Thursday, December 14, 2017

Let these podcasts get you through the holidays

The editorial pace of The Collinsport Historical Society has always been a little confounding for all involved. There are few human beings on earth who can match our enthusiasm for DARK SHADOWS, a television show that went off the air before most of the contributors to this website were even born. Not all that long ago we were sometimes updating the website multiple times a day, which is kind of staggering in retrospect. Where did we get all of that energy? And what's up with those stupid haircuts we used to have? (Spoiler: I have an all-new stupid haircut.)

I look upon the CHS's current editorial schedule with equal parts regret and relief. It's certainly a more rational structure than the previous model, which was to run a niche website as if it was The AV Club. But I also miss the days of rattling off at the keyboard every time DARK SHADOWS did something to excite me. But time is a rarer commodity that it once was, which brings me (finally!) to the point ... I have fallen behind on some of my favorite podcasts.

I've been kicking around the idea for several months of occasionally using this space to discuss some interesting podcasts. Unfortunately, I've fallen behind on everything that I'm currently listening to ... which makes "discussion" a challenge. So, instead of kicking that can even further down the road, here are a few shows that I intend to catch up on this weekend.

Cheap Chills is a new podcast by Amanda and Ben Walker Storey, and they really like horror movies. The first episode is in two parts and focuses on ... plant monsters! They argue that the concept is scarier than it sounds. You can find them online at and listen to the first part of their podcast streaming below.

I don't even know how to introduce Dana Gould. The guy's got a list of professional credits that are more far fetched than Julia Hoffman's divergent medical degrees. Seriously ... LOOK AT THIS. I've been a fan of his since there was only one BATMAN movie (my preferred units of historical measurement are BATMAN movies) and should probably stop now because this is getting weird. The latest episode of The Dana Gould Show is titled "Aging Disgracefully" and features John Hodgman and Rich Koz, aka Svengoolie. I couldn't figure out how to embed the podcast here, but you can find the show pretty much every place that delivers podcasts, and online at

For most of us, Halloween only comes once a year. Howie Pyro has torn the "October" page from his calendar, nailed it to the wall and then blacked out the other 30 days of the month. It might be Christmas right now ... but when the egg nog, consumer hysteria and Whamageddon references become a little too much, Howie always has a kick-ass mix of spooky music waiting for you at Intoxica Radio. You can listen to the latest episode below.

Holy shit ... it's been how long since I've listened to Welcome to Night Vale? Um ... I've really got no excuse. This is embarrassing. Here's the latest episode below.

Jonathan Frid in DIAL M FOR MURDER, 1969

On Sept. 19, 1969, Barnabas Collins ran into some serious difficulties on DARK SHADOWS.

During his jaunt to 1897, the vampire wound up with a stake in his heart courtesy of Charity Trask. The explanation for how he got there — and how he survived — is complicated, which goes without saying with DARK SHADOWS. But it was also a huge shock to viewers at the time because it marked the first significant departure from the show for actor Jonathan Frid.

Frid had booked the leading role in an adaption of DIAL M FOR MURDER at the Little Theater on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois, necessitating the vampire’s temporary demise. The death scene was shot on Sept. 11 that year, with Frid returning to the set for taping on Oct 7. He wouldn’t again be absent for an extended period of time from DARK SHADOWS until the production of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS called him away.

In between, his presence in Sullivan brought the local theater the kind of attention it might not have been expecting. During his national publicity tours, he didn’t draw crowds so much as mobs, frequently needing law enforcement to protect him from fans. The headlines for his appearance in DIAL M FOR MURDER suggest he drew the same kind of attention from young people who probably had no interest in the Eileen Fulton production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF that preceded it. “Vampire captivates youngsters” and “Teens Frid-der away evening” pretty much capture the Beatlemania vibe that traveled with the actor from New York City.

“As the thriller progressed … it was evident that Frid could do no wrong, as least as far as a large portion of the audience was concerned,” wrote a critic for The Decatur Daily Review. “However, those who attend ensuing performances might be wise to remain in their seats a few minutes after the performance to avoid being trampled in the crush of young people on their way to get Frid’s autograph.”

The rest of the cast got short shrift in the play’s coverage. When 16 Spec Magazine published photos from the production the following April, Frid was the only actor identified in the captions. For the record, Frid played “Tony Wendice” alongside Jerili Little as “Margot Wendice,” Dick Gjonola as “Max Halliday,” John Kelso as “Captain Lesgate,” Art Kassul as “Inspector Hubbard” and Guy Little as “Thompson.”

The play ran from Sept. 23 until Oct. 5. Two days later Frid was back in costume in New York City as Barnabas Collins.

Below are photos and assorted ephemera from the 1969 production of DIAL M FOR MURDER.

Signing autographs for young fans in Sullivan, Illinois.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The late night, double feature picture show

For the last few weeks, I've been building short videos for the Collinsport Historical Society's social media pages. These videos tend to contrast a behind-the-scenes image with a short clip of the related episode or movie. It takes a bit of work to connect the dots from the original photo to determine with which episode they're connected, and it's been a fun to solve these mysteries.

Facebook and Instagram have been the primary targets (sorry Twitter, but you make video too challenging) and they've been popular. I try to make these experiences unique to readers so that the people reading Twitter aren't seeing the same content as Facebook, Instagram or even the primary website. The overall goal, or course, is to get you to visit us here, but some people are satisfied simply seeing the occasional photo from DARK SHADOWS in their Facebook feeds and leave it at that. Others just read the website and ignore Twitter, while some on Instagram don't appear to know there's even a website attached to the account. So I like to post occasional reminders here at the main hub about some of the things we're doing on social media.

Below is an example of the short videos we've prepared. The video is taken from Episode 331 of DARK SHADOWS, taped Sept. 21, 1967, a busy day on the set. A photographer was present at ABC Studios in New York City and captured dozens of images of the show's production process. While he didn't need them in the episode taped that day, actor Jonathan Frid donned the fangs to illustrate how they were applied, and posed with co-star David Henesy on the set of the "Old House" in an image that would later appear on the cover of issue #6 of the Dark Shadows Gold Key comic. The video below composites all of those images into a handy 30-second file. If you enjoy it, you can find more on the CHS's Facebook page and Instagram account.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 12


Taped on this date in 1966: Episode 126

David reveals Vicki’s location to Roger and Burke. Meanwhile, Matthew sharpens his axe, ready to kill Vicki. Josette’s ghost appears to Vicki to reassure her, and as Matthew begins his attack, the ghosts of Bill Malloy and the Widows (which sounds like a band name) arrive and frighten him to death, as he swings his weapon wildly. Roger and Burke burst into the Old House to find Matthew dead and Vicki in need of rescue. 

Josette’s ghost first appeared in full form in 102, and Bill Malloy appeared yesterday in 125... but those were appetizers compared to the main course in 126. Really, until Quentin took over Collinwood and the show in early 1969, this episode might have been the high point for spectral apparitions on DS. It takes 125 episodes of getting it kinda right, but 126 is one of the most red letter installments in the series. The program might have gone on the air on June 13, but it was on December 12 that cameras captured the first real episode of DARK SHADOWS.  Not only do we get Matthew Morgan at his most blitheringly insane… not only do we get him casually grinding axes… not only do we get a damseled Vicki awaiting execution… not only do we get multiple ghosts attacking and killing a psychopath… but we also get Frank Schofield performing a seaweed-drenched musical number. Oh, and David’s father runs around the estate with a loaded shotgun… and Roger even tags along. I kid, I kid.

Early appearances of the supernatural were always sure signs of dipping ratings. “Daddy,” Dan Curtis’ kids wisely inquired, “why don’t you make it scary?” This was almost exactly six months into the run, shortly before the year’s end, with Christmas break rolling out across the nation. Accounting time at a network. Decisions getting made. Dan Curtis took the first of many risks and it payed off in what may be the most pivotal installment of the series. After this, there would be a dearth of non-supernatural plot elements. In fact, only one of significance: Jason McGuire. Unlike issues of pens and bleeder valves, that story (kinda) solved the mystery that had dominated the show from the beginning -- and did it with immediate, good, old-fashioned blackmail, executed by one of the series’ most engaging actors. But starting here, that’s blip. 126 is an exciting, tight, dense, fast-moving episode. Chronologically, it’s the first one that I show to people when I want to say, “That’s DARK SHADOWS.”

On this day in 1966, the film version of Robert Bolt’s play, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, premiered. I prefer the later version with Charlton Heston, but few can fault the original, Academy Award-winning interpretation or the virile turn by Robert Shaw as the king it depicts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 11


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 385

Reverend Trask arrives to seek out the witch. Nathan Forbes, showing a broad streak of common sense, tries to get Vicki away, but to no avail. Similarly, Barnabas, fails in his attempts to exorcise the estate of the unordained clergyman. Trask kidnaps Vicki and ties her to a tree in a strange ritual he is convinced will prove her allegiance with Satan.

In 1967, DARK SHADOWS could afford to be progressive. Had this been written a few years later, maybe not so much. What changed? What set the clock back? A work of genius, unfortunately; ROSEMARY’S BABY, released the year after this episode aired.

The witch trial storyline lets the show have it both ways. Most importantly, the Collinses stand as voices of reason in the face of obvious fanaticism. On a horror show, a healthy dose of intellectual, anti-superstitious skepticism is bracing. Along with STAR TREK, DARK SHADOWS was a one-two punch of secular common sense in the genre. With, you know, vampires and werewolves and ghosts. But does it need a witch to facilitate Trask’s mission to play on the buried and forgotten fears of Collinsport, or are we all too vulnerable to hysteria? The scariest part of the show is to see the panic of the family as groupthink sweeps away common sense at the dawn of the 19th century. And there’s a witch in there anyway. Note how Angelique’s motives are all driven by love and desire, though. She’s not claiming Another Child for Satan. She may use dark powers, but she’s the only one at spiritual risk. She is a selfish sorcerer, not a dark missionary. Perfectly postmodern.

ROSEMARY’S BABY would change that. For decades, the devil had been a properly comical figure of cartoonish ridicule. He was Hot Stuff. He hung around on cans of potted ham and turpentine. He was a school mascot, for Pete’s sake. But he lurked in the deepest recesses of our instinctive mythology, anyway, and Roman Polanski released that fear and that side of him. A “Satanic Panic” resulted in pop culture, and despite the fact that the nation was at its most guardedly secular, the devil was back. But this was before all of that. Before the dark times. Before the Empire. Seeing Abigail and Trask as the new, threatening villains of the show dates it, and dates it in the best way. Never before has supernaturalism been so aligned with bullying. DARK SHADOWS is making a very strong statement here, and a subtle one. How many benevolent religious figures do we get on the show as significant characters? Exactly. None. But those Trasks just keep coming. This is DARK SHADOWS at its most subversive, and it’s a credit to the strength, creativity, and dedication of actors Jerry Lacy and Clarice Blackburn that we see it with its strangely fevered integrity. Yes, they are motivated by a communitarian ethos. No issue there. And they still seem like bullies beyond that.  All angles and obsidian, Jerry Lacy is the ideal counterpoint against Lara Parker, a French vanilla elision of aristocratic curves and indulgently refined contours. Even her voice has a gracefully playful mellifluousness that dips and rises like a Billy May arrangement, much too marvelous when set against the jagged ice of Lacy’s feral, slam-bang treatment of the language. She’s not in this episode, but since she has star-powered the storyline both as a character and as actress, we feel the confrontation coming.

Welcome, Reverend Trask.

Satanically speaking, the original BEDAZZLED had that very effect on delighted audiences right around this time in 1967. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 8


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 384

Everyone at Collinwood attempts to talk Barnabas out of the duel with his uncle, but he refuses to back down. Knowing that death is certain, Angelique equips Barnabas with a special charm to wear. In the duel, Barnabas kills his uncle, and Josette swears enmity to her former lover.

I never liked the 1795 sequence. There, I said it. I always remembered it to be stilted, slow, and falling short -- emotionally -- of the subject matter it was designed to cover. Notice how few of those episodes I cover? Yeah, well, that explains it.

But DARK SHADOWS does one thing better than anything else: smash assumptions. For many writers, crafting dialogue with a 1790’s flavor would be a burden that would take them away from relevance. For Sam Hall? It releases him to depict sharp, eloquent men and women facing difficult truths with their educated and aware eyes open and informed. Charlton Heston once said that once you understood what Shakespeare was saying, there was no other way to say it. Rather than muddy things up, the right language clarifies, no matter how many contractions are denied. Yes, some actors struggle with it a bit. Not everyone can be Gwyneth Paltrow and believably play characters far smarter than they are. But then you have Jonathan Frid and David Ford, and you see actors at ultimate ease with the show at last. Just as Heston was born to wear a toga, Frid was born for breeches and neckcloths. In that era and garb, Barnabas at last has a simple, direct honesty. Rather than gain affectations, it’s as if he loses them and finally gets to tell the truth as he tells the story. There is such a clarity and elegance in his performance here. It’s both beautiful and sad, because we finally see one of Canada’s finest actors at full gallop. Had he not chosen early retirement? Had he been paired with a powerful agent? To me, Jonathan Frid would have landed parts that would have demonstrated a cross-section of William Holden, Albert Finney, and Hal Holbrook. Like Grayson Hall, there is a vaguely silly quality that he accidentally displays when snarling and shouting and fretting over gremlins and ghoulies. You try it and see how well YOU do. But here, working in seamless tandem with the marvelous Lara Parker, you see such easy confidence. Frid finally gets to do what eludes so many actors; he speaks simple, hard truths that are changing that character’s life against all better judgment. This duel is a terrible idea. But I really accept that he believes he has no choice. That’s far tougher to authentically sell than the hunger to drink blood. To see his sad, strangely self-assured acknowledgement that, yes, he’s going to duel and no, he’s never been in one, and no, Angelique, he’s never even seen one, but there you have it. Because-this-is-the-life-we-life-and-what-other-option-have-I?

In this one episode, I understand Barnabas on a deeper level than I have before. He makes really terrible decisions utterly rationally, and I guess in his case, I might do the same thing. This is revealed in both his scene with Parker and his scene with George. He owns up to his self-pity with open eyes, admitting to his delusion that he is capable of dealing with any problem. Lara Parker’s Angelique experiences a strange horror, too. It’s a sorcerer’s apprentice moment. He’d rather fight for a woman who will never have him than be with anyone else. Who’s fault is that? Oh, and it will probably kill him. Great. Angelique has such humanity, here. It was just a scheme gone awry at the end of the day. Has she triggered a death wish in lieu of the love she believed she was conjuring? And does this suggest that her seeming hate for others was really self-hatred?

Back to Frid, is his heartbreak over losing Josette or over losing Jeremiah? Love comes and goes, but friendship, I argue, can be much deeper. When Barnabas concludes that his uncle hated him all along, I think we see the central loss, betrayal, and heartbreak that not only leads to his greatest mistake, but powers the engine of pain that pushes him through all of his subsequent relationships. Is his fealty to Julia and Quentin an attempt at penance? Or is it a simple statement that he will never put someone else through the kind of betrayal that he experienced? If Angelique had known any of this, I think she would have had Josette run off with the stable boy. She does love the guy, after all.

It’s Anthony George’s last episode. I’ve read that George was uncomfortable with the parts he played on DARK SHADOWS, and pushing Burke to become a normative presence is a bit time-to-make-the-donuts for an actor. I can sense a shade of relief and freedom in his turn here. He’s moving on.

On this day in 1967, Otis Redding records "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," thus providing the soundtrack for endlessly cloying commercials aimed at pinot grigio swilling yuppies, convincing them it’s about not having a care in the world. Have these people listened to the lyrics? That’s all I’m asking.

Dark Shadows Gift Guide: Black Light Shadows

I mentioned the work of artist Dean Monahan back in September, specifically his series of black light posters featuring the characters of DARK SHADOWS. It was pretty clear at the time that I not only liked his work, but his attention to some of the show's minor arcana, as well. There are even some hardcore fans of the series who have never seen the original appearance of actress Diana Millay as "The Phoenix," but BLAM! Monahan created a kick-your-eyes-in poster of the villain. My favorite is the "American Gothic" of Barnabas and Josette somberly staring through the front window of the old house ... but I love the beautiful contrast of the melancholy content of Josette/Maggie walking along the shoreline in garish neon color. Monahan has dozens of pieces for sale on Ebay. You can find his store online HERE.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 7


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1167

Lamar and Gerard dedicate themselves to proving that a vampire is loose at Collinwood, even if it means exposing the truth about Roxanne. Flora Collins helps them with the family history, tying in the “1797“ vampire attacks with the disappearance of Lamar‘s father. While investigating the Old House, Lamar and Gerard find incriminating letters related to Reverend Trask‘s death.  Meanwhile, the dashing young son of Mordecai Grimes begins to court Carrie Stokes.

I’m not entirely certain when Dan Curtis got the news that the show was in trouble. At this point, we are about six months away from the show leaving the air. I don’t think the writing was on the wall, however fate might have been shaking its spray paint in anticipation, standing by the bricks, whistling innocently. It’s fun to speculate what Curtis and company were thinking and planning for the future, anyway. Having plundered the applicable classics, I’m sure it was clear that they needed new sources of inspiration, and while that might have been an uncertain prospect, there is a sense of confidence that the series would continue. I see that when I look at Kate Jackson, Kathy Cody, and Tom Happer. Happer only appears in four episodes, but he’s the tall, dark, “Curtis type,“ and when I see him on screen with Cody, I get the sense that the next generation Carolyn and Joe are being conjured. We already have Victoria Winters 3.0 in Kate Jackson.

As for the show’s OG, Joan Bennett? Yet another afternoon with Flora Collins, the most bizarre character she ever got to play. Flora is at her best in this. Certainly, she gets deadly serious when she discusses the strange history of the 1790s, but before that, her flightiness is quintessentially creepy. There is a strange, baby doll quality to her performance that has weird touches of Norman Desmond-as-ingenue. In some ways, it’s the most decadent character on the show since Pansy Faye, and the only thing missing is an over-the-top southern accent to complete it. This is by no means a criticism. If anything, I celebrate it.

It feels like has been a long time since the needle on the continuity-porn-o-mometer has gone into the red, but 1167 sends it spinning.  Why they keep referring to 1795 as 1797 is beyond me. I can understand weariness and confusion from an overtaxed writing staff, but didn’t anyone else notice? In my desire to rationalize everything, I just take it as poor research on the part of the characters. It’s not like they had Bing.

On this day in 1970, Germany and Poland decided to get along much better. And good for them.
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