No witchcraft, Tabitha!” scolds her mom, Samantha Stephens, in the iconic sixties TV sitcom, Bewitched. This scene flies through my head, as the real-life Tabitha sits in front of me. Well, actually, the actress who played the famous role, Erin Murphy.
Murphy was two years-old when she first portrayed the little witch who lived at 1164 Morning Glory Circle. Her twin, Diane, was used for long shots and eventually became Erin’s understudy. At that time, Tabitha was the most anticipated TV baby to arrive, second only to Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. She fit right in with a smorgasbord of wacky relatives and an extended family that included Endora (Agnes Moorehead), Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde), Aunt Clara, Gladys Kravitz, and Dr. Bombay.
Today, Erin has a large family of her own. She has six boys–yes, you read it correctly–ranging in age from three to twenty-one, four dogs, and get this: Her husband’s name is Darrin. Oh my stars! As a concerned mother, Murphy has long been an active member in the AIDS community. She’s volunteered, raised funds, and participated in many benefits, such as the one in the late nineties, soon after the death of her TV mom, Elizabeth Montgomery, herself a longtime AIDS activist, where Erin, and Elizabeth’s daughter, Rebecca Asher, sponsored an auction, sale, and fashion show of Elizabeth’s wardrobe to benefit the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). The evening brought in nearly $20,000. “I modeled Elizabeth’s clothes at the event. We had a huge attendance, including many of the Bewitched cast,” Erin says excitedly. “I still donate my clothes to Out of the Closet [a thrift store chain that supports AHF] and I shop there as well.” She brushes back her long flowing golden hair from her face and immediately asks, “Can you believe that both Dicks [York and Sargent, the actors who played her TV father, Darrin Stephens] and Elizabeth all died within a five year period?! The question I’m asked the most is about Dick Sargent. Because he was gay, so many people think he died of AIDS. [Sargent died of prostrate cancer.] It’s shocking to me how many people still think AIDS is a gay disease. Still!” Most recently, Murphy added her Jane Hancock to the Hollywood Graffiti Gown [A&U, May 2007], an AIDS awareness project that features the sewn-on signatures of famous women.
Murphy, forty-two, began her acting career in diapers doing commercials–she even appeared with future President Reagan in a detergent spot. After six years on Bewitched, she maintained an ordinary high school life and later worked in casting, makeup, as a stunt double, and as a motivational speaker. Presently, she’s on Fox Reality Channel’s Reality Remix. Recently, she made an ab infomercial. “So if you’re up late, turn me on!” Erin grins with a giggle. Clad in form-fitting white jeans with a rolled cuff just below the knee and a knit acorn-colored top, the gal exhibits a very sexy shape.
Driving up to this journalist’s home in Los Angeles from her home in San Clemente, about a ninety minute trip, Erin said she began to marvel at the ambivalence of people surrounding the AIDS epidemic. “You just don’t hear about it anymore, which is shocking to me,” she admits. “It shouldn’t get put on the back burner. I’ve lost a lot of friends. A lot. It’s affected me, so much so that I get tested regularly. It’s important to get tested. My husband does, too. No one can be in denial.” This reporter’s mouth gapes at a married woman admitting she gets tested–and I applaud her.
What is Erin’s proposal to keep the media hotplate burning? “AIDS needs a face. Magic Johnson is great, but then I haven’t heard anything about him for years. Give me an update!” she screams passionately in her perky, feisty manner. She mentions Ryan White. “[His plight] was so emotional and people embraced him. Then there was this girl who got AIDS through her dentist,” Murphy remembers, “but I can’t think of her name [Kimberly Bergalis]. So many people are infected, but it’s almost like it’s hidden. There has to be a face that people can latch onto. Someone needs to bring it forward again.”
In her own way, Erin does. She much prefers hands-on volunteering, rather than just giving to some huge organization. Erin delivers food for Meals On Wheels and does local fundraising for schools. Last year, she raised money and hosted a blood drive for Katrina survivors. (While in New Orleans, she taped a PSA for Red Cross). She also has a special interest in Cure Autism Now, as her five-year-old, Parker, has been diagnosed with this disorder. “He was on track developmentally, then when he turned three, he suddenly stopped talking. We are working through it,” she confides, with her signature confidence and a hint of sorrow.
Just where does she find the time to raise a family and do charitable work? Erin smiles, throws up her arms, and responds, “I truly am an optimist. The way I feel is, this is my life and I want to make the most of it. Many people have kids then sit at home and do nothing else. There’s always time to give! I love my kids, but they grow so much more seeing me remain active in the community,” she explains.
Murphy says she’s always felt a compelling urge to contribute. However, a deeper understanding came when she found her oldest son, then three (and now twenty-two), drowning in their backyard pool. “It was horrible,” she recalls reliving the chilling moment. “I found him, started CPR, and called 911.” She looks away for a moment. “A month later, I filed for divorce. These events were turning points in my life.”
Confronting challenges with a zest for life and giving to others takes no magical powers. “Everyone has time in their day to give. People say they don’t have time, but they do. If I, with six children, have time to volunteer, then everybody does.” And the woman doesn’t even have a nanny nor a housekeeper. Maybe Erin’s a bit of a witch after all.
The fifth season of Bewitched on DVD has hit stores! Get more bewitched by reading the full interview on-line at www.aumag.org. Keep updated with Erin Murphy by visiting her blog: www.starwebsitescomerinmurphy.blogspot.com.
Dann Dulin is Senior Editor of A&U.