything two ways, so that if it doesn’t work the first time, we can get it to happen the second. That way we are sure most of the stunts will work, but there is a certain element of danger to the performers. When you are blowing up lamps with powder charges, there has to be. I am responsible for any injuries under California state law,” he grimaced, “so you can be sure I’m careful.” On another part of the set stood Maurice Evans, who portrays Samantha’s warlock father. Urbane in a tie silk dressing gown, Evans exchanged witticisms with the cast, unaware that Albain was at that moment plotting the range at which he would shoot a champagne glass out of his hand with an air rifle. “We use a half-inch steel pellet which would go through 3/8 inch plate glass,” Albain confided, adding consolingly “but we set up plywood at an angle behind it, so the ricochet goes right down.”
One of the trickiest gambits on the show, Miss Montgomery feels, is the business of having things suddenly appear, or disappear in her hand. This is arranged by having Miss Montgomery freeze with her hand extended, at the moment the object disappears. At that point Albain steps into camera range, plucks the object from her fingers, and then steps out again. Then the footage, which includes Albain, a total of about 20,000 so far is cut out of the film.
“It took a bit of practice,” Miss Montgomery admits, “before I learned to hold my hands perfectly still. But even that’s much easier than the scene in which I was supposed to clean up my kitchen by witchery. I sort of went swoosh with my arms raised, then had to leave them up in the air – aching – while the crew rushed in and swept and dusted to get the kitchen immaculate before the scene resumed. I’m getting better at it, I guess. I almost never flinch or recoil anymore. No matter what happens.”
ABC describes Samantha as someone yearning to be a “normal
woman scrubbing floors,” a premise which becomes patently ridiculous
after one look at Miss Montgomery. A product of the Westlake School in
Los Angeles, and the Spence School and the Academy of Dramatic Arts in
New York, she enjoys being a witch “as long as it’s a young
and pretty one.” A pall of sorceress jokes is already beginning
to plague her, however; bank clerks invite her to “twitch up a little
money,” and friends ask her to give a little magical help with sticking
refrigerator trays. “In a couple of years,” she mused, “I
may get a little tired of these jokes.” Judging by the clamor, the
ratings, and the myriad situation possibilities yet untapped on Bewitched,
Miss Montgomery may be bored to distraction by the jokes long before anyone
permits her to be exorcised.