"Samaaaannnnnnthaaaa!" Whether it’s the sound of Darrin Stephens screaming his wife’s name or him walking into the kitchen with his typical “Good morning, sweetheart,” there is no question that Dick York’s voice is embedded in anybody’s brain after watching Bewitched for years. Some men dream of being Darrin Stephens, after all he’s the guy that’s got a successful career as an advertising executive and he’s scored prime-time television’s sweetheart of the 1960s with Samantha. So what if his wife is a witch… For York, Darrin Stephens was the acting role of a lifetime. The part of Darrin Stephens was a vehicle for York to be seen as a family man whose moral compass firmly pointed north (like the person he really was), and a chance to mug for the camera with exaggerated expressions and over-the-top physical comedy. York excelled at reacting to preposterous situations, such as being trapped behind a mirror in some freezing cold never-neverland, getting turned into a bronzed statue in his own front yard by the Witches Council, or getting zapped inside a television set. He was the fall guy that made Samantha all the more smart and powerful, as she matched wits with all of the crazy antics of her family and witchly visitors, who were constantly popping in and disturbing them.
Richard Allen York was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 4, 1928. In his 63 years, Dick York had a life and career that was marked with highs and lows. He kept a positive spirit and continued to contribute to society even when his body was failing him. His life was truly remarkable.
Dick York as a Child
York grew up on the near north side of Chicago in poverty during the Depression. He often talked about the plight of his family during those years; the pretending not to be hungry so that others would eat or seeing his dad rummaging through the garbage to find food for him. These memories stayed with York his entire life and were the basis for much of the human rights work done in his later years when he became housebound due to Emphysema and back problems.
Though York’s parents struggled to make ends meet, they enrolled York in the Jack and Jill Players, a youth drama troop in Chicago. He received speaking parts in radio serials and the voice that so many fans of Bewitched remember first took to the airwaves in the early 1940s.
His role in That Brewster Boy was York’s first paying radio job. He went on to perform in several other radio shows and some low-budget teen movies that were also filmed in Chicago. One of the films, called The Shy Guy, offered dating tips to teenagers. Nick at Nite once used snippets from this film for promotion of Bewitched.
In 1950, York moved to New York City. This led to various roles in plays and television. In 1951, York married another child actress from his Chicago radio days, Joan “Joey” Alt. They met when he was 15 and she was 12 years old. It’s hard to believe given his profession and health problems, but the Yorks stayed married for his entire life. As York’s acting career flourished in NYC, Joey abandoned her own acting career for full-time motherhood. The couple had five children: 3 girls and 2 boys.
In 1953, York audition for a role in Elia Kazan’s play, Tea and Sympathy, which was about homosexuality in a boys school. They wanted to cast York as a bully who picked on the gay teen, but York told them that he’d prefer the part of the boy’s friend and re-read for it. He won the role and that was another step in defining the type of character Dick York wanted to be. He was a champion for the underdog. He rallied for those that were being discriminated against, whether it was a homosexual, a witch, or a poor person who was living on the street.
York’s television credits became a long and impressive list of guest roles. His many appearances on the Alfred Hitchcock shows (6 on AH Presents and 1 on The AH Hour), The Twilight Zone (2 episodes), Frontier Circus, Thriller, and other popular shows mirrored that of his future TV wife’s (Elizabeth Montgomery) impressive resume. York also did several movies in the late 1950s after he moved his family to Los Angeles. He starred in Rossen’s They Came to Cordura with Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth. It was on the set of this movie that he severely injured his back by not dropping a hand-propelled car filled with people when Rossen yelled, “Cut.” The others helping stopped while York was on the upswing, which meant he unexpectedly took the weight of the entire car and ripped all of the muscles on the right side of his back. This injury plagued York the rest of his life.
Hector B. Poole in 1959's "Penny for Your Thoughts" Episode
York’s spine healed incorrectly after the accident, but he forged ahead with his acting despite the constant pain. In 1960, he filmed Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly. He worked with Kelly again on an ABC show called Going My Way in 1962.
York and Kelly in the Going My Way TV Show
When the acting/directing team of Elizabeth Montgomery and Bill Asher (who were newly married) signed on with the Bewitched project in 1963, casting immediately began for the witch’s mortal husband, Darrin. Asher suggested Dick York for the role. Shortly after Dick York was cast, Agnes Moorehead signed on and the pilot was taped.
Samantha and Darrin on Bewitched
Bewitched took to the airwaves in the Fall of 1964 and audiences loved Bewitched immediately. York’s exaggerated expressions and mugging for the camera made the viewing audience laugh out loud. The role was demanding and included long hours and more physical activity than his ailing back could handle. York relied on medication to get through the long days. At times, the pain caused him to become incoherent and slur his words, but the cast and crew supported York as best they could because he was so well liked on the set.
York Looking Small on an Oversized Set for # 141
There were no surgical alternatives like what is available today, and York relied on cortisone and B12 vitamin injections, and even Gestalt therapy (where he would work on letting the muscle that were injured hurt and asking the ones that were not to subside). Ultimately, he relied on medication to get through his scenes on Bewitched. Sandra Gould (Gladys Kravitz) recalled on the E! True Hollywood Story: Bewitched that “he was on all kinds of pain pills and it finally got so bad that he just couldn’t work anymore. It was devastating—just awful. But you could see the pain in his eyes.”
York missed eight episodes in the 5th season. The script would have to be re-written at the last moment, if he did not show up for work. The role of Darrin came to an abrupt end for Dick York after a seizure on the set during a scene with Maurice Evans (in # 167, Daddy Does His Thing). York has said that he’d been to the doctor during his lunch hour and had a B12 injection on that day. He hadn’t eaten lunch nor been able to sleep because of the excruciating pain. When he was suspended on a platform with Maurice, and the crew began adjusting the lighting, it caused him to feel lightheaded and he asked to come down. During the time it took the crew to get him down, he began to seizure. He recalled seeing the horrified look on the faces of his friends on the set (including David White, who played Larry Tate) before being rushed to the hospital.
After five years of suffering through his role of Darrin Stephens, Dick York, at 40-years old, could not do the physical comedy required. In a television interview with Inside Edition, York recalled, “That was the worst day of my life because I thought I’d failed everybody. It was the only thing that I ever started that I didn’t finish. I felt guilty, and embarrassed, and that I’d let everybody down…” But he didn’t. In fact, he was nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy Series at the 1968 Emmy awards, so his performance was above par even if his health wasn’t.
At the beginning of the 6th season, a new Darrin Stephens, in the form of Dick Sargent, appeared on the show and stayed for three more seasons. Fans accepted the new Darrin, but the actors’ approaches to the role were obviously different. Bill Asher said of his wife and York’s acting together, “They were in love and they acted like it.” Asher also said that although Darrin’s lines were written the same, Sargent delivered them his way and that he didn’t find it “as effective.” Cast member, Kasey Rogers (Louise Tate) described the most obvious difference in the way that York played Darrin. On the E! show, she said York had “more of a rubbery face. He had the big eyes and he’d do the thing with his mouth and I think he was funnier in that respect.” Audiences did, too. The ratings dropped drastically after York left the series (please refer to The Decline of Bewitched for more information).
It took 18 months after leaving Bewitched for York to get his life in order. He decided that he needed to get off the pain pills once and for all and moved in with his parents in 1971, so that his children wouldn’t see him suffering. He kicked the problem on his own. Unfortunately, the Yorks had some problems managing their money by this time. As Darrin Stephens, York was paid approximately $120,000 a year, but with his disability, the union pension was little more than $600 a month for his family of seven. Despite syndication deals, and the fact that Bewitched has been on the air consistently since its debut in many countries, the actor’s contract did not compensate him for the success of the show. It’s hard to believe that this could be the case given the exorbitant salaries of today’s actors on a popular sitcom. What’s even more amazing is the success of Jim Carrey, whose own round eyes, rubbery face, and success in both physical comedy and dramatic acting are eerily similar to, if not directly inspired by, York. Carrey’s phenomenal success in the entertainment industry makes York’s hardships even harder for fans of his work to digest.
In the early 1970s, the Yorks took their savings and bought an apartment building. Not one to let anyone suffer, when his tenants couldn’t pay their rent, he let it slide until he had depleted his own savings to coverage the mortgage. By 1976, he was bankrupt and the family moved to Michigan to care for Joey’s elderly mother. This is especially ironic, because York’s career high had been in feuding with Endora, yet in his real life he dropped everything to aid his mother-in-law.
York did make several attempts to go back to acting on television. He appeared on Fantasy Island in 1978, Simon & Simon in 1981. In the mid-80s, York appeared on High School USA, and a short-lived, summer replacement show called Our Time. He found it difficult to get any acting jobs, but the lowest point was when he auditioned to direct a local high school play for $600 and was declined.
Instead of letting this lack of television work and his ailing health get him down, York went back to the medium where he got his start. Outraged by the lack of response for the plight of the homeless in the United States, York became an activist for this cause. He took the voice that made him famous and became a call-in guest on radio shows and made phone calls to friends in the entertainment industry and in politics. He got beds, food, and shelter donated to the less fortunate. Founding a small private, fundraising campaign called Acting for Life, York’s persistence helped many people. His pet cause was the Dwelling Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan and his contributions to that facility were well known.
Despite the fact that York was hooked up to an oxygen tank and was housebound with his Emphysema and degenerative spine disorder, he was as positive as ever in his final months. When asked about death in what was his final television appearance, York showed his high spirits by stating “that the world was kind to me. That I never met anybody I hated or who hated me,” and that he wanted to be remembered laughing and encouraged everyone to “be happy.” He lost his battle with respiratory problems on February 20, 1992.
York's Final Interview on Entertainment Tonight
Dick York’s legacy continues in the human rights initiatives he took to free up army surplus warehouses for the poverty-stricken, the commitment to his family (by staying married to the girl he met at age 15 for the rest of his life), and in the role of Darrin Stephens (for which he still is posthumously appearing in movies (e.g., Crazy in Alabama, 1999), as well as making every other guy with an overbearing mother-in-law feel like a “dum-dum” for complaining about it. For all of these reasons and more, we love Dick York!
© 2000 Harpiesbizarre.com. All rights reserved.
Here is a list of classic scenes depicting York’s talent on Bewitched. If you’ve got other favorites, please post them on our Morning Glory Circle Message Board.
1, I, Darrin, Take This Witch,
Samantha: When Darrin gets a kick in the pants from Sam’s witchcraft
for helping Sheila with her dress and when he looks into the camera
at the end of the show and says the “So, my wife is a witch…” speech.
Little Pitchers Have Big Fears: The scene where Darrin
is agreeing with Mrs. Burns about how dangerous everything in the house
can be to a boy. Another great scene is the looks exchanged between
Darrin and Samantha when driving Mrs. Burns to Marshall’s baseball game.
And let’s not forget the big kiss that he gives Samantha to prevent
her from using witchcraft to aid little Marshmallow in his big game.
17, A is for Aardvark:
This is the definitive episode demonstrating the chemistry that York
and Montgomery brought to the roles of Darrin and Samantha. This is
probably the best work for everyone involved in this episode of Bewitched.
18, The Cat’s Meow:
When Darrin is chasing the cat around his client’s yacht and talking
to it thinking it is Samantha. Note: Whatever happened to that cat?
Darrin gave it to Samantha at the end of the show and it was never seen
32, Alias Darrin Stephens:
When Samantha tells Darrin that she is going to have a baby.
The Magic Cabin: The grateful look he gives when Samantha
twitches up a half a spell that is equal to a half a tank of gas after
he has told her no more witchcraft, so he doesn’t have to walk to the
station in the rain.
76, The Moment of Truth:
When Darrin realizes that “what’s-her-name” is a witch.
Toys in Babeland: When Darrin is playing with Tabitha
on her toy telephone and realizes that she’s made a long-distance call.
Supercar: This is one of York’s best episodes, according
to Melanie. The expression when he looks at the engine bay of his new
supercar and sees that it is made in Detroit is priceless. Note:
The look that Sam gives Darrin when she wants to take his supercar for
a spin and he tells her to be careful with her heels but she isn’t wearing
heels and hops into the driver’s seat annoyed is very amusing, as well.
110, Business, Italian Style:
This was York’s personal favorite because he got to learn Italian and
really got to ham it up with the part.
# 127, If They Never Met: This performance is right up there with A is for Aardvark. The chemistry between York and Montgomery is pure magic.
|The Seesaw Girl and Me, the Dick York autobiography released in 2004, contained an unfinished recipe by Dick York. Come see how The Macanoonynoodle Mystery was solved!|