He's almost invisible in the glare of success
DICK YORK, A COMPETENT ACTOR, HAS LEARNED THAT NO MERE MALE
CAN COMPETE WITH A COUPLE OF WITCHES---------- By Edith Efron
On a desk in one of the executive offices of Screen Gems studios in Hollywood is a pile of press clippings. It weighs about 10 pounds.
Every one of the clippings is a favorable article about Bewitched, that cute little show about the witch-next-door (and her advertising-man husband) that has a good part of the Nation in a tizzy. And the subject of every article is the witch herself--with a few kind words about her witch mother.
The advertising-man husband is almost never mentioned.
His friends are indignant
Actor Dick York, who plays the husband, may in fact be the first actor in television history to play a leading role in a No. 1 hit show--and remain practically invisible in the full glare of success.
Dick York's friends and colleagues are indignant about this state of affairs. Some blame Dick's peculiar state of invisibility on the press.
"The critics are shallow!" blasts producer Danny Amold. "They're obvious. I don't think it's a good, critical job to be that obvious. If your job is to pick apart professionals doing a job, it's your job to be aware of how skilled those professionals can be. It's important to realize what Dick contributes to the part. People are sympathetic to the witch solely because of her relation to him. A witch who is interested in being a housewife to an American male is interesting. If she just went around being a witch, nobody would care. He supplies the motive for everything she does."
The witch mother is just as indignant.'This is ridiculous," she says. "It's a No. 1 show. You have to assume the supporting parts are pretty well done. Dick plays a very important part. Nobody can hold up a series by himself or herself without support, unless it's a one-man or one-woman show. Ignoring Dick isn't constructive criticism. It's absurd."
The witch herself apparently is so distraught about the phenomenon of Dick's invisibility that she goes so far as to deny it altogether: "I don't think anyone underestimates Dick as an actor, because I believe anyone who watches him work appreciates his talent."
As for Dick, he smiles a long-suffering smile and gives a totally different explanation for his invisibility. "The two witches," he says, "are by far more spectacular than I am. I'm just a human being. And I'm identified by the critics as being just like themselves. I, too, am watching the witch from the sidelines. Besides I guess it's a lot more exciting to identify with someone superhuman than with someone normal...." Then he'sighs. "Maybe it's me. I don't think so, but the only way to tell if it's me or not is to kill me off in one show, give the witch another husband and see if I'm missed."
Mystery is unsolved
That seems far too extreme a way to solve the mystery, so it will have to remain frankly unsolved.
Meantime, what is the invisible Mr. York like, off-screen?
His official Screen Gems biography states, with a prophetic ring, that he "represents that type of Average American lad who seldom elicits a second glance from most persons."
It is more or less true. Physically, Dick is prototypically American: he has a tall, lanky, basketballplayer's frame and his face could be readily used on "Drive Carefully" or "Thirteen Days 'Til Christmas" posters. Only his eyes are unusual. They're huge, brown and sad, as the witch puts it, " like those of a springer spaniel my father used to have--called Dick, strangely enough."
He has had a steady if nonamazing theatrical career since childhood, when he starred in Chicago in such radio serials as "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy" (he played Billy Fairfield, Jack's best friend). He went to New York in 1950 to do a radio show called "Michael Shayne." "It had wayout kid acting parts.'' says Dick. "The writer on the show wrote scripts involving dope addicts and maniacs and so on.' Dick impressed this writer considerahly, so the writer suggested him to an agent, and eventually Elia Kazan hired him to play a role in "Tea and Sympathy" on Broadway in 1953. He was nominated by the Drama Critics for best supporting actor, but didn't win. "I got one vote, from Henry Hewes of the Saturday Review," says Dick.
Other highlights of his professional career are the movie "My Sister Eileen," in which he did a dancing and singing role; "Bus Stop" on Broadway: the movie "Inherit the Wind,'' with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March; and on TV, two years ago, he appeared as a social worker in a series called Going My Way. It did not last very long.
He has won compliments as an actor from such directors as Elia Kazan and Stanley Kramer and such critics as Waiter Kerr, but he does not have a major reputation. His present producer, Danny Amold, says, "I think Dick is underrated and underestimated as an actor He has a very good understanding of comedy, he is equally proficient in drama. I've seen his work. He's very good."
Dick himself has a somewhat diffident attitude toward acting. He does not belong to the ranks of the passionate. "I don't work hecause I love it," he says. "In our household, work is something Daddy does to provide us with things we need for our physical comforts.... I love other things more than my work."
His primary interest in life seems to he his family, about which he talks a great deal, which delights some people ("He constantly talks glowingly of his wife and children," says the witch, approvingly)--but makes other people sleepy. He met his wife Joan, a child actress, when Dick York, he was 15 and she was 12. Years later they married and now have five children, three girls and two boys, ranging in age from 3 to 12.
A variety of interests
Besides his family, however, Dick has a variety of other interests. He is interested in "man's presumptuous brain," reads a lot of experimental psychology, is a partisan of "Gestalt therapy." "What is the self? That's the $64,000 question." he says. "It was ignored by Freud. He skipped over the self very conveniently. Otto Rank, in searching for the self, fell into the religious vein. He started to tap man's creative ahility and came under strong attack by psychiatric circles. The self, as I understand it, is the accumulated physiological, intellectual, creative substance of anyone living in the absolute now without the restriction of environment, interjected teachings, nonapplicable knowledge."
He writes short stories about children: "I'm fascinated by the I-year-old mind." He writes science-fiction stories: "My last one was based on the microscopic world. The idea was that our world might be a drop of water in someone else's world."
He paints: "I hallucinate to paint. I start out with a stream of consciousness idea. I turn on the tape recorder. I start talking into it, reporting what I see. As I see it, various colors become part of the mood of the description, start forming onto the canvas. I paint compulsively. I have to complete it. Sometimes I'm very surprised to see what I painted." These "surprises" are nonobj ective--"ideally,
like Jackson Pollock."
He sculpts. He thus describes one of his pieces: "It's four-dimensional. I try to incorporate all religious teaching--the Old Testament, the New Testament, Confucius, Buddha, The Agnostic--one figure representing all. In the front you see Adam-a cloud-like Adam. Eve is beside him on the ground looking into an empty cradle. As you revolve it, the back of Eve's head becomes Woman. And Adam, from the back, is crucified Christ. Then Eve becomes the Virgin Mary from another angle. There are six different perspectives." The meaning of this sculpture, says Dick, is "man's search for something beyond himself."
He is a religious man. "I believe in God. I'm looking, and I'm open to
any and all ideas and thoughts that can come close to pinpointing why all of us are here."
Dick York is a man about whom there are two schools of thought--the school that calls him "shallow" and the school that calls him "deep." Dick is very aware of his critics. "They say that I'm not articulate enough. I have difficulty in expressing myself on a vocal level. Things that seem very clear to me semantically leave a great deal to be desired." One of his critical acquaintances describes him as "foggily pretentious."
The witch likes him
But his supporters are loyal indeed. The witch is very fond of him, and the witch mother has this to say: "I probably understand him better than the others. He's rather profound, you know. He has a spiritual quality. I am a religious girl. I have a great faith. This creates a rapport between us. Actors who have this spiritual quality often understand each other without much communication."
It's a little difficult to sum up Dick York, who spends his life on "means of expression" but does not yet have anything specific to express. When asked how he would sum himself up, Dick says, "I'd say 'Dick York is a man who's looking for something. He's still looking for a self."' It seems a valid way to describe him.
*Article from TV Guide May 29, 1965
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