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11 September
2014
The Interviews
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Erin Murphy: Tabitha’s Bewitched Memories

by Ronald Sklar

On the eve of the series’ 50th anniversary, the beloved Bewitched baby conjures up many magical memories.

Here are some not-too-shabby resume bullet points for this former child actor:

* Worked closely and regularly with such theater and screen legends as Elizabeth Montgomery, Agnes Moorehead, Maurice Evans, and Alice Ghostley.

  • Her character’s birth was among the most anticipated events in the history of television.
  • She was a vital component to the storyline of a television series that filmed for eight years, but has been imprinted on the psyche of generations for decades.
  • Her childhood image is among the most recognized in the word.

By the time Erin Murphy retired her broom, she had just about seen it all, and worked with everybody. As baby Tabitha on Bewitched, she has lived (and will live) forever, twitching her nose into eternity.

She was the subject of some of the shows’ most memorable – and anxiety inducing — episodes (the common denominator: a little girl who did not know her own strength).

The series, which originally ran on ABC from 1964-1972, is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its network premiere.

Sadly, most of the cast is gone, but the show lives on (and on).

Here Erin talks with The Modern about how that series – both for her and for us – was pure magic.

So many child stars meet with tragic fates, but you seem very well adjusted and happy. Am I correct in assuming this?

I think I figured out very early in life that you have to choose how you react to things. And I teach my kids that you can choose to be happy.

When troubles come on for everyone, you can either laugh or you can cry, so I always choose to see the positive side in situations.

witchtabitha

You were very young when Bewitched ended its run, but do you have strong memories of being on the show?

I really remember a lot of it. I think it’s because people remember things that are memorable in their life, so being on a TV show is memorable.

How do your kids react to your being Tabitha?

I think they all think it’s pretty cool. At first, they don’t get it: that’s mom as a little girl. Now, they enjoy it, and their teachers talk about it. Everybody is so positive about it.

How did this show become such an American icon?

If something is well done, it holds up over time. We had the perfect combination of a great cast and crew, great writers, great directors. It was really, really well made.

Was Elizabeth Montgomery like a real mom to you?

She was a great person. She really was like another mother to me, because we spent so much time together.

Her kids are my closest friends, since we grew up together. I have so many more photos of their mom than they do, only because [Elizabeth Montgomery and I] were always doing photo shoots. I always saw her as another mother.

Were you confused by the change of cast for your character’s father, Darrin Stephens [Dick York being replaced by Dick Sargent]?

I’ve worked with each of them for three years.

Dick York was really in pain in the last season. He hurt his back early in his career. He would have to sit a lot, or lean against a board between scenes. One day, he had a seizure on the set, so that is something, obviously, that is memorable.

We did stay in touch after Bewitched. He told me that one of the things that really did help him get through the last couple of years was having me there.

He had a lot of kids, a big family. He would tell me stories. By being a surrogate father to me, it took his mind off of his pain. It helped him stay on the show for at least another year.

Was Agnes Moorehead [who played your witch grandmother] an intimidating presence to you?

Agnes Moorehead was like my grandma. My real grandparents lived far away. She was the grandmother I saw every day and I called her grandmamma. I would run to her and hug her. She was like a real grandparent to me. I didn’t know she was a famous actor.

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She was fabulous in real life. She was amazing. She was probably my favorite, just because she was so colorful and so much fun.

She would draw me little cartoons of mice and witches in between scenes. I didn’t think she was anything like Endora.

Other people would say, ‘oh, she’s so intimidating,’  but she certainly wasn’t to me. She was just loving and wonderful.

What was it like to be on set, with all of those witchcraft special effects?

I knew very early on that it wasn’t playtime when we were on set, that we were working.

We had to freeze when someone had to appear or disappear. I understood it and I did it. I loved watching them set up the special effects.

The prop guy, Uncle George [Ballerino], was one of my favorite people because he would do all these amazing, fun things.

The only thing I didn’t like is when they would have these balloons come down. The balloons would float down and pop and then have messages inside of them. Someone would stand to the side of the camera with a pea shooter. That I didn’t like.

Did the general public have trouble distinguishing you as Erin Murphy, mortal?

A lot of places we would go, people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re Tabitha. Can you make this happen?’

I think that since I heard that my entire life, it didn’t seem weird to me. People would come up and ask for my autograph and talk about the show, for my entire life.

It doesn’t seem odd to me. It’s easy to be gracious because the people are always nice.

The show was cancelled in 1972, and you…

That’s not true. We were never cancelled. We were supposed to go on but Liz Montgomery decided that she didn’t want to do another season. So we went off the air gracefully.

erin_murphy_1970_01_01

We weren’t canceled. We all thought we were coming back.

What was post-Bewitched life like for you?

It wasn’t hard, because on days that I wasn’t filming, I would go to regular school, and I was always in Girl Scouts and other activities.

It was good and bad. I enjoyed being able to do more things, like camp and being with my friends, but I definitely missed the day-to-day life on the set. It was one of my favorite places to be.

What’s it like to be beloved by generations of fans, never to be forgotten, ever?

It’s kind of awesome, right? People are great. I go to a lot of entertainment events. I went to one last night, which was about being out of the closet and how gays and lesbians in the entertainment business have progressed. There were all these people from current shows who portray gay and lesbian characters, and Bewitched was referenced at least six times.

It’s great to be a part of television history, and I’m still young enough to appreciate it.

The show was proto-feminist in that it showed a strong woman who struggled to keep her powers in check to please her husband. Was this intentional?

Our producer/director, Bill Asher, who was married to Liz Mongtomery, had a history of strong female characters. He directed I Love Lucy and The Patty Duke Show. He was well known for his female-driven sitcoms.

Your twin sister, Diane, doubled for you as baby Tabitha, but ultimately, you flew solo.

We’re fraternal twins. They were only casting twins for the part of Tabitha because the hours were so crazy.

We don’t look enough alike to really be interchangeable. They would shoot my sister from the back or from a distance.

They got to a point where they really couldn’t even do that because we looked so different.

There was one episode in the entire eight years of the show where I had the mumps. They brought my sister in for that show, where she had to slide up the sliding board backwards. The network got all these letters asking, ‘why did you replace Tabitha?’

The business really isn’t for everyone, even for really young children. If we would bring Diane on set, she would start to cry. But for me, they would turn on the lights and I was in heaven. I was happy to be there.

What’s your life like now?

It’s very, very full and busy. We have a ranch and I run the equestrian center there. We also use it as a filming location. I still do a lot of different things in the [entertainment] business. I’ve done a lot of hosting and correspondent stuff over the last six or seven years.

Any thoughts about getting back into acting?

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Bewitched, and next year I will get back into acting. I always said that when my kids were older, I would get back into acting, because I love it. So it’s the time to think about doing guest spots. They can kill me off on Law & Order.

###

Tabitha debuts in season 3 of Bewitched! Watch it here.

Here’s Elizabeth Montgomery (as Cousin Serena) serenading Baby Tabitha:

 



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