Friday, December 25, 2015

Dining on Integrated Turkey

We all get busy with other things at this time of the year, don't we? Sometimes to the exclusion of things we really want to do as opposed to those things that we feel we must do or that we feel obligated to do. Funny thing about obligations. People don't always put a priority on the right one.

Well, yesterday (Christmas Eve) was such a day for me. I got busy with other things and entirely neglected to write about something that I have been intending to write about — a special Christmas episode of the Bewitched television series that premiered 45 years ago yesterday.

Better late than never, I suppose.

It was called "Sisters at Heart," and the story was written by some two dozen black high school students in South Los Angeles after they paid a visit to the Bewitched set at the invitation of series star Elizabeth Montgomery and her director and husband William Asher. It dealt with racism and prejudice at a time when that was rarely addressed on television.

It was about a black co–worker of Darrin's (who was played by this time by Dick Sargent) and his family. The co–worker was about to leave on a business trip, and his wife was going with him. They were going to leave their daughter with the Stephenses while they were away, and they brought her over to the Stephens home prior to their departure.

That was terrific as far as Tabitha (Erin Murphy), the Stephenses' daughter, was concerned. The two girls were friends, and Tabitha liked the idea of having a sister, albeit temporarily. Tabitha, as children do, latched on to the idea and started telling people that she and her house guest were sisters. Her friend played along with the game.

Anyway, while the other girl and her parents were in the house, another visitor dropped by. He was the owner of a toy company, and Darrin had been trying to win his advertising account. The visitor's unannounced arrival was deliberate; the goal was to find out if Darrin had any secrets he wanted to conceal.

Samantha was busy with her youngest child when he arrived so he only met the wife of Darrin's colleague, her daughter and Tabitha. Tabitha's friend told the visitor (Parley Baer) that she and Tabitha were sisters. Based on their brief conversation, his assumption was that it was a biracial marriage. It turned out he was a racist, and he wanted Darrin removed from the account.

Tabitha also told a child in the park that she and her friend were sisters, but the child told her they couldn't be sisters because their skin colors were different. Tabitha decided to resolve that and cast a spell on the two, giving them polka dots. When Samantha discovered what Tabitha had done, she insisted that Tabitha reverse the spell, which she tried to do but could not. The reason why was unclear until Samantha deduced that Tabitha didn't really want to reverse the spell because she wanted the two girls to remain sisters.

When Samantha explained to the girls that they didn't have to look alike to be sisters, Tabitha was able to reverse the spell.

The spell, of course, blew the cover on the Stephens family secret about Samantha and Tabitha being witches — but only to Tabitha's friend, not her parents or the owner of the toy company.

At a Christmas party at the Stephens house, Darrin's boss told him that the owner of the toy company wanted him removed from the account. During the party, the owner of the toy company realized his mistake, that it was not a biracial marriage, and he told Darrin's boss (David White) that it was OK for Darrin to work on the account after all.

When Samantha learned why Darrin had been rejected initially, she decided to teach the toy company owner a lesson and cast a spell on him. He saw everyone in the house as black — himself included when he looked in the mirror.

On Christmas Day, he returned to the Stephens home. The black family was visiting, and the toy company owner apologized to them all for his bigotry and expressed remorse for his racism.

His apology was accepted, and he was invited to share Christmas dinner with them. "We're having integrated turkey," Samantha told him, "white and dark meat."

Montgomery said it was her favorite Bewitched episode, and it isn't hard to understand why. Bewitched was about dealing with prejudice — the prejudice of the mortal world against the wiccan one — and Montgomery opened and closed the episode by telling the audience the episode "was created in the true spirit of Christmas ... conceived in the image of innocence and filled with truth."

In Bewitched, witches were a put–down minority. But all minorities are not — pardon the pun — created equally.

I suppose racism and wiccaphobia (if such a word exists) aren't entirely comparable. I mean, one can't easily conceal one's race — the way, for example, one can conceal (although not always easily) one's sexual orientation. Consequently, I guess wiccaphobia has more in common with homophobia than racism — Bewitched often proved as much in the characters' efforts to hide Samantha's wiccan abilities.

But the argument can be made that prejudice is prejudice, whether it is on the basis of things that are seen or things that are unseen (or, perhaps, assumed).

Precisely because prejudice and bigotry were hardly ever addressed on TV before 1971, when All in the Family made its debut and made social relevance a key component of TV, "Sisters at Heart" was almost unique in its approach to its topic. Ironically, in these politically correct times, it would probably be viewed as insensitive if it premiered today because some of the characters appear in blackface.

As it so often is with political correctness, that is a classic case of failing to see the forest for the trees.