Monday, September 20, 2021

Press Conference with the Vampire, 1968



Sometime during the fall of 1968, Jonathan Frid conducted a press conference with dozens college and high school newspaper writers. He did this from the comfort of ABC's headquarters in New York City, with only a handful of young journalists in the room with him. Most of the participants spoke to the actor via telephone, courtesy of ABC affiliate WSIX-TV in Nashville, Tenn.

I say "sometime" because it's a little unclear on when this event took place. During the late 1960s, the news media wasn't as entertainment-driven as it is today. Even small town newspapers didn't give much coverage to celebrities when they hit town, often burying them in the back pages of the publication .. when they covered them at all. And even today, syndicated stories tend to run whenever the hell features editors decide they'll run, which is almost always as a tool to fill an editorial hole on a page. Good editors don't kill locally generated stories to make room for syndicated material, which makes researching events like this 1968 press conference a little complicated.


News materials documenting this press conference were published on a scattering of dates during November and December that year, and were edited to exclude direct references to the date of the event (usually a sign that an editor is trying to mask stale content.) A story published in The Tennessean Sun suggests it took place shortly before Halloween, though. "Editors Interview Vampire - From A Safe Distance" was published on Oct. 27. It was the second virtual press conference staged by WSIX-TV, according to the story, but the writer doesn't mention who was involved with the first.

If you've ever read an interview with Jonathan Frid, you pretty much know how the Q&A session went. He spoke about Shakespeare ("My big ambition after doing my job on 'Dark Shadows' is to do 'Richard III' on television," he told the kids) and his adjustment to television acting (“I never thought I would like television,but now I love it. The only thing I don't like about the series is the pressure. The first six months I was uptight every day.”)

"It was really neat," said Mindy Sterman, a student at Hillwood High School. "I just never knew anything like this could be done."

So, yeah ... not a lot of new material here. This is the kind of event that makes for a better podcast than a 10" newspaper summary, but that kind of medium was still decades away. I wonder if any of these kids held on to their recordings of the event?

Below are photos from the press conference. The first shows Frid at ABC in New York City, the second shows writers at WSIX-TV in Nashville, Tenn.
























UPDATE: Jim Pierson of Dan Curtis Productions recently unearthed this crisp photo from the press conference in Nashville.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 14


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1106

By PATRICK McCRAY

When Julia and Willie open what might be the box for Barnabas’ RealDoll, they discover the RealTruth, which may be a RealPain in the neck! Roxanne: Donna Wandrey. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia and Willie discover Roxanne’s coffin. Barnabas’ love for her prevents them from killing her. Barnabas traps her in the Old House, pursued by Sebastian, who later opens her coffin and aims a gun inside.  

The show has seven months left. 

A wildly successful storyline in 1897 was followed up by three storylines that command unfavorable comparison. A movie has been released that depicts most of these characters getting killed. They are no longer “just” cultural giants with symbolic weight. They are simply characters. Not icons. No matter how much the public adores them, they are just storytelling pawns for the producers. The show is still successful. It could be argued, though, that it has released just enough grasp on its identity that we can suddenly contemplate the world without it. 

It’s too late in the series for this, and because of that, it’s all the more welcome. Here we are, in the midst of all of this Dark Shadow when... what should break out? Dark Shadows. It was a year ago that the show outgrew its habitat. Like almost any living thing, it had to. After incremental evolutions and explorations, the show found its apotheosis in 1897. And after exploring the wildest potentials of Cold War Gothic storytelling for four years and three different eras, few possibilities seemed left in the genre. 

Besides, they had become their own genre. After four years and a very successful summer of learning to break the rules, they were now in a position to make the rules. So, why not cure Barnabas? Is there anything really left? And if you're going to cure Barnabas, you might as well give Quentin a happy ending also. Even though he's only been around for a bit, it seems like he's earned it. Besides, have we really had a leading man who wasn’t also trying to kill Roger? Or kidnap Maggie? Or constantly avoid Willie's inquiries about why he has yet to make employee of the month when he is, in fact, the only employee?

So, for the prior year (more or less) the show has been basking in its own glow. Yes, let's have some Paul Stoddard. Heck, we can bring Paul Stoddard in and then turn around and kill him. Why not have a snake cult? It gives things a touch of super-spy panache. Heck, let's make a movie and send the rest of the cast into a parallel dimension. Let Thayer have that pencil-thin mustache he's always pining for. 

And it was confident. And it was ambitious. Ans just very vaguely on the launching pad of desperate. And it is now so confident and ambitious that we careen towards the apocalypse by default. Because what's left, really? If the show were a growing person, it has reached the dark and mordant introspection of early middle age. Gerard sits in the center of a postmodern, existential labyrinth, mocking the enlightenment and industrial revolution heroes with rumors of inevitable doom. It refuses to disclose its weapons, much less its terms of surrender. Why should it? It needs no weapons. There are no terms of surrender, because there will be no surrender. Only complete annihilation. 

Gloomy stuff. Compelling, but gloomy. Profound thinking usually goes there with enough self actualization. After all, death and cancellation come for us all, even the undead. The show was drawn from some of the finest works of literature. If literature eventually follows the bleak-but-contemporary highway of modernism, so must Dark Shadows. And we've been trained to accept it over the past year and define Dark Shadows by this woeful Weltanschauung

So there it is. Sulking around Rose Cottage with its Weltanschauung hanging out. And then along comes an all-star tribute to Dark Shadows by Dark Shadows. Almost as if the writers were nostalgic for their salad days, when the biggest concerns revolved around life’s simple pleasures, like a chained coffin containing one of your loved ones. You know, that special someone who may be up for a stake through the heart, or a lifetime of starving imprisonment with the symbol of a dispassionate God burning a hole through their chest, or maybe just a big, warm hug. It's that kind of episode. Beginning in a crypt with stake wielding vampire hunters, it remains faithful to the only sets that may matter — the Old House Drawing Room with Capn’ Matthew Morgan’s Rubbermaid Big Max Love Dungeon behind the bookcase, and another suitably gothic setting where Roxanne’s  coffin has been waiting for this moment,

And of course, being Dark Shadows, that moment ends up being intentionally unintentionally riotous. Roxanne has been a vampire since 1840. So, for 130 years? Which is far longer than Barnabas has been a vampire. Taking into account elapsed time and all, Barnabas has only been a vampire for two or three years. You would think that she would've figured out someplace more secure to sleep it off. Julia and Willie might know one end of a stake from another, but they are not exactly the team that you call in to test an impenetrable security system. I doubt they could cut line at the Stake ’n' Ale salad bar. 

It's hard to tell how many times Roxanne almost dies in this episode. Her coffin is opened constantly. And when it's not opened, there's somebody going in just stand by it and think about opening it. But the same thing happened to Barnabas when Petofi had him as a prisoner. Captors were constantly opening it up, taking the cross off, letting them stretch, putting the cross back on, closing the lid, and then repeating the process all over again. No wonder Barnabas had to sleep in a coffin. He was exhausted. That wasn't dictated by the rules of the supernatural. It was a political statement to his captors. 

If this is full of impossibly active characters who never quite appear. We've already talked about how exhausted Roxanne must be. But the really exhausted and insulted character Has to be Quentin. When Julia comes up with her big scheme to calm Barnabas by confronting him with absolute emotional chaos, she realizes that Willie Loomis isn't up for the job of catering and décor. So, completely off stage, she sends for Quentin to help move the coffin. I'm sure he's thrilled. At this point, Quentin has so little to do that he's reduced to schlepping wildly heavy crates offstage. We assume it’s by hand, because I don't think Quentin is the station wagon type in that moment.

It's a teachable moment; check with Julia before giving Liz the keys to the forklift for some big date.


But amidst all of the nostalgia and silliness and morbid merriment, the old-school nature of the episode also serves an important purpose for the plot to come. Even though this is a new world of gods and monsters, so unlike the one just a year prior, it is still inhabited by the heroes who were shaped by that earlier age. And where does it all eventually go? Barnabas loses Angelique after discovering the unalloyed nature of his love. So, everything from there-back to here is a setup for that moment. In a startling fit of maturity, Barnabas muses that he is truly is beyond Josette. 

Why? Josette was just the most proximate cure to the underlying problem: loneliness. If the show is “about” Barnabas, which, let’s not kid ourselves, it is, then his primary concern is the primary concern of the show. It's the most inconvenient of primary concerns. It's one that no one wants to hear about. Again, loneliness. I think this is what drives Barnabas. It rests balefully under the veneer of the pursuit of Josette. And it's tendrils stretch across the storylines. The show begins with Elizabeth, whose loneliness is self-imposed, sending for an orphan to tutor a motherless child who, for all we know, has been making his own braunschweiger sandwiches for breakfast since he was four. The entire program deals with the lonely hangover of the fellowship party that ended a decade or two before the show even began. 

Stake or seduce, Barnabas? The indecision he faces is emblematic of the entire program. Is Roxanne the ultimate companion, or is she the opportunity for ultimate redemption? Is she the only one who can truly understand the pain of his existence, is she just close enough to seem familiar, or does her ruthlessness demand elimination? Barnabas is paralyzed by these considerations. And it's an important opportunity to just pause for a moment.

It’s only the smallest grand decision of his life. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 21, 1970.

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Jonathan Frid Story comes to home video Oct. 5


 
Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story
, a feature-length documentary about the life of the late actor, is coming to home video Oct. 5 from MPI.

The film reveals the real man beneath the vampire's cloak, exploring Frid's personal and professional struggles, artistic triumphs and rise to fame. Among the family, friends and co-workers who offer fresh insights are veteran talk show host and Yale Drama School classmate Dick Cavett, actresses Marion Ross (Arsenic & Old Lace) and Christina Pickles (Seizure), American Shakespeare Festival associate Anthony Zerbe and Dark Shadows colleagues David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, Nancy Barrett, Marie Wallace and James Storm. The documentary also includes rare performance footage and previously unseen interviews and archival materials from Frid's private collection.

Special features include:

  • Dark Shadows PBS Special/Jonathan Frid Interview​
  • Jonathan Frid Reads The Legend of Sleepy Hollow​
  • A Dark Shadows Letter From Jonathan​
  • Jonathan Frid Dark Shadows Promo
  • Jonathan Frid Photo Gallery​
  • Dark Shadows Scenes: The Best of Barnabas

Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story is available for pre-order from Amazon at https://amzn.to/3iJQHEc.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Joan Bennett's love life gets the true crime treatment

 

Vanity Fair, V.F. and Cadence13 are teaming up for Love Is a Crime, a 10-part podcast about the 1951 scandal that mostly ended the career of Joan Bennett. The cast of the serial, which launches Aug. 17, includes Zooey Deschanel as Bennett, Jon Hamm as husband Walter Wanger, Griffin Dunne as agent Jennings Lang, Mara Wilson as Joan’s older movie-star sister, Constance, and Adam Mortimer as Joan’s turbulent father, Richard.

Karina Longworth (You Must Remember This) and filmmaker Vanessa Hope -- the granddaughter of Bennett and Wanger -- will lead listeners through the story of how Bennett found herself embroiled in a love triangle than ended with her husband shooting her agent. Believing his wife was cheating on him with Lang, Wagner decided to solve the problem by shooting Lang in the balls. Lang took a bullet to the inner thigh and Wanger spent four months in jail.

You can read more about Love Is a Crime at Vanity Fair.

The Dark Shadows Daybook tops Amazon's sale chart


Less than 24 hours after going on sale, The Dark Shadows Daybook has topped the Amazon sales chart for "TV Guides & Reviews." As I write this, the print edition of the book sits at #1 on the chart, with the Kindle edition following behind at #3. The Golden Girls better watch their backs.





Monday, August 9, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook is now an actual book!


It feels a little strange writing an announcement for this book. First off, if you've been visiting this website with any kind of frequency, you already know about our feature The Dark Shadows Daybook. Patrick McCray has been writing it in various formats since 2016. He was named "Writer of the Year" by The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards for the feature in 2017. "Dark Shadows does not have a more devoted critic," says Angelique herself, Lara Parker. We asked Kathryn Leigh Scott to take a look at an early proof of the book, which she calls "a stunning collection." The feature even has fans outside of Collinsport, with Fangoria EIC Phil Nobile, Jr. calling the book a "better, deeper, and more thoughtful analysis than anyone ever imagined this show would ever get." Diana Prince, the latest and greatest incarnation of "Darcy the Mail Girl" at The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs says "If you’re a fan of the venerable vampire soap, you simply MUST check out this book!"

So you see, this is a pretty big deal for us here at The Collinsport Historical Society. Our hometown boy has done good.  

The weird thing, though, is that Patrick and I have been living with this book for about 20 months already. The world was a very different place when we first started piecing together this collection. We've since been hit with a global pandemic, witnessed an attempted government coup, and have lost a tragic number of original Dark Shadows cast members. On a personal note, I'm minus a minor -- though not insignificant -- part of my body courtesy of a small case of cancer last Christmas. This announcement feels to me like the final reel of Death Race 2000.

"But what's in the book?" you ask? It contains dozens of installments of The Dark Shadows Daybook that have appeared here over the years, revised and edited to create a narrative analysis of the series. While not every episode of Dark Shadows is covered (if you've ever seen the series you know why THAT would be a bad idea) Patrick hits the high notes, from the first episode in 1966 to the show's bow in 1971. There are even a few bonus features in the book's back matter.

We also scored an introduction from my pal Dana Gould, whose credits could fill a book of their own. Because I want to give this blog post a bump in Google's analytics, I should at least mention his work as a writer/producer/actor on The Simpsons. But he's also a brilliant comic and appears in the best two horror anthologies of the last 30 years, Southbound and Tales of Halloween.

And me? I designed the book and provided a number of illustrations.

The print edition of The Dark Shadows Daybook is now available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/3CHQB7Y.  You can get the Kindle edition at https://amzn.to/3sgQPy9

And don't forget to leave us a review there!

- Wallace

Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 5



Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 817

By PATRICK McCRAY

With David’s life in the balance over two centuries, Quentin learns that he lacks the one thing Petofi is determined to master: Time. David Collins: David Henesy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Petofi allows Quentin to visit Barnabas in his coffin, and learns that the road to 1969 might be more challenging than he thought. Beth breaks from tending to David, now astrally trapped in Jamison’s body, to serve Barnabas… until Petofi shows her a vision of her vampiric future. 

Somewhere in the wilderness… as seen on a backlot.

Please, Robert Bly, put away the drum and step away from the fire with that drink. Who can see it’s a pousse cafe in a Yeti mug, anyway? No one’s impressed. Sure, we all think it’s mead. Now please go away before Paul Elam hears us and wakes up. Yes, we’re going to talk about manliness, as is my wont, but not your kind. We shall have no deep feelings shared nor bonding acknowledged, thank you. Because that’s all a bit much. Manhood is the opposite of flatulence. He who smell’t it is most certainly incapable of having dealt it. 

Go back and read that in Count Petofi’s voice. Yes, you hear the music, too. 

Manhood. Whatever that means. This really is a core reason of why I love Dark Shadows. Wallace and I have been in the midst of assembling the Daybook Book in fits and starts, and I frequently inundate him with new title ideas. Today’s? “How to Love Dark Shadows.” More accurately, it might be, “Why I Love Dark Shadows.” Episode 817 is a good place to start. 

As Wallace once wrote, “Dark Shadows doesn’t tell a story. It accumulates one.” If there is any real story to the show, it’s ours… the viewers’. Dark Shadows is a tough show to watch. It’s an even tougher show to “get.” It takes time away from our lives. Yet it becomes a genuine companion, ever-changing. And we can’t help but be changed by it. 

So, what is it… this Dark Shadows? You know the answer. It’s okay, we’re amongst friends. 

Dark Shadows is Barnabas Collins. Thus, transitively speaking, he is what changes us. Knowing him. Watching the arc of his second life… maybe even his Sansara. Feeling the pressure to make decisions burst into full-on choice. This daily immersion slowly wears away the import of our world and replaces it with his. 

817 is so beautifully resonant because it lets us step back and look at Barnabas and Quentin as the pure friends we always wanted them to be. Every Gilgamesh needs an Enkidu. That was a lesson in manhood for me when I first saw it. These things, if they are to have value, must be unexamined. They can only be acknowledged through silence. Ergo, I must write an essay about it. What’s more, Dark Shadows lets us ponder the power of the soap opera format to build that friendship in real-time, from a place of intense distrust. Its success both sneaks up on us and seems like the most natural thing in the underworld. Quentin approaches Barnabas in the coffin, and the respect and affection they share is effortless. David Selby does most of the heavy lifting in the scene. It’s some of his best work because it’s so relaxed, attentive, focused, and authentically kind. In the midst of a ludicrous situation which sneezes squarely in the soup of “write what you know,” he is like the very real stone in a Zen sand garden. 


Later, when Quentin compares notes with Beth, also having returned from Petofi’s, their conversation about the supernatural is stunningly casual-yet-intense. They are beyond romance and beyond the bodice-ripping hullabaloo that encapsulates how we met them. They are, maybe, friends, but colleagues-in-wartime, first. My, how things have changed in four months. And who was the agent of those changes? Barnabas, by action and by example, goes from being a stranger in his own hometown to the Jackie Daytona that everyone needs-but-never-knew-it. Beth needs a concerned mentor with no ulterior motives. Quentin needs a (literally) Edwardian hand of structure with no judgement. Selby’s Quentin is increasingly aware that, no matter how much Barnabas divulges about the future, there is something darker that he’s not being told. A few months ago, Quentin would have seized on the existence of such a secret. Now, we get the sense that he’s somewhat relieved at being sheltered from it. It’s a world all too eager to talk about ugly truths, and as 1897 goes on, it does so with less comical hysteria and more wistful acceptance. This is an episode where a twelve year old boy asks a woman what it feels like to die. 

They’ve all been awakened from the sleep by Barnabas Collins. And so have we. Dark Shadows, for once, talks about what matters at the most primal level… how the ritual changes us. Its characters become us and we become the characters. Down to Beth watching herself become a vampire on a suspiciously television-like box in Petofi’s chambers. It’s the only show that matters. 

This episode was broadcast Aug. 12, 1969.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

In memoriam: Ron Popeil (1935-2021)


By Patrick McCray

We lost him a few hours ago, and in losing him, we lost one of the last, great American originals from the silent generation. Although the news will provide others with the fodder for lazy punchlines, American innovator Ron Popeil is worth far more. The medium of television in the era of Dark Shadows was more than just a chain of 23 minute episodes squeezed into a half hour. It was a ritual that streaming, physical media, and convenience have robbed us of. And thus, whether we hear the pitchmen from in front of the television or from behind the bathroom door, TV commercials are as much of the text experience as the intended programming.

He belongs to Collinwood as much as anyone else. And although he was neither actor nor character nor Dan Curtis Productions employee, he was nevertheless a presence in hundreds of episodes. And like the literal characters who inhabit the Dark Shadows universe, he was part sorcerer and part comforting friend. He trafficked in pure imagination and the art of the unexpected, but with a sincere flair that reminded you that he was uniquely postwar, all American, And every bit on your side. 

Ron Popeil was, above all, an innovator and, if either had the time to bother with the other, was Howard Rorke to Wendell Berry’s Ellsworth Toohey. The latter sold those of us with good manners and letters after our names on the myth that labor saving technology was lazy, suspect, and responsible for divorcing us from an authentic human existence. And that’s why very few parents ever hired Wendell Berry to appear at kids’ birthday parties.

A college dropout, Popeil joined his inventor-father in the family business responsible for the Veg-o-Magic and Chop-o-Matic kitchen utensils. There is only so much romance to mincing vegetables, and beyond chasing the almighty dollar by convincing the American public that they desperately needed something they had no idea existed, Popeil and son were also domestic innovators. Just those two inventions alone saved postwar Americans countless hours to spend on other things. As someone who is missing a healthy section of the pad of his thumb due to an expertly crafted kitchen knife, I can attest that they are far safer. 

They not only changed how Americans interacted with their domestic lives; the Popeils changed our relationship with technology and the very process of learning about it. Carrying on in his father‘s footsteps, Popeil was a tireless inventor who had the necessary creativity to look beyond good taste and provide the workin’ Joe and Jane with tools to elevate the ordinary. Or just bring a goofy grin to families that needed it. There was a sense of excitement and wonder that Popeil brought to to his inventions, turning the mundane into something almost countercultural. By preparing his demonstrations on videotape, Popeil was a key visionary in the field of retail communication. That’s the technical side of his second art: sales. But what truly made Popeil such a pop pioneer was the infectious excitement for his inventions… and his sincere affection for the consumers. Beyond his well-tuned mantras reassuring us that the gadgets “really, really work,” was the subtext that we deserved better. To listen to Ronco ads is to hear a voice suggesting that those who came before him in domestic engineering were content for us to settle for less. Why must the future start with billion  dollar space vehicles out of our reach? Why can’t it inhabit our homes, as well?

Yes, anyone who creates so many varied products will be an object lesson in Sturgeon’s Law. 90% of everything will be crap. A mechanical mug froster, spray-on-hair, and a machine to scramble eggs in the shell are bizarre must-haven’ts. But there is a giddy audacity to them that keeps them memorable. In reviewing Ronco products just now, I was struck by how much Popeil lived in the future. I saw many Ronco innovations that respectable manufacturers simply allowed him to beta test. Before they took half the risk for twice the price. 

Go to a Williams Sonoma or surf the Internet for high priced life tools, and Ron Popeil will be staring back at you, having gotten there first. Oxo has nothing on the man, and it owes him a moral fortune. Veg-o-Matic-like food choppers can now be had respectably in the most chic of boutiques. The same can be said for the “innovation“ of lumbar support in motor vehicles.  Air purifiers. Spill-proof commuter mugs. Teeth cleaning equipment modeled on dental  tools. His final claim to fame and fortune, the countertop rotisserie oven, may seem dubious in the era of air fryers and pressure cookers. That’s until you think of the comparatively exotic and healthy recipes suddenly in reach of the renters of tiny, joyless studio apartments or denizens of dorm rooms. Suddenly, life has a lot more possibilities, even if in three easy installments.

Of course he would accompany Dark Shadows. After all, what was that program but the reinvention of time-honored story elements from bold, new perspectives to delight modern audiences? Helpful then. Helpful now.  That’s a shared tradition of American vision that we can all get behind.  Both are symbiotic and endearing legacies as seen on tv.

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