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For a 1960s sitcom that on the surface was about as straight as you can get — attractive woman who happens to be a witch wants to be normal housewife, so she marries a high-strung ad exec — a lot of gay magic lurks just beneath the surface of ABC’s Bewitched.
There’s Samantha, the witch played by Elizabeth Montgomery (who was 31 when she started), who sublimates her true identity to fit into postwar suburban America, trading in her broom for a Chevy convertible (despite the best efforts of nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz to out her). And then there’s her husband, Darren, who was played for the series’ final three seasons by Dick Sargent. (He replaced the ailing Dick York — who starred in 1960’s Inherit the Wind — with whom he had a good-enough-for TV resemblance.) At the time, Sargent was in a league with Rock Hudson for living the closeted Hollywood lifestyle.
But when he came out, he did it big time: He and Montgomery were grand marshals of West Hollywood’s 1992 Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade. Then there was the mother-in-law, Endora (played by former radio star Agnes Moorehead), a sharp-tongued, caftan-wearing gay favorite long before Golden Girls hit the air. But the ultimate was Paul Lynde. Who better than the Mount Vernon, Ohio-born funnyman to play gay without explicitly coming out as gay?
Lynde, then 39, appeared on the show’s first season as a driving instructor who was supposed to teach Samantha how to handle the Chevy. He then morphed into her uncle and starred in 11 of the show’s 254 episodes. How he went from driving instructor to uncle never was explained. But this was a show where the main character’s husband got swapped out and that wasn’t explained, either.
All these undertones completely escaped THR‘s reviewer, who still praised the show’s “merry shenanigans.” Bewitched ran from 1964 to 1972, earned 26 Emmy nominations with three wins, and made enough syndication money to pave WeHo in gold bricks. As for Lynde, he died in 1982 at age 55 of a heart attack.
This story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.