Jone Devlin interviews author Peter Alachi
the October 30, 2006 audio interview (14 minutes - 3.2 MB)
Transcribed by Peter Alachi
Announcer: This is KPFT
FM 90.1 Houston.
JD: Hi, this is Jone Devlin in Iowa and there’s no great pumpkin here; there are over some witches, which is something we’re going to be talking about tonight; only our witches tonight are going to be ones in Salem. I have Peter Alachi on the line with me. Peter, are you with us?
PA: I’m with you Jone, how are you?
JD: Fine, how’re you doing?
PA: Well, it’s been a while, huh?
JD: Yeah, time flies!
PA: I know, time flies.
JD: Peter, is actually a resident of Salem, Massachusetts and he has written two books: one is called Salem’s Summer of Sam, on the trail of Bewitched in Salem, 1970 and then he’s done a Pictorial Tale of the Bewitched Statue of Salem, Massachusetts which is a story about the controversy surrounding TV Land’s placement of the Samantha Stephens statue in the town’s square in Salem. So Peter, let’s kind of begin at the beginning a little bit. What was Salem like in 1970 when Bewitched came because many of us know it today as the Halloween capital of the world?
PA: Yeah, Salem back in 1970 was still evolving. I think if you look at Salem’s history in general, Salem has four facets that tourists come to see. They come to see the Peabody-Essex Museum to learn about its trade history1, they come for Nathaniel Hawthorne and for its literature, and of course they come for the Witch Trials of 1692. So Salem in 1970 was really all encompassing. Tourists came to Salem to see all of these. In 1970 something happened that they started to emphasize the kitsch side more and more: The Halloween fairs and the occult. That all really stared in 1970, around that time.
JD: And what brought Bewitched to Salem?
PA: Well, Bewitched came to Salem – they had planned originally to film in Salem to do some exterior scenes in Salem, and the opportunity came when their studio in Hollywood burned down. And what happened, they kind of panicked and wanted to come to Salem immediately and film there. Maxwell Henry, the Assistant Director of Bewitched at the time gave a call to Michael Linquata of the Gloucester House2 and he was truly panicking over the phone. He says we really need to come up to Salem to film at your locale, would you be able to help us. Michael Linquata didn’t even know who this guy is - it was early Sunday morning. So he sort of accepted and the rest is history. They came during the week of June 20th and they filmed for six days in Salem – between Salem and Gloucester…on location.
JD: Now fast forward forty years to two years ago when the Samantha statue was unveiled.
JD: Well, Bewitched is an icon, is a TV icon; it’s got a gay mystique, it’s got a feminist mystique; it’s got fans all over the world and you’d think of all places, Salem, which is one of the most open minded communities in the world would not only not mind the Samantha statue, they would embrace the idea of the Samantha statue. So what happened?
PA: I think you’d find most people did embrace the idea of the statue. I don’t think there was much of a controversy among 99% of the residents. I think you had some people in town who were truly offended that the statue had come to Salem because of historical perspectives - they were historical purists; they said basically that there was a lack of strong connection between the Bewitched statue and Salem and they made the argument that it is basically a sitcom; a sitcom that was based in Westport of all places; so why not erect it in Westport, not Salem. And then they said well, look, you know, we have great statues in Salem, you were here in Salem and you saw the statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne, you saw the statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem, and that statue is going to be sitting among these other statues which have historical importance. So it’s going to sit in the middle of the town at a crossroad between the Witch House and the Peabody-Essex Museum; does it really belong here. I mean, this is basically their argument. They said well you might as well erect the statue of Colonel Klink3 in the middle of Auschwitz; I mean this is how far they carried it. But if you look at the demonstrators at the unveiling ceremony in 2005, there were truly a handful; there were about 15 or 20 of them - not that many. And the guy who was actually arrested during the unveiling ceremony wasn’t even from Salem; he was from Peabody. So essentially, there are people in Salem who disagreed with it and there are people who liked the statue and if you go by the statue today you’ll always see tourists stopping by and taking their photos with it – and it’s a nice attraction for the tourists because they come to Salem for the kitsch side of Salem, and at the same time once they visit Salem they end up learning about the other history of Salem: the Witch Trials, the literature, and they see the architecture, and of course there’s the fun side of Salem at the same time. I mean this time of the year is crazy; you can’t even walk around Salem.
JD (audible laugh): Yes, I know…but I wanted to say, because truthfully, this is how I learned about the Witch Trials – I heard about them on Bewitched then I read about them and I’ve met many people both on Bewitched fan-sites and even just in general who will say that…
PA: Yes, indeed…
JD: they learned about the Witch Trials because of Bewitched, I mean it’s been doing this for years…
PA: You know one of the episodes in the Salem Saga episodes4 was based at the Witch House where one of the judges of the Witch Trials, Jonathan Corwin, lived, and basically, you know, it’s an imaginary story – basically Samantha in that story sort of gets rid of the accursed Witchcraft Trials altogether by telling the judge look these people aren’t even witches, I’m a witch, but they’re not witches; you know, they were ordinary mortals. You know, so it was a good thing somehow, and you know, you’re right, a lot of people heard about Salem from Bewitched.
JD: And the thing is the overall message was tolerance and this is why this show has appealed to gay people from so many generations…about celebrating your difference
PA: Oh, I agree, I think the show is about tolerance. You know, I mean there is also the theme of the show really is … there is prejudice and prejudice creates conflict. I mean you see the conflict manifested, for example, between Endora, of course Endora is the goddess5…
PA: (audible laugh): …between Endora and Darrin. You know, she would call him a ‘bigot’ sometimes to his face and Darrin in moments of rage would say things like, you know, “now I know why they used to burn witches at Salem,” he’d say. And he’ll annoy the hell out of her and she’d turn him into a frog or a donkey or something. But Bewitched is sort of a gay metaphor, you know. Here you have Sam, who is a witch being asked by her husband to keep it to herself – keep it in the closet so to speak – and to keep her witch powers repressed just to fit into the norms of the human family. How similar is it to many gays today who are married, who can’t come out of the closet for various social reasons – until today you see it – but especially back in those days. So, her challenge, Sam’s challenge, in those episodes, was to leave her zone of comfort, deny herself – her true self and that really required a great deal of self-esteem on her part. So I think, that, along with the fact that you had characters from the show who were gay, I mean I don’t think that was the main reason why it’s such a, you know, popular show among the gay community, but you have, of course, Paul Lynde, you have Maurice Evans, you have the second Darrin, you know, Dick Sargent, all of them were also gay. And of course you have Samantha herself, you know, Elizabeth Montgomery, who was very supportive of gay issues.
JD: So let’s get to your books now.
JD: First one is called Salem’s Summer of Sam?
JD: And the second one is called a Pictorial Tale of the Bewitched Statue of Salem, Massachusetts. What do people need to do to get these books if they would be interested? And I have to say for the, especially, the Salem’s Summer of Sam, the research is phenomenal, the things you’ve found are amazing…
PA: Oh, thank you very much. Yes, the only way to get them is through my website right now. And they can go on www.palachi.com (spells it out). And if they go to the website there’s a portal on the website to order these two books. They’re $9.95 each. And the portal by the way is driven through PayPal so it’s very easy to place an order.
JD: Actually, I was reading if you want to share something with our listeners, David White, Larry Tate, living up to his reputation about the House of the Seven Gables, you want to tell that story?
PA: Yes. Ok, sure. What happened here in this case is Larry Tate was filming a scene with Dick Sargent outside the House of the Seven Gables and they were conversing and there was a reporter standing next to them and she heard Larry Tate say, you know, grimaced about how much it cost to go through the House of the Seven Gables. He goes “$1.25 just to walk through this house? Can you imagine what it costs to sleep there!” And he was like really annoyed at that so White would’ve probably been livid to learn that by the time the new Bewitched opened in September, admission to the old house appreciated by a whole quarter to $1.50!
JD: (audible laugh)
PA: And actually now the admission to the House of the Seven Gables is almost $11; so he would be really outraged!
JD: And the other story about David White that I find fascinating and that it is also germane to topics of today is that when he was interviewed, I believe, in Gloucester, and kind of spoke out against Nixon and Vietnam.
PA: Yeah. Yes, he was actually quite the liberal of his days and he was, in those days, early during the presidency of Richard Nixon, what’s his name…Spiro Agnew, the Vice President, used to go on the attack, attacking the anti-war movement and their backers calling them apologists for the North Vietnamese Regime, so…
JD: You said that was Dick Cheney? Oh, wait, no, I’m sorry.
PA: (audible laugh) Pretty much, yes, it sounds very similar, doesn’t it?! But what happened is that in March, Nixon had, in March of 1970, Nixon attacked Cambodia, invaded Cambodia and had deliberately expanded the Vietnam War, so he had initially during his campaign, you know, promised that he would reduce the troop levels and he reneged on his promises, essentially. So, he sent out Agnew to attack his opponents and it came at the heels of the Kent State University Massacre of May 4th during which several students were killed or injured. And David White was quite annoyed at the whole thing and basically said to a reporter, he said, “look, when you throw a rock, do you expect to get shot?” and really everybody was looking at him. Nobody even replied because that’s exactly what happened: students were throwing rocks why did they get shot at the time? And why would Spiro Agnew go on the attack at that specific time.
JD: Well, Peter, give us one more time the website where people can get your two books.
PA: Ok, the website is www.palachi.com. And…
JD: Great, and the books are Salem’s Summer of Sam: On the trail of Bewitched in Salem, 1970
JD: And a Pictorial Tale of the Bewitched Statue of Salem, Massachusetts, perfect Halloween reading, Peter will get them out to you right away; they are wonderful books. Peter thank you so much for being with us tonight.
PA: Thank you Jone for having me on the show.
JD: Great, and you are listening to KPFT FM 90.1 FM Houston.
Peter Alachi is the author of “A
Pictorial Tale of the Bewitched Statue of Salem, MA” and