Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Samantha's fans planning 'Bewitched' convention

via the internet-challenged Salem News which apparently can't be troubled to check links.

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

SALEM - She arrived in Salem on a broomstick, and the bronze image of television's most famous sorceress, Samantha Stephens of "Bewitched," is already working magic on fans of the 1960s TV comedy.

Plans are afoot to bring the show's devotees to Salem for a weeklong "Bewitched" convention this June, giving them a chance to see the TV Land statue of Samantha erected at the corner of Essex and Washington streets only last year.

But don't adjust your schedule to avoid the crowds - this won't be like October's Harry Potter Convention. Organizer Mark Simpson, 47, an accountant from Tacoma, Wash., said the plan is "tentative," and he isn't promising huge crowds. Last year's "Bewitched" convention in Los Angeles - to observe the release of the movie version - drew only about 25 people.

"But every year it gets bigger and bigger," Simpson said.

Born in Portland, Maine, he is very familiar with everything this region has to offer students of the late actress Elizabeth Montgomery and her occult alter ego, Samantha.

"We'll do the sights of Salem and all things that have to do with 'Bewitched,'" he said.

Parts of several "Bewitched" episodes were filmed in Salem in June 1970. Conventioneers want to revisit the places where it happened - the House of the Seven Gables and Hammond Castle in Magnolia.

"We'd love to stay at the Hawthorne," Simpson said, noting that the show's cast and crew stayed there during their visit. "But I don't know if we can afford it."

Gloucester's famous fisherman statue and Fall River are on the itinerary, too. The statue was featured in an episode of "Bewitched." And after she hung up her broom, Montgomery picked up an ax, appearing as Fall River's Lizzie Borden in a 1975 TV movie.

"She was never in Fall River," Simpson said, instead taking her 40 whacks in a Hollywood studio.

Above all, visitors will want to see Samantha in bronze, riding her broom over a crescent moon in Salem's Lappin Park.

"I've only seen pictures," Simpson said. "I was kind of blown away. From what I saw, it looked just like her. Amazing."

He speaks in hushed tones when Montgomery's name comes up. Asked if he ever met the actress - who died in 1995 - he pauses. "I never got to meet Liz. And that makes me really sad."

Unmarried, with no children, he lives with a friend and devotes leisure time to his favorite television show by running a Web site - "The Bewitched Collector" - a kind of electronic attic where he can show off thousands of photos and other memorabilia from the show.

"This show has been my ideal since I was 6 years old," Simpson said. "My mother would say, 'Don't you ever think of anything else?'" He didn't and isn't apologizing for it. "For a long time, I thought I was the only one." His Web site - one of many "Bewitched" sites - draws 150 hits a day.

"I've been able to meet and get e-mail from all over the world," he said. "I feel like a celebrity."

Simpson is hoping to bring some surviving "Bewitched" cast members to the convention.

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