This Day in Pop Culture for September 17


1964: Samantha’s Nose Begins to Twitch

Inspired by the 1942 film I Married a Witch and the Broadway play, Bell, Book and Candle, ABC presented the first episode of Bewitched on this day in 1964. Created by Screen Gems, the sitcom was based on Darren, an advertising executive (Dick York) who accidentally falls in love and marrying Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) a witch. From the very first episode, Samantha vows to never use her magic skills ever again, only to “slip up” every now and then. The main villain of the series was Samantha’s mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead) who couldn’t stand to see her daughter fall for a mortal man who she felt was clearly beneath her. In this series, witches and warlocks were basically another race of people (not an activity or religion that one subscribes to). And while Samantha agreed to serving as an all-American housewife who would cook and clean, she clearly wasn’t a doormat. Danny Arnold, the show’s head writer and producer, thought of Bewitched as a romantic comedy, so he kept the “witchcraft and spells” down to a minimum. Many of the episodes were allegorical in nature about the trials of living in a mixed marriage. However, despite it being the #2 show during its first year, ABC wanted more spells and magic which may have been the show’s undoing. Though it stayed on the air for an impressive eight seasons, Bewitched ended its run on March 25, 1972 having dropped down to the #72 spot. The show is also famous for having two different actors portraying the same character without negatively affecting the show. After sustaining a terrible back injury during the filming of the movie They Came to Cordura in 1959, York didn’t appear in eight of that season’s episodes and by the end of the year, his pain was so great that he had to quit the series entirely. For seasons 6 to 8, the role of Darren was played by Dick Sargent who many fans ended up liking better. (Image: Wikimedia/Screen Gems)

1986: Smarties Unite in ‘Head of the Class’

Set at Millard Fillmore High School in Manhattan, Head of the Class was created by Michael Elias who had previously worked as a substitute teacher. The show followed a group of gifted students led by history teacher Charlie Moore (Howard Hesseman). Debuting on ABC on this day in 1986, Head of the Class featured students like nerdy Arvid Engen (Dan Frischman), smart aleck computer whiz Dennis Blunden (Dan Schneider), preppy, politically-minded Alan Pinkard (Tony O’Dell), spoiled rich kid Darlene Merriman (Robin Givens), the most down-to-earth of the bunch, Sarah Nevins (Kiberly Russell), perfectionist Maria Borges (Leslie Bega), exchange student Jawaharlal Choudhury (Jory Husain), 10-year-old Janice Lazarotto (Tannis Vallely), poetry-loving Simone Foster (Khrystyne Haje) and tough guy Eric Mardian (Brian Robbins). Although the ABC was a reasonable hit, Hesseman himself was not a fan of the show and has been known to have called it a “disposable frivolity.” He left the show after the fourth season. A reboot of the series is in the works to appear on HBO Max sometime in the future.

Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote
(Wikimedia/Warner Bros.)

1949: The Coyote and the Road Runner’s First Race

It was on this day in 1949 that movie-goers were first introduced to Warner Bros. cartoon characters Wile E. Coyote and the simply named Road Runner in their first short film titled, Fast and Furry-ous. Before the film premiered, the cartoonists toyed with calling him Don Coyote as a pun of Don Quixote and in one Looney Tunes comic book, it was revealed that the “E” in his name stood for “Ethelbert.” He is known for building outrageous traps in hopes of capturing the fast bird for dinner buying many of his supplies from ACME. The characters were created by Chuck Jones and have appeared together 48 times. Usually Wile appears mute, but Wile sometimes speaks describing himself as a genius and has appeared in five Bugs Bunny shorts including Operation: Rabbit, To Hare Is Human, Rabbit’s Feat, Compressed Hare and Hare-Breadth Hurry. In 2013, TV Guide named him one of the nastiest of villains of all time. The duo’s most recent film, Flash in the Pain was released on June 10, 2014.

1983: The First Black Miss America

Vanessa Williams is a singer, actress, producer and former fashion model, but she might not have become as famous as she is if she didn’t win the Miss America crown on this day in 1983. She was the first African-American to win the title, but it was short-lived. A scandal came about shortly thereafter when Penthouse magazine purchased nude photographs of Williams that were taken a year earlier that Williams thought were private and were destroyed. For the first time ever, a Miss America was targeted with hate mail and even death threats. Williams stepped down from her title on July 23, 1984 and was succeeded by the first runner-up, Suzette Charles of New Jersey. She is recognized as “Miss America 1984-b.” However, Williams has been noted to have become the most successful Miss America of all time. On September 13, 2015 during the live telecast of the 88th pageant, Miss America CEO Sam Haskell apologized to Williams “for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.”

Movies Released

  • Blue Streak (1999)
  • Captive (2015)
  • Catfish (2010)
  • Cry Macho (2012)
  • The Guest (2014)
  • The Mob Doctor (2012)
  • The Town (2010)

TV Series Debuts

  • Archer (2009)
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013)
  • Community (2009)
  • Easy A (2010)
  • Eight Simple Rules (2002)
  • Head of the Class (1986)
  • Home Improvement (1991)
  • Johnny Test (2005)
  • M.A.S.H. (1972)
  • Red Band Society (2014)
  • Revolution (2012)
  • Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)
  • Spin City (1996)
  • Squid Game (2021)
  • The Biskitts (1983)
  • The Mysteries of Laura (2014)

Famous Birthdays

  • 1859: Billy the Kid (gangster)
  • 1923: Hank Williams (singer)
  • 1928: Roddy McDowell (actor)
  • 1931: Anne Bancroft (actress)
  • 1947: Jeff MacNelly (cartoonist)
  • 1953: Rita Rudner (comedian)
  • 1962: Baz Luhrmann (film director)
  • 1962: BeBe Winans (singer)
  • 1965: Bryan Singer (film director)
  • 1971: Nate Berkus (interior designer)

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