Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: AUGUST 30


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 578.

Tony visits Collinwood to revise Liz’s will as her new attorney. Carolyn takes advantage of his visit to explore her romantic feelings for him, but when Adam sees this, he later attacks Tony. This moves Carolyn to again explain to Adam that she only wants to be friends. Worried about Adam, she hires Harry Johnson to babysit Adam for $100 a day. The sight of Harry Johnson drives Adam into a slow-burning rage. He writes a goodbye note, breaks down the door, and escapes. Meanwhile, Roger reports that Liz will keep the family in her will only if they agree to support her new mausoleum. It’s equipped with a button that will allow her to escape if she should ever be buried alive. Roger feels that she should be sent back to Windcliff immediately.

Woody Allen and Diana Walker in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.
It’s Earth 2 Carolyn! Another actress plays Carolyn in this one, and it’s a little like having a substitute teacher. Refreshing, but it makes you appreciate the real deal, too. Louis Edmonds sounds thoroughly disgusted when he informs viewers in a voiceover that “the part of Carolyn will be played by Diana Walker.” So, Nancy took a sick day. So what, Louis? Not Diana’s fault. There’s an especially odd sequence where you have the substitute Carolyn speaking with Harry, who’s like the substitute Willie. If only Betsy Durkin had been in this one, I think we all would have been sucked into Parallel Time. Diana is, you know, fine. But she really makes you appreciate the talent of Nancy Barrett, whose acting is so marvelously honest and seemingly effortless. Walker was a capable soap actress, who also appeared on AS THE WORLD TURNS and WHERE THE HEART IS. On stage, her career was more interesting. She appeared with future nighttime TV hunk, Bea Arthur, in the original cast of MAME and also co-starred with Jerry Lacy (also in this episode) in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM.

As for the episode? Whether it’s PC to invoke the phrase or not, one thing is true; don’t friendzone Adam.

On this day in history, we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s appointment to the Supreme Court as well as the birthday of, more-or-less, Adam creator, Mary Shelley. So, go watch GOTHIC!

"Much Ado About Nothing" tour takes a dark turn, 1958


By all accounts, the 1958 stage tour of "Much Ado About Nothing" was a success. It was a huge gamble, though, despite the presence of a bona fide superstar on the bill. Directors John Houseman and Jack Landau had re-imagined Shakespeare's romcom as a bit of a western, moving the story from its Sicilian locale to 19th-century Spanish-American Texas. It was also the first tour launched by the American Shakespeare Festival, which staged its first play in Stanford, Connecticut, in 1955.

While it was ultimately a financial success, "Much Ado About Nothing" took an unexpectedly dark turn during the tour's final weeks.

Having Katharine Hepburn on the marquee likely helped ease the doubts of the tour's investors. Hepburn was as big a movie star as has ever been produced by Hollywood, and her presence in the show had a curious impact on things. If you were to see ads for the travelling show in your local newspaper, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a movie. Hepburn and co-star Alfred Drake were treated like royalty by the press, although few other names in the cast were able to escape Hepburn's orbit. "Much Ado About Nothing" was a Big Deal.

The production debuted late in 1957 at the American Shakespeare Festival, part of a festival program that also included "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice." All three shows shared a sprawling cast of more than two dozen actors. At the end of the festival, directors Houseman and Landau must have been pleased with the festival's comedic contribution, because they opted to take the "Much Ado About Nothing" on a short tour of America.

Alfred Drake and Katharine Hepburn in "Much Ado About Nothing," 1957.
Hepburn and Drake agreed to star in the nine-week tour. The roster of actors was trimmed to the meet play's essential roles. When the cast of "Much Ado About Nothing" hit the road in early 1958, Jonathan Frid was with them.

Frid, 32, had received a master's degree in directing in 1957 from the Yale University Drama School.

"I was a directing major there, but we all had to do parts anyway," Frid said during a 2012 interview with the Archive of American Television. "Everybody had to do acting at one time or another. I'd already gone through acting, all kinds of teachers, and I was a perpetual student. I was going to everybody in those days. I had to go through it again and they gave me all these huge roles to play at Yale and it led to getting into the American Shakespeare Festival where I worked with Katharine Hepburn, and John Houseman was the director at the time."

Frid played both "Friar Francis" and "Sexton" at different points during the 1958 tour. In later years, he remained characteristically modest about his importance to the production.

"I was in a small role," he told TV Picture Life in 1969. "I wasn’t important, but it gave me a chance to know (Hepburn). I was able to observe her. I was there, every day, watching her.”

Hepburn was "Beatrice," Drake played "Benedick" and the rest of the cast often traded roles based on the ever-shifting demands of the tour. And those demands took a tragic turn upon the show's arrival in Boston.

"Much Ado About Nothing" ran from Jan. 27 until Feb. 1 in 1958 at the American Theatre in St. Louis. The tour stopped next in Washington, during which the company found it impossible to hide actor Stanley Bell's worsening mental health problems. Appearing as "Don Pedro," Bell walked off stage -- and out of the theater -- in the middle of a scene with Hepburn on Feb. 14. An understudy filled in for the rest of the performance, but Bell was unaccounted for until the following day.

He appeared at Houseman's Manhattan apartment early the next morning to find the director was not at home. Bell told Joan Courtney, Houseman's wife, that he'd "blanked out" during the performance. By chance, Houseman called the apartment while Bell was present and the two spoke. Bell asked to return to the production but, when Courtney left the room to get a cup of tea for him, she found the actor had left the apartment.

On the morning of Feb. 17, Bell jumped from the eighth floor window of the Hotel Touraine. In the interim, he must have convinced Houseman to let him continue with the show. News reports of Bell's death mention that he was expected to take the stage when the play opened that night at the Shubert Theater.

Boston was in the grips of a snowstorm that claimed the lives of more than 30 people that week, and Bell's death was hardly noticed. In fact, the desk attendant who heard the actor's body strike the hotel's marquee initially thought it was more snow falling from the roof. The show went on as scheduled with a few temporary adjustments to the cast.

The Wikipedia page for Hotel Touraine weirdly lists Bell as one of the many celebrity guests to have stayed at the hotel, omitting the tragic way in which he checked out. Worse, Bell was actually registered a mile away at the Hotel Lenox at the time of his death. (Hepburn was staying at the Ritz Carlton.)

A native of Montreal, Bell claimed to be the 18th in a generation of actors dating back to the Globe Theater during Shakespeare's lifetime. His Broadway credits included "Candida" in 1942 (with Raymond Massey and Burgess Meredith), "Lady Windermere's Fan" in 1946, and "Affair of Honor" in 1956.

John Colicos (who would later appear in STAR TREK and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) replaced Drake in the role of "Benedick" in Boston. Ellis Raab (who Kelsey Grammer would later cite as the inspiration for the voice of "Sideshow Bob" on THE SIMPSONS) replaced Bell for the remainder of the tour.

Katharine Hepburn, Lois Nettleton and Jonathan Frid.
"Much Ado About Nothing" earned $300,000 during it's nine-week run (about $2.5 million today) and prompted the American Shakespeare Festival to investigate the possibility of hiring a full-time acting repertoire. Hepburn would return to the silver screen the following year in the ghastly adaption of Tennessee Williams' SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. Drake would reprise his starring role in the TV movie adaption of KISS ME, KATE later in 1958. Colicos unsuccessfully tried to kill the crew of the Enterprise, Battlestar Galactica and the X-Men.

And you probably know what happened to Jonathan Frid.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Grayson Hall ain't no snitch, 1964

John Huston's THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA had not screened for the public when actress Grayson Hall sat down for an interview about the film in June, 1964. It had already garnered a certain level of notoriety, though, with rumors circulating that made the Mexican set sound like a tropical orgy. "It seems like a gossiper's dream: Richard Burton is on location with Lolita," one columnist wrote as the film was still in production in 1963.

In the interview below, Hall doesn't appear to be much interested in the whereabouts of Burton's penis during the production of the film. While I don't think she's being entirely honest about the crew's misadventures, it's also not her place to help feed the Gossip Monster that had cast its lewd eye upon her colleagues. When asked about the "scandalous goings-on" in Mexico, you can practically hear her tell the writer to "fuck off."

(Note: Hall would later receive an Academy award nomination for her performance in THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. Watch footage of her at the 1965 ceremony HERE.)

Inside Story 
July 3, 1964

It’s like this. You’re a reporter, an entertainment writer, always on the lookout for interesting people with equally interesting stories for you to put into a thrice weekly column.

In an office a few flights up from the bright lights section of Broadway, there’s a press agent, who writes you a note about a client of his, an actress with the unlikely name of Grayson Hall. Would you like to interview her?

You’re ready to pass up his offer until you note that she has a featured role in “The Night of the Iguana,” film version of Tennessee Williams’ Broadway play of a few seasons back.

Well, you’ve heard all about the hankying and pankying that went on in Mismaloya, Mexico, while the movie was being made. You’ve read the gossip columnists’ reports and the magazine articles about what supposedly happened when John Huston. Ava Gardner, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor. Sue Lyon, Deborah Kerr, Peter Viertel, and Williams found themselves thrown together in a steamy, tropical village for several months.

Aha, you think, here’s your chance to get the inside story on what happened in Mismaloya from someone who was there. So you pick up your pencil and pad and head for Manhattan.

Hate to disappoint you, but about the only thing that happened in Mismaloya was that a movie was made, a movie which received generally good reviews when it premiered Tuesday. It will open in hundreds of theaters in New York and New Jersey on Aug. 6.

So they made a movie that got good notices. Great! But, what really happened? What about all the scandalous goings-on that were supposed to have gone on?

“There weren’t any,” Miss Hall tells you as you scratch the ears of her son’s dog, Thing, named after a character from a Dr. Seuss book.

“Well, there was one thing.” (Aha, you think, this is it, the bare truth.) “One of the reporters — and there seemed to be millions of them — who came down to cover the filming tried to interview Dick Burton over drinks. Well, Burton is one of those people who can drink for hours without showing it. The reporter, unfortunately, wasn’t, and by the time the interview was finished, Dick practically had to carry the poor man home.”

“You see, it was a work situation. We had come there to make a film, and that’s what we did. Of course, we had one of the longest cocktail hours ever. Work finished at about 5:30 and dinner wasn’t served until nine. We couldn’t go back to our rooms and write letters or anything like that because of the insects. The only thing we could do was drink, so we had a three hour plus cocktail hour.”

This was Miss Hall’s first big movie (she co-starred with Meg Myles in the low-budget “Satan in High Heels.”) Until now, Miss Hall’s career has centered around the legitimate stage, both on and off Broadway.

Among her credits are “The Balcony,” Six Characters in Search of an Author” (the Tyrone Guthrie production at the Phoenix), and “Subways Are For Sleeping.”

From the way New York film critics hailed Miss Hall’s performance, she’s virtually assured of a solid film career — if she wants one. The only hitch is she doesn’t. She’ll make movies alright as long as she can continue doing live roles onstage.

How she got her name is a story in itself. She was born Shirley Grossman, changed her name to Shirley Grayson, and married writer Sam Hall, making her Shirley Hall. Deciding that she wasn’t really a Shirley, Miss Hall made one more switch, this time to Grayson Hall. It may sound like a dormitory, but it’s a name few can forget.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: AUGUST 29


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 836.

David hangs at the brink of death, forcing Julia into the abandoned Collinwood. There, the ghost of Beth appears to her and describes the events that led to Quentin’s death. In 1897, Angelique relishes telling her of Quentin’s change in affections and of their subsequent engagement. Jamison finds Beth distraught at the news, and when he confronts Quentin, the argument boils into his total rejection of his uncle. Quentin is heartbroken. Later, when Beth and Quentin finally speak, their row ends with her shooting her former lover. This, we learn, is followed by her suicide. Thus, Quentin’s obsession with claiming David into the realm of the dead. David reminds him of Jamison, and by taking him with him into death, it is his only way for them to be together. Quentin’s ghost appears, delighted with David’s demise. When he dematerializes, David dies. Stokes arrives, and it’s clear that Julia must venture into the past to alter events and save the lives of Quentin, Beth, and David.

Powerful, driving love stories needn’t be romantic, and it’s touching and mature that the love story that has driven Quentin is about Jamison. After hinting around at the secret for so long, it’s generous for the series to simply lay out the truth, and it also makes for a clever way to sneak an 1897 episode in the midst of one in 1969. We’re also reminded of Quentin’s mystery and rage. After maturing him so beautifully in 1897, this is a great callback to what got us started on that storyline. I know I keep coming up with reasons to marvel at the inventiveness of the show’s storytelling, but after wading through The Turgid Year of 1966, it’s so heartening to see the writers find newer and increasingly exciting ways to throw out the rules.

This episode was shot on a quiet day, so let me get ahead of myself to the day it aired, Sept. 8. That’s also the birthday of actor, Alan Feinstein. Alan appears as the clapping guy in the striped shirt who’s digging Carolyn’s moves the very first time we visit the Blue Whale. Alan is a marvelous actor, still teaching in LA. Not only was Alan on, I think, every single series shot between 1975 and 2000 (including a recurring role on FALCON CREST as ‘Malcolm Sinclair’), he was also a busy actor in New York, notably appearing as the lead in AS IS. I got to work with Alan as his assistant and line buddy in a mondo gigante production of AMADEUS where he played Salieri in 1993. He was thrilled that anyone still knew of DARK SHADOWS, and was (and is) a fantastically generous teacher. He had just finished playing Mitch Ryan’s son in LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and the resemblance is eerie.

Speaking of birthdays, Aug. 29 is a humdinger. Ingmar Bergman, William Friedkin, Michael Jackson, Charlie Parker, Sir Richard Attenborough, Elliott Gould, Robin Leach, and most vitally, Deborah Van Valkenburgh. She was one of the honeys on TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT as well as appearing in the classic DS9 episode, “Past Tense,” and as William Shatner’s squeeze in FREE ENTERPRISE. Oh, and she was in THE WARRIORS and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: AUGUST 26


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 571

Although Tom chokes Barnabas into unconsciousness, the sun forces him to retreat into his coffin. When Barnabas comes to, he wastes little time in staking Tom, only briefly wondering if anyone had ever stood over him this way. Simultaneously, Julia is cured and comes to, the wounds gone from her neck. Meanwhile, Roger finds Liz cowering behind a chair in the Old House. She swears she’s seen a coffin, and agrees to go back to Windcliff if it can’t be found. Meanwhile, Nicholas Blair visits the convalescing Julia, arming himself with irony, a smart floral bouquet, and a smile. None of it takes. At the site of Tom’s coffin, Barnabas and Roger find nothing. Roger is ready to lock Liz away for good when Julia insists that she may be better cared for at home. Alone with Julia, Barnabas concludes that the staking of Tom was only the beginning; the person who turned him is still a threat.

This is one of those grand places where Barnabas gets to spiritually atone, exorcise the demons of his past, vicariously destroy the worst in himself, and yet show a strange sympathy to his quarry all at once in the moments before Tom’s (second) death. It yet another turning point for the Great Man, and sly Gordon Russell can’t let the gravitas be untrod upon for long. No sooner does he get back that we see the grand Joan Bennett hiding behind a wing-back chair like Jack Tripper evading Mr. Roper. In some cases, I’d wager the humor were accidental. With Russell? No way. Not in the same episode that Nicholas forces his way into the Old House with the only permutation of politeness that could make it possible, and under just the right circumstances for Barnabas to let him do it. With the house unguarded! The guy just can’t get a break. Then, rounding things out is the Eddie Haskellian plea by Julia for Roger to Let Liz Stay. If you’re looking for the ridiculous and the sublime, this episode swings. It may be one of the best selections to introduce newcomers to the wild range that is DARK SHADOWS at its most ebulliently eclectic.

On this day in 1987, the Fuller Brush company opened its first retail stores. Relevant only because Humbert Allen Astredo once sold Fuller brushes, and it was while doing so that his vocal talents were first noticed. It was a compliment that eventually propelled him into show business. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Many actresses include the word "modeling" in their biographies, even though the ephemeral nature of the industry makes it difficult to source. The Internet has turned the entire world into a planet of voyeurs detectives, though, and nothing stays hidden for very long anymore. Eventually, even the early modeling careers for such folks as Sharon StoneKeira Knightley and Whitney Houston were brought to light, despite the best intentions of their management.

Even though she was just 21 when she joined the cast of DARK SHADOWS in 1966, Alexandra Moltke's resume was centered on acting, citing stage productions of "The Reluctant Debutante," "I Remember Mama," and "Othello." With the exception of modeling for Vogue when she was four years old, Moltke essentially missed out on the "paying your dues" phase of her acting career.

Near the end of 1967, though, TV Guide offered her the opportunity to correct this professional oversight. In the Dec. 16-22 issue, Moltke was featured on a multi-page spread showing off seasonal fashions. Neal Barr, a contributing photographer for Harper's Bazaar, shot the session. You can see the PETA-unfriendly images below.

For context, this feature was part of an on-going series at TV Guide that (usually) involved up-and-coming actresses. Paula Prentiss was featured in a similar spread in the magazine's final October issue ...

... Claire Bloom modeled for the series in September that year ...

... and Lee Remick appeared in an August issue. That's not bad company.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: AUGUST 25


Taped on this date: Episode 1091

The evening begins with Maggie collapsing, showing clear signs of a vampire attack. Julia goes to the Old House and confronts Barnabas, who pleads innocent. Eventually, he convinces her to, at least, give him the benefit of the doubt. There must be another vampire loose in Collinsport. David is similarly concerned, and over Hallie’s wishes, goes to the playroom, where he implores Gerard for guidance. Instead, Carrie’s ghost appears, and David is delighted when she indicates that she will reveal his future to him. Julia and Maggie spar in her room. Maggie is on edge, and it’s clear that she is feeling the pull of her new master. When Barnabas sees her bedridden state, his own sins echo in his ears, and he vows that he will find the new vampire and drive the stake in, himself.

Did you read that? He will drive the stake in, himself. For me, that is Barnabas Collins. And that’s why HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS sits so uneasily with me. I was circumspect yesterday, but I’m feeling a tad more honest, now. We only got one shot at a Barnabas movie. It’s a shame that it went the easy route of reducing the great man to a cardboard villain. Barnabas was one of television’s most intriguing, nuanced, and thoroughly developed characters. This episode shows him at his Quixotic best. It is inevitable that must I paraphrase Dr. Clifford Scridlow, “For whenever intimidation and injustice vie with decency and honor, let the inner Barnabases arise, and arise they must. For within every one of us, there is a Barnabas. A dormant Barnabas. A supreme arbitrator who can be summoned to intervene when crises threaten the stabilities and wellbeings of our heartlands.”

If only Barnabas could have taken on a pimp named Mom.

We are nearing Kathryn Leigh Scott’s final episode. She was always one of the series finest actors. Her raw take as Barnabas’ prisoner gave the show a gravitas and immediacy. This was no longer romance. This was danger of the most visceral kind. Now at the end of her journey, she bravely allows Maggie an even darker edge. Perhaps she wants to become a vampire. Perhaps she wants to die. She is tired of fighting. She is tired of constantly living as Collinwood’s collateral damage. And more of ragnarok’s shrapnel goes about its bloody work. This is a terminal storyline. In Campbellian terms, it is a point of no return unlike any our heroes have faced, and few will survive to fight. This is happening to our big, warm, dysfunctional, surrogate family. This is apocalyptic storytelling.

That’s not to say it isn’t funny. When Julia confronts Barnabas, convinced he’s the vampire on the attack, it’s like a sitcom where the harridan housewife is convinced her husband is cheating, right down to, “Oh don’t try to deny it!”

It was one of my favorite Chronicles to write. This is the evening from Barnabas’ perspective…

I have never been a cuckolding husband, but if I were, and were I confronted by a long- suffering shrew of a spouse, and yet (as in a French farce) were genuinely innocent...?
Cast Julia Hoffman as the embittered wife and one Barnabas Collins as the blameless and bedeviled pater noster, and you have the scene that erupted in Collins Hall as I was just finishing a particularly juicy chapter of Tristram Shandy and attempting to relax before going to sleep. My formula was working marvelously, and then? Quick as boiled asparagus, Doctor Hoffman appeared in a blast of Chanel Number 5 and stale, cigarette smoke to accuse me of feeding upon Miss Margaret Evans. I most certainly did not, as the rumbling from my stomach and general, sour mood could easily attest. Miss Evans had been the victim of some other vampire. Thomas Jennings, Angelique, Dirk Wilkins, and Megan Todd clearly taught the community that I am not a single-sellership in the realm of the beast. Did Julia believe my declarations of innocence? It takes no Sebastian Shaw to penetrate the mystery of that inquiry. Regarding Julia's opinion? At this point, is there any person of reason who gives a tinker's damn?
I will sort this all out when the sun sets, but as for now, I simply lie here in an insomniac's helpless rage. I have no desire to cause violence to innocent humans. I merely want to parse fact from fiction, eradicate whatever vampire bit Miss Evans, and then try to move on with saving Collinwood from utter destruction. That was, as I recall, the entire point of our actions.
Does that strain the boundary of reasonable expectations? I think not.

Finally, in history, it was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. But not without note. It’s the birthday of Sean Connery, Elvis Costello, and Monty Hall. And behind door #1? Elton John’s first live appearance in the US on this very day in 1970. Welcome, Elton!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: AUGUST 24


Taped on this date in 1966: Episode 53

The morning after Carolyn and Vicki found -- and then lost -- the body at Widow’s Hill, David is unusually contentious and morose. He once again blames Vicki for preventing his mother to return, and then goes on to say that she is marked for death and that he has no plans on attending her funeral. As the day wears on, he continues his assault on happiness, pronouncing doom for Joe and Carolyn’s love and insisting that last night’s body truly was Bill Malloy. Elizabeth visits Matthew, seeking answers. He confesses that the body was Malloy’s and that he pushed it back into the sea.

After demonstrating how risky, insightful, and nimble they could be as storytellers with episode 50, Team Curtis grounds itself with safe, predictable surprises, cliffhangers, and general foreboding. David once again harps about his mother with the nonsensical assertion that Vicki is preventing her return. I feel both envious of and sorry for Diana Millay. They are clearly building Laura up with a mythic stature befitting her abilities. It’s hard to give a bad performance when the audience has been told how to regard you for months and months. At the same time, it’s a lot to live up to. One reason that Laura is so disappointing as a villain is that no actress short of Agnes Moorhead could step out of a shadow like that. But it’s a step in the right direction. As for the current story?  For viewers in-the-know, the promise of Laura and her powers makes the humdrummery of a simple murder seem like last week’s mashed potatoes. They end the Matthew Morgan storyline with such splash and panache that it feels as if the writers know that the show must change.

It’s been a good week for Dana Elcar across the timeline. He’s like Chekhov’s Gun. They mention Sheriff Patterson today; they’ll be showing him tomorrow. However, they won’t be shooting him the day after that. Dana was, I think, invulnerable to bullets, anyway.

Today is the birthday of Stephen Fry, who played Professor Stokes in my fevered imagination’s version of the Tim Burton film. Speaking of DARK SHADOWS movies, today is also the anniversary of the release of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS at the DeMille Theater in 1970. My review of HODS has been hailed by me as a highlight of TASTE THE BLOOD OF MONSTER SERIAL, although it has yet to appear on the website. Another reason to buy that great book.
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