Jone Devlin interviews author Herbie J Pilato
the audio interview (17 minutes - 3.8 MB)
Transcribed by Big Dave
Jone: And I'm on the phone, as I said, with Herbie J Pilato who is the author of The Bewitched Book and let's hope this phone is working since we had some problems early today. Herbie? Are you with us?
HJP: It's working!
Jone: Herbie J, thank you, thank you so much. Sorry about the feedback. Well, I told you when I invited you to be on the show if you're going to do the show you had to tell me some Agnes Moorehead stories, so I guess I'm going to start you out with that. So let's hear some Agnes Moorehead stories and then we'll move on...
HJP: Well, Agnes didn't really want to do Bewitched as a series. She had known Harry Ackerman, the executive producer of the show, and he had asked her to do the show and on the fly she just said "Yeah. Ok it'll probably never sell. I'll do the pilot and then I can just go on and do what I want to do." And then Elizabeth had asked her as well in Macy's or something in some big New York department store and she said "Ok. Maybe I'll do it, maybe not." Anyway, she ends up doing the pilot…HUGE hit, of course, and she really really resented that the show sold but after a time I really think that she enjoyed sitting there on the mantle piece in those chiffon gowns and doing all those wonderful scenes and later on certainly she did.
Jone: Well, who wouldn't? Now the exciting thing about - in fact I know some people in Houston that enjoy doing that today-but the exciting thing about…
HJP: Sitting on the mantle piece?
Jone: Yes, in chiffon gowns. Yes. But the most exciting thing about your Bewitched book, which is incidentally in it's third printing, is it out yet or is it coming out this week?
HJP: We have been delayed and delayed and delayed. It's now, of course, called Bewitched Forever, the original version was called The Bewitched Book, and if you were to try and order that it would show up "out of print." But if you go to amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com and put in "Bewitched Forever" you can certainly preorder it now. We've been delaying it because I wanted it to be perfect. And so many things have been updated a little, a lot of the revisions and what not… I just have been trying to polish it as perfectly as possible and the final draft is coming within the week, so we have been delayed until JUNE! It was supposed to be out in stores this week, but we are now going until June. And believe me, I'm just as frustrated as everybody else because I know those people on eBay, my gosh, I wish I had my book on eBay for the money they're selling that book for…
Jone: Yeah, they are, but you know, it's worth it. And especially because, as I was saying in the intro you got to meet many of the cast members in the early 90s prior to their deaths and I wanted to ask you, how hard was it to get to talk to all these people- Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Dick Sargent?
HJP: Well, it was very hard because really nobody would speak to me unless Elizabeth would and what happened originally is I had written a reunion movie for Bewitched after I saw I Dream of Jeannie:15 Years Later, which I was very unhappy with because, of course, I love Jeannie and everything and she was a wonderful show and Barabara Eden is a beautiful person, but it was somewhat of a take off on Bewitched and years later when they did this reunion with Bill Asher, no less as director, I was majorly upset. So, I contacted Bill and I said "How about we do a reunion for Bewitched?" and he loved the idea. Elizabeth did not. And then I said "How about we do a book about the original show?" And she finally agreed to that after six months of me calling every two weeks. One day I was working at some club in LA as a waiter making…the tips were bad one night, real bad, and I came home and turned on the machine where the light was flashing and all of a sudden, "Hi! It's Lizzie Montgomery, um, call me back." And I was like…
Jone: Oh my goodness. What a message to come home to!
HJP: Can you imagine? I mean, you know…
Jone: Did you have to replay it like eight times?
HJP: Oh, of course I taped it right off the machine and everything. It was just glorious…so anyway it just so happened that that week in TV Guide was my letter complaining how the Emmys have just ignored Elizabeth Montgomery over the years and there was some article in the Guide…in the Guide…about the Emmys and what not and my letter, the week that she called me and the week that I called her back, came out in TV Guide and the first thing I said to her was "So did you see TV Guide?"
Jone: Ha ha. Well you know that's very true. That's a whole other tangent we can get on but I completely agree about that.
HJP: She was completely ignored. I mean, my lord, Hope Lange won for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir…
Jone: Twice. Yeah, don't get me started. That's a "off subject".
HJP: Exactly. So, no, I finally convinced her to do this and she really saw, she really saw that I was not trying to do some stupid little book about some show that I thought was silly. I knew that Bewitched was a respectable program about…and there were so many other things going on-that there was a strong work ethic, that it was about prejudice, that it was about this person who really loved this other person for who he was and not for what he could do for her, you know. Because whatever he could do for her she could zap up something better. This was about true, true love. And it was done so well...like a half-hour movie. The way they did shows then is just a lot different then the way they do things today. So anyway, she finally talked with me and I said, "Well, geez. Do you think you could talk to Dick Sargent and David White 'cause they won't talk to me unless you talk to me?" So, finally I get this call one day from Dick Sargent and he goes, "Hi, Herbie? This is Dick Sargent. I just got a call from Elizabeth Montgomery who I haven't heard from in 20 years and I guess I'm supposed to talk to you." And as I'm on the phone with him I hear BEEP BEEP BEEP-call waiting: "Hi Herbie! It's Lizzie. Did Dick call you?" and I'm like, "Oh my god, I'm on the phone with Samantha and Darrin!"
Jone: Right. Did you feel like you were living in a fantasy world to be getting calls from these people?
HJP: Well, it was just not a fantasy world, it was surreal because so much of the show had Darrin calling home and saying "Sam, what's going on?" on the phone and here I am right in an episode, a surreal episode of Bewitched. It was freaky! And then David White wouldn't talk to me and I finally had to call Elizabeth and ask her if she would call him to ok an interview. And one day, I met with her four times over at her house, one day I met with her, the second or third meeting, I met with her, and she said, "Herbie, I'm expecting a messenger at four o'clock. If you would please excuse me when this messenger comes and I have to do what I have to do." And I said, "No problem." Well, four o'clock sure enough came along and BOOM! In walks David White!
Jone: Oh wow!
HJP: She had set up this meeting with him to shock me and, of course, my mouth dropped and I'm thinking "Oh my god! I'm sitting in Elizabeth Montgomery's patio with Samantha and Larry." He walked in and she walked away and got us some grapefruit juice and he turns to me and says, "Beautiful house, isn't it?" and I'm like "Yeah." I'm still in shock, you know. And I go, "Yeah. Beautiful." And he goes, "I haven't been here in 15 years." So, I brought these people together for whatever reason and I'm not saying that this is the best book in the world and this was the best thing in the world, but for those who loved Bewitched I wanted to make it a happy read. I wanted the people to read the book and be as happy as they were watching the show and that's exactly why I did it. Nobody handed me a million dollars, nobody handed me a one hundred thousand dollar contract to do the book, I did the book out of complete love for that show and I believe I was the one supposed to do it. And Elizabeth sensed that, and everybody eventually sensed that, and now I'm going to be working on her biography, which I'm very very excited about.
Jone: Yeah, tell me about that. What's the status on that? Because we've been hearing off and on rumors about that for a while and everybody is really excited about it.
HJP: Thank you. I am too. Ideally, what we're going to do is shoot for 2004, the fall of 2004, which is the 40th anniversary of Bewitched, and I believe Sony is preparing a lot for that year, so we're just going to do it then. And I really want to go in depth because Elizabeth was such a complicated person. As a matter of fact, I believe Headliners and Legends just called me last week. We're going to be doing another bio, a telebio on her, I believe that's what they call them now-telebio- maybe I just coined a new phrase…
Jone: Great! Yeah, you're on TV right now doing the E!
HJP: Oh, it's on again?
Jone: Yeah, it's on tonight.
HJP: Are you serious?
Jone: Yeah. I actually got a call right before the show: "In case you don't know there's this Bewitched thing on E! tonight."
HJP: You know that is so bizarre because I guess it's become one of the top four highest rated E! True Hollywood Stories. My makeup is horrible because I got this little white makeup on that you know kind of goofy…but they had such a reverence for the show. I was surprised because it was like the E! True Hollywood Story. I thought they were going to do this horrible expose thing and they didn't. They just really really embraced it and everything that the show stood for. The show speaks to so many people. It spoke to me as a kid, of course. Obviously it said something to me. I was picked on as a child because I was so cute! And everybody beat me up... And I identified with Samantha's sense of isolation and a lot of people did. A lot of minorities in the 60s, a lot of people who were looking for peace beyond the race rioting, Vietnam, and all that stuff. I mean Elizabeth would get calls from people saying "Lady, lady, if you're really a magic lady, could you please stop the war?"
HJP: It's heavy. I don't think Elizabeth really knew how much she was truly loved until I reintroduced her to this because she had moved on from Bewitched.
Jone: Of course.
HJP: One of the reasons she didn't want to talk about it is because she felt nobody cared and I'm like, "That's not true. Everybody loves you."
Jone: You can understand her perspective though, too, because she was such a phenomenal actress and she couldn't be Samantha for her whole career. I mean she just couldn't. But at the same time Samantha was a big part of her career and it's what most everybody remembers her as. When the Internet came along I couldn't believe the Bewitched fans that were out there. I still can't believe them. And they're all listening tonight, so…all the people of The Bewitched Board and Queen of the Harpies and all the other wonderful sites out there.…
HJP: Hey everyone! You know what I love about the show is the music because whenever Serena would come on they would have that…
Jone: That slink…
HJP: 'Daaa da da da da da'-- they would have the seducing Serena theme, I loved it!
Jone: Oh my friend Tom is fainting because you mentioned Serena.
HJP: Oh, she loved doing that. She loved doing Serena…
Jone: Serena was wonderful…and she was two totally different people!
HJP: That's right.
Jone: And I think it's amazing because when they listed Serena, of course, the actress playing her as Pandora Spocks, people really believed there was this other person.
HJP: Well, I did. I didn't know it was somebody else until I got old. And she used to fool people on the set. Jerry Davis, who would later go on to produce the Odd Couple, he was a producer and a director on the show in the beginning, one day, the first day she was on the show with that black wig he didn't know who the heck it was. And he went up to her and started saying to himself, "How am I going to get this brunette to go to dinner with me?" Elizabeth played along. And finally she looked and said "Jerry, it's me, Liz." So, she fooled people on the set.
Jone: And I want to ask for some behind the scenes stories, especially some that involve Bill Asher because he has quite a following too on The Bewitched Board, which I found rather unusual because usually the people in front of the camera are the ones that everybody sort of enjoys and admires and talks about, but there is quite a few people, I know one in particular, who just adore Bill Asher and love to hear about him.
HJP: Well the man is a monument, an icon in his own rights. I mean right from I Love Lucy and The Patty Duke Show and later on he went on to do Alice…
Jone: I didn't know he did 'Alice'…
HJP: Alice with Linda Lavin.
Jone: Oh, wow! That's great.
HJP: He loved Elizabeth Montgomery (how are you not going to love Elizabeth Montgomery?) and when they broke up after the show cancelled- and you know so many times in Hollywood when the show is over so is the marriage-and I don't know if that was the sole reason, but Elizabeth really wanted to work, or wanted to have a regular life and Bill at that point (in '72) wanted to keep on working. The show was renewed, believe it or not, for three more years. But Elizabeth did not want to do it. He still wanted to work. He did Temperatures Rising with Paul Lynde and The Paul Lynde Show, and then Elizabeth took off to Europe. She comes back a year later and she does The Victim, which was her first TV movie, goes on to do A Case of Rape, which would become a monumental film eons before Farrah Fawcett did a very similar premise with The Burning Bed. To this day, Bill thinks, and I know that Bill believes, that he was the one who was the reason for that marriage to break up and he regrets it because I think he still loves her and always will love her. He has a very wonderful wife now and he's been married several times before then and he actually had a 75th birthday party a couple years ago that I unfortunately could not make, but different children from his different marriages had like, I guess, these name tags on that… "Yes, I'm Bill Asher's child from his second marriage" and "I'm Bill Asher's child …" So he's got a real great sense of humor about it and obviously he would have to because he is a brilliant comedic director. And when he ended up, by the way, when he ended up doing I Dream of Jeannie:15 Years Later Elizabeth called him the next day and said, "You idiot!" She was, can I say, "pissed off"?
Jone: Yeah, go ahead.
HJP: She was really, she was pissed off.
Jone: Well, did she bother to see the finished product?
HJP: Of I Dream of Jeannie?
Jone: Hmm mm.
HJP: I don't think so. She was upset with the show anyway because not so much that they were going to do this very similar premise but when they started doing the dark haired sister, like Serena, when Barbara Eden started doing the dark haired evil sister like Samantha's evil cousin that's when she really really got upset. But the bottom line is Sydney Sheldon produced I Dream of Jeannie and Bill Asher produced and directed Bewitched, together they worked on The Patty Duke Show where there was also the twin aspect thing there, too.
HJP: But it was really upsetting for Elizabeth. And then they started taking episodes right from Bewitched!
Jone: Oh, yeah!
HJP: Disappearing houses they used on Jeannie that was originally used on Bewitched and it just kind of got freaky. Although I loved I Dream of Jeannie. I can't deny it. I still love I Dream of Jeannie. And you can't deny how beautiful Barbara Eden obviously still looks and you know it was just a special time for TV. It was a special time.
Jone: Well, what do people need to do to order the new Bewitched Forever, I guess it's the third printing or…
HJP: It's the third or the fourth printing. Well, you could either, like I say, go to amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com or you could order directly from the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org or call directly at 972, in Irving, Texas, 972
Jone: Oh, I could drive down there.
Jone: Great because I know that a lot of people are going to be interested in that. Well, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show tonight. I had a great time. Keep me posted. Keep me posted on the biography, on everything, because we are just fascinated. We want to follow your career. We appreciate everything you've done to continue to put Bewitched out in front. And I'm totally jealous of you getting to meet Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick Sargent, David White, but I'm so happy you did because your book is absolutely wonderful and I appreciate you writing it.
HJP: Thank you so much for those wonderful, kind words. And God bless you.
Jone: God bless you. We've been talking to Herbie J Pilato, the author of what was originally The Bewitched Book, now it is Bewitched Forever and it is available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.