Thursday, March 02, 2017

It's All About Values

It was the fairy Puck who said, "Lord, what fools these mortals be" in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," but it's the sort of thing Endora (Agnes Moorehead) would have said on Bewitched.

For that matter, given how long witches typically live — according to Bewitched, anyway — Puck might well have been quoting Endora.

The episode of Bewitched that first aired 50 years ago tonight, "Charlie Harper, Winner," bore no resemblance to Shakespeare's play, but it did a pretty eloquent job of drawing the distinction between what matters to witches and what matters to mortals.

We can start with an obvious point. Mortals are obsessed with material things — bloated bank accounts, big houses, fancy cars, the best clothes and food and furnishings, all the latest bells and whistles, all the status symbols. You and I know that that isn't true across the board. There are some people who aren't like that, but many are. I suppose they are that way because so much must be sacrificed to obtain those things.

Witches, on the other hand, can conjure up any material thing they want, and those things will have all the qualities of the genuine articles. It costs witches nothing to cast a spell and whip up something. Material goods have no value to them.

Other things may be simulated but not created from scratch — attributes like love and courage and intelligence — and those are the things that witches value. They can't create them out of thin air. They can only simulate them.

And my guess is that witches (assuming they exist) consider mortals to be fools because they have the wrong priorities. Certainly Endora did.

Anyway, I think that was the point Bewitched was trying to make 50 years ago tonight.

Charlie Harper (Angus Duncan) was an old friend of Darrin's (Dick York). Charlie didn't crave the status symbols because he already had them. He had been an overachiever as long as Darrin had known him — and he could easily have become the object of everyone's scorn, except, as Darrin told Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), everybody loved Charlie.

Charlie was the big success from Darrin's inner circle, but he was unassuming about it. He simply got up each day and went out and did things. He was an overachiever. That's what overachievers do. Some overachievers are braggarts, boasting about every achievement, but Charlie was one of those overachievers who is simply too busy achieving. He sought to bring no real attention to himself, and he showed a genuine interest in the people around them, celebrating even their mundane, routine accomplishments.

Haven't we all known Charlies in our lives? They may not have been as successful as the Charlie in Bewitched, but they were from the same mold.

Of course, there are the others who are obsessed with status symbols.

That would include Charlie's wife (played by Joanna Moore, the one–time wife of Ryan O'Neal and the mother of Tatum O'Neal), a former college beauty queen and a first–class snob in the here and now. Her dedication was to acquiring as many material possessions as she could.

(Sort of reminiscent of the well–known remark from another Charlie — "Winning!")

In spite of his success, the Charlie from Bewitched seemed pretty down to earth. While having dinner at the Stephenses' home, he told Darrin and Samantha that he was having a weekend party at his new home in Oyster Bay, and he wanted them to attend. He also told Darrin that he planned to have a serious conversation of a business nature — which sounded like Charlie wanted to hire Darrin to run a prestigious agency he had just purchased.

Darrin agreed to attend, and Samantha did, too. Getting a babysitter on short notice could be a problem, she said, but she supposed that Endora would be available. If not, she said, "I suppose I can always get Aunt Clara to pop in."

Charlie was delighted and didn't want to waste any time. He told Darrin and Samantha to pack some things. They could all leave together.

Samantha proved to be more charming and appealing to the other guests than Charlie's wife, Daphne, did, and she resented not being the center of attention. She was, after all, the hostess.

So she began making patronizing remarks, and Samantha couldn't really help herself. She kept tossing modest spells at Daphne when she made the remarks. Once, when Daphne made a remark, she was reclining in a hammock that gave way. Another time she made a remark while the four of them were playing cards, and the cards flew from her hands.

Samantha had had enough of Daphne's sneering remarks. Little spells wouldn't suffice.

Samantha was able to whip up a jewelry box filled with jewels when Daphne asked if she could loan Samantha anything to wear to dinner. Daphne said the jewels were lovely and remarked, "It's amazing what they can do with this costume stuff."

Samantha decided she had to do more to silence Daphne so she whipped up a mink coat and asked Daphne for a hanger. When she did, Daphne was overwhelmed by the coat — and suddenly frozen. It was Endora's doing. She had been listening in and was disgusted by what she had heard. It wasn't so much Samantha's use of her witchcraft that bothered her. It was the fact that she used her witchcraft to defend Darrin.

When Daphne next saw her husband, she told him she had to have Samantha's coat. She assumed that Darrin couldn't possibly afford it and was up to his eyeballs in debt trying to pay for it. So Charlie approached Darrin and Samantha about the coat, but Darrin refused to sell.

Later, when they were alone, Samantha explained that Daphne "practically called you a loser."

"So to prove what a winner I was," Darrin replied, "you gave yourself a mink coat."

"She could have said anything in the world about me," Samantha insisted, "but I didn't want her to knock you."

Darrin wasn't convinced. "I can't give you anything you can't zap up yourself," he said and stormed out of the room. Darrin and Samantha withstood a lot of meddling from the witches and warlocks on her side of the family, but they probably never came as close to splitting up as they did on this evening in 1967.

Samantha decided to let Daphne have the coat.

Daphne was elated. "Charlie will give you a check for it," she assured Samantha.

But Samantha insisted that it was a gift. "Charlie told me how much you admired it so I want you to have it."

"You can't give away anything this valuable," Daphne said.

"Oh, yes, you can," Samantha replied, "when you value something else a great deal more." Daphne took the coat, and Darrin and Samantha were reunited.

After Darrin and Samantha got home, a package arrived for them. It was from Daphne. She was returning the coat. A note from Charlie thanked them "for giving me a new Daphne."

It all comes down to values.