April 19, 1930– Dick Sargent. This is a post about Dicks.
Looking back now, I realize that the beguiling sitcom Bewitched, running from 1964 to 1972, was actually a powerful satirical allegory about the prejudice against gay people. Samantha, a powerful witch with many talents, lives as a mortal & hides her true self from a society that could never understand or accept her. She was in the broom-closet. Agnes Moorehead played Endora, Samantha’s oddly single, meddling mother who hates Samantha’s father played by a very fey Maurice Evans. Endora lectures Samantha about hiding who she is just because she might be rejected by society. Each episode was another zany example of the perils of not coming out. The show had possibly the gayest cast ever: Dick Sargent, Agnes Moorehead, Maurice Evans & of course, Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur, all were gay. Even the show’s lead, Elizabeth Montgomery, was an avid activist for gay rights.
Richard Cox’s mother was silent film actress Ruth Powell, his father, Elmer Cox, was the business manager to film star Douglas Fairbanks & director Erich Von Stroheim.
Cox studied theatre at Stanford University. Back in Hollywood, he received a small role in 1954’s Prisoner Of War, starring Ronnie Reagan. I suppose it was just too much of a burden to be billed as Dick Cox, & when he joined the Screen Actors Guild he changed his last name to Sargent.
Dick Sargent found steady work in 1950s & 1960s TV series: Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, I Dream Of Jeannie. He played a lead role in One Happy Family & Broadside. Sargent was featured in the films: Operation Petticoat (1959), That Touch Of Mink (1962) & an Elvis Presley project- Live A Little, Love A Little (1968).
I have read that Sargent & Tammy Grimes auditioned for the original roles of Darrin & Samantha Stephens during the casting of the pilot of Bewitched. Sargent became unavailable because he was under contract for Broadside. He did go on to play Tammy Grimes’s brother on the short lived series The Tammy Grimes Show, where the lead character’s name was Tamantha.
Bewitched, as we all know, went into production with Elizabeth Montgomery & Dick York as Mr. & Mrs. Stephens. After season 5, York left Bewitched because of back problems & a dependency on painkillers. To prepare viewers for the switch to a new Darrin in Season 6, ABC ran all of the shows in which Dick York did not appear during the summer 1969. Are you keeping your Dicks straight?
Sargent did not have an easy time stepping into the role in this top rated show with a popular leading man. If you watch, & I have, he often appears nervous & uncomfortable in his first season. The role of Darrin was never written differently, the 2 actors simply had a different interpretation of the character. Both Sargent & York have said that there was little room for improvisation & that the actors on Bewitched always stuck with the script. Sargent’s Darrin was more laid back & slyer. Elizabeth Montgomery:
“By the time Dick Sargent came on the show, Darrin & Samantha’s relationship was 5 years old… Darrin’s objections to witchcraft would have mellowed anyway, whether it was Dick Sargent or Dick York.”
Dick York had praise for the continuation of the show & for Sargent’s portrayal of Darrin. Sargent:
“Occasionally, I wonder about Bewitched. But I guess we all wonder about something or other. Most working actors don’t get a role where they become household faces. They may not know my name, I may be Darrin to people out there, but if people see you & smile at you & act like you’re an old friend, I think that’s a pretty swell accomplishment.”
After Bewitched, Sargent went on to guest-star in many popular 1970s & 1980s TV series that we all loved: Taxi, Alice, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, The Dukes Of Hazzard, The Waltons, The Love Boat, Three’s Company, Murder, She Wrote, & L.A. Law. Sargent did voice work & returned to performing live theater when he had the chance.
In 1989, Sargent was diagnosed with that damn cancer. After a long & successful acting career, Sargent came out of the closet in 1990. He asked his old friend Elizabeth Montgomery to join him as Grand Marshall of the LA Gay Pride Parade in 1992. Montgomery:
“In or out of the closet, I love him. He’s a super guy & a good friend. I’m happy for him & proud of him.”
During the Bewitched years, Sargent’s bio made mention of an ex-wife to avoid speculation about his gayness. He even appeared as a couple with gay actor Fannie Flagg on the game show Tattletales. But actually, Sargent shared his life & his home with his partner of 20+ years, Albert Williams, until Williams’ death in 1990.
Sargent supported gay rights issues & was a life-long advocate of the Special Olympics. Sargent took his final bow, gone from prostate cancer, in 1994, less than a year before Elizabeth Montgomery’s passing from colon cancer.