With a twitch of the nose and the flick of the wrist, everyone fell in love with Samantha Stephens on Bewitched. But what most people don’t know is that Elizabeth Montgomery’s life was much darker than her magical persona would suggest.
From a traumatic childhood to messy romances, Montgomery wasn’t one for staying out of the drama. There was no Hollywood magic that could make her issues disappear; all she could do was hope the public never found out.
When Montgomery was just a teenager, her parents went through a messy divorce. That’s hard on any kid, but she carried that pain with her for the rest of her career.
Her father, Robert Montgomery, had been a successful actor himself and was extremely hard on Elizabeth when she followed in his footsteps. She persisted anyway and began taking small roles after graduating.
Montgomery’s little-known early work included small parts on popular TV shows like The Twilight Zone, Studio One, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Hitchcock himself recognized her talent and tried to snag her for one of his biggest films.
Hoping to round out his cast, Hitchcock offered Montgomery a role in his psychological thriller Marnie, opposite Sean Connery. She wasn’t available. As it turned out, her personal life was becoming horrific enough on its own.
By this point, Montgomery was 22 and married to her second husband, Gig Young. But Young was an alcoholic and emotionally abusive, so Montgomery divorced him. It turned out she was luckier than she realized.
See, by 1978, Young had married his fifth wife, Kim Schmidt. Things took a turn that year when they were both found dead in their apartment after Young committed an apparent murder-suicide. Thankfully, Montgomery had moved on.
In 1963, Montgomery married director William Asher, who happened to be working on a new show called Bewitched. Asher thought Montgomery would be perfect for the lead and cast her immediately. The role had some interesting perks.
Asher let Montgomery name her TV daughter; she chose Tabitha! “I loved it, because it was so old-fashioned,” said Montgomery. But it turned out a different name from the show was about to have a huge impact.
Samantha Stephens became such a beloved character, that the name Samantha sprang from relative obscurity to one of the most popular names in the country in 1963. The show’s lasting impact got even wilder from there.
Everyone recognizes Samantha’s signature nose twitch, but few know its origin. Asher noticed Montgomery make the motion when she got frustrated and had her recreate it for the show. It quickly became one of many recurring themes.
Another was Samantha’s recurring cousin, Serena. Though the actress was credited as Pandora Spocks, in reality the role was (not so secretly) played by Montgomery herself. But that wasn’t the only bit of production magic on set.
To viewers, it seemed like Samantha could simply zap the apartment clean. In reality, they’d stop the cameras when Montgomery lifted her finger, remove all the clutter, then turn them back on, as though it happened in an instant!
Unfortunately, every camera trick in the book couldn’t salvage Montgomery’s relationship with her father. She tried to get him to portray her father on Bewitched, but he refused. It seemed he wasn’t too thrilled his daughter’s newfound fame was eclipsing his own acting career.
And when Montgomery starred in The Legend of Lizzie Borden, a TV movie about the woman accused of killing her parents with an axe, her father was personally affronted and took it as an insult. Yikes.
Montgomery continued to take on other roles, no matter what her father thought, even parodying her own Bewitched persona in one of her husband’s films, How To Stuff A Wild Bikini. Soon after, her life took a turn.
By the end of Bewitched‘s run, Montgomery’s personal life was deteriorating. She had fallen for the new director, Richard Michaels, and began an affair. When it became public in 1971, both their marriages crumbled. Montgomery was struggling.
But despite her own problems, Bewitched flourished. By the end of its eight-year run, the show had garnered 22 Primetime Emmy nominations and three wins. Montgomery herself had been nominated five times.
Though she continued to act after Bewitched, she never rose to the same level of fame again. Instead she dedicated much of her life to activism as an outspoken supporter of women’s rights, gay rights, and for the disabled community.
Her final role was a voiceover part for Batman: The Animated Series in 1995. She tragically passed away from cancer later that year before the episode ever aired. But one town wants to make sure Montgomery is never forgotten.
In 2005, Salem, Massachusetts, home of the infamous witch trials, erected a statue in honor of Montgomery’s iconic character. It seems they took after Minneapolis, which had just dedicated a statue to another mid-century icon in 2002: Mary Tyler Moore.
After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, a lot of people expected breakout star Moore to jump right into films. But after a few attempts, only one was successful: Thoroughly Modern Millie. So Moore decided to give something else a try.
She returned to the small screen for a short special: Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman. Audiences and critics alike were so enamored with her performance that CBS offered her a full season pickup, no questions asked.
And that’s how The Mary Tyler Moore Show was born. Originally, Moore’s character Mary Richards was a divorcee starting a new life in a new city, but CBS ran into an unexpected problem once they started testing the show.
Because they associated Moore with her last role as Dick Van Dyke’s wife, viewers couldn’t stomach the thought of her character divorcing a nice guy like that! So they removed the divorce angle and plowed forward, searching for the rest of the cast.
Viewers will recognize Gavin MacLeod as Mary’s charming colleague, but he was originally supposed to play her boss, Lou. MacLeod read the part and suggested he could bring more to Murray’s character. Producers agreed and moved on to casting Ted.
Lovable doofus Ted Baxter was a tricky part to cast. Producers wanted Jack Cassidy, but he turned them down — he had played the dumb hunk for another role and was worried about being typecast. That’s when one producer spotted Ted Knight.
When producer Dave Davis happened to see a production of the play You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running, Knight stuck out to him immediately. On a whim, they asked him to come in and read for the role.
Knight was living paycheck to paycheck and pulled out all the stops for the audition. He even bought a blue anchorman’s blazer at a thrift store just for it! That paid off because he was hired. But it wasn’t smooth sailing for showrunners from there.
Knight once stormed into the director’s office to quit. “I can’t play Ted Baxter anymore,” he said. “Everybody thinks I’m stupid and I’m not.” After some calming words from the director, Knight agreed to stay on. But problems continued to pile on.
Mary’s neighbor Rhoda was supposed to be frumpy and a “loser,” but producers fell in love with Valerie Harper when she auditioned. They decided her self-deprecating attitude was enough to make up for her more glamorous appearance. Finally, it was time to shoot the pilot.
When they shot the original pilot, the actors could barely get a laugh out of the studio audience. Afterward they realized why: Rhoda came off as too mean and tainted the rest of the show. So they came up with a solution.
They re-shot the pilot with one change. Mary’s landlord, Phyllis, brings her daughter by who happens to mention, “Aunt Rhoda’s really a lot of fun! Mom hates her…” It worked, and the second audience ate it up. Critics were not as kind, though.
In a shocking twist of mid-century misogyny, critics called Mary “desperate” for being unmarried and Rhoda a “man-crazy klutz.” Even The New York Times thought the show was “preposterous.” Seven seasons later, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Mary Tyler Moore show broke all kinds of records and went on to win 29 Primetime Emmy awards. Moore and Harper each won several individual awards, and the show brought home three “Outstanding Comedy Series” honors over the seven years.
One of the Emmy-winning episodes, “Chuckles Bites The Dust,” features Mary trying to keep from laughing at a clown’s funeral. As it turns out, Moore actually struggled to not laugh on set and had to bite her cheek to stop giggling. But audiences still wanted more.
Because The Mary Tyler Moore Show was so successful, CBS eventually greenlit three spin-offs: Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, each focusing on a different supporting character. Some cast members weren’t sad to see one particular actor depart…
The men on the show were thrilled to see Harper leave for Rhoda. It was nothing personal — Moore’s scenes with Harper usually took place in Mary’s apartment, meaning her news station co-workers didn’t get as much screen time!
Cloris Leachman’s spin-off, Phyllis, was much more tragic. Barbara Colby played Sherry on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Leachman’s spin-off, but three episodes in, she was murdered while walking to her car.
With producers worried about a decline in the show’s quality, Moore decided to end the show after seven seasons. In a rare breaking of the fourth wall, the entire cast came back on set for an on-camera send off after the final scene.
There are many reasons to fall in love with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and we should all thank our lucky stars that it helped bring Betty White to prominence. After the show, her career skyrocketed.
Still, no one believed The Golden Girls would be a success. A show about four older women living out their retirements in Miami wasn’t exactly the kind of content producers thought people were going to eat up. But these ladies had a surprise in store for the networks.
It was a smash hit! It quickly dominated Saturday nights, and other networks couldn’t find anything that could compete. Soon, the “Golden Girls” were the biggest stars in television. But the four women had an unlikely road to the spotlight.
Estelle Getty (Sophia) was the first cast, but she was actually a year younger than Bea Arthur, who played her daughter! She sat through three hours in the makeup chair every show to make her look much older than she was. And that wasn’t all they had to deal with…
Estelle had a bad case of stage fright! As the least experienced performer, she was constantly worried she’d be ridiculed next to big stars like Bea and Betty. Of course, Sophia ended up stealing the show every night.
Meanwhile, Susan Harris actually wrote the part of Dorothy with Bea Arthur in mind, but the network wasn’t convinced she’d have widespread appeal. Once she signed on, they quickly ate their words. Still, Bea had concerns about two other casting choices.
Rue McClanahan (Blanche) and Betty White (Rose) were originally cast in each other’s roles as they had played similar characters before. Bea was worried this would make the show feel stale, so on a whim, the producers had them swap parts. Magic was born.
When the camera started rolling, it seemed like everything was perfect. And with the chemistry the four leads had on screen, how could it not be? But behind the scenes, it was another story entirely.
Photo by Alice S. Hall
Much of the tension stemmed from one woman in particular: Bea. On screen, her character Dorothy was a driving force, berating Blanche for her promiscuity and delivering a fiery “Oh, shut up Rose!” Behind the cameras, she was just as hotheaded.
Bea had a notorious hatred for chewing gum (and birds) and would flip out if she ever saw someone chewing it on set, going so far as to try and get them fired! On the set of Empty Nest, she stormed off when one of the stars refused to spit it out. And that wasn’t her only quirk.
Bea hated wearing shoes so much that she included a stipulation in her contract that let her walk around set barefoot — so long as she didn’t get injured! Eventually, her eccentric personality put her in conflict with one of her castmates.
Betty! The feud between Bea and Betty became infamous in the years after The Golden Girls went off the air. As Bea’s son put it, “it’s fun to hate your neighbors… We all need to have somebody that we can let get under our skin.”
And Bea certainly let Betty get under her skin. When Betty won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in 1986, Bea was apparently so furious that she called her a… well let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant word. The two also clashed in their styles of acting.
“[Betty] was from the Mary Tyler Moore school where everything is a very subtle character moment,” wrote Jim Colucci in his book about the show. “The jokes are more gentle.” Bea’s style was another story completely.
A veteran of Broadway, Bea’s acting was more exaggerated. Directors even had a special seat for her at the breakfast table so they could always have a shot on her dramatic facial expressions!
Bea’s dedication to her craft also set her apart from her co-stars. While she would spend the time in between takes working on her part, Betty would chat with the audience and make jokes.
“She was not that fond of me,” remembered Betty. “She found me a pain in the neck sometimes. It was my positive attitude — and that made Bea mad sometimes.” Still, others saw the feud differently.
According to Bea’s son, it wasn’t that she was unkind, just more introverted. “My mother had close relationships with a few close friends,” her son recalled. “She wasn’t a loner. But she really liked sitting around and chilling.”
Photo Credit: Wayne Williams
In the end, her son didn’t think people had the right impression of the two. Sure they had their differences, but the two still genuinely liked one another. Bea wouldn’t even go to lunch with Rue unless Betty was invited!
Once the show hit six seasons, Bea felt the quality was beginning to fade and decided to leave. The producers begged her to stay for one final season and she obliged, sticking with the show through its season 7 finale.
Regardless of their feud, Bea and Betty will always be remembered as Dorothy and Rose, two friends who sometimes butt heads, but always came together at the end and made up over a slice (or two) of cheesecake.