In my early research work for the first Bewitched Book (Dell, 1992), I was seeking stories and material about Mabel Albertson, who played Darrin's mortal mom on the show - and nemesis to Agnes Moorehead's Endora. Elizabeth Montgomery once told me that the playful rivalry that Mabel and Agnes shared on-screen was also apparent to some degree, off-screen.
"They were two very strong women," Elizabeth revealed to me. "And whenever they performed together, I would just say to myself, 'Well, let's just see how this turns out, shall we?"
Forget, of course, that Bewitched actor Robert F. Simon (who played Darrin's mortal father) tried to, as he once said to me, "stay clear of such (controlling) women."
Anyway, the great Cloris Leachman - the Emmy (and Oscar-winning) star of TV's classic Mary Tyler Moore Show - and now featured on ABC's Dancing with the Stars - and Mabel Albertson were somehow related. I forget exactly how - but I think it had something to do with Mabel's thespian brother, Jack Albertson (best known from his TV-starring gig on NBC's Chico and the Man).
So, I contacted Cloris through her agent, and within a few days, the very pleasant and funny Ms. Leachman had telephoned me back - and by this time, I had returned to Rochester. So, she had telephoned me in my parents townhouse kitchen in Greenleaf (I'll save for a later blog about the time both Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York talked with my Mom).
As Cloris related to me, Mabel had developed Alzheimer's later in life, and in her last days, she would stare into the mirror, brushing what had become her very long gray hair, and "call out" to those on the other side.
It was heartbreaking to hear this about Mabel, who had been such a fine actress for so many years (many times playing the in-law-esque mother on many a TV show - including That Girl, on which she portryad Ted Don Hollinger Bessell's mom). [Forget, of course, too, that Bessell would later - and ironically - be hired to direct the Bewitched feature film, only to die so suddenly in 1996 before it went into production; thus throwing the project into disarray for years).
All things considered, I was very excited to speak with Cloris Leachman in my parent's Greenleaf townhome kitchen in Rochester, so much so that I have to say, I was also a little nervous. In fact, I kept referring to her as Mrs. Beacham, which was a random Bewitched guest-character name that kept onto popping into my head during our conversation.
Not once to mince words (as evident with her new gig on Dancing With The Stars), Cloris would tell me straight out, "My name is not Beacham. "It's LEACHMAN."
"Sorry, Ms. Beachman....errr, I mean...Leachman."
Ugh! Oh for pity sake, I was so embarrassed.
But, in the end, all was well. By the time we got off the phone, Cloris and I had become great chums - and it all had to do with my hair.
My hair had just started to thin (and wasn't growing tall anymore; just long), and Cloris (as a former beauty queen, was and remains ever health and fit conscious was soon researching in one her health books what would be the best vitamin choices for me to reinvigorate my hair.
"Concentrate on all the B vitamins, Herbie," she said. "And you'll be alright."
So, in my book (and I just don't mean Bewitched), Ms. Beacham - er, I mean, LEACHMAN - is always alright.