There’s no one on the planet who knows more about the classic TV series Bewitched than talented writer Adam-Michael James. His deliciously comprehensive first book, The Bewitched Continuum, was an encyclopedic tome packed with everything you ever wanted to know about the series that ran from 1964 to 1972 including a detailed synopsis of all 254 episodes. A few years ago, James penned the novel I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin, his wished-for finale for the series (which didn’t get a proper sendoff when it was canceled in 1972). I was amazed at how perfectly James captured the voices of every character, and how his insane knowledge of every nuance of the series allowed him to create such a believable and authentic conclusion, albeit one that came with quite a few surprises. At the time, the writer thought he was finished with the characters, but Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), Endora (Agnes Moorehead), and the rest of the lot had other ideas.
Now Adam-Michael James is back with Samantha’s Seventies, a new novel that takes Samantha and Darrin Stephens through that tumultuous decade. Picking up where his last book left off, James explores the different ways the mortals in Samantha’s world deal with the news that she’s a witch. It’s all great fun and full of fascinating adventures such as when two Aunt Claras emerge; Samantha trains her children, Tabitha and Adam, on the proper use of witchcraft; the witches explore their troubling attitudes towards mortals during a Bicentennial celebration that expands on the show’s themes of inclusion; and young Tabitha briefly hops into her 25-year-old self in a nod to her self-titled sequel from the late 70s. And finally, a surprise couple exchanges “I do’s” in a never-before-seen witch wedding.
I was excited to talk to James by phone from his home in Canada about his expert recreation of these beloved characters.
Danny Miller: This was such a fun book to read! At this point it seems like you know these characters so well that you’re channeling them.
Adam-Michael James: Or maybe like they’re channeling me. I wasn’t planning on doing this book but it just felt like they had more to say. They sort of sat me down and said, “You know what? We know you weren’t going to write another book but this is what we need you to do.”
It’s crazy how you manage to get every voice down so perfectly. It’s really fun to hear all the actors’ voices in my head: Elizabeth Montgomery, Agnes Moorehead, Marion Lorne, Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, all of them so perfectly recreated. And such an interesting premise to have so many people know about Samantha being a witch. I never thought much about the complexity of the mortals’ reaction to that.
Yeah, I had to deal with that because of the way I ended the previous book. That was really fun to explore, and there were some other ideas that I thought, “Oh, wouldn’t that be fun to do?” like the part of the book where Tabitha briefly becomes a 25-year-old which is a reference to the Tabitha TV series and then tells her mother, “I had this strange dream! I was working at a TV station and I had this yellow car, it all seemed so real.”
The mortals’ reaction to finding out Samantha is a witch was not what I would have expected. I don’t want to give big plot points away but I’ll just say I loved Gladys Kravitz’s reaction to the news. Throughout the series, Gladys was obviously one of the biggest thorns in Samantha’s side in terms of keeping her witchcraft under wraps, so her reaction here is so fun and fulfilling.
I wanted to get into her motivation of why she was such a pain for so many years. If you look at Gladys’s actions throughout the series, she just wants to know that she’s not crazy since people were always telling her that. So once people find out, I thought it would be better if she was more mellow about it than some of the others.
There’s a kind of feminist throughline there. How many times in history have people told women that they were crazy because of what they said they knew? I think it’s fantastic that Gladys is the one who is the most accepting. She just didn’t want to be lied to and she was tired of people telling her that she was nuts.
Right, because she always knew that something was going on.
I’m just realizing now that the whole time I was reading your book I was picturing Alice Pearce [the first actress who played Gladys on the series] as Gladys Kravitz and not Sandra Gould [the actress who took over for Gladys after Pearce’s death at the age of 48]. Which also brings me to the two Darrins. I know we talked about it last time that you had Dick Sargent in your mind when you wrote your last book because you saw it as a continuation of the series, but I have to admit the whole time I was reading this book, I could only see Dick York.
It’s funny how polarizing the Dick York-Dick Sargent recast is even after more than 50 years! I was still imagining Dick Sargent but it’s fine by me if you recast it back to Dick York!
I think it’s because how Darrin acts in this book. Even though Dick York’s Darrin was more of a pain in the ass about Samantha’s witchcraft, I always felt that he was more loving to her.
I can see that. I remember Elizabeth Montgomery saying that she thought Darrin was mellowing out about the witchcraft over the years anyway, regardless of who played him. That’s what I went with, that Darrin was having his own journey and that, in a way, everyone in his world finding out about Samantha’s witchcraft was kind of liberating for him because didn’t have to keep his guard up as much and it even makes him learn some things about himself. I think he eventually came to terms with the psychological and physical implications of what he was asking when he wanted his wife and kids to deny that part of themselves. That was even addressed on the series. I’m sure you remember the episode in which Samantha got this disease that was because she was repressing her witchcraft.
Yes. I was very impressed by how deep you go into the actual physiology of witchcraft and how it affects people who are only half-witches, etc. You could get a PhD in witch biology at this point! How the heck did you come up with all that stuff that sounds so legit?
(Laughs.) Well, I made a lot of it up, but there were bits and pieces throughout the series where they got into the science of it, especially in the later seasons. Like a sentence here and there, especially when Dr. Bombay was on. I loved exploring that with the kids since they are basically a combination of two different species. I was interested in exploring what made them different but also how they were similar to mortals. That’s an overarching theme in the book, that we are all much more alike than we are different.
And it’s hard not to apply your themes to some of the situations we’re facing in this country today. I mean, on the one hand, you had Darrin not accepting his wife for who she was, which always evokes issues present for the LGBTQ community, but on the other hand, you have the top echelon of witches basically acting like white supremacists, thinking they are vastly superior to mortals. Such a fascinating dichotomy. And you deal with race issues head on here as well, with the character of Lisa who we saw back in the day in one of the more hard-hitting episodes on the show when she and young Tabitha explore racial prejudice.
I think the show did a lot of ground-breaking things with inclusivity long before other shows dared to tackle that on television.
I also loved the complexities surrounding Samantha’s estrangement with her friend Louise Tate after Louise finds out she‘s a witch. Again, so unexpected and interesting. I don’t want to give it away, we’ll just encourage people to read the book!
Yeah, that just came to me. I wanted to have one character that would have major problems with Samantha and her decisions, and I knew I didn’t want it to be Gladys Kravitz.
I also appreciated you making Abner and Gladys Kravitz explicitly Jewish even though I don’t think that was ever mentioned on the show.
Part of my attempts at inclusivity.
Which also reminds me of Uncle Arthur — you touched on him being an LGBTQ character very briefly in your last book, I was so happy you brought it out even more here, with some surprising twists involving other beloved characters!
If you look at television in the 1970s, especially the late 70s, these issues were beginning to be addressed, even though to a large degree sexual orientation was still treated as a joke. I really wanted to explore that and show more of Uncle Arthur’s personal life, it just seemed like the natural thing to do.
And that certainly fits with our memories of Paul Lynde in real life.
I always think about Elizabeth Montgomery when I write my books since she was so instrumental in infusing the show with these elements of representation. I want to create things that I think she would be happy with if she were still around. I want to honor her legacy. I hope that she would be pleased with the books.
Oh, there’s no question in my mind that Elizabeth Montgomery would love your books. It’s so interesting to me that she’s been gone now for 26 years and yet she’s still so loved by fans, even ones who weren’t born when she died. Such a special woman.
For sure. I grew up with such a love for Elizabeth Montgomery. When I was 14, I wrote her a very dorky fan letter about some TV movie she was in, Second Sight: A Love Story, in which played a blind woman. A few months later I got an autographed picture back from her in which she referenced something I had written in my letter and even included a little paw print from the guide dog I mentioned that was in the movie. I always thought, how cool is it that this major star took the time to answer this fan letter from a kid in such a personal way. And when I attended the annual Bewitched Fan Fare event for the first time in 2014, I heard story after story like that. It just made me love her even more.
Well, here’s hoping that no matter what your plans are, the characters will come to you at some point and demand that you escort them through the 1980s. I think we need to see Samantha and the gang grappling with the Reagan years.
–Danny Miller for Classic Movie Hub
Danny Miller is a freelance writer, book editor, and co-author of About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars. You can read more of Danny’s articles at Cinephiled, or you can follow him on Twitter at @dannymmiller.