For many, Dick York will always be remembered as Darrin Stephens from the beloved American sitcom, “Bewitched.” But along with stage, television and films, he was also very successful on a number of radio programs.
Though born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1928, York’s childhood was spent in Chicago where his family moved when he was five. Like so many radio stars of the time, York would receive his big break in the Windy City. It was actually a Catholic nun at his parochial school who first recognized the potential this young boy’s voice had and by fifteen, he was starring on CBS’s radio program, That Brewster Boy.
Chicago provided more than just the obvious opportunity. In an interview with People magazine, York once recounted how he had gained theatrical experience long before that nun ever heard him speak. "You had to be an actor growing up then. You don't want your parents to know you knew your toys were secondhand." This is where York would also meet his future wife of thirty-seven years, Joan Alt, when she was just twelve and he fifteen.
Unfortunately, after only two years, That Brewster Boy was off the air. Dick would go on to grace radio hundreds of times in such programs as, Adventure on the Kentucky, Prisoner Named Brown and The Nurse Who Forgot Fear, but he moved to New York to pursue acting on the stage.
However, despite his success in Chicago, doors didn’t immediately fly open for the young Dick York, now just twenty-two. Originally living out of a YMCA, he would later say of his time in New York, “You audition for anybody and everybody that'll hear you, and every day is a little worse, until you get discouraged and almost sick.”
His work ethic would pay off though and York would finally get a break in a production of Tea and Sympathy and Bus Stop. One day, he found himself face to face with Paul Newman on the subway. The famous actor told Dick that although this wasn’t his train, he wanted to tell him how great he thought he was in Tea and Sympathy. Even after some success, Dick kept his Midwestern work ethic. "You do your show, take your check and go home and wait for the phone to ring. And always you keep on trying." That last sentence especially would go on to define Dick York.
When York’s television career finally took off, he appeared in such famous shows as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Route 66 before finally being cast in 1964’s Bewitched. The typical challenges associated with the business were only half the battle for him. In 1959, while filming They Came to Cordura, York had suffered a debilitating back injury that would never leave him. This injury finally caused him to collapse on the set of Bewitched and he would resign from his hospital bed. Even battling that pain, however, York had been nominated for an Emmy in 1968. Despite the prestige, York elected to stay home. "It was more fun sitting and watching it on TV with our five kids," he later said.
Leaving the show would mark the beginning of a dark time for Dick York. He had developed an addiction to the pain medications prescribed to him for his back and, with Hollywood paychecks no longer a reality, he and his wife supported themselves by cleaning an apartment house they owned before finally losing it to foreclosure. But Dick York always kept on trying. He kicked his addiction cold turkey and, after losing 150 pounds he had gained during his time out of the spotlight, York would return to acting and make appearances in Simon and Simon and Fantasy Island.
York wasn’t done though. He started an organization called “Acting for Life” that was dedicated to helping the poor. Still in possession of his trademark voice, he would leverage the telephone to make sure his organization’s message made it all around the country. He also wrote a memoir, “The Seasaw Girl and Me.” Dick York passed away February 20, 1992 from emphysema. Although best known as Darren Stephens, a simple man often helpless to the forces around him, Dick York was a complex individual who should be best remembered for never giving up.