By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Executives at TV Land surely expected gracious applause when they announced plans for a bronze statue of Samantha Stephens in "Bewitched." And why not? Everyone loves the statue of Ralph Kramden in "The Honeymooners," which was commissioned by the rerun cable network and is now on display in midtown Manhattan. There were upbeat reviews for their homage to "The Andy Griffith Show," which enshrines Sheriff Andy Taylor and young son Opie and which you can see near the statehouse in North Carolina.
But the plans for the salute to "Bewitched" didn't go over well. That's because TV Land decided the place for this nine-foot tribute to America's most beloved housewife witch is in the middle of Salem, Mass., a town best known for hanging 19 citizens accused of witchcraft. Okay, it happened a long time ago -- in 1692 to be exact -- but it's still a sore subject. Capitalizing on that history with a statue of a broom-riding TV witch struck some locals as in really bad taste.
"It's like TV Land going to Auschwitz and proposing to erect a statue of Colonel Klink," says John Carr, a former member of the Salem Historic District Commission. "Putting this statue in the park near the church where this all happened, it trivializes the execution of 19 people."
Tonight, the fate of the statue, which is already being cast at a foundry, will be determined by a vote of the Salem Redevelopment Authority. That organization owns Lappin Park, where Elizabeth Montgomery's character is slated for installation.
Mayor Stanley Usovicz, a vocal supporter of the TV Land plan, likes his odds. No disrespect intended, he says. The town takes its dark past seriously and deals with it reverently in museums, but that doesn't mean it should decline to showcase a pop-culture icon.
"Will this statue redefine Salem? Absolutely not," he explains. "Will it add to the experience of coming here? Definitely."
"Bewitched," which ended an eight-year run in 1972, is one of those goofy, timepiece shows that seem never to leave the airwaves. It will officially have cross-generational appeal when Nicole Kidman stars in a movie version to be released this summer. The family in the original supposedly lived in Connecticut, but a handful of episodes were set in Salem, where Samantha attended a convention of witches. That made it seem like a logical place to the executives at TV Land, especially when they visited the town during Halloween and found that thousands of revelers had descended on the place.
"What we saw was a huge Halloween party," says Robert Pellizzi, a TV Land senior vice president. "So we thought, it certainly makes sense to ask."
They sought advice about where to put the statue and they made a generous offer. Not only would the town get the bronze for free, but TV Land also offered to renovate Lappin Park and to pay for upkeep of the statue, too. In return, of course, TV Land hopes for public relations points, including some good photo ops in June, when the statue is scheduled for installation and unveiling.
So what does this thing look like? Good question. The network wants maximum ooohs when it whips the curtain off Samantha so it won't release photos or drawings. But the artists who designed the statue, at a place called StudioEIS in Brooklyn, shared a rendering of the piece on condition that it not appear in the newspaper.
So here's a description: Imagine Samantha, dressed in one of the sensible frocks she wore on the show, sitting on a broom, which is resting on a crescent moon. The moon, in turn, is resting on the top of a cloud, which is on a pedestal. Samantha is smiling and her left arm is turned up at the elbow. It's like she's saying, "It's a cinch to fly." Her legs are crossed at the ankles.
The sculptors' studio is owned and operated by Elliot and Ivan Schwartz, brothers who are best known for their casts of the Founding Fathers -- which can be found in such places as the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia -- and for commemorative objects for museums, including the Smithsonian. Last week, StudioEIS was filled with more than a dozen lifelike military figures, part of a project for the Marines.
"If I were one of the people who had a house on the beautiful common there, would I hate it?" asked Ivan Schwartz, sitting at a conference table last week and discussing the Samantha statue. "Yes, probably. But it seems like [Salem] was going down that path long before this TV Land thing ever surfaced."
"That path" is the path of cashing in on Salem's witchipoo backstory, something the town has been doing for a while. The high school mascot is the witch, and police officers have a witch and broom stitched into the emblem on their uniforms. In the run-up to Halloween, a bunch of costume stores and haunted-house operations open up and the place is transformed, at least for the night, into a party town. It's a strange premise for attracting crowds: We hanged people, so come on down! For residents such as John Carr, the camp is getting a little out of hand.
"God bless the mayor, but he thinks that statue is contemporary art," Carr says. "The whole idea is bad taste beyond belief."