Dick Sargent was a gem of a guy, and we all remember him as the second "Darrin" on TV's long-running Bewitched, which has been revived in reruns on Nick at Nite. Sargent, who came out as gay late in life, was in all the color episodes while his straight predecessor, Dick York, was in the black-and-white installments. Oddly, Nickelodeon brags that it airs only the black-and-white episodes. Perhaps this is a backlash against colorization madness, but most viewers remember the later, color segments more fondly, and there's no denying that Sargent was everybody's favorite Darrin.
Dick Sargent, who was born Richard Cox, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1989. In early 1991 he was outed and reflected later, "The article got me thinking, and I got angrier and angrier. If I'd done this years ago, they couldn't have put me in a position where I'm being treated shamefully." The relationship in the outing article ended soon after.
Sargent officially came out in 1991 on National Coming Out Day, October 11. In a speech at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center, he explained, "Finally telling the truth about who I am gives me more pleasure than any acting job I've ever had." He added, "Most actors wait until they're dead before they come out. I'm glad I did it now."
In 1992 Dick and Elizabeth Montgomery were grand marshals of the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade. She stated, "In or out of the closet, I love him. He's a super guy and a good friend. I'm happy for him and proud of him." Sadly, she died a year after her co-star, also of cancer, also in her sixties.
The last year of his life, Dick Sargent was harassed by professional Kansas hate-monger and proud homophobe Reverend Fred Phelps, a man who makes a habit of showing up - with fellow monsters-at funerals of people with AIDS carrying placards bearing biblical condemnations of the dead (he also picketed the funeral of President Clinton's mother, saying she would "rot in hell" for her son's pro-gay position).
Dick received hate messages from Phelps--whom Kansas officials have refused to stop or prosecute--via post and fax and telephone while he lay dying of cancer. Fortunately, Dick was not alone. At the end, he had an almost-three-year relationship with Albert Williams, a producer, writer and ex-disc jockey. Williams told a gay magazine, "His legacy will live on much longer than that of the hateful reverend." Gay columnist John Price wrote, "When Dick came out, mostly he received positive, supportive mail.
"Then he appeared on Entertainment Tonight and disclosed that he (had) terminal cancer...I found it to be most shameful that such a genuinely sincere and decent man was subjected to the horror of this idiot's maniacal and misguided ravings."
I first met Dick Sargent in a Los Angeles parking lot. My partner was in a food store, I was in the car, and the man I recognized as Darrin II was strolling out of a pharmacy, alone and semi-smiling. He was older but still lean, still nice-looking, though when we spoke I noticed the gleam was no longer in his eyes as it had been on TV over two decades before. This was the early '90s, after Dick had come out of the closet but before he'd gone public with his health problems. The first thing I told him was how much I admired his coming out, something so rare among celebrities. He smiled warmly and shook my hand, and we began chatting, and he was very open to being interviewed. At first he seemed guarded, noting, "The press has hurt me, or wounded me, a few times." Later, he became a friend, but he did keep his declining health to himself, and his passing in 1994 at 64 was a deep shock to many who knew and loved him.
Milton Rexford: Before you came out, you were outed, right?
Dick Sargent: (nods) The tabloids. I was seeing a black young man, so it was a field day for that kind of a paper! What I disliked was their whole tone. How I was seeing somebody younger--
They never criticize older heteros who date women young enough to be their granddaughters.
You've hit it on the head. It's all double-standards. So if you're gay and dating a young man, they want it to be the dirty-old-man type of affair. Then they wrote it like it was unheard of or exotic--it was a young black guy. And the word they used, in the Star that I was "besotted" with this young man, it was so judgmental! It's another word for drunk'
Did you think of suing?
Not about being gay, though it clearly distressed me to be exposed and judged in that way. But the tone, that did rankle with me. They made it all sound so pathetic or seedy.
The tabloids can get away with more homophobia than real newspapers. Why doesn 't the gay readership stand up?
Do you think gays read those trashy things?
This is such a diverse community, yes. I know some gays who read only the tabloids.
There should be complaints. I don't know about lawsuits ,hose take forever, and a lot of money, and if I'd sued, people would have thought I did it for being named as gay, and that's the wrong message to send out.
A number of celebrities were first outed by the tabloids and then decided they may as well come out.
I'm not against outing in terms of being pegged as gay. I am gay, I always was. It can't really hurt me now, I mean professionally. But for them to reveal it as if they caught you, like some dirty little secret...that was despicable.
If you hadn 't been outed, would you have come out voluntarily?
Okay (chuckles). That's a two-part question. People who know me in real life, they all know I'm gay. I never hide it, haven't for years. But as a public figure, or someone who was a public figure, I didn't feel I needed to announce anything. I wouldn't have denied being gay, not since Bewitched ended. But in recent years, I've done very little acting on TV.
Were you denied work because everyone saw you as Darrin?
Mostly that's why. If you become famous as a TV character--which isn't truly famous, because they still don't know your name, just your character's-then you are that character in perpetuity. It does prevent your getting new characters on other shows. That's as opposed to being someone known in his own right, who can have done two, three or four series.
So what did you do for a living, post-Bewitched?
Remember, that's very, very long ago. In more recent times, I've done stage work. The stage is where young actors start out, and it's where older actors wind up! (chuckles) For TV, I did voice-overs. I have a good voice, and voices don't age so much as faces do. Remember, my Darrin wasn't much more than a newlywed, sort of, so when they remember you young, and you show up old, they (casting directors) are shocked or disappointed-- they may be sympathetic, too--and they don't usually hire you.
Let's discuss Bewitched a bit. More than a few people have said that, in a way, it's the gayest TV sitcom ever Do you agree?
Wait. I think Mr. Ed was very gay. (laughs) Think about it. Wilbur, the human, was married but had no kids, and he was much closer to Mr. Ed- that was the central relationship.
Was Mr. Ed a stallion or-
No. A gelding. And Mr. Ed was completely attached to Wilbur. He was usually jealous of Wilbur's wife, and he wanted Wilbur to spend more time with him, show more attention to him...the horse usually acted like a jealous, spoiled lover! Or a childish one. And you know what else? The gentleman who produced Mr Ed and directed MI: Ed is gay- Arthur Lubin. He's talked about the gayness that inheres in Mr Ed--I've heard him, at a couple of parties.
Didn't Lubin also do the talking mule movies?
I think so. Francis, the Talking Mule. I think so.
But Bewitched. How gay was it?
A very gay cast, to quite a degree. Not Sam (Elizabeth Montgomery), not the first Darrin. But from there...you had Agnes Moorehead as the very anti-male mother of Sam-
Do you notice how often, in American series and movies, the leading female character has a bi-gender name like "Sam"?
I think the writers' subconciouses just...sort of seep out. (laughs) So you had Endora. Now, the guy who played Sam's father was a Shakespearean actor, Maurice Evans--I think he discovered Tyrone Power...
Lucky man. Discovered him, what, in a bathhouse, or for the movies? I think he discovered him on the stage, and through connections, got him to Hollywood. Possibly he gave him a job.
In return for....?
A different sort of job (sniggers), I don't know.But there were these rumors about Maurice Evans. Then there was Paul Lynde--I don't think we even needed rumors with him. Gay, all the way.
A brilliant and underused comic talent.
Yes. He was growing resentful about that. He sort of had two faces, because he was very competitive. He was lovely to Liz Montgomery when she was Sam, her usual character. But if you recall, she also played her own cousin, the naughty Serena. When Liz was Serena, who was much more outrageous and funny and flamboyant, Paul was much more competitive with her. When she got back to being Samantha, then he got back to being sweet to Liz.
Let's see...Oh, one of the twin little girls who played our daughter Tabitha, she grew up and became openly lesbian. I think she's an activist, too. But she doesn't get much publicity.
I'm not surprised. I wrote to a magazine that featured only the heterosexual twin, who was married and having a baby--like that's news.
Yeah, it is so uncommon to get married and have a baby.
But the central premise of Bewitched is quire gay in its way. You know, her having to hide she's a witch, to "pass."
Yes, you're right. More people, well, gay people, are saying that, and it is very true if you analyze it. No one used to analyze television, but now, with all the timelapse, we look back and it can be surprising.
You were very cute and sexy, but I thought the character of Darrin--even more so with Dick York--was a repressive creep.
On the order of Ricky Ricardo.
Yes. Sam always had to hide her difference, and no one ever knew her secret except the nosy neighbor. I loved Mrs. Kravitz--the first one.
That was Alice Pearce. But speaking about the Kravitzes, Mr. Kravitz, throughout the whole series--eight years, wasn't it?--was played by George Tobias. Now, whether George was gay or not. I couldn't say. But he never married, and his buddies were always guys, and he showed no interest whatsoever in women that way- unlike the flirting or jokes one often heard.
It's true that there are some heterosexual lifelong bachelors, but don 't you think most men who never marry a woman are gay?
I think so. And more so even in this business, where marriage is often a strategic move.
The difference between you and most actors, I think, is that if George Tobias were gay or you thought so, you'd say so.
I would. If I thought he was. But he didn't give an indication in that direction, yet I have to say he was not a young man, so maybe he wasn't very interested any more. Either way.
As an interviewer, I find that most celebrities, even when they know X or Y is gay, will not say so. Even if X or Y is dead!
If X or Y is gay, and you say so and they're in the closet, then that can...it can possibly hurt them. That sort of reticence I understand, as an actor, or an ex-actor. But if the personality is deceased, and some co-star will still not say, then you can chalk that down to homophobia.
Precisely. To this day, Doris Day declares she had no idea on earth that Rock Hudson was gay. Even though they did three movies together and always announced how close and chummy they'd been, in a brother-and-sister kind of way.
It's homophobia, pure and simple.
Ah, but homophobia is never pure and rarely simple.
I love it! (laughs).
You worked with Cary Grant. Was that like working with a walking closet?
We had a few dates--not sex, not an affair--and he was good-looking for his age. As I've learned, there comes a point when the best that can be said for your looks is, "He looks very good-looking for his age."
How did you meet the deeply-closeted man born Archibald Leach ?
I had a small role in a movie of his, Operation Petticoat (1959). Tony Curtis was also in it.
There was later a brief sitcom based on it--with CurtisS daughter Jamie Lee Curtis. What about Cary?
He hated being alone. He liked being around good-looking men. In fact, I heard all his secretaries were good-looking young men. He was indeed very closeted, but he didn't avoid you if you were a good-looking guy, the way some others will. I was just thrilled to be socializing with Cary Grant. It was the two of us, we'd go out together, then we'd talk, but...nothing else.
You laterfound a life partner didn't you?
For 20 years. This was during Bewitched, too. Elizabeth knew. She's always been a dear. But...he died of a cerebral hemorrhage quite a while ago already (1979). Life goes on, as they say, but it's very difficult, and...it's just time that works these things out.
How did you start out in life, and where?
I grew up in beautiful Carmel in northern California, and I went to Stanford University in nearby Pale Alto. But after a few plays, I dropped out. Being an actor felt much more...special.
Do you think more gay people become actors rather than go through and endure, say, a business career?
I really do, because, first, it's creative. Not all gays may be creative, but I think by comparison to straight men, we are. And we already know a lot about acting, from just having to pass as...not gay in our daily lives.
When was your movie bow?
It wasn't anything auspicious. It was 1954, I had four lines, and the star of it, get this, was Ronald Reagan. Later on, I did two films with Pat Boone, about whom the less said the better, and two with Cary Grant.
Does one have to be a homophobe or a closet case to succeed in Hollywood?
It seems like it, doesn't it?
Looking back, was doing Bewitched at all a curse for you?
It certainly has limited me. But if I hadn't played the husband, would I have had anything else to, um, put me forward in a national and temporarily successful way? No way to know, but I did make a good living, and it was more fun than sitting in an office, and even with all the homophobia there is in Hollywood, I think it still would have been worse in an office--both the boredom and the bigotry. I don't regret choosing acting. Occasionally, I wonder about Bewitched. But I guess we all wonder about something or other. Most working actors don't get a role where they become household faces. They may not know my name, I may be Darrin to people out there, but if people see you and smile at you and act like you're an old friend, I think that's a pretty swell accomplishment.
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