Festival of the Dead in Salem, Massachusetts
 

Shawn and Christian weigh in on Samantha in the Boston Globe!

TV's favorite sorceress lands in Salem
By Joanna Weiss
The Boston Globe, June 15, 2005

Given that Salem has waited 313 years for a good witch to put on a pedestal, the city could do worse than Samantha Stephens.

She managed, on nine seasons of ''Bewitched," to reduce witchcraft to a lighthearted, domestic sort of skill, conjuring martinis, nose-wriggling the dishes clean, putting meddlesome neighbors in their place. She stood up to her mother. She fought City Hall.

And if you were a witch, with every power at your disposal, wouldn't you want to look like Elizabeth Montgomery?

Today, TV Land unveils its much-debated sculpture of Montgomery-as-Samantha in a park in downtown Salem. The 9-foot tall, 3,000-pound statue may not technically be on a pedestal, but it will officially kick off a frenzy of Samantha nostalgia. This Saturday, Channel 56 airs a ''Bewitched" marathon. Next week, the first season of the series, circa 1964, comes out on DVD. The movie verson opens June 24, featuring Nicole Kidman -- who, as we've seen, knows how to work a nose -- in the Montgomery role.

But long before she was bronzed, boxed, and imitated, Samantha was an icon in her own right. More than fans have embraced her; some academics have gone so far as to proclaim her an ahead-of-her-time symbol of interracial marriage. (Endora does warn her on her wedding night that, if she marries a mortal, ''you don't know what prejudice you'll run into.")

More often, she's held up as a feminist role model.

''Now, you'll have to learn to cook, keep house, and go to my mother's house for dinner every Friday night," Darrin tells Samantha in the first episode.

''Darling, it sounds wonderful," she replies.

OK, a pre-feminist role model.

But Samantha was different from the prototypical housewife -- a giant leap from Donna Reed or even the showbiz aspirations of Lucy Ricardo. She didn't just want power; she had it. And technically, she never promised to stop using it. She only promised she'd try.

She emerged on TV in that nether-time between ''The Feminine Mystique" and the Equal Rights Amendment, when women were caught between the uncertain future and the retrograde past. Those who had worked during World War II were sent home so their husbands could head back into the office, says Elyce Rae Helford, Women's Studies director at Middle Tennessee State University and editor of ''Fantasy Girls: Gender in the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television." The norm of the day, Helford says, was ''Don't compete with your husband, you'll be a bad wife."

But Samantha couldn't help herself.

No surprise there; witchcraft in ''Bewitched" looked like fun. Yes, as Helford says, Samantha often used it in service to her husband -- to give a lift to his advertising career, to make sure the house looked decent for his mother. But she also took special glee in sticking it to his haughty ex-flame. Or to him, when he deserved it.Continued...

''Here was a woman where, if she didn't like what her husband did, she turned him into a lamp," says Christian Day, 35, a practicing witch in Salem, who admits to wriggling his nose in imitation as a boy -- ''It was that and Wonder Woman. My two big inspirations," he says -- and credits Samantha for leading him toward his first Tarot reading.

Day is among the pro-Samantha contingent of witches in Salem, a cheerful posse that plans to turn out in pointed hats and fishnets today, and claims to have cast a spell on the mayor so he'd warm up to the statue idea.

''A lot of people that are conflicted with the statue," says Shawn Poirier, the city's High Priest of Witches, ''need to lighten up."

Indeed, TV Land is urging Salem and environs not to read too much into anything. ''Bewitched" had appeal because it was fiction, says Rob Pellizzi, senior vice president of TV Land, who presides over a statue project that has put Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis, Ralph Kramden at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, Andy and Opie Taylor in Raleigh, N.C., and Bob Newhart in Chicago. (The statue, presumably, has appeal because it inspires ratings.)

When he worked in advertising, Pellizzi says, ''I would have loved a Samantha behind me to make all the issues go away -- twitch her nose and make the boss say the right things. I think it's somewhat of a universal idea. Who doesn't wish they had some kind of power to get through it all?"

But the academics say there's something serious, still, about Samantha's domestic dilemma. We haven't exactly resolved the issue of what women should do with the power they have, Helford says: Whether they should forgo career for family, whether their husbands would or should do the same, whether it's possible to take time off from power without losing it completely.

In which case, Samantha's most visible successor is probably Lynette Scavo on ''Desperate Housewives," the career woman who gave up the fast track to stay home with the kids. Her husband, like Samantha's, is an ad executive.

''That probably is a very deliberate nod. Any husband who works for an ad agency always throws you back to McMann and Tate," where Darrin Stephens plied his trade, says Jeffrey S. Miller, an English professor at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., who writes about TV and American culture.

The comparison works, after all. What Samantha did for domesticity with witchcraft, Lynette manages to approximate with her sons' stolen Ritalin. But she's clearly better at the ad game than her husband. She shows him up inadvertently at a dinner party. Just like Samantha.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.



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