Friday, March 30, 2012

Dan Curtis predicts an early demise for Barnabas Collins, 1967

During he week of Aug. 21, 1967, Newsweek put Barnabas Collins in the spotlight for a short feature titled "The Ghoul Show." It's an interesting feature that has Dan Curtis publicly predicting the character's departure by the end of that year.

As we know, the show went in a very different direction. At the time this story was published, though, Curtis still envisioned Barnabas Collins as the first monster through a revolving door of supernatural story arcs. And that was still true as the summer came to an end in 1967. The week this story was published, the ghost of Sarah Collins was still pestering her older brother. The vampire's powers were, at the time, loosely defined ... mesmerism, teleportation, immortality and shapeshifting were among Barnabas' bag of tricks at the time, which made him pretty much unstoppable. Sarah was his one real weakness, her spirit an assault on a conscience that was otherwise dead as a door nail. Meanwhile, an adversary for the vampire, Dr. Julia Hoffman, had been added to the cast with one purpose: to kill a vampire. All of this suggests Barnabas was not long for the world when Newsweek ran this piece.

The timing also suggests that Newsweek's attention might have played some role in staying the executioner's hand. It's one thing for a magazine like Famous Monsters of Filmland or Afternoon TV to show an interest in DARK SHADOWS. But the attention of a publication like Newsweek? Something like that might have been enough to make Curtis realize he was onto something. By the time December arrived, Victoria Winters had already begun her visit to 1795, the fate of Barnabas Collins deferred indefinitely.

You can read a transcript of the feature below.

The Ghoul Show
Newsweek, Aug. 21, 1967

"In regular soap operas," says a writer for ABC's "Dark Shadows," "John and Mary end up in the sack and then everybody talks about it for three weeks. But in our show things really happen." They certainly do. Over the past few months, Bill Malloy was hurled from a cliff, Matthew was killed by ghosts, Dr. Guthrie was murdered by a Phoenix and Willie was bitten by a vampire, who strangled Jason and nibbled at Maggie, who — understandably enough — went mad.

For the 6.5 million housewives and shut-ins who tune in "Dark Shadows" each afternoon, such ghastly goings-on are more fun than a barrel of bats. And for ABC, the show has turned out to be a cobwebby bonanza. Unearthed more than a year ago as TV's first gothic soap, "Dark Shadows" was sagging under its rather prosaic Victorian trappings until packager Dan Curtis, 39, ordered the writers to deaden things up a bit. They obediently conjured up such a Caligari's cabinet of engaging ghouls (among them: a neurotic vampire and a strolling little ghost girl), that the ratings doubled and the show began drawing viewers away from a reigning queen of the soaps, CBS's "Edge of Night."

Exhumed: Curtis hired grandma Joan Bennett to give "Dark Shadows" class—as the reclusive mistress of a perpetually storm-lashed baronial mansion atop Widow's Hill on the rocky coast of Maine. But headliner Bennett has been upstaged by the show's newest ghoul: a 175-year-old vampire named Barnabas Collins, who was exhumed in the spring and passes himself off to the family as a visiting cousin from England. So far, Barnabas has been on his best behavior. He's killed only one character (a baddy) , thoughtfully takes his sustenance from local cattle and wears his fangs only in private. Indeed, his leering scowl is more Freudian than fiendish. "It's not his fault he's a vampire,” sympathizes Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid, who plays  Barnabas with campy √©lan, "He's just a victim of circumstances.”

"A baddy."
Popular as Barnabas has proved to be (he draws 300 fan letters a week, including a recent one from a matron who enthused: "I wish he'd bite me in the neck") , soap-opera circumstances require his demise. Last week, a nosy woman psychiatrist, poking around Widow's Hill, was threatening to expose his secret, and Curtis plans to do him in, possibly by December.

But while the vampire must go, Curtis has a coven of other otherworldlies ready to fill the void. And with the show going into more-or-less living color later this month, "Dark Shadows" figures to enjoy its place in the TV sun for quite a while. And why not? It's a supernatural. 


RJ said...

That's right--Oscar nom!

StokesOfDS said...

Can we say snarky? Audience described as Housewives and shut-ins. Joan Bennett described as Grandma. Besides Dr. Julia Hoffman, played by Oscar-nominee Grayson Hall being described as a nosy woman psychiatrist... And people think Dark Shadows is getting a bad rap from reporters nowadays? I'd say it's gotten one from reporters since 1966! GRR!

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