If I were to ask what was the first TV program to show a mixed marriage, I'm sure that most people would say "The Jeffersons". True the show did feature an interracial couple (Tom and Helen Willis), but you’d be wrong.
Lucy & Ricky Ricardo (I Love Lucy) had a mixed marriage. Although they joked about their cultural differences, their racial diversity was never made an issue. The bigger issue at the time was CBS having concerns that America would not accept an "All American Girl" married to a Cuban bandleader, regardless of the fact that Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz had been married in real life for 13 years.
"The Munsters" (Fred Gwynne & Yvonne De Carlo) were a mixed marriage of a vampire (descended from nobility) and the Frankenstein monster. Because the characters were monsters, their diversity was never made an issue either. Nor was it made an issue that they were the first married couple on TV to sleep in the same bed.
Samantha & Darrin Stephens were the first mixed married couple on a show (Bewitched) to actually discuss their differences. The show featured a witch (Elizabeth Montgomery) who married a mortal (Dick York & Dick Sargent). Underneath the mother in law jokes, nosey neighbors and special effects, serious issues like prejudice, negative stereotypes and tolerance were covered. How many times did we see Endora (Agnes Moorehead) tell Samantha that she disapproved of her daughter marring a mortal, what mortals did to them in the early days of Salem, or how mortals depict witches with hooked noses and warts. If you did not know that I was talking about TV witches, you might think that I was talking about one of a number of disenfranchised minorities.
If you think that I am connecting the dots incorrectly like some conspiracy theorist, I would encourage you to do a Google search and type in "Bewitched" and "Mixed Marriage", see what you find. I also want to point out that when Bewitched first premiered in 1964 it was not without controversy. Some stations refused to carry the show under pressure from religious groups that did not like the idea of a fine red blooded American male marrying a witch, a witch seen in a positive light, or an attractive witch (a problem that also pledged "Glinda the Good"). After Dick Sergeant joined the cast there was a concern that the public might find out that he was gay, even though no one was concerned about Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde).
I do hope that the new "Bewitched" movie (Opening June 24th) explores some of the themes that I mentioned. Also look for my friend and fellow storyteller (Check out STORY SALON) Clay Bravo, as the waitress in a scene with Nicole Kidman and Michael Caine
While writing this I found a new Bewitched controversy. The cable network TV Land has a program where they erect statues to commemorate and salute icons and images of classic television called TV Landmarks. Past honorees have included ''The Honeymooners" (Ralph Kramden at the New York bus terminal), ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (Mary Richards in Minneapolis), ''The Andy Griffith Show" (Andy and Opie Taylor in Raleigh, N.C.) and ''The Bob Newhart show'' (Bob Hartley in Chicago). TV Land commissioned a Samantha Stephens statue to be erected in Salem Mass. Salemites claim that the statue trivializes the memory of the legal murders committed during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. In the end The City of Salem accepted TV Land’s offer of the statue, and it will stand near the church where people were accused of being witches and the site of the courthouse where they were condemned.
I’m sure if Samantha Stephens were here her only response would be, "Well?".