Obituary: Dick Sargent

Anthony Hayward
Monday 11 July 1994 23:02

Richard Cox (Dick Sargent), actor: born Carmel, California 19 April 1930; died Los Angeles 8 July 1994.

AS THE CONSUMMATE American corporate man driven by the work ethic and put out to find on honeymoon that his charming wife is a witch, Dick Sargent was an actor who had the unenviable tasks of taking over the role of the beleaguered husband in Bewitched, the popular Sixties comedy series that is still repeated around the world. But the programme continued to attract massive audiences for the remaining three years of its hugely successful run.

Sargent was born Richard Cox, into a show-business family. He was the son of the actress Ruth McNaughton, who appeared in films such as Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Hearts and Triumphs, and Col Elmer Cox, business manager of stars such as Douglas Fairbanks. While studying at Stanford University, Cox junior acted with the Standard Players Theatre and, on graduation, landed a bit-part in the film Prisoner of War (1954) - a Korean prison-camp drama starring Ronald Reagan - and changed his professional name to Sargent, although he continued to be credited as Richard for many years.

Struggling to make ends meet between acting jobs, he dug ditches, worked as a salesman in a department store, went into the import-export business in the Mexican city of San Miguel Allende and began collecting Mexican art.

He then returned to Hollywood and eventually found work in television programmes such as Medic, Playhouse 90, Gunsmoke, Ripcord, West Point and Corde 3. His first significant film role was as Jo Jo Wilson in Bernardine (1957), alongside the heart-throb singing star Pat Boone. Sargent's portrayal of Sanford Wilson, who chasesbut is beaten to a much-sought telephone operator, won him a Laurel Award from US film distributors. More films followed, including Mardi Gras (1958, also with Pat Boone), Operation Petticoat (1959), That Touch of Mink (1962), For Love or Money (1963) and The Ghost and Mr Chicken (1966).

Then, after television appearances in series such as One Happy Family (1961) and Broadside (1964 to 1965) came Sargent's role as Darrin Stevens in Bewitched, which had begun in 1964 with Dick York in the role of a Madison Avenue advertising executive who tries to keep his wife Samantha the witch in domestic chains, with little resistance except from a dragon of a mother-in-law.

York left in 1969, suffering from serious back injury, and Sargent stepped in. By then the comedy was being screened twice daily in the US, with a combined audience of 55 million, and it continued to keep a 35-per-cent share of the entire television audience there for the last three years of its run. Such was its success that it had already inspired other series, such as I Dream of Jeannie, and it has constantly been repeated all over the world ever since the last episode in 1972, although a spin-off, Tabitha (1977), based on the exploits of the couple's daughter, was less successful.

After finishing his run in Bewitched, Sargent appeared on television in Rich Man, Poor Man, Fantasy Island, the pilot of Family Ties, Columbo (playing himself) and Down to Earth, a series that saw him starring with an angel as his maid. His films included Hardcore (1979) and Teen Witch (1989).

Sargent, who revealed on the United States' National Coming Out Day in 1991 that he was homosexual, was a tireless worker for charities such as the Special Olympics, World Hunger, Aids Project Los Angeles and the American Foundation for Aids Research.

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