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"MY FRIEND BEN"


Aunt Clara mistakenly conjuring up Benjamin Franklin when Samantha needs an electrician to fix her table lamp is -- Weeelllll -- about as exciting as you'd expect an episode about Benjamin Franklin to be. Nevertheless, this milestone of sorts should go down in history for, if nothing else, being the FIRST COLOR episode to be filmed, while also providing the FIRST plot device of what would soon become a familiar "Bewitched" hallmark: the accidental conjuring of a historical figure.

As portrayed by actor Fredd Wayne, Mr. Franklin is respectfully presented as a proud, articulate, and well-bred gentleman with a biting wit and slightly saucy side. But as written by James Henerson, the script goes overboard with an overly reverential take on Benny-boy and his accomplishments, turning what starts out to be fun, fascinating facts we never knew about this great man into a nonstop history lesson bordering on the preachy side.

The only thing missing from this episode is narration by Alistair Cooke and the whir of a 16 millimeter projector in the background. Now I ask you, do you REALLY want to go back to 8th grade history again?

GUEST STARS: Fredd Wayne was (and still is) a noted scholar on all things Franklin (thereby warranting his "Historical Consultant"credit for this episode). He has made many appearances over the years on TV, radio, movies and theatre as Ben-Ben, has written a book ("Benjamin Franklin, Citizen" published in 1995) and recorded several books-on-tape as Mr. Franklin. Tim Rooney ("Shaggy Teen") is the son of Mickey Rooney. Mike Road (District Attorney Hawkins) lent his commanding, deep voice to many cartoons, including "Johnny Quest" and "The Fantastic Four."

FAVE QUOTE: Sam: "All he did was experiment with electricity. He wouldn't know how to fix a lamp!" Clara: "He wouldn't know how to fix a lamp?! Shocking!"

LOOK FOR: Though telecast months into the season, filming specs show that this and the following were the first actually to be lensed. Look closely and notice the experimental choices in make-up. Liz's eye-makeup is actually toned down while everyone sports an extremely thick, almost orange base!

This is the only chance to see the living room set, exactly as it was for the black and white seasons, filmed in color before it was remodeled.

A rare and cool visual effect: When Sam conjures "one tankard of ale coming up!", the glowing bouncing ball (as seen in #95) is quickly inserted in Sam's palm for a split second before the tankard materializes. A difficult process, it was not employed often, if ever, again since it requires the actor to extend the freeze longer than usual while the film would also have to be edited twice).

The extra standing between Ben and Tim Rooney must have been on his way to the courthouse. He shows up later as a cop witnessing the hearing. (He must also know Sam and Darrin fairly well: he was a guest at Endora's party in episode #81.)

Watching the extras is sometimes more fun than the episodes itself. They're recycled all over the place, whether it be at the park protesting with picket signs, being students at the school auditorium, standing on the Stephens' lawn or sitting on the jury. Could make a fun drinking game!

The majestic mountains of downtown Burbank, California looming behind the buildings of "downtown New York."

LISTEN FOR: The haunting musical underscore that accompanies Aunt Clara's incantation summoning Ben Franklin. Can anyone say "Dark Side of the Moon"? Groovy, man.

Sam has a coloring book and asks Tabitha if she knows what the character's name is on the page: "Fergus. Fergus Frog." Quite interesting, since this is long before Fergus ever made HIS appearance.

MELODY WATCH: Seen "downtown" passing by in a red suit.

© Review Copyright 2001 by SCOTT VIETS

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