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Mercedes McCambridge Centennial: "Charlie's Angels" & "Bewitched"

Today is the Centennial of one of the most singular character actresses of the 1950s, Mercedes McCambridge, born in Joliet Illinois on this very day in 1916. We hope you've enjoyed our mini retrospective. We previousy discussed her sensational debut in All The King's Men (1949) her final Oscar nomination for the Texas epic Giant (1956) and her sorry fate in a teensy part in the Airport disaster series. (In the past, ICYMI, we've amply discussed The Exorcist in which she did truly legendary voice work as well as the fiery abandon of must-see western Johnny Guitar.) 

In The Concorde... Airport '79 article, Tim talked about the disaster genre's often disastrous treatment of aged film stars in cameos. But discarded stars of Old Hollywood also frequently collected paychecks through TV guest spots. On the small screen there was the same roulette wheel chances at success. In fact McCambridge was more frequently spotted on TV than in film, switching between both for her entire career after her launch in radio in the 1930s. Many early TV shows are impossible to see now but let's discuss her downright fantastic guest spots on Charlie's Angels (1978) & Bewitched (1968).

Murder mysteries and witchcraft -- and a chance to discuss two classic camp series (oh you know you want to!) follow after the jump....

Charlie's Angels S3E5 "Angels in Springtime"
In Charlie's Angels she plays a retired actress named Norma at an exclusive women's spa where her best friend, another famous actress  Eve Le Doux (Marie Windsor) was recently murdered. The Angels arrive in disguise as spa employees to solve the murder. At their orientation Norma wheels herself in, instantly quipping and amusing the Angels, and it's clear McCambridge is getting the full special guest star treatment, emphasis on Star.

Look at me, girls!

Yes everyone wears shades of pink ranging from Pepto to Acid in this episode. In fact, it's REQUIRED by this women's spa. This episode is a total camp fest, and not just from the costuming and setting and logic-defying plot (why is an actress living at the retreat rather than visiting and why is she part of the orientation when she's not an employee?).

Furthermore there's not just one Lezzie suspect, but two, and they're in cahoots: a psychiatrist/doctor/hypnotherapist (sure... triple threat?) who wants inside Kelly's blouse and a butch physical therapist who threatens to snap Kris's "pretty neck"; Kris (Cheryl Ladd) provides the T&A and the damsel in distress tropes for this episode.

Kris and Kelly are their beautiful targets. And here are the Evil (Coded) Lesbian Partners dining / plotting together...

But mostly this episode is the Mercedes show. She gets all the best lines, the plot twists, and even a very brief daft monologue that goes like so...

You know, one of my leftover husbands -- I think it was number three -- decided to make a list of my idiosyncracies. Later, a most unkind biographer said that it covered three and a half pages of legal-sized tablet.  

At any rate under the general subdivision of perversions, my mate said I was a foot fetishist. Now that is a filthy lie. I am fascinated by feet. I think they're the key to a person's character. That electric company employee who was here for instance. Anybody else notice that he was very expensive loafers?  I didn't think you noticed.

Kelly interrupts, trying to protect Bosley's undercover role as electrician. "Maybe he's the supervisor?"

Maybe I'm the Queen of Babylon."


Mercedes garish look recalls Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby (albeit without the devil worshipping)

I don't want to spoil the episode -- it's so worth a watch for numerous reasons including a huge unintentional laugh when a woman gets a makeover for her new job as a librarian ("I couldn't look dowdy for that!") -- but Mercedes is the total star of this episode, her gravelly post-Exorcist voice nailing her funniest lines, including a pretty great bitchy last couple of lines one in which she snarkily quotes Shakespeare.

Bewitched S5E4 "Darrin Gone! and Forgotten?"
McCambridge gets another silly showcase in Bewitched, with a great entrance laughing in a cloud of a smoke. But she doesn't quite take over the episode.

Carlotta: Endora, Darling, how nice to see you again after all these years. You're a sight for sore eyes.

Endora: Oh thank you my dear Carlotta. And you're a... sight, too. 

[Both laughing]

It initially pits her against series regular and Supporting Oscar Favorite peer Agnes Moorhead in her iconic role of meddlesome witchy mother Endora. Carlotta (McCambridge) is an old frenemy of Endora and comes to collect on a deal they made centuries ago that Endora's first born daughter (that'd be Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha, star of the show) would marry Carlotta's first born son. But Samantha is already made to Darrin.

Seeing Moorhead and McCambridge together as rivals is great fun but there's way too little of them together in the episode. Mostly it's Samantha trying to outwit Carlotta and Samantha trying to convince Carlotta's son to refuse to marry her.

Still McCambridge gets to wear great costumes (no acid pink in sight!) and is having a ball with some sort of Transylvanian-Supernatural accent. And that's the thing about Mercedes McCambridge. She's always giving it her all. Or, as Endora puts it.

Zap for zap, she's unbeatable. 


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Reader Comments (11)

"Angels in Springtime" is absolutely fantastic--a real camp joy!

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterzig

Nathaniel, this is so cool you did this. Simply awesome!

Not a fan of Bewitched, never could get into it. But Charlie's Angels...sigh...oh yeah.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

All I can say is who costumed those 3 wonderful actresses in that episode?

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

CHARLIE'S ANGELS and BEWITCHED ? Nathaniel, please, you need to find some
excuse to discuss A DREAM OF JEANNIE. Please !

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly S

I was never much for Charlie's Angels but I loved Bewitched and I remember Mercedes episode vividly.

It was always a great show for letting those seasoned character actresses cut a little loose and go over the top, plus as Mercedes did, they usually have extreme costumes in which they could flounce and conjure.

Loved this look at a wonderful actress who gets far too little attention.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I used to think I had a crush on Cheryl Ladd as a young boy....then realized, well, the rest is history. And, my favorite CA memory was when we were staying at the Tropicana in Vegas....and they were filming an episode there at the same time. I spent days skulking around the hotel/casino trying to find an Angel.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

I'm sadly unfamiliar with the majority of McCambridge's work, but I loved Bewitched growing up. Can't say the same for Charlie's Angels, I've never seen an episode (but I love the corny ass movie franchise it inspired).

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Corey -- same only Jaclyn Smith.

thefilmjunkie -- oh charlies angels is definitely worth an episode or two. so campy and almost a perfect example of how tv shows were once written (and some series still are) where every episode is essentially the same only wearing different costumes.

Kimberly -- i can't imagine what that excuse would be but i hoped you liked this one :)

Joel6 -- thank you. I know the danger when someone is undersung is that people don't actually care so it means a lot when people do care.

Patryk --good question. I shoulda paid attention to the credits because per episode credits are so wonky on IMDb.

March 16, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Mercedes McCambridge: new fashion icon of my soul. Who knew?

The writing is just as delicious as the screencaps, too! What's really great about you choosing these performances is that often our under-appreciated performers do find great homes in tv, even in single episodes.

Also: where can we watch these episodes?? I need!

March 16, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Serendipity, Nathaniel!

That's Nancy Parsons on the righh, as a Scheming Lesbian. She was Miss Balbricker in the Porky's movies, and apparently in Steel Magnolias.

Charlie's Angels was a formative show as a young Forever, and Farrah was always my favorite. This show was equally feminist and sexist somehow at the same time.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Bewitched was my first exposure to so many great actresses, not just Moorehead and Montgomery, but Marion Lorne, Estelle Winwood, Imogene Coca.... Maybe that show made me an actressexual!

My sister and her friends used to play Charlie's Angels when we were kids. They would always fight over who got to be Sabrina (the smart one). None of them ever wanted to be Farrah.

March 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

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