As Elizabeth Montgomery’s witch-in-training daughter Tabitha on the sitcom Bewitched, Erin Murphy conjured up fantastical playmates and made toys float by twitching her nose with her finger. But the actress, who didn’t watch the show because it aired after her bedtime, never fell under its spell. “I knew the magic wasn’t real,” says Murphy, now 35. “People were on the rafters above us, holding fishing poles with wires.”
Still, her early career did seem propelled by some supernatural power: In addition to Bewitched, which aired from 1964 to 1972, Murphy appeared in more than 80 TV commercials (including a detergent ad with Ronald Reagan), often beating out kiddie rivals Helen Hunt and Jodie Foster at auditions. But when the series, which still airs on cable channel Nick at Nite, was canceled, the 8-year-old returned to life as a normal California kid, choosing Girl Scouts’ camp over a role in The Waltons and joining the cheerleading squad instead of visiting Fantasy Island. Now a thrice-married, full-time mom to four boys, she is considering a return to her former craft.
Murphy first tried to relaunch her career in 1994 by appearing on talk shows with other former child actors like Gary Coleman and Danny Bonaduce. Inevitably showcased as the one who didn’t go bad, she says, “I sat there and thought, ‘This is the worst experience!’ I didn’t want to be the poster child for good child stars.”
Being good was a given during her Bewitched days. “There was no sibling rivalry,” attests Erin’s twin sister, Diane, who shared the role of Tabitha for one season and is now an analyst for a medical-device firm in Santa Barbara, Calif. “We had a lot of structure at home.”
And on the set. Montgomery, who played suburban witch Samantha Stephens (she died of cancer in 1995), “was a mother figure to me,” says Murphy. “When I was bad, she would call me ‘Erin Margaret!’ just like my mom did.” Murphy also has fond memories of both men who played Darrin, Tabitha’s flustered ad-exec dad. “I knew that Dick York [who was Darrin from 1964 to ’69 and died of emphysema in 1992] was very sick,” she says. “He’d lean against this special board between scenes because he had a very bad back.” In 1969, Dick Sargent (who died in 1994) took over the role. “They replaced one nice guy,” she says, “with another.”
Murphy replaced Bewitched with school and attended San Diego State University for two years. In 1984 she wed Terry Rogers, 40, who owned a wood-flooring company, and moved to Tucson, where she worked as a stunt double, karaoke club hostess and makeup artist. After divorcing in 1989 she returned to California with their sons Jason, 14, and Grant, 11. Four years later she married rock musician Eric Eden, 31, settled in Newark, Del., and had a son, Clark, 4.
Murphy says she doesn’t regret her lengthy hiatus from acting, which allowed her to raise her kids herself—as her homemaker mom, Stephanie, 59, had done for her and Diane. (Dad Dan, a successful investor, died in 1992.) “Scripts are sent to me all the time,” she says, “and I haven’t seen anything good enough to have me gone for 12 hours a day.”
Especially now that she has a 2-month-old son, Dylan, with a new husband. Divorced from Eden in ’98 (“I missed my family desperately,” the Encino, Calif., native explains), Murphy moved back to California and met Darren Dunckel, 31, in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day last year. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, they married two months later. “It’s a weird coincidence, the name Darren,” says Dunckel, an investment banker. He even shared a put-down with his TV father-in-law: “My sister teased me when I was a kid by calling me Durwood.”
Could it have been the old Bewitched magic that brought them together? “Everyone wishes they could twitch their nose and things would be better,” says Murphy, who lives with her family in a four-bedroom house in Laguna Beach, Calif. “But really, I wasn’t a witch. I just played one on TV.”
Julie K.L. Dam
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