By Peter Alachi
When Edith Efron of TV Guide asked Dick York in 1965 about his role on “Bewitched”, he joked that his performance was often overshadowed by the two witches (Samantha and Endora) and told her that the only way to find out if he was relevant to the show was "to kill me off and give the witch another husband and see if I’m missed"(14). And so, eerily true to his prediction, when Dick Sargent debuted on the show in 1969, the sitcom started to weaken in the Nielsen ratings. While some attributed the show’s mediocre performance to York’s departure due to incessant back pain and addiction to pain medication, after six seasons, the sitcom became old and formulaic, unable to compete well with the newer, more timely shows on TV(8, 9, 22, 23). Despite this, in 1970, ABC had assured "Bewitched" three more years, and as a result, Bill Asher thought that it would achieve "a measure of immortality"(20).
Michael Linquata, the eminent Restaurateur of the Gloucester House, a Northshore seafood eatery, was awakened one early Sunday morning in June to an urgent call from a man who identified himself as the Assistant Director of “Bewitched”. Linquata was puzzled by the call but listened carefully as Maxwell Henry explained frantically that the cast and crew wanted to come up to film at his location soon since their Hollywood studio was consumed by a fire. Salem and Gloucester, Henry explained, were picked by Asher and Montgomery to be a focal point for eight "Bewitched" episodes to air during the Fall season(16).
But why Salem? As with so much of Salem, witchcraft is woven into its fabric, both past and present. Salem had been an occasional theme on "Bewitched", resonating with the show’s fans as the city where Endora’s and Samantha’s ancestors had once lived - a reference to the Witch Hysteria of 1692 was definitely the intent. Sol Saks’ original draft of "Bewitched" had incorporated a line about Salem which did not make it to the pilot episode. In it, Endora referred to the year 1776, when Salem was "the place to live". In episode # 73, titled "The Girl with the Golden Nose", responding to Samantha’s complaint about Darrin’s stereotyping her because she was a witch, Endora was reminded of "the old days in Salem! As a matter of fact, he looks like the judge who sentenced your poor old Aunt Agnes to this day!" The implication here, of course, is that Aunt Agnes was sentenced during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The veteran actress, Agnes Moorehead, had been quite familiar with Salem herself as she was born in Clinton, Massachusetts, located 35 miles west of Boston(4). In episode # 19, "A Nice Little Dinner Party", Darrin annoyed Samantha when he remarked that he was "beginning to understand why they used to burn witches at Salem". Of course, no one was burnt during the Salem Witch Trials but nineteen were hanged, one was crushed to death, and hundreds were imprisoned.
In episode # 22, "Eye of the Beholder", a fake portrait of Samantha that Endora planted at an Antique store bore the words "Maid of Salem, 1682". Another specific and early reference to Salem is in episode # 39, titled "We’re in for a Bad Spell". Here the Stephenses play host to Adam, an army friend of Darrin’s, who mentioned how he couldn’t resist the urge to leave his home town to stay with Darrin and Samantha even though he "was really pretty settled in Salem." His family had lived in Salem for 300 years. It turned out that Adam had an old spell placed on him that would cause him to break the law(3).
And so with the seventh season approaching and no place else to film, it seemed a natural progression for the show to end up in Salem.
Screen Gems planned to pump in an extra $100,000 into the local economy(18, 20) and was assured by the Salem Chamber of Commerce that they could have a carte blanche in the town(20). Mayor Samuel Zoll was thrilled with "Bewitched" coming to Salem. This would be a huge publicity boost for his city and its businesses(2). "Flying High" was the title of a Salem News photo that showed a smiling Salem Chamber of Commerce President, Leonard Berkal, pasting Samantha’s poster over that of a traditional-looking witch(11). "Bewitched" was to showcase several historic sites in Salem, including the House of the Seven Gables and the Witch House. It would also feature two landmark statues in the city: the statue of Salem’s native son Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of the Scarlet Letter and the House of the Seven Gables, and Roger Conant, the first settler of Salem, whose statue is often mistaken for a witch(12). This was "something everyone in Salem is going to be looking forward to—seeing historic Salem on TV in September," said Berkal(20). And so, visitors entering Salem during the week of June 21, were greeted with welcome signs bearing the image of Samantha riding on a broom. Many other markers on Salem’s Heritage Trail also got a makeover with Montgomery’s pretty face. When aired on October 8, 1970, the # 203, "Salem Saga" episode had Endora change the sign on the Salem Heritage trail from a traditional witch on a broom to a pretty blond witch, presumably that of Samantha. That day, Mayor Zoll issued an official proclamation declaring October 8, 1970, as "Bewitched Day in Historic Salem"(15). By using the sitcom’s name and 'Historic' in the same sentence, Zoll had inadvertently emphasized a growing trend of the entertainment industry’s influence in shaping our modern history. It is a trend that continues until today.
Early in the morning of June 23, 1970, a caravan of trailers, cars, and Cadillacs loaded with equipment and personnel left the Hawthorne Hotel(13) making their way to their first filming destination at the Medieval-style Hammond Castle Museum in Magnolia—a suburb of Gloucester(17). The Hammond Castle’s court was to provide a courtship scene between Serena, Sam’s mischievous cousin, and the come-alive Gloucester Fisherman’s statue (Man at the Wheel), played by Robert Brown who was moonlighting from his TV series "Here Comes the Brides"(1968-1970)(17, 23).
In the afternoon, the entourage drove up to the Fishermen’s Memorial in Gloucester. The actual shoot would take place at a false base built on top of a sewer pumping station located 150 yards away from the real Fishermen’s Memorial(17).
The next day, on June 24, the cast shot scenes at the Gloucester House restaurant.
On Thursday June 25, the cast filmed in Salem at the House of the Seven Gables. Filming exterior scenes wasn’t easy and required plenty of patience, something Bill Asher appeared to have. The cameras would start rolling for a few seconds only to be interrupted by unexpected noises emanating from someone on the set or from a plane passing overhead. For most of the time, the cast stood around talking, rehearsing, and waiting for the moment when they would be filming. It amounted to hours on the set that got drilled down to a few seconds when the show was aired. A clever scene was filmed where a bedwarmer followed Sam and Darrin out of the House of the Seven Gables and jumped into their convertible parked off Turner street as they headed back to the Hawthorne Hotel. People watching the live scene were amazed at the almost primitive special effects used to make the bedwarmer move. The crude setup certainly lacked sophistication: a man on a ladder holding a T-bar and a thin wire attached to the bedwarmer moved it carefully as Asher focused his lens on it until he was satisfied the scene would work, like magic(21)!
Late in the afternoon of June 25, the Gloucester Daily Times reported that "passersby on Stacy Boulevard were surprised to see Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick Sargent, and David White filming scenes"(10). Evidently, the cast had returned to Gloucester to reshoot some takes for the episode # 205, "Darrin on a Pedestal." It’s not clear which scenes were reshot, but a photo accompanying the article showed Darrin and Serena getting out of an Excalibur car, shown in the scene when Serena first spotted the statue of the handsome Seaman. It’s also possible that the final closing scene was filmed then.
With actress Agnes Moorehead joining the cast, the show planned to film on Friday at the Witch House where the Witch Trials Judge of 1692, Jonathan Corwin, and some of his descendents lived. However, heavy rain on Friday prevented the cast from shooting there(19). The Witch House made a fleeting appearance in the first "Salem Saga" episode and was the center of a witchcraft trial in the final Salem episode # 208, "Samantha's Old Salem Trip," that vindicated the accused.
Through this episode, "Bewitched" provided a mythical
negation and an imaginary rescue of the accused from the dreadful Witchcraft
Hysteria of 1692. The Witch House had also been briefly shown at the
beginning of an ABC Network summer commercial touting a "good witch"
who would visit Salem in the Fall of 1970(1).
The visit of “Bewitched” to Salem was a milestone in the evolution of the show’s relationship to Salem. In one way, it cemented its reputation as the Witch Capital of the world and boosted tourism and "Bewitched" ratings, albeit for a short period. From a fantasy/myth perspective, the visit tied Salem to "Bewitched" as a place where witches lived. This image is reinforced when visitors learn about the Witch Trials of 1692 and in the same breath encounter Salem’s sizeable Wicca community with their boutiques scattered about. More importantly, Samantha’s visit to Salem caused a little earthquake that reshaped the city’s landscape.
Bill Asher came close to predicting the long-term impact of "Bewitched" in Salem when he told the Boston Globe in June of 1970 that "the directional traffic signals which carry the face of an old hag on a broom will be changed to carry the much prettier profile of Samantha. So Liz will be directing traffic in Salem for some years to come"(20).
Though he could not have imagined in 1970, Bill Asher would see Elizabeth in Salem again; this time, enshrined in bronze, as the statue of Samantha Stephens at a small downtown park. Almost 10 years after Elizabeth Montgomery’s passing, the TV Land "Bewitched" Landmark statue was unveiled in front of Asher and 1500 spectators who gathered at Lappin Park on a rainy June 15, 2005 to see the event. The choice of Salem as a home of the Samantha Stephens statue caused resentment and uproar among some residents in the city who demonstrated against the statue. Opponents said Salem was chosen for its ties to witches and called the statue another slap in the face to victims of the Witchcraft Trials of 1692—the newest kitsch to be imposed on Salem(5, 6, 7). But for many in Salem, the statue was the biggest event to happen to the city in a long time and was a tribute to a great American actress who once visited Salem.
Asher was happy and smiled broadly throughout the ceremony,
but underneath his joyful appearance one could sense that he was a little
emotional when the statue was unveiled. In many ways, and despite the
many years, he never lost his great love for Liz and told Lauren Przybyl,
a reporter with WHDH television in Boston, that it was great to see
the love of his life smiling again, sadly adding that he "just
wished she could be here"(6).
Peter Alachi is the author of
“A Pictorial Tale of the Bewitched Statue of Salem, MA”