Friday, November 5, 2021

Abner Kravitz – Now I Get It

The older I get, the more I understand Abner Kravitz.


That this is happening is illustrative of how one’s perception toward a television show can change depending on one’s circumstances. Bewitched is the same series I watched when I was ten years old – the stories and the characters have not changed at all. But how I regard them now is very different.


As a kid I didn’t understand why Darrin was so unwilling to take advantage of the opportunity to live a more comfortable life, thanks to a wife who could twitch up anything he wished. Why was he so insistent on only providing his family with what could be afforded on his salary? But now I get it – having experienced the satisfaction of earning my living, and also observing how so many instant millionaires, from lottery winners to professional athletes, wind up broke or in jail.


We don’t get to know Abner as well from the 50-some episodes in which he appears, but one five-word quote from him provides an accurate portrait of his persona:


“Leave me alone. I’m retired.”


Really – is that too much to ask? That he be allowed to do the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, or lay on the couch and watch TV, or practice his flute, without constant distractions? I’m not retired yet but I know that when work is done and I have a few hours in the evening to myself, the last thing I want is to deal with ringing telephones or doorbells, or with nightly harangues about how I should get out and do something. 



In Abner’s case those criticisms come from his wife Gladys, who is on a never-ending quest to get him interested in something besides relaxation, whether that’s paying more attention to her or sharing her suspicions about the strange goings-on at the Stephens house across the street.


But even when Gladys claims to see Samantha sporting green dots on her face, he remains content to stay out of their business.


Gladys: “I bet she has some strange disease, and we could catch it. Abner, you wanna wake up with something strange?”


Abner: “I’ve been doing that for 20 years. Why change now?”


Yes, Abner is never short of put-downs for his wife. But they only surface when Gladys is doing something to disrupt his preferred quietude.


Gladys: “Abner, I whipped up a batch of my icebox cookies. Now I’m going over to give some to Mr. and Mrs. Stephens.”


Abner: “Why do you want to inflict suffering on such a nice couple?”


Her attempts to make him jealous were equally unsuccessful.


Gladys: “How would you feel if I invited one of my boyfriends for dinner?”


Abner: “Fine, just make sure he can play pinochle.”


Decades ago such exchanges seemed harsh (though still funny). But now I’ve lived nearly as long as Abner did at this stage of his life. We assume the character was in his 60s, as that’s how old George Tobias was when he began playing him. I empathize with his disinterest in wasted emotions like jealousy. I understand why he’d rather stay in than go out, because he went out day after day, year after year, for decades, probably to a job he didn’t much like, but it was sufficient to pay the monthly bills and put food on the table.


Now he wants to reap the rewards of that lifetime of work. So when Gladys comes to him with some crazy story about a chimpanzee running loose and asks, “I wonder where he belongs?”, I know he could have responded with something other than “He belongs in a zoo. And so do you.” But sometimes a man can only take so much. 



Sadly, there would be no respite for our retired hero. When Sandra Gould replaced Alice Pearce as Gladys, it was not a change that improved his lifestyle. Where Pearce was mostly just disappointed in Abner’s indolence, Gould came off as more aggressively nasty. With Pearce he gave as good as he got, but Could reduced him to “henpecked” status. For anyone under 20, that’s a word once in common parlance that is now among the ever-growing lexicon of forbidden terms.


For those who see Abner only as a curmudgeon and a hostile husband, the episode “Abner Kadabra” offers ample evidence that he really does love his wife. “I never thought I’d beg to eat her cooking,” he admits after a brief separation. He misses her when she’s not around. It’s just that he’d rather not have her questions and comments in his ear every minute of every day. 



Some of us don’t go in for conversations that only break silences. We can be in a room alone for hours and not get bored. We appreciate the people in our lives but also enjoy the moments when we’re away from them. That’s Abner – and yeah, that’s me, too.


I’m not sure what my future holds, but when we last saw Mr. Kravitz he was still trying to savor the hard-earned rewards of retirement, without the support of his spouse. No wonder, then, that in one memorable scene he reads the crossword puzzle clue “A five-letter word for the ultimate happiness, peace, and tranquility.”And after pondering for a moment, he answers, “Death.”


  1. This article about Alice Pearce points out what you & I noticed about the casting on BEWITCHED. Alice Pearce played a much more sympathetic Mrs. Kravitz than Sandra Gould.

    The Kravitzes appeared less often once Sandra Gould took over the part. She only played Mrs. Kravitz 1 more time over a period of 5 seasons rather than Alice Pearce's 2. (29 vs. 28; The Kravitzes didn't appear in the last season.) Sandra Gould could be very funny in other roles. She just wasn't as good playing Gladys as Alice Pearce was.

    George Tobias was funny in the part. I'm glad to see him get credit for his great job in a straight-man part, and he was also funny in the few times when he got to witness some of the craziness of Sam's family, Serena specifically.

  2. About George Tobias:

    Basically, Abner Kravitz was his final role: he took the part as a favor to some friends on the Bewitched staff.
    At that point, Tobias had dialed down his career, and was living the bachelor's life on a ranch in a remote part of central California.
    Tobias didn't have a telephone; the Bewitched staff had to go to great lengths to contact him him when they needed Abner for a show.
    That's as close as retirement as you can get without going all the way (TV Guide wrote George up as "The Last Of The Old-Time Bachelors").

    When Bewitched ended its run, George Tobias made his own retirement permanent. He was persuaded to do a cameo on Tabitha a few years later; in the interregnum, George had given up shaving, and the resulting beard would have given pause to ZZ Top.

    When George Tobias passed on at 80 a few years later, the local mortician was brought out to his ranch to collect his remains (with some difficulty; see "no telephone" above).
    Driving back to his parlor, the mortician got into a fender-bender with another car.
    As the drivers were exchanging info, two teenagers jumped out from the sides and drove off in the mortician's wagon, at high speed.
    Not too long afterward, the wagon was found, with the engine running, the doors open - and the late George Tobias at rest in the back.
    George's old Hollywood friends agreed that their friend and colleague would have gotten great joy from that story ...

    1. That "Tabitha" appearance really was quite a shocker. He looked like one of the Anatevka residents in "Fiddler on the Roof."

    2. A quote from George Tobias, from that TV GUIDE profile I mentioned above:
      "It makes no sense. Up from the Jewish ghetto, out here to the old corral ... I could be a throwback to Jewish history."

      And that was before he had the beard ...