Written By Marilyn Beck and Stacy Smith, dated November 9, 1980
Submitted by Gary B. with candid photo from Milo
Ten years ago, Dick York collapsed on the set of his Bewitched series, was taken away by ambulance -- and vanished from public sight. Now he sits doing his first interview in a decade, leaning forward with muscles taut, puffing cigarettes. And he notes that he had lain awake the night before worrying about our meeting -- and he stresses that he does not want any sympathy. He looks as familiar as yesterday's vintage show in which he co-starred with Elizabeth Montgomery. Yet, this is Dick York as we have never seen him -- intensely personified. And like a dam bursting, his story comes out in a torrent of words rising and falling from adamant declaration to halting explanation.
York and Montgomery on the Set of Bewitched
He has returned to Hollywood, this time as a writer-producer. In 18 months, he has written five complete screenplays and formulated 20 other projects, and, dead set on turning his dreams into reality, has gone into partnership with producer Edward Shaw. That's the easy part.
The hard part is what came before the current blitz of activity when "I did not want to go back into acting so much that I let myself get fat. I gained 126 pounds -- a whole other person. I grew a beard -- I was disguising myself. Things got totally out of hand." By 1969 -- midway through the Bewitched run -- he had grown bitter about the Hollywood system and "all the ego trips and insecurities there are to deal with. In my whole career, there had been only four things that gave me complete artistic satisfaction: Inherit The Wind with Stanley Kramer directing; working with Elia Kazan in Bus Stop on Broadway; a play I did on Playhouse 90 with Paul Muni; and an episode of Route 66.
His slim-again frame poised on the edge of the chair, he explains, "Any actor has to learn to make compromises, but it finally got to me. Add to that a physical problem, and, well, carrying an emotional burden like that becomes a thousand times harder." He says that at this time he's "feeling fine," but there were long years when a spinal condition resulted in "constant pain. It reached the point of having to have a doctor and a physiotherapist to get me on the set. Of having to have Novocain and cortisone shots from my hips to my shoulder blades in order to be able to move." He is well aware of the industry whispers that his physical infirmity led to a dependence on drugs. And, anxious to clear up that point, he says, "I never took anything in order to be able to work. Not to work. I would not go in there loaded. And I wouldn't take pain pills or anything like that at night until I'd learned my lines for the following day. If I'd been able to say, 'Oh, it's just a job, to hell with it,' maybe I would have. But, no, I cared about my work."
He cared even more about his wife and their five children, some of whom, he relates, were then going through drug problems. "I'd have to sit down with my kids and say, 'We're gonna have to deal with this drug problem right now, or, ok, we're gonna have to wait until the downers wear off so we can really talk about this situation.' "
Pressures -- both emotional and physical -- built atop pressures. And, eventually, York crashed. "I'd been fighting off pneumonia for a month, then got the flu. I hadn't been able to sleep for a week. One day, my body just totally gave up. I went into convulsions. I saw the color drain from my wife Joey's face when she saw me in the hospital. I saw what it did to her. And I made a decision: 'I can't play this kind of game anymore.' "
He takes a final puff from a cigarette, and as he grinds it into an ashtray, comments softly, "It's an emotional thing, turning to your wife and saying, 'OK, honey, can you live with fact we won't have as much money coming in, that we won't be able to buy fancy cars or send our kids to special schools?' She told me, 'I'll live in a cave as long as you're alright.' My wife is my life. We've been through so much together. I just don't know what I'd do without her. For 29 years I've been constantly amazed, thinking I'd never be able to love her more, then finding out I could."
That love became his fortress in the dark days that followed, a period which he attempts to brush aside with the comment, "There are some things I'm not prepared to go into." But then he sighs, shifts in his chair, clasps his hands and says, "But I guess we have to get into that a little bit, don't we?" He starts. "Once you feel your entire life has fallen..." He stops. "Unless somebody has been through it, it's hard to imagine what it's like to think, 'I had a chance at the big apple and I lost it.' I had it all, the American dream. My next career step would probably have been my own show. I had the big house with the pool and a wonderful family. And I thought, 'I've failed. I SHOULD have been able to keep it together. I SHOULD have been able to control the pain. Another man would have been stronger.' "
He describes the next five years as a time of "emotional examination and re-evaluation." He reveals there were periods of "six or eight months at a time of just looking out the window, flat on my back." And he adds, "My wife and children made it easy for me to sit around and do nothing. I was the child."
York with the Camera and Four of his Five Children
The family moved to Covina where they owned an apartment house. The shiny new car he purchased during his Bewitched days is now the tired vehicle that has become one the catalysts in his current career push. All but his two younger sons are grown and living on their own. York might have continued to live quietly off his limited apartment house income but for a combination of factors. Even more than his hating "to see my wife driving around in an old car and having to buy the cheaper cuts of meat," was the fact, "I just couldn't stand not doing something creative any longer. Joey knew that sooner or later I would have to start using my talent again. She was just waiting. And I had to put it together for myself."
The Yorks During the Bewitched Years
He says another motivation behind his resurgence is his loathing for the greater percentage of Hollywood's current output, which he feels lacks value and values. He blames the coming of age of the "Dr. Spock generation" for what he sees as "the narrow point of view in motion pictures and TV today." And he says his creative projects will all be imbued with those values he feels are now neglected, "Such as paying attention to the other guy. I want to lay a message on people without their knowing it, while giving them just what they want. Which isn't some kind of a Quixotic mission because, yes, it's for me, too."
He answers an unasked question. "Yes, the prospect of acting again has reared its ugly head. And, yes, I'm going to do it -- sometime. I'll have to be with a producer and director who know my physical limitations. I'm not 15 years old and bulletproof any longer. When I was acting, I was constantly saying, 'Give me time to prepare.' If I was to play a minister, I'd have to plunge into that, research my character completely, prove to myself that I knew it 100 percent. I am terribly thorough, completely absorbed with my work. I approach writing the same bloody way I approach acting." And, he says, that as things now stand, he considers himself "probably even a better writer than I am an actor."
York and Shaw have formulated a 10-year development plan. They expect
to announce the start of their first project within the next few months.
"I know as sure as God made green apples, that we're going to make this
thing work," says York. "I'll put all the energy I have into doing what
we promise to do. And if, after 10 years of beating our heads against
the wall, if it doesn't work, then..." He pauses, then he says, "It'll
destroy me, because I care so much."
The photos of Dick York with his children originally appeared in Flimfax, The Magazine of Unusual Film and Television. “Dick York, A Farewell Interview with Bewitched’s Original Darrin” by John Douglas. April/May 1992.
This Beck and Smith article "Dick York Returns, No Longer Bewitched" originally appeared in a TV magazine newspaper supplement from 1980.