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Elizabeth Montgomery (L) in her ‘‘Bewitched’’ role and Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s 1869 painting, ‘‘The Salem Martyr,’’ of a woman found guilty of witchcraft walking to the gallows.
Elizabeth Montgomery (L) in her ‘‘Bewitched’’ role and Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s 1869 painting, ‘‘The Salem Martyr,’’ of a woman found guilty of witchcraft walking to the gallows.

'Bewitched' statue plan bothers, bewilders

But Salem touts it as tourism booster

SALEM -- When the cast and crew of ''Bewitched" flew into Salem in 1970 to film episodes of the television sitcom, Witch City rolled out its red carpet.

Elizabeth Montgomery, the actress who played twitchy-nosed Samantha Stephens, was honored at official dinners. Fans thronged The House of the Seven Gables and other historic sites used in the filming. And Oct. 7, 1970, was declared ''Bewitched Day" in Salem.

But now some in Salem are upset over plans by the TV Land cable network to honor the late Montgomery with a 9-foot bronze statue in a city infamous for its 17th century persecution of people feared to be witches. The statue would depict Montgomery sitting sidesaddle on a broom. It would stand in a downtown park at the corner of Essex and Washington streets.

''It's insensitive to what happened in 1692," said Jean Harrison, one of several Salem residents opposing the plan. ''She was a fictional witch, but the people who died were not witches."

Mayor Stanley J. Usovicz Jr. said the statue will bring a bit of whimsy to town and maybe a boost to Salem's seasonal tourist trade. He said the city insisted that the statue be placed away from sites associated with the witch trials, such as a park dedicated to the memory of the 19 accused witches hanged on Gallows Hill in 1692.

''I see this as something like the Red Auerbach statue in Boston," he said of the bronze figure of the former Celtics coach on a bench at Quincy Market. ''It's a place where people will stop, get their picture taken, and have a little bit of fun while they're visiting Salem."

Last night the project cleared another hurdle: The city's Design Review Board approved minor changes to the park where the statue will go. The Salem Redevelopment Authority will take a final vote on the plan May 17.

The Samantha Stephens role, which is about to be reprised by Nicole Kidman in a ''Bewitched" movie, would join a cast of characters immortalized in bronze across America by TV Land, including Ralph Kramden, Andy and Opie Taylor, and Mary Richards. TV Land, which shows reruns of old television programs, calls the statues TV Land Landmarks.

Some critics oppose the statue on other grounds, saying the series was set in Westport, Conn.

''The connection to Salem is tenuous at best," said John Carr, a former member of the city's Historical Commission. ''They didn't live in Salem on that show. They came here 40 years ago to film three or four episodes, and now we're going to put up a 'Bewitched' statue at one of our most visible intersections."

A TV Land executive defended the selection of Salem for the statue. ''The idea behind our landmarks is to celebrate America's favorite TV characters in places where there is a connection to them," said Rob Pellizzi, senior vice president of TV Land. TV Land hopes to unveil the Montgomery statue June 15.

Although Ralph Kramden, of ''The Honeymooners" fame, was a Brooklyn bus driver, TV Land put his statue outside the New York City Port Authority bus terminal. Mayberry was a fictional town, so the network put a statue of Andy and Opie Taylor, from ''The Andy Griffith Show," in Raleigh, N.C.

By contract, TV Land's statue of Mary Richards, heroine of ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show," was placed in downtown Minneapolis, where Moore tossed her tam-o'-shanter into the air before every episode. The statue of Dr. Robert Hartley, the psychologist of ''The Bob Newhart Show," sits in Chicago, where the comedy was set.

''Those landmarks all have been very well received," Pellizzi said. ''When it came to Samantha Stephens, we felt Salem would be a fun place to make a connection."

Some see the statue as a crass advertisement for the cable network, which is giving the statue to the city, will maintain it, and will be acknowledged on a small plaque.

''We all know the real reason they want to put that statue here is that it's good PR for them," said Meg Twohey, a resident for more than 20 years.

Not everyone is bothered by the return of ''Bewitched" to Salem, the self-proclaimed ''Halloween Capital of the World." Some in the city's Wiccan community say they welcome the tribute to one of America's best-loved witches.

''Many of us love and adore the show; we grew up watching it," said Jerrie Hildebrand, 50, a graphic designer and practicing Wiccan. ''But it has nothing to do with our religion. . . . I only wish I could twitch my nose and make my house clean."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.

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