Why has the most potent entertainment medium in history failed to stop racism in the U.S.? Well, it ain’t for lack of trying. Take this example from days gone by.
‘Bewitched’ Star Erin Murphy Remembers the Episode of the Series That Took on Racism 50 Years Ago
by Ed Gross
Like many Classic TV sitcoms, a show like Bewitched would seem to be very much of its time; a prism through which to view the past and see how different that world is from ours today. But given the racial unrest that has so consumed the country, it’s necessary to take a look back at an episode of the show from 50 years ago that drives home the point that as much as things have changed, the underlying issues remain prevalent.
Titled “Sisters at Heart,” it originally aired on December 24, 1970, and focused on the friendship between little Tabitha Stephens (Erin Murphy) and her friend Lisa Wilson (Venetta Rogers). They’re upset when they decide they want to be sisters and bullies mock them saying they can’t be, because Tabitha is white and Lisa is black. The other storyline in the episode is that when an advertising client — representing a million-dollar account — stops by the Stephens’ household, he mistakenly believes that Darrin (Dick Sargent) is married to a black woman, actually Lisa’s mother (Janee Michelle) and tells Larry Tate (David White) that he doesn’t want Darrin on the account.
The latter story concludes with Larry actually doing the right thing and telling the client that he won’t do business with a racist, and Samantha taking things a step further by invoking a spell that causes the man to see everyone (including himself) as black. When the spell wears off, he changes his ways and repents his racism. And with the kids, to make them sisters, Tabitha weaves a spell which results in her having black polka-dots on her face and white polka-dots on Lisa’s. Thankfully she reverses the spell by the time Lisa’s parents (Don Marshall plays her father) come back to the Stephens’ home to pick her up….
NOTE FROM LB: My answer to the question that starts this post. TV didn’t stop racism because it couldn’t mount a sustained effort. There was no war, not even a genuine battle, just occasional skirmishes like the episode described above. The real question should be, why couldn’t TV make a sustained effort? Those of us who worked in TV during the ‘Bewitched’ era asked that question of the networks daily, and the answer from those at the top always was a lot of mumbo jumbo that translated as, “Sorry, can’t say. It’s above my pay grade.” Even from those making (notice that I didn’t say “earning,”) millions.