- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

How do you like your classic TV sitcom heroines? In a bottle or on a broomstick? “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched” were both 1960s sitcoms (filmed at the same time on the same Hollywood lot) featuring beautiful young women with magical powers devoted to average men whom they try to “help” with various spells and granted wishes.

Yet for all their surface similarities, these two supernatural sirens — Jeannie and Samantha, a genie and a witch, respectively — exemplified very different ideals of American womanhood. Which one you favored can reveal just as much as your Beatles vs. Stones preference about where you stood amid the tumult and seismic change of the flower power decade.

So … were you a fan of Jeannie (‘50s-style perky servitude) or “Bewitched’s” Samantha (burgeoning ‘60s women’s lib movement as seen from the tip of the twitching nose of a no-nonsense sorceress)?

If it’s “Jeannie,” you might be one of those people who could never part with their “I Like Ike” button. You favored saddle shoes and bobby sox over fringed moccasins and desert boots, preferred Mamie to Jackie, Elvis and his pelvis to Jim Morrison and his mojo rising.

If it’s “Bewitched,” you went for minis over shirtwaists, “Shindig!” over “American Bandstand,” and Hermann Hesse over Herman Wouk.

Jeannie, played by Barbara Eden (once romantically linked to Elvis), embodied the last vestige of the submissiveness conventionally ascribed to the aproned 1950s housewife. When discovered in her bottle by Major Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman), a U.S. astronaut, Jeannie nearly pops her navel jewel at the prospect of serving the man she now calls “Master.”

Voluptuous, curvy, with the bouncy ponytail of a cheerleader, Jeannie even projects the feminine physical ideal of the decade that worshipped the hourglass figure and blonde bombshells like Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak.

Her home inside the bottle looks like a bordello — hot reds and pinks, plump cushions and pillows fit for a pasha, lots of naughty tassels and fringe — more passion pit than kittenish boudoir. For men whose fantasy woman is a satin doll, it doesn’t get much better than this.

“Jeannie” is red state, the military, and NASA when the space program was something to get excited over. Its drink is Tang, its politics New South conservative, its heroes Sinatra, Sammy and Dean. In fact, Major Nelson and his crony Major Healey (Bill Daily) are running a Cocoa Beach outpost of the Rat Pack’s Vegas, spending their days chasing skirts, knocking back cocktails, and greeting life with an ever-present smirk.

Jeannie’s reason for being is to serve her master, and her impetuous “blinks” to make life comfy and cozy for Major Nelson — turning him into, to take just a few examples, a golf pro, a surgeon or a Renaissance artist — are the stuff of broad comedy. She also has an ulterior agenda — to get her man — which she fulfills in subsequent seasons, although it is a May-December romance, with the 2,000-year-old Jeannie hooking up with Major Nelson, who doesn’t look a day over 35.

If “I Dream of Jeannie” moves to a ring-a-ding-ding, bossa nova beat, “Bewitched” is ‘60s pop music. It’s the Madison Avenue world of the advertising biz crossed with the blue-state blueblood chic of Westport, Connecticut. Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of actor Robert Montgomery) is married to ad exec Darrin Stephens (Dick York, who was replaced by Dick Sargent after the fifth season) and although on the surface she’s your typical suburban housewife, she’s actually part of a potent coven of witches and warlocks. Her mother, Endora (Agnes Moorehead), is mortified that her gifted daughter has married a mere mortal.

Sam agrees to squelch her supernatural powers — which she commands by twitching her nose and upper lip — and tries hard to live a nonmagical life. But despite her best intentions — and with occasional prodding from her buttinsky mother — Sam inevitably winds up resorting to magic for her family’s good and to help extricate Darrin from his various scrapes.

If Barbara Eden’s Jeannie has the plush figure of a Playboy pin-up, Elizabeth Montgomery’s Sam is more an Esquire magazine “Woman We Love.” She is smart and has that angular, interesting prettiness that lends itself so well to the 1960s fashions of shift dresses and short black cocktail frocks. While Jeannie looks like a quintessential California girl in a belly dancing costume, Sam comes off like someone’s beautiful sorority sister from a Waspy New England college.

Unlike Jeannie, Sam is not subservient to her mate, and would probably snort at the idea of calling him “Master.” Theirs is a successful mixed marriage between an extraordinary woman and an ordinary man — a “muggle” in contemporary parlance — both striving to make the relationship work.

“Jeannie’s” world is clubby and masculine, whereas “Bewitched” is a matriarchal community ruled by the powerful Samantha, her meddling mother Endora and other members of the family who drop by, including the daffy Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne).

Perhaps it is because of Elizabeth Montgomery’s pedigree — both her parents were esteemed stage and screen actors — but “Bewitched” was a classier show, featuring actors such as Miss Moorehead (a veteran of Orson Welles films) and the theatrical giant Maurice Evans, playing a warlock. For comic relief, there was Paul Lynde as Sam’s flamboyant Uncle Arthur.

While Jeannie has to obey Major Nelson, Sam merely tries to abide by Darrin’s wish that she not cast spells. Most of the time, she uses her magic anyway, which makes “Bewitched” a sneakier, more subversive show. Like many women in the 1960s, Sam struggled between her love of home and kin and making the most of her exceptional talents.

Although Darrin wants her to be “normal” — and therefore, his equal instead of his superior — Sam is not truly herself if she is not being a witch. How many women in the early days of women’s lib — and even today — have grappled with identity issues and made tough choices between work and family?

Ultimately, of course, both shows were escapist fantasies, and in the end, both genie and witch used their magic to please their men. Essentially, they were housewives — not desperate, but certainly dependent.

For a seditious depiction of an American woman, you have to go further back into TV land to “I Love Lucy.” Much of that show’s comedy stemmed from Lucy’s screwball attempts at independence — a job or a part in Ricky’s show. Unlike Jeannie and Sam, Lucy knew that real power lies in grabbing a little something for yourself.

“I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete First Season,” a 4-disc boxed set ($27.99), will be released on DVD Tuesday. “Bewitched: The Complete Third Season,” a 4-disc boxed set ($27.99), will be released on DVD March 21.

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