A Bewitching Fandom

      

Author James poses with his labor of love in front of Salem, MA's Bewitched statue.

          In 1977, age of shag carpets and disco dancing, eight year old Adam-Michael James first caught an episode of the classic TV series Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha, a witch married to Dick York’s mortal, easily flummoxed husband Darren.  He immediately fell under its spell (if you’ll pardon the expression).  In this pre-VCR era, he even found a clever way to capture the episodes for posterity, making audio recordings with his trusty tape recorder.  “My dad finally showed me how to use it myself,” James laughs.  “He got tired of me always asking him for help.”

            Last year James took his Bewitched obsession to a new level with The Bewitched Continuum, a hefty tome published to mark the series’ fiftieth anniversary (and an in-the-works NBC reboot centered on Samantha’s granddaughter).  More than a mere episode guide, the book examines the show’s universe of magic, and its frequent inconsistencies.  The genesis of the book came over twenty years ago when he read The Nitpicker’s Guide for Next Generation Trekkers, which piqued his interest in continuity.  With Bewitched’s premiere on DVD last year, “I started noticing [inconsistencies].  In one episode they say you can’t use your powers when you go back in time, but in another they go to the seventeenth century and you can.”  James attributes this to the time in which the show was made; while today’s fantasy TV works hard at “world building” and employs show bibles, Bewitched had no such overarching direction.  And while Bewitched inspired lots of tribute literature over the years, James noted that “nothing really talked about the fiction.”

           Enter the Continuum, which catalogues the good, the bad, and the inconsistent in all 256 episodes, plus season overviews, photo galleries, and an overflowing cauldron of appendices: James covers everything from "Firsts and Lasts" to magical transformations to recurring actors and beyond, as only a diehard devotee could.

            But what is it about Bewitched that still inspires such devotion and attention to detail half a century after its premiere?  “On a surface level, I liked the magic,” James recalls.  “But I’ve analyzed it over the years and I think it comes down to: you’re watching ordinary people do extraordinary things.  Bewitched gives you this feeling that people can do anything.”

            That extends to gay fans like James, who have always made up a large swath of the show’s fan base.  The author points out that the show reflected the decade’s Civil Rights Movement by tackling issues of prejudice, tolerance, and equality.  “It didn’t address gays specifically because that wasn’t possible at that time,” James feels.  “But it was all there . . . [the idea that] everybody’s equal.  We know that this is a place where we’re gonna be accepted.” 

            The presence of Samantha’s flashy, acerbic mom Endora (Agnes Moorehead) and eccentric Uncle Arthur (gay comedian Paul Lynde) didn’t hurt, either.  Moorehead comes off as a female drag queen, while Lynde, who appeared in just 12 episodes but is fondly remembered by fans, “just wasn’t afraid to be himself.  He’s not stereotypical or flaming.  He has this wonderful quirky quality about him.  He let us know that we’re funny—that we can be funny.”

            In the series’ lead Samantha, gays found another strong female character to get behind.  The show may be a bit dated now, but in depicting a woman pushing against the constraints of an uptight, conservative society, it paved the way for the heroines and heroes we still geek out over today.

            The Bewitched Continuum is available on amazon.com and through the author’s website, adammichaeljames.com.

Agnes Moorehead and Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched (1964-72)

on February 16, 2015