10/22/2007

The dark side of Darrin and Samantha

A couple of months ago I got hooked on “Mad Men,” the highly hyped drama on American Movie Classics that meticulously recreates the Madison Avenue of 1960.

I didn’t find out about the show until it was about halfway through its first season, but I’ve gone out of my way to see all of the remaining episodes.

“Mad Men” centers on Don and Betty Draper (above). Don is a hotshot advertising executive at the peak of his career with the firm of Sterling Cooper. Betty is a former model who gave up her career to marry Don and raise a family.

On the surface, the darkly handsome Draper seems to have everything you were supposed to want 47 years ago. He has the high-powered and high paying job, the chic, gorgeous blonde wife, the comfortable home in suburban Westchester County, and the two adorable kids.

He’s also a man’s man who can drink his office pals under the table after work -- or during work, for that matter -- and the following day deliver an irresistible proposal for an ad campaign to land a lucrative account for the firm.

From the moment I started watching the show, however, I realized that there was something very familiar about Don Draper and “Mad Men.” It reminded me of another young TV couple on a hit show of the early 1960s. The husband – dark haired, hard working, very creative – had a gorgeous blonde wife and worked for the high-powered advertising firm of McMahon and Tate. He and his wife lived in a pricey, comfortable suburb and were raising a family. They drank quite a bit and had quirky neighbors named Gladys and Abner Kravitz.

That couple was Darrin and Samantha Stevens (above), the central characters of “Bewitched,” the romantic sitcom that premiered in 1964. The more I watched “Mad Men,” the more it seemed to be a show about the darker side of Darrin and Samantha.

Like Samantha, Betty Draper is blonde and beautiful, compassionate and caring, a loving wife and trusted friend. But where Samantha can solve problems with a twitch of her nose, Betty is struggling with the ugly realities of her life.

Samantha (above) gave up witchcraft to marry Darrin and raise a family. Her sunny disposition never deserts her. She tolerates the constant meddling of her mother Endora and the incessant snooping of Gladys Kravitz.

The biggest challenge to Samantha’s relationship with her husband is Endora’s continuing effort to break up their marriage by constantly provoking Darrin.

By comparison, Betty Draper (above) is seeing a psychiatrist because she feels overwhelmed and inadequate. Beneath her sunny blonde beauty is a simmering anger. She slaps a neighbor who provokes her, and she uses her son’s BB gun to shoot at another neighbor’s pigeons when that neighbor threatens her children’s dog.

Her neighbor Francine Hanson confesses to Betty that she wants to poison her husband because he’s having an affair.

Like Don Draper, Darrin Stevens (below left) is the creative force at his firm, McMahon and Tate. He’s as devoted to Samantha as she is to him, and he believes firmly in honesty and following the rules.













Don Draper (right), on the other hand, is having affairs with two women. And his entire life is a lie. His real name is Dick Whitman, and during the Korean War he stole the identity of Lieutenant Don Draper, who was killed in the same explosion that put Whitman in the hospital.

Samantha Stevens also is trying to hide her true identity from the world. Samantha’s secret is that she’s a witch. But she’s not hiding it because she’s ashamed. She’s hiding it because her husband has an over-developed sense of fair play and doesn’t want the advantages of his wife’s witchcraft.

I haven’t seen any acknowledgement by the creators of “Mad Men” that they had Darrin and Samantha Stevens in mind when they came up with the characters of Don and Betty Draper. But it’s hard to believe that the similarities between the Stevens and the Drapers – and the darker juxtaposed comparisons between them – are purely coincidental.

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