It was a point of pride for me as an awkward young Ankh that I shared a birthday with Elizabeth Montgomery. She was someone who I saw every day after school, ageless in syndication, lovely, magical, always in trouble (what child doesn’t relate to that?) yet always able to “charm” herself out of sticky situations and back into dorky Darren’s arms. My nose would never be pert and I possessed no powers, but I saw Samantha Stevens as the maybe-someday-me… because underneath the perfect housewife/good-girl veneer she was fundamentally different, and that difference was both her pride and shame. I was different too, but maybe… maybe that was alright. Maybe being different made me special, instead of wrong.
I spent a lot of time in Salem Massachusetts this October – some of it business, all of it pleasure. Salem is like nowhere else. Every autumn the city remembers its brutal history, then atones by embracing the people it once persecuted. Magic in all its forms is celebrated, with parades, balls, ceremonies, and freedom of expression that belies the Puritan feel of the brick and cobblestone streets. There are probably more occult dedicated shops, museums and venues (open year-round, I might add) here than anywhere else in the world. There is some serious magic afoot, and a great deal of campy fun. Case in point: across the street from HEX – a hard-core old-world witchcraft store, sits a bronze statue of Elizabeth Montgomery seated on a broomstick and flying through a crescent moon. The contrast is surprisingly charming and true to the nature of this historic city.
One of the pleasures I had on a recent visit to Salem was lunch with author Judika Illes. She is as delightful, erudite, and funny in person as she is on the page. Part of the charm of her Weiser Field Guide to Witches is that, like the city of Salem, it is a serious investigation into witchcraft through history that doesn’t ignore the witch’s role in popular culture. There’s real affection for the many dark mistresses of film, books and television, and that is as it should be. How many of us found resonance and inspiration in the characters and story lines of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Bewitched? Most, I’d wager.
And so, with Judika’s enthusiastic consent, I took this picture after lunch.
Here’s a brief history of Samantha Stevens from The Weiser Field Guide to Witches:
As portrayed by Elizabeth Montgomery, Samantha is the star of the hit television series Bewitched. Samantha is a beautiful, blonde hereditary witch in possession of superpowers – she can accomplish virtually anything merely by wiggling her nose.
Bewitched was a revolutionary program. For the first time, a witch was totally and unambiguously a heroine. She is an extremely sympathetic character – intelligent, kind, sensible, and sensitive. Samantha attempts to juggle the conflicting demands of her beloved husband, Darren, who would like his wife to behave like a regular mortal, and her own family, especially her mother Endora, who find Darren’s desires insulting.
Bewitched aired on ABC from September 17th, 1964 until July 1, 1972, and then continued to air in syndication. The show was phenomenally popular, holding the record for highest-rated half-hour weekly series ever to air from its debut until 1977. For many viewers, Bewitched was the first program to introduce the concept that a witch might be sympathetic. A bronze statue of Samantha was erected in downtown Salem in 2005.
Because sometimes, different is special, not wrong.