Pop culture and the pastime: Willie Mays and Bewitched

Willie Mays and Bewitched provided me with two of the greatest entertainment sources of the 1960s. When you combine the two, the level of amusement is almost indescribable.

Mays’ appearance on Bewitched was one of 67 times he appeared on television as himself, including appearances on late-night talk shows, documentaries and World Series films. In 1989, he appeared on both My Two Dads and Mr. Belvedere, the latter program starring former Mays opponent Bob Uecker. Mays actually appeared three times on The Donna Reed Show, including twice in 1964 and once in 1966.

The year 1966 also marked Mays’ visit to the set of Bewitched, one of the most popular shows of the 1960s . The episode originally appeared on Oct. 26, as part of the third season of the show. That season was also the first year that Bewitched was filmed in color.

Why was 1966 such a busy year for Mays on TV? I’m guessing that it had something to do with his vintage 1965 season, when he hit a career high 52 home runs and led the National League in both on-base percentage and slugging. On the heels of that performance, Mays most likely filmed the Donna Reed episode during the fall of 1965 and the Bewitched episode during the summer of 1966, just in time to appear on the fall schedule.

The Bewitched episode is titled “Twitch or Treat,” a play on Samantha’s ability to produce magic with a twitch of her nose. The episode centers on a Halloween party thrown by Endora (played wonderfully by Agnes Moorehead) at Darrin and Samantha’s house. The guest list includes a number of Endora’s friends and family, all of whom happen to be witches or warlocks. One of the witches has a tail, while one of the waiters is invisible. (It sounds like last year’s New Year’s Eve party.)

As you might have guessed, Mays is on the guest list, with the party revealing him to be something more than just a Giants outfielder. Dressed in jacket and tie, a smiling Mays greets Samantha heartily, with Sam returning the greeting with an enthusiastic, “Say hey, Willie.” When Darrin asks Sam, “What’s he doing here?” she responds with a subtle but knowing answer, “Darrin, really.”

Darren then nervously inquires whether Mays is indeed a warlock. Sam delivers a classic response. “The way he hits home runs? What else?”

Looking at his watch as he downs another hors d’oeuvre, Mays declares, “Gee, I guess it’s about time for me to pop out to the ballpark.” He then instantly disappears from sight, as a wide-eyed Darrin watches in disbelief.

No Bewitched episode would be complete without a stellar guest star appearance, in this case by Paul Lynde, who puts in his usual turn as Uncle Arthur, Endora’s brother. Lynde, with the most unusual speech pattern this side of Howard McNear (the actor who gave Floyd the Barber life on The Andy Griffith Show), portrays Arthur in his usual wisecracking manner, as he tries to wreak havoc on Endora’s party. His repeated mocking of Endora during her recitation of “The Night Before Halloween” supplies us with some of the most amusing moments of the show.

Beautiful and classy, Elizabeth Montgomery puts forth her usual spot-on performance as Samantha. So does the elastic Dick York as Darrin. York always succeeds in capturing the nervous energy of the husband harried by the presence of witches in his family; there is hardly an episode that goes by without his eyes popping or his hair rumpling. This episode is a reminder that Bewitched was never quite the same when York left the show due to severe back pain, giving way to the more reserved and staid Dick Sargent.

Interestingly, no other baseball players made appearances on Bewitched, though one football star did put in a cameo. Deacon Jones, the Hall of Fame defensive end of the Los Angeles Rams, appeared in a 1969 episode, which coincidentally was the first episode that featured Sargent.

If you’ve never seen Bewitched, particularly the episodes from 1964 to about 1970, when the show was really hitting its stride, you’re missing out on something. Some cable stations run it, and there is always the avenue of buying the DVD. And if you pick up the 1966 season, you’ll have some fun seeing an in-his-prime Willie Mays looking awfully relaxed on a situation comedy. Good stuff indeed.

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Comments

  1. Marc Schneider said...

    I love the old 60s sitcoms that I grew up with, but my favorite show from the 50s/60s era involving sports is the original “Home Run Derby” from 1959.  (I was too young to actually have seen the show originally but ESPN Classics has it on from time to time.)  You can see Mays opposing Aaron and so on.  It’s so much better, IMO, than today’s overhyped Home Run Derby at the All Star game.  The original was minimalism personified; filmed at a minor league park (Wrigley Field) in LA, with just a pitcher and the host.  I love it; there’s none of the strutting around trying to hit the ball 600 feet.

  2. Frank Jackson said...

    Let’s not forget when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale appeared in an episode of “Mr. Ed” entitled “Leo Durocher Meets Mr. Ed.”  Sandy Koufax, John Roseboro, Willie Davis, and Moose Skowron also appeared.  The highlight of the episode was Mr. Ed hitting a home run off Sandy Koufax—believe it or not!

  3. Michael Caragliano said...

    It seems like the TV cameo was the contract perk for baseball stars in the ‘60’s, which raises the question: if these cameos weren’t filmed during the off-season, did the players eagerly look forward to the first road-trip of the season to Los Angeles so they could be on a show, and when did they film it? I’ve seen stills of Warren Spahn dressed as a German trooper on the set of Combat, and dozens of Dodgers on shows ranging from Get Smart to Gilligan’s Island, but most of the appearances they made came as unnamed extras. Off the top of my head, I think Leo Durcoher appeared as himself on and episode of The Munsters and Don Drysdale might have played himself on a couple of shows (though not as Mr. Drysdale on Beverly Hillbillies- go figure!)

    As a kid in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, I remember Reggie Jackson and Lance Parrish playing themselves on Different Strokes. The last show I can remember where stars played themselves was a Married with Children episode from 1994, when the likes of Mike Piazza, Bret Saberhagen and Frank Thomas went looking for work during the strike. I’m not opening the “things were better in my day” debate, but I can’t imagine today’s ballplayers making cameos or unnamed extra appearances on TV shows, or even needing to (or maybe I missed them in the background on Breaking Bad, but that’s another debate for another day).

  4. Marc Schneider said...

    Mention of Floyd the Barber brings to mind the 80s SCTV send-up of an ethereal Floyd.  Really funny.

    I remember Don Drysdale (and Joe Namath as well) appearing on the Brady Bunch in the 60s.

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