'Bewitched' at 50: How Samantha Stevens Got Her Nose Twitch

Joal Ryan
·Contributor
Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens in 'Bewitched'
Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens in 'Bewitched'

Bewitched turns 50 years old today, so it's about time you got something straight about the witch-marries-mortal sitcom: You've been doing Samantha's spell-casting nose twitch all wrong.

"Everybody thinks it was the nose, and that's why people can't do it," says author Herbie J. Pilato, who's written two books about Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery and the definitive guide to her series, The Bewitched Book.

Explains Pilato: "You have to wriggle your upper lip, and then your nose."

The very first nose twitch — or, rather, mouth twitch — occurs about five minutes into the very first Bewitched, which premiered on ABC on Sept. 17, 1964.

Newlywed Samantha Stevens, played by Montgomery, breaks out the move in an attempt to magically evict overbearing mother Endora (Agnes Moorehead) from Sam and husband Darrin's honeymoon suite. Plot-wise, the twitch doesn't work, but it sticks as a signature move — it's immortalized from the get-go in the series' animated opening-credits.

According to Pilato, the script for the Bewitched pilot called for Samantha to work her magic with a vague move — maybe a wave of the hand, or the arm.  But director William Asher, who was Montgomery's husband, wanted something special.

From the start of rehearsals (on Nov. 22, 1963, the day of the assassination of President Kennedy) to the night before the pilot was shot in December 1963, the Bewitched team kept looking for that something special. At last, per Pilato, Asher suggested Montgomery do that "something she did with her face when she gets nervous." Montgomery, in trying to figure out what it was she did, got nervous, and, yes, wriggled her upper lip.

"He said, 'That's it!'," Pilato says Asher exclaimed. "Right at that moment when they did it, Bill Asher just stopped and said that's it. He knew."

On the show, the twitch was enhanced by a sound effect (courtesy a xylophone) and a special effect (the film was sped up "just a tad," Pilato says).

When daughter Tabitha (played primarily by Erin Murphy) followed in her witch mother's footsteps, she got her own magic move: She put her finger to her nose. "Samantha could be the only one who twitched," Pilato says. (A short-lived Bewitched spinoff, 1977's Tabitha, however, did assign the twitch to Samantha's now-grown daughter, played by Lisa Hartman.)

In all, the lip-nose-twitch-wriggle-whatever endured through eight seasons' worth of Bewitched episodes — and decades' and decades' worth of reruns.

To Pilato, its appeal is timeless. "Everyone wanted to twitch their nose to make their troubles go away," he says.