Monday, September 26, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 26


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 858

Petofi and Quentin have switched bodies, and the magician keeps a watch as his now pudgy prisoner buries the woman used as a test subject for an I Ching jump into the future. Petofi swears he will keep looking as Quentin vows to stop him. Visiting an unaware Angelique, Petofi is all too happy to go along with her marriage threats, if only to bring her into submission. Quentin, however, attempts to turn things to his favor. To rally allies, he must convince them that he is Quentin Collins, within. He visits Beth and implores her to question “Quentin” about why Jamison turned him away. When “Quentin” answers her with predictable inadequacy, the story seems to make sense. Quentin then goes to Julia, who needs less convincing. She’s been feeling strangely, and hears voices from her present. She convinces Angelique to take a stand against Petofi. As the episode ends, Julia is laying out her battle plan, but vanishes from sight before she can finish.

This episode is a 100%, unalloyed peach. Just when the low-stakes, repetitive, toothless yakety yak of the show’s drier spells becomes intolerable, Uncle Dan gives us one of these. It doesn’t remind me about when I fell in love with the show, because that had happened long before. An episode like this is why I shall have no show before this one. I am Dr. Alfred Bellows, and this episode is a pink elephant in Major Nelson’s dining room. Normally, I’d vow that “I’ve finally got him this time” and get General Shaffer to see that I’m not cracking up. Which means I’d get someone who knows nothing of DARK SHADOWS but hates it anyway to come over and see it. But by the time they’d arrive, it would just be an early Leviathan episode. Then they’d tell me that I needed a long rest… perhaps reassigned to Alaskan air command. And I’d wonder if they were right. What’s stranger about all of this is that I’m not Dr. Bellows. I am Roger Healey to Wallace’s Tony Nelson. But who is Jeannie? Probably the CollinsBabe who posed for the MONSTER SERIAL cheesecake picture.

Back to the episode, there’s a lot going on in it, so I’ll cover things as vacuously and superficially as I can. First off, we get two of the show’s finest actors at their best. Thayer David can pull on the heartstrings with an authenticity matched by few, if any. Petofi’s bizarre hair and outfit now make him huggably sad, and the glasses magnify all of the fear in his lunar eyes. Meanwhile, David Selby gets to really cut a rug as Petofi, reveling in evil with a vicious glee. Just as Jonathan Frakes was wasted in drama when his true calling was comedy, it may be that Selby is one acting’s great villains, unrealized. This is Quentin unbound! Perhaps this was a chance to show what Quentin was intended to be, sans his alcoholic’s insecurity and melancholy. He kisses Angelique with a passionately ruthless relish that makes Rhett kissing Scarlett look like Charles Grodin kissing a dog. And then what does “Quentin” do? He brags of the submission he’ll take her to and shrugs when she goes to her millner. In a lot of ways, it’s the carpet calling that she’s had coming. Nice guys are always advised to be less, well, nice, and that women like bad boys. I never understood that, but I’ll pretend I do in this case. I think Angelique knows she’s pushing her weight around and must get bored. Finally, “Quentofi” pushes back. Was she angry when he kissed her, laughed, and put her in her place, or was she aroused? Intellectually, of course.

Speaking of Angelique, this episode represents what I see as a marvelous turning point. As Julia is being drawn back to the 20th century, she nonetheless charges Angelique with saving the family. Read that one again. There’s a fair degree of fear in Angelique’s eyes at hearing that precisely because there is no fear behind the request. Despite herself, she has earned Julia’s trust. This is one of the great hints that, like Barnabas, Angelique has the capacity for revealing the hero within, and Julia clearly recognizes that. They have some wonderfully relaxed two-handers together, and it’s a strange, unexpected, and marvelous thing to see these two one-time antagonists to Barnabas now quietly ruminating on how they can support his Quixotic crusade. Who saw this coming two years ago? Me neither. And that’s why DARK SHADOWS must be 1,225 chapters long. (More or less.)

Last gem in the crown? A very clever bit of subtext (or maybe just text). A simple message. Greg Mank mentioned it when talking about THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.... “Very pretty people can do very nasty things.” Petofi, I think, is measurably nastier and cruel in Quentin’s body. Now looking the rake, with height and lean muscle to back it up, he needs humor, charm, and facetiousness far less. Oh, those things exist, but they exist now as unsheathed weapons rather than the inflatable boppers of irony used by Petofi the Plump. We are trained to feel sorry for the physically ungainly and the humor they often employ to win friends and deflect criticism. Well, I don’t. Actually, there’s a proper humility there that can bring out astounding measures of humanity. I feel sorry for those people who lose weight or get significant others and then become royal cretins. I see it again and again. There is a smugness that takes hold, and on behalf of the rest of us, it’s not your best side. So, have you just lost weight? Found the partner of your dreams? Pretend you haven’t. At least in the full-of-selfness department. Sincerely, the Management. Need proof? Watch Quentofi in this episode.

In DARK SHADOWS news, Hugh Franklin died today in 1986. He was family lawyer, Richard Garner, in the early part of the series and, as noted elsewhere, was married to author Madeleine L'Engle. At this time in 1969, we’re about nine episodes away from the end of Jonathan Frid’s well-earned month off. As for Sept. 26, 1969? Visionary storyteller Sherwood Schwartz once again challenged our notions of storytelling, nation, and reality with the premier of THE BRADY BUNCH.  This was written by me for the DVD boxed set. It was rejected. For now:
When maverick producer Sherwood Schwartz gave us THE BRADY BUNCH, it was considered more science fiction than science fact. Nearly five decades later, history has established that Schwartz was a prophet as well as a poet. Far too many of the ominous predictions he made in this series have come to pass. And many more of his dangerous visions seem to be approaching swiftly.  He is our dark mirror. Given this, it was once said that an audience receives from Sherwood Schwartz exactly what they bring. What you see this on these discs might delight you. It might shock you. It might even even arouse you. The iconoclastic, enigmatic Sherwood Schwartz: heretic or hero? Madman or messiah? To find the truth, we must explore the only testament we have: his bold words. The art of Sherwood Schwartz is an art that demands to be confronted.  A voice that demands an answer. Join me in the arena as we hear that voice and answer that call together. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 23


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 855

Quentin swoons in and out of consciousness as the ring he wears now makes him susceptible to Count Petofi’s mind transfer. At the mill, Beth has no idea what’s going on, but Aristede hints that it is the most diabolical thing that can happen to a man. Quentin, dazed, wanders over to the Blue Whale, where Pansy Faye is in the doldrums. How does he lift her spirits? By playing the only song she knows on the piano. Magda tries to warn Beth that Quentin is in danger. Compounded by Aristede’s teasing and her own nostalgia, she races to Collinwood to find Quentin unconscious.

Man, when Aristede suggests that Count Petofi’s doing to Quentin is the most diabolical thing that can ever happen to a man, a mind penetration is not the first thing that occurs to me. But I’m not sure it occurs to Aristede, either. Starting with that, we get one of DARK SHADOWS’ oddest filler episodes. This is enough padding for ten Schumacher Batsuits, and like those Batsuits, it has the virtue of at least being perversely amusing. David Selby has gone from playing a menacing phantom to a bipolar drunk, stumbling into bars and perking up at the first floozie he sees. And I respect that. We can smell our own. Yet again, we get a long tour through “I Wanna Dance with You,” leading me to wonder what the audiences of the day might have thought. With the album a recent success, I can only assume that the producers were hungry for a quick repeat of that success. Although it had (in various versions) both Selby and Nancy Barrett, it was no “A Visit to a Sad Planet.”

And here, DARK SHADOWS nears a tipping point with which it would wrestle for the rest of its run. With the soundtrack album, DARK SHADOWS knew that its gravy was as a pop phenomenon. Yeah, that’s the result of a fortuitously-timed cocktail of actors, fashions, characters, design, and a million other things, but it goes nowhere without story. Even CHARLIE’S ANGELS had a writer to put them in chains. With an episode like 855, most of which feels like (another) pre-MTV ad for one of their pop songs, the producers clearly veer toward presenting DARK SHADOWS as a bubblegum phenomenon, needing only a few threats and familiar costumes to swirl around a song for you to buy and enjoy long after being reminded that this was a Dan Curtis Production. Think the song is too sappy? Not when the #1 hit single is “Sugar, Sugar,” by the Archies.

The show would try to make up for this precarious self-judgment with occasionally superb storytelling, but was it too late?

On this day in 1969, the trial of antiwar activists, the Chicago 8, began... certainly one of the wackier trials of any era. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 22


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 334

Burke and Dave arrive at Collinwood and break it to David that there was nothing in Barnabas’ basement but basementy stuff. David, however, remains convinced that Barnabas is up to no good. He goes so far as to break his promise to Sarah and reveals his knowledge of the secret room in the mauseoleum. This immediately gains the young wraith’s ire, and David knows it as ‘London Bridge’ begins to play. Throughout the episode, Roger has been especially contrarian to Dave and Burke, attempting to dissuade them from their involvement with David. Later with Vicki, Roger reveals that he’s actually very fond of his son and deeply concerned for his well-being. Will he have to be institutionalized? Maybe. At the mausoleum, David fails to trigger the door for the secret room, but upon leaving, he finds Sarah’s flute. At last, tangible evidence of the great beyond.

Okay, it’s safe. We’re alone. No one can hear me typing this to you. We can admit it. Sometimes DARK SHADOWS is slow. In fact, there are two types of slow. Slow-slow and DARK SHADOWS-slow. When the show goes to the latter, it feels like more of a practical joke than a program. These are always the episodes I accidentally show to people with doubts about the program. A show like this is akin to watching someone of exquisite sadism stretch out ‘the Aristocrats’ joke as long as they can. In many of those cases, when the punchline is so tantalizingly close, events slow down more and more to keep us from reaching it. It’s like Zeno takes over as showrunner. Anyway, this is an episode that could have been done in five minutes, but they stretch it out to a conspicuous degree. Here is the actual matter in the episode:

Burke: I’m sorry, Davey, but there was nothing in Barnabas’ basement.

David: Then he must’ve moved it to the secret room in the mausoleum. Can we please look? Please?

Woodard:  Why not? No stone unturned and all that.

Roger: David, please, this is insanity!

David (hearing Sarah’s music): Sarah, I’m sorry. But I had to….

Burke: Roger, let the kid try. 

Roger: I still say that this morbidity is the limit.

Burke, David, and Woodard exit.

Vicki: Weren’t you awfully hard on him?

Roger: I’m too worried to be anything less. I’m still his father. 

Later, at the mausoleum, David yanks at the ring in the lion’s mouth.

David: I don’t get it. This was supposed to trigger the door. The room’s behind it. Honest!

Burke: Well, we can’t win ‘em all, kiddo.

David: Gee whiz… hey, this flute, it wasn’t here before. It’s 
Sarah’s! She really is real!

As David skips out…

Burke: Dave, did you see this flute here before?

Woodard: I can’t say… and that worries me, Burke. That worries me.


Highlight? Roger’s admission of love for David. It’s been a long time coming, and is deeply satisfying to hear. Once Barnabas arrived, Roger’s character transformed into something far gentler, and the writers handled the transition with subtle restraint, and that’s where this episode shines. It also shines in a different melancholic sense.  This is Robert (Dave Woodard #2) Gerringer’s last show. He refused to cross the picket line during the 1967 NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) strike and was replaced. That fits. Gerringer’s Woodard is a wise, cranky, pragmatic, passionate man of curmudgeonly principle. Exactly the sort who’d support a just strike. 


(Update: The infographic is now animated for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Enjoy!)

It's not easy picking a date to celebrate the birth of DARK SHADOWS. As a daytime drama, the show relied on a ruthless, unforgiving schedule that gave the cast and crew only one day to get things right. The first episode, though, offered a lot more flexibility. There was location shooting, script writing, casting, and multiple days of studio recording — most of which took place during the early weeks of June, 1966. There's a lot there to commemorate, so I decided to take a stab at an infographic that illustrated the inception and impact of these early creative decisions.

Much of this information comes from the Dark Shadows Wikia, IMDB, the DARK SHADOWS books from Pomegranate Press and past research efforts.

Click on the image for a closer look!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 21


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1115

Barnabas appears in Roxanne’s room, and his remorse at feeding is met with her smitten rapture. Has he found love at last? Downstairs, Gabriel finds Samantha sitting in mournful contemplation over her lost son, Tad, and -- to a much lesser degree -- her estranged husband, Quentin. Gabriel pouts that the family fortune should be his, but instead, Daniel’s will states that it should go to Quentin and Samantha. With Quentin lost at sea, that means he had better be nice to Samantha. Later, Gerard Stiles tries to woo Samantha, but his plan is disrupted by Gabriel. In private, Gabriel reveals that he’s done research on Gerard, and has found his real name to be Ivan Miller. He changed it ten years prior in London, and is wanted globally for all manner of crimes including dabbling with the occult. With knowledge of this safely protected, Gerard is at his mercy. Gerard’s first task as Gabriel’s puppet? Poison Samantha. She, however, has conferred with her sister Roxanne, who has slept late and seems a tad frail in the daytime. Roxanne reveals that a new man is in her life, but cannot say more. Elsewhere, Barnabas writes to Ben, begging his forgiveness. In the garden of Collinwood, Roxanne gives herself to his thirst. Satiated, Barnabas leaves her to die… and rise?

Well, well, well. Ivan Miller. I guess I’d change it to “Gerard Stiles,” too. Was his middle name, “Hair”?  I jest.

Only a week into 1840, and the times are rife with intrigue. Finally taking a cue from the audience and representing a very counter cultural sentiment, the writers give us Roxanne. Like most of the audience, she was all too happy to have eternal youth and beauty and superpowers in exchange for supping on the occasional extra. Come to think of it, there are vast stretches of Barnabas’ vampirism where he goes on a rather extreme diet. It’s not like they have to feed that often, apparently.

I often compare STAR TREK to DARK SHADOWS. One of the shared principles is the importance of compassion toward the other. (In DARK SHADOWS, the other usually wants to assimilate. But that’s an issue I dealt with in a different essay, on September 6.) For DARK SHADOWS, rooted in a fear of the unknown that would seem like an irony, but all it did was reflect public sentiment. We all feel like monsters -- the misunderstood kind -- at times, but at least at Collinwood, we have good hair and the latest off-the-rack from Orbach’s and Junior Sophisticate. They took our fear of being the other and glamorized the taboo possibilities. Of course she wants to be a vampire. Everyone does. Perhaps Maggie was symbolic of the last generation to not glamorize their sense of difference. She had to be carted off as insane rather than remain a voice in the new era.

This is the Daybook’s first 1840 episode. I was always fascinated with how the relative pasts of Collinwood looked. Before we got to those storylines, I eagerly anticipated how the designers would create yet another new world. 1840 doesn’t disappoint, and just like the show’s story, the visual world of 1840 distinguishes itself in a heavy, thunderous manner. The colors are darker and the scenic elements feel weighty. 1795 was about shape, in design elementese. 1897 was an orgy of color. 1840? Texture, and that’s so appropriate for what may be the show’s most textured era.

On this day in 1970, the world gained Monday Night Football. Dan Curtis put golf on tv. There’s a connection for ya. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 20


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 590

Barnabas arrives home, fraught with tension over his new discovery; Maggie’s memory of last year’s events have returned, and she’s fingered him as the vampire. Barnabas poignantly sinks into regret, begging Julia to erase her memory. The doctor refuses, citing the experiment. In the eyes of Barnabas, killing her is the only other alternative, and he decides that with no happiness. Barnabas later equivocates on the matter, and soon after, Adam arrives to resume the pressure on Julia to finish the experiment. Barnabas and Julia try to swap Maggie out as the life-force and in the midst of the talk, Willie appears on the balcony of the Old House, brandishing a gun! Adam quickly disarms the scamp and hurries them on with creating Eve. They even persuade Adam to let Willie hang around like a kid at a cocktail party, promising that he’ll remain upstairs. Later, Barnabas sends Willie to the mausoleum to watch Maggie. Willie rues the past, but Barnabas contemplatively directs him to focus on the future; the past should be forgotten. Willie asks what he should say to Maggie, and Barnabas stammers that it can be anything he likes, as long as he keeps it quiet. Downstairs, Adam warns Julia to treat his mate better than she treated him. They quibble. She explains that the process will be very painful for Carolyn as the life-force. As he hurries them toward the experiment, Adam roils with megalomaniacal purpose. He must have his mate!

In any genre or series, different stories emphasize different parts of the “5W-How” spectrum. Some episodes are more “what” or “why” driven. This one is very squarely a study in “who.” Adam has taken everything wrong from Stokes and Nicholas, and is elevated to a smug, Nietzschean tyrant. Willie shows all of the compassion that defines his character at its best. (Both he and Barnabas are on a trajectory that seems to say, “If I can’t rule them, I’ll die protecting them.”) Julia keeps it together with Adam, bludgeoning him with iron fists of logic and German Catholic guilt, cast in the velvet gloves of a deadly serious idle conversation. And Barnabas? It’s so easy to become numbed by his ubiquity and take him for granted. What a mistake. In the face of the other actors, it’s easy to take his stagecrafted stiffness and nigh-unto-constant fretting as actually-not-the-most-interest-acting-on-the-show. Note, I said “interesting.” From a writer’s perspective, I agree that Frid gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. At first, Barnabas was called upon to elicit all manner of dramatic modes and moments never asked of prior actors in vampire stories. This hooked audiences with the unique mixture of pain, regret, tenderness, and ruthlessness that defined the character. And then… we enter this phase of the series. A fine one, don’t get me wrong. But for a man who experiences little but trials, this section showcases them at their most excruciating. In 1795, he endures trials of love. In 1966, his relationship with power is put on trial. Then, his relationship with secrets. Now? He navigates the trials of reclaiming the best of himself from the worst while the thunder of his past sins echoes like thunder on Widow’s Hill. So, is the performance one-note? Only if you fail to really look and really listen. Frid smartly keeps Barnabas as a man of his era, with all of the attending social and emotional reflexes that defined a well-groomed aristocrat of the time. In this episodes, he glides through remorse and determination with the nuance that Vermeer used with shadow and light. What’s more remarkable is that it is a tone of controlled ambiguity and possibility that rubs off on John Karlen, whose acting has improved by miles since Frid’s debut. In fact, for an episode with such broad strokes, everyone seems to have picked up Frid’s sense of emotional contemplativeness and cerebral perspicacity. The writing ain’t bad, either.

In history, today will mark the debut of the longest-running crime series prior to the CSI dynasty. Of course, I refer to HAWAII 5-0. A few weeks ago, we celebrated the debut of STAR TREK, and Jack Lord was offered the lead. One can only imagine what that would have been like. Yeah, Shat’s not such a bad actor now, is he? Hell, he’s downright Actor’s Studio. But Lord has his place, and we can thank all involved for giving us an excuse for the greatest theme song in TV history. Behold!

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 19


Taped in this date in 1966: Episode 66

Roger and Burke square off, with Burke openly accusing him of driving the car that ended a life… and Burke’s freedom. Roger explains that it’s all been legally settled, so Burke better have more. He does. He openly accuses Roger of offing Bill Malloy. He says that that at the meeting, Malloy was going to pin Sam Evans down and, despite his sweating, thrashing, and protests, make him come clean about Burke’s innocence. But as we know, Bill never came at all, and that’s thanks to Roger. In speaking with Burke, Roger presents an elaborate alibi that involves time consuming home paperwork that robbed him of the free time necessary to kill Malloy. He adds that Vicki can corroborate this. Meanwhile, she’s busy explaining to Liz that she’s in the habit of sending herself letters so that she has mail to open. Roger summons her downstairs to satisfy Burke’s alibi-curiosity. When she kinda-sorta does, Burke leaves in a huff, vowing that he’ll be back.

Say what you will, DARK SHADOWS never leaves you wanting for a richness of character exposition. I was about to write that we get yet more of Vicki’s sob story related to a masochistic Liz, but there’s a flip side. DARK SHADOWS gives its characters the invaluable gift of time. Used wisely by the writers, it allows them to enhance and reveal the characters with an almost artisanal care, carefully varnishing layer upon layer. When Vicki comments that nothing really happened in her life prior to Collinwood, Liz has a pained expression that asks all of the right questions and coyly answers none of them. Does she regret it? Is this just part of Collinwood? Did she know she would be sharing the wealth? Did things only hit the fan when Vicki arrived? Does she feel guilty that Vicki’s life was so dull in New York?

The episode is one of the great chances to sit and allow Burke and Roger to cross swords when each finally has a sharpened cutlass in his grip. Burke has the moral high ground of truth. Roger pretty much has the situation licked. So often, Roger fights from a position of fear and weakness, and after a while, this makes his contribution to the story a bit shrill and predictable. No longer!

Mythologically, the most intriguing element to the episode is Vicki’s de-meta’ing the opening narrations by acknowledging that she scrupulously writes down everything that happens at Collinwood. I love this because it does something real and narratively intrinsic to her introductions, both grounding them in common sense and positioning her as far more aware than we might be moved to believe.

Quiet day in the news, perhaps as a prelude for what I think of as the Big Story tomorrow. As always, though, you’re asking if it were a good day for Chuck McCann. Yes, his cartoon series, COOL MCCOOL was in full swing, all thanks to the creative talents of Bob Kane, perhaps relieved that with this, he might finally make a cultural statement.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 16


Taped on this date in 1966: Episode 56

Burke arrives at Collinwood and refuses to leave until he’s had it out with Roger. Liz tolerates his visit, despite his bragging about a fortune that exceeds hers by many times. Eventually, she turns the tables on him, citing his youth. Meanwhile, Roger corners Sam at the Blue Whale and demands to know what he said to Bill Malloy. Sam’s words were innocuous, but tension between the men surges. Roger offers and withdraws bribes, and Sam seems all too happy to see Roger’s paranoia mount. Roger finally returns home to find Burke all too ready for a final confrontation.

Mitch Ryan. It’s been too long. If you’re looking for a tight and intense character study, these early episodes deliver with tense and bitter eloquence.

Okay, that’s my way of saying that it’s pretty boring compared to GERARD’S ZOMBIES PULLING COLLINWOOD APART - AIIIEEEEEEE!!!!, but at least there’s wry, competitive dialogue, acted with intensity and wit. As always, Ryan has a ball, coasting between smug brio and a roiling insecurity. It’s the same recipe that fuels Roger, but with the brio and insecurity in reverse proportions. As he goes for the throat, Joan Bennett amps up the cattiness to stay one step ahead. The show becomes leaden by comparison whenever we go back to the Blue Whale and watch Louis Edmonds and David Ford try to beat each other in a sweating contest. Finally, let’s throw in a golf clap for Vicki working in the words, “dark shadows” into the opening narration!

September 16, 1966 was a bit quiet in the world of news, but we can thank it for being the birthday of Allen Funt, BB King, Peter Falk, and the most fabulous woman alive, Molly Shannon.  
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