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It was a mild tempest about a teapot, but J.C. Penney took it seriously enough to remove a billboard featuring a tea kettle that some people thought resembled Adolf Hitler.

The ad, on Interstate 405 near Culver City, Calif., got lots of attention over the past few days as people noticed that the kettle bore an odd resemblance to the leader of the Third Reich.

The $40 kettle had black details that could conjure an image of Hitler's mustache and parted hair. With a little more imagination, the kettle spout could look like a right arm raised in a Nazi salute.

As of Wednesday, it was taken down. The Michael Graves-designed kettle was also gone from jcpenney.com.

Social media were buzzing.

A photo submitted by Reddit user Wrestles4Food over Memorial Day weekend had 126 comments by Wednesday. One described the kettle as "some comic-book version of Hitler." Another said it looked like a South Park version of the Nazi dictator.

"It's easier to see Hitler than the kettle," one user said.

News headline writers had fun saying Penney was in "hot water" and that trouble was brewing."

The billboard brouhaha comes after the company had taken much heat for other marketing missteps of late. The retailer, which ousted CEO Ron Johnson earlier this year, suffered sales declines after Johnson decided to drop its coupons and and other discount offers. This spring, the company reversed course and took out ads, saying it was taking customers' complaints seriously.

In the case of of the controversial kettle, Penney handled it with a light touch.

It took to Twitter to say that any likeness was "certainly unintended."

It also shared other ideas for what a teapot should resemble.

"If we had designed the teapot to look like something, we would have depicted a kitten tea kettle :)" it said via the @jcpenney handle.

In other Twitter posts, the retailer said it would have gone with a snowman, puppy, bunny or a baby panda kettle. It tweeted out photos of a snowman teapot that it sells.

At press time, the company didn't respond to an e-mail and call for comment.

On Tuesday, it said on Twitter that it had sold out of the teapot online.

Some entrepreneurs who got the teapots and saw an opportunity have taken to eBay to sell them.

"Looks like Hitler," said one seller who priced available kettles at $249.99. "Impossible to find."

Others on sale had bids of $41 and $76 by Wednesday night.

By Laura Petrecca

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