Thursday, May 31, 2012

Joan Bennett talks Dark Shadows, 1966

When ABC first began to promote Dark Shadows in 1966, they put actress Joan Bennett front and center for their initial marketing campaign. Once one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Bennett experienced the same kind of career trajectory every actor experiences in one fashion or another. At least, actors lucky enough to have any kind of success in the profession.

Below is a story about Dark Shadows when it the show was still in its infancy, a promotional piece built around an interview with actress Joan Bennett. I was going to include an image of the original newspaper page, but there is no accompanying photo (and the text is barely legible.) It's from a column simply titled "Television Review."

Television Review
Ruston Daily Leader, Tuesday, August 9, 1966


NEW YORK (UPI) - Joan Bennett was a star in the great days of Hollywood when the journey to the studio was a leisurely limousine ride from the mansion to a dressing room the size of a luxury hotel suite.

There were flowers from the producer, the support of a small army of aides from secretaries to dialogue coaches and, if one cared for that sort of thing, a caviar and champagne lunch with such stars as John Barrymore, Spencer Tracy, Ronald Coleman or Gregory Peck.

That was the Hollywood one would not blame Miss Bennett for recalling wistfully as she toils away the long hours in a studio on a dingy street in Manhattan in ABC-TV's daytime serial, "Dark Shadows." She is one of the most important featured players.

The economics of the world of the daytime serial permit no cosseting. It is hard work. And Miss Bennett, still slim and elegant, was discovered in a tiny dressing room just off the ingenious set of what ABC calls "the first television program styled in the tradition of a gothic novel."

Courtesy of Musings from the Marsh.
"Let's find some place that's air conditioned," she said.
Later, in one of the booths in which sponsors watch the programs, she talked with considerable good humor about her involvement in "Dark Shadows" and the tough schedule which, being a good trouper, she is learning to live with.

"It was frantic at. first," she said, with a smile that smoothed the years. "Ill was really desperate the first few fighting with my agent for weeks. I thought I'd die. It was getting me into all this. But now its simmered down."

In "Dark Shadows" Miss Bennett (the eighth generation of one of our most famous acting families) plays Elizabeth Stoddard Collins, mistress of the great stone mansion at the center of much of the mystery and menace of the program.

"One day's work in this role is about the equal of three day's work in Hollywood," she said. "Listen to this schedule: We arrive at 3:30 a.m. And we go to lunch —lunch, mind you —at 10:30 a.m.! Mine is usually a container of soup from a vending machine. We report back at the set at 11:30 a.m.

"Then we start taping the show. And as soon as we finish the taping we start rehearsing for the next day's episode! In order to keep the whole week from being frantic I have to study the script three hours on Saturday and three hours on Sunday. That leaves no time or a social life and I'm lucky if I can squeeze in a play or a movie or a dinner date."

Miss Bannett said she had seen herself only twice in the show and thought she looked "ghastly" because the overhead television lighting made her appear as though she had no mouth. The lighting has since been adjusted. She finds it hard to accustom herself to the constant repetition of daytime scripts.

"But you have to say the same thing over and over again," she explained, "because you have to take into consideration new viewers trying to catch up with the story."

Miss Bennett spent a silent moment over her long and distinguished career to see if there was anything she wanted mentioned.

"I could kick myself," she said, with feeling, "for not buying real estate in Hollywood all those years ago."

Vampires 101: Vampirella

In the wake of the recent announcement from Dynamite Comics, some of you might have been asking yourself: Jut who the hell is Vampirella?

Vampirella is a comicbook character who has been around, in one format or another, since the late 1960s. I remember seeing ads for the books in the back of various Warren publications as a child, and the character's appeal seems to target, with laser precision, a particular moment in male adolescence. Most people are either too young or too old to appreciate this kind of character.

But, because I love horrible books, I decided to pick up Bloodstalk, the first in a series of Vampirella novels published in the 1970s. Now, it's not entirely fair to judge this character based on a pulp adventure novel that was probably written over a long weekend. It would be like judging Dark Shadows on the books written by Marilyn Ross. Still, someone, somewhere thought Bloodstalk was an appropriate way to present their character, so I thought I'd share my experiences with this gloriously putrid book.

Before I go any further, let me tell you about a scene in Bloodstalk where a bound woman is groped by a "midget."

It's important to get that moment in the book out of the way, if for no other reason than because I will never write anything that could upstage it. This scene happens relatively late in the book (do I need to provide spoiler warnings for a book published almost 40 years ago?) and has little impact on the novel's "plot."  There’s a full 92 pages of prose leading up to The Groping, and I feel like I have no choice but to discuss them. So let's go.

Bloodstalk does next to nothing to acquaint you with Vampirella, introducing her to the reader in the moments after a plane crash. We don’t know where she was going (besides the vague destination of “California”) or where she was coming from. After killing the only other survivor of the plane crash in order to drink his blood, she blacks out, giving us a few short paragraphs that reveal minor, though significant, details:

Vampirella is an alien.
From a planet of vampires.
And that planet is named Drakulon.

The man she kills in the wake of the plane crash has the unfortunate last name of Van Helsing, which immediately puts the dead man’s brother and nephew on her trail. But first, she’s got to survive an encounter with the first in a series of sex offenders that populate Bloodstalk.Vampirella awakens in a secluded asylum and finds herself the prisoner of a cult leader with unsavory plans for our heroine.

A bunch of shit happens that has little to no impact on the rest of the story. In short, she escapes the asylum, kills her captors and burns the place to the ground. The Van Helsings arrive in time to catch a glimpse of her, plans for revenges still fresh in their minds. The younger of the two, Adam Van Helsing, has second thoughts about their mission when he sees how hot his uncle’s murderer is.
Vampirella flees the scene and, because he has absolutely nothing else to do, begins to hunt other members of the Cult of Chaos™, which has set up franchises around the world. It’s never explained why Vampirella cares why the satellite chapters of the Cult of Chaos™ live or die. It’s one of the most passionless revenge tales I’ve ever read. 

She quickly stumbles onto a more sedate group of baddies in a nearby, unnamed town. This chapter of the Cult of Chaos™ is lead by an elderly woman and her simple-minded zombie son. People are captured, Vampirella begins to show off her increasingly uneven array of powers (which only work when the story demands it) and the zombie stooge bites the dust before he gets the chance to touch Vampirella in her bikini zone.  Which brings us to Act III.

The first few pages of Bloodstalk take place in a “hall of mirrors” at a sleazy carnival, and features characters and locations not references again until the book is almost over. A young woman named Eve Middleton is looking for her father, who might have disappeared while visiting the carnival at a previous stop. Warned to keep away from the carnival by an illusionist named The Great Pendragon (a drunk who speaks fluent Pretentious Grad School Student,) Eve nevertheless falls into the clutches of the carny sideshow. And OH what clutches they have.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Major Archie.

We are told the carnival leader as cut one of the shittiest deals with the devil since Nicolas Cage. In order to maintain a standard of living below the poverty line, they have to feed carnival visitors to a demon who lives on the other side of the funhouse mirrors. That’s not an exaggeration, either … the carnival is a dump, and the deal they cut was to maintain its dubious status quo.

Among the carnival performers is Major Archive, referred to throughout as a “midget.” If watching a bound woman get fingered by a man with dwarfism isn’t offensive enough, the scene ends with a man picking him up and tossing him.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with the A story, the answer is “not much.” Vampirella arrives and discovers the carny leader is working with Azmodeus, one of the mascots of the Cult of Chaos™. She reads a magic spell, breaks a few mirrors and things go back to “normal.” She hits the road Bill Bixby style with the Van Helsings in hot pursuit.

So, what happens to the evil sideshow? Nothing. There are no arrests, no deaths … nobody even files a civil suit against them. One of them talks about going home to Detroit (which might be the greatest punishment of all, haw haw) while Major Archie exits with this classy goodbye.

My rating: Vampirella #1: Bloodstalk is slightly better than a meal at Taco Bell.

Q&A highlights with Kathryn Leigh Scott

Kathryn Leigh Scott has been answering fan questions in a Goodreads group this week, and will continue to do so until Monday, June 4. The group is open to the public (well, it's open to anyone who signs up for a free Goodreads account) and Scott has already fielded many, many questions about her experiences with Dark Shadows. Below are a few highlights from the week so far:


THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY: I understand that House of Dark Shadows will be released on DVD sometime soon. Are there any plans for you, Nancy Barrett, Roger Davis and John Karlen to record a commentary track for the DVD?

KLS: The DVDs will be released in the autumn, the date to be announced. All of the actors have already been interviewed . . . and my understanding is that there will be special features and new material included. I wish I knew more! 


ALAN: I have to say that your performance as Penny in 'Visitor from The Grave' was excellent and good at capturing vulnerability and anxiety of people who attempt to put their lives back together after being institutionalized. The episode is one of the better ones in that series - which was Hammer's last outing in the Horror field - and struck me as one of the sadness episodes, but also one with a very "Maupassantesque" form of justice.
What where your own thoughts on the role and story, and what was it like working with the late Simon MacCorkindale (who sadly passed away far too young)?

KLS: I was very fond of Simon, and we became good friends. I knew his family; his wife, brother and parents. He was charming and an excellent actor. I was also blessed to work with director Peter Sasdy and actress Mia Nadasi, who also became good friends. I loved doing the film, especially because we were on location in a beautiful setting.


NATHAN: In your book, The Dark Shadows Companion, you state in your introduction that you are in Dan Curtis' office as he is preparing the 1991 DS. You say that he mentions several actors from the original series that he hopes to bring into the 1991 series (including yours). I know it's been 20+ years but do you remember which other original series actors he mentioned as wanting to bring onto the 1991 series? David Selby said at a Festival that Dan asked him but David needed a break from series television after 9 years on Falcon Crest.

Also, I heard somewhere that you read for the part of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard for the WB 04 pilot. Is this true? How did it go? Did Dan ask you to read for the part? And what was he thinking casting someone else? (LOL)

KLS: I don't recall who the other actors were, but surely John Karlen was one of them. I worked with Dan in other projects after leaving Dark Shadows and so did John Karlen. Yes, I did a camera test for the role of Elizabeth that went to Blair Brown. I saw the tape and thought the audition went well. Everyone was very kind at the audition, but I think the request came from the casting director and director rather than Dan. I can't say for sure.


JILL: I am a rabid fan of Dark Shadows actor Dennis Patrick (Jason McGuire/Paul Stoddard/Sheriff Patterson in HoDS). Could you please tell me an anecdote about working with him on Dark Shadows? Or perhaps a memory from one of the Fests? (Anything will make me very happy!)

KLS: Dennis was so funny, so irreverent, and his playful limericks were priceless. I loved the guy! I think he might have been a bit in awe of Joan Bennett, and he covered it by always being able to make her laugh. Dennis and I met every year or so at the Festivals and I'd been in touch with him about contributing to one of Dark Shadows books. Toward the very end of his life, I met him in a book store. We had a long, wonderful chat, then hugged and said goodbye. As I was turning to walk away, he tapped my arm and said, "Could you remind me of how I know you?" I covered my surprise and told him. He said, "of course, of course, I just couldn't place you." It made me realize how skilled he was in covering his failing memory . . . I would never have known if he hadn't asked me who I was.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hipster Douchebag Collinwood Haiku

New details about upcoming Dark Shadows audio dramas from Big Finish

Big Finish has revealed details about the next six Dark Shadows audio dramas they've got planned (as well as news about the delayed Fall of the House of Trask episode.) While the titles and writers for the coming episodes are now public, they're still keeping mum about the cast for these productions.

David Selby, who is also playing Commissioner Gordon in an adaption of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, is set to reprise his role of Quentin Collins in the first of these new Big Finish presentations. Operation Victor drops Quentin Collins in the middle of international intrigue during World War II. From Big Finish:
The adventure, by Jonathan Morris, sees Quentin Collins (David Selby) finally leaving London in the 1940s. Kidnapped and taken to Germany by the British Secret Service, he finds himself up against sinister Nazi scientist Doctor Moloch (Terry Molloy). Accompanying Quentin is the enigmatic Sally Green (Fay Masterson).

You can read more about the upcoming Dark Shadows production HERE.

1966 Dark Shadows teaser

Victoria Winters re-enacts the cover of a thousand gothic novels in this newspaper teaser for Dark Shadows. This item was published June 16, 1966, more than a week before the show debuted on ABC.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hipster Douchebag Collinwood Haiku

You're gonna need a permit before burying any more corpses in the basement of the Old House.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Dark Shadows is a strange and unique mix"

Dan Curtis talks about the Dark Shadows revival series, in an interview published in a weekend newspaper insert during week of Jan. 11, 1991.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Barnabas Collins TV's Champ in Marketplace, 1968 newspaper feature

It's possible this story has already appeared on this site in one form or another (those are the pitfalls of using wire news, which tend to appear in numerous publications simultaneously.) If that's the case, this is the first time the story has been typseset, which should make it a little easier to read.

This piece concerns the rising Dark Shadows fad (I'm trying to rotate the word "phenomenon" out of usage on this site) in mid-1968, and mentions many of the George Lucas-ian products created for the series. I'm not sure where this publication circulated, but it was in a location where Dark Shadows was still airing at 3 p.m. 


Sucker for Vampire …
Barnabas Collins TV's Champ in Marketplace
JULY 28, 1968
HOLLYWOOD, Calif., --Television's heroes have often been champions in the marketplace as well. Batman inspired costumes and utility belts; Batmobiles and Batplanes. The Green Hornet sired Black Beauty cars and Green Hornet rings. But the hottest hero in daytime television today—one Barnabas Collins, the 175-year-old love-struck vampire on ABC-TV's "Dark Shadows," is taking over the championship.

Paperback Library has a new novel, starring Barnabas, on the presses right now — the sixth "Dark Shadows" book to be published by the company thus far. The Barnabas Vampire Joke Book is also being planned by Paperback Library.
Ben Cooper, Inc., the largest manufacturer of masquerade costumes in the nation, has licensed a line of costumes and masks based on the "Dark Shadows" theme and featuring Barnabas. The Western Publishing Company is also on the way with a boxed board game, comic books and puzzles.

The merchandising story to date is just the beginning, however, according to William F. Dennis, Vice President in Charge of ABC Merchandising, Inc. "Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas, has just returned from a 10-city personal appearance .tour, and the response has been fantastic. The excitement is just beginning to build, and for a daytime show, the reaction is really unprecedented.

"Thousands of fans, mostly teenagers, greeted Frid at every stop. I have had promotion men at ABC affiliates around the country tell me that the potential market, as indicated by fan mail and community response alone, for Barnabas Collins products, posters, rings like the one that he wears on the air, canes, music boxes, vampire fangs, capes and the like—is enormous.

"A record album with Barnabas is already in the planning stages, as is a 'Dark Shadows' magazine."
Jonathan Frid, the real life Barnabas, is a Shakespearean - trained actor who studied at the Royal Academy in Britain and the Yale School of Drama. He made his debut as Barnabas on April 14, 1967 with a projected run of two or three weeks for the character. He has been a "Dark Shadows," regular every since. Dan Curtis Associates, which produces "Dark Shadows," reports that mail for the-show recently has been running to almost 6,000 letters a week since Barnabas soared to fame, with Frid himself receiving nearly 5,000 of that total — prodigious figures for television programs, and record breaking for daytime.

Since Frid joined the show as Barnabas, "Dark Shadows" audiences has soared 62 per cent increasing from 2,800,000 to 4,450,000 homes per average minute. Teenage viewership is especially high, and to allow an even greater portion of" the teen audiences to see "Dark Shadows" every day, the show was moved from its 2:30-3 p.m. time slot to 3-3:30 p.m., KODE, Channel 12.

Frid's most recent personal appearances have testified in advance to the efficacy of the time change. Several weeks ago, he appeared in three Stern Brothers stores in the New York area as a special guest" at fashion shows displaying the latest in girl's and women's footwear— "Monster Shoes."

Stern's officials described his appearance as one of the biggest in memory. On a ticket-only basis, about 800 women and teenagers crowded each of Frid's performances, and an additional, appearance had to be scheduled at the 42nd' Street store to meet the demand (only the second time this has ever occurred.)
The Chinese may think that this is the year of the monkey, but at ABC it is quickly becoming  the year of the vampire.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A look at the Dark Shadows phenomenon by someone who's not a total idiot, 1970

Here's a piece from The Bakersfield Californian published not long before the release of House of Dark Shadows in 1970. It's surprisingly authoritative, and does more than merely pay lip service to the Dark Shadows phenomenon the way most mainstream press coverage did during the show's first life. The story features historical trivia about the locations used in the film, references old-school cosplay, and even shows a reasonable understanding of the show's complicated characters. Expecting a writer to know what the hell they're writing about is a fairly low standard for journalism, but it's surprising how often this is not the case. I've included a small scan of the page below, as well as a typeset version of the story. Enjoy!


The Lively Arts
By Judy Clausen
 The Bakersfield Californian, Sunday, Aug. 30, 1970

The first real nightmare I can recall suffering through followed seeing Bela Lugosi in the first Count Dracula movie —A VAMPIRE!

Vampires don't seem to give anyone nightmares these days. They are, rather, objects of great admiration and the cause of much heart fluttering.

To whit – Barnabas Collins of the ABC afternoon soaper-suspense series, "Dark Shadows." There is even a Barnabas Collins fan club in Bakersfield.  I ought to know, my daughter is one of the instigators of same. Six girls, with Cathy in the forefront, have banded together and gone so far as to stitch and sew Barnabas "outfits" which consist of Jong black maxi-skirts, white longsleeve blouses, and black "vampire" capes lined in, red. They made quite a stir at a local restaurant not long ago ... fully costumed.

They keep the fan mags chalking up profits by purchasing every one hitting the stands with anything to do with Barnabas or Dark Shadows. And now, all six are quivering with anticipation waiting for the full-length color motion picture "The House of Dark Shadows" due at movie houses any time.

I can see them now—dressed to the teeth (you should excuse the expression) standing in line for the first showing! Then they can find the answers to such startling questions as:
Who let Barnabas out of his coffin?
What were the mysterious wounds in Daphne's neck?
What did David Collins see in the swimming pool?
Will Julia Hoffman, M.D., win Barnabas by curing him?
Will Barnabas win Maggie in marriage by an unholy ceremony?
Will Carolyn win Barnabas as a vampire where she failed as a mortal?
Will Jeff rescue Maggie?
Who locked Maggie in the abandoned room?
Whose body was that in the closet?
Who was the evil old man with blood on his mouth?
What will come of the mysterious resemblance of Maggie to Josette?
Who knows?
The vampire does.

Poor old Barnabas (as beautifully done by Jonathan Frid), trapped by his circumstantial vampirism, the 175-year-old but still youthful blood drinker, who manages to be completely sympathetic in his role. Most of the characters in the MGM movie are the same as seen in the daytime television shows. Joan Bennet, the female star, has dominated Dark Shadows in present time as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, matriarch of the ill-fated Collins clan. Always a grande dame, she was Naomi Collins in the 18th century and Judith Collins in the 19th.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention, everyone plays somebody else in the family or household in other centuries. Reincarnation, and all that jazz. In television, Grayson Hall plays Julia Hoffman, plus a French countess, a flamboyant gypsy and an oh-so-sinister housekeeper. In the film she is the lady doctor romantically taken with Barnabas.
Newcomers to the Collins' story are three mansions used in filming the movie. Lyndhurst is "Collinwood" and is located in Tarrytown, New York. It was built by an ex-mayor of New York City in 1834 and bought near the turn of the century by financier Jay Gould. Now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, its priceless collection of antiques, statuary, Tiffany glass and china were used for every movie scene taking place in Collinwood, the residence of the doom-ridden Collins family. In picturesque decay — the 400-foot-long greenhouse and the swimming pool building also figure prominently in the spine-tingling plot.

Beechwood, near Scarborough, N.Y., is "The Old House" in which vampire Barnabas lived and which lie restores when he "returns from the tomb." Though still a private residence, Beechwood
has innumerable deserted wings and its own ghost, result of a grisly multiple murder in the 1850s. Current residents say the ghost is for real!

The Lockwood-Mathew mansion is "The Abandoned Monastery" where Barnabas flees to make Maggie his bride. It's located near Norwalk, Connecticut, and is unrestored. It is modeled on St. Peter's in Rome, though on a slightly smaller scale. Its two-story rotunda is the site for the climax of House of Dark Shadows, and its cellars are used for the crypt and coffin scenes.

Naturally, or is that unnaturally, the movie starts on — A Dark and Stormy Night — the handyman enters the Collins' crypt while searching for the lost family jewels, and in a secret vault he finds a chained coffin — which he opens! You can take it from there.

After all this, how can you stand the suspense of waiting for the film to appear?

Death to Vampires

I have a confession to make: I don’t like vampires. I actually kind of hate them. 

This is probably surprising, coming from a guy who runs a Dark Shadows fanpage. But it’s true … if I never see another "new" vampire movie, novel, TV show, etc., I’d be a happy camper.

I began to turn on the entire concept sometime during the final years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, two shows that I still love. It was around that time that vampires became a creative pestilence in popular media. The once kinda-diverse “horror” section at book stores began to be overrun with books about vampires. Not just that, but they were all part of a series, whether it was The Vampire Files, Sonja Blue, Suki Stackhouse, Anita Blake, The Southern Vampire Mysteries or any of the hundreds of vampire books that have been published over the last twenty years. Imagine where the world would be if Stephen King wrote only The Dark Tower, or if Phillip K. Dick wrote nothing but books about the same fucking robot hunter.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran out of steam around the same time as interest the Anne Rice conceit of the “romantic monster,” an idea lifted from Dark Shadows. Just when it looked like we were finally done with vampires, something more insidious and disturbing reared its ugly head: the vampire as superman.

The groundwork for this new trend was laid by Buffy, Angel and the Blade series of movies, which depicted vampires as greedy, corrupt monsters. But they also asked a question that has received a troubling answer: if you had superpowers that required you to kill people to survive, how far would you go?
Most people seemed intrigued by the idea of a lifetime of murder if it helped them fend off the reaper for a little longer. At the very least, they’d request a couple of pamphlets on the subject.

Vampires have been used as so many different metaphors over the years that the concept now falls under one gigantic counterculture banner. Vampires, like comicbook mutants, have become stand-ins for whatever cause you choose to read into them, from homosexuality, to politics, to race and class. As much as everyone wants to bitch about the gross gender dynamics of the Twilight series, those books and movies have more in common with the X-Men movies than not. Edit the word “vampire” out of those films and substitute “mutant,” and their stories don’t change at all.

The same goes for True Blood and its related books, which also treat bloodsuckers as misunderstood, unappreciated heroes that might as well be wearing capes and spandex. I don’t think this is a case of vampires becoming good guys. It’s the other way around. If given the chance, far too many people would trade everything for power and never look back.

But all of that is beside the point. The public’s fascination with vampires isn’t any more disturbing than it’s fascination with that other tired cliché, the Serial Killer. My real dislike for vampires is that they’ve become storytelling crutches that absolve the writers from explaining the chemistry of their characters in any meaningful way. James Ellroy abandoned the use of serial killers in his novels when he realized the idea was inherently lazy. Serial killers just kill because they’re supposed to … invent some bullshit psychological explanation for their behavior and viola! Instant badguy. The same goes for vampires.

It’s not vampires I dislike, but our continued dependency on them. I don’t think anyone believes the world needs more vampire stories at this point, let alone another series about a misunderstood, tortured antihero who likes sex much less than his perpetually horny lady friend. I'm not suggesting we abandon our past, because there are tons of vampire stories that I still love. But it's well past time we start looking to the future, and to new ideas.

Review: The House by the Sea

The House by the Sea has been sitting on my iPod for a while now. Back in February, I openly criticized Big Finish for resorting to geek "stunt casting" by adding Amber Benson and Colin Baker to their ranks. It wasn't that I had anything against these actors, but I was worried the company's Dark Shadows productions were turning into nothing more than scenery for its guest stars to chew.

Now, just a few days after being praised for my critical accuracy, I humbly admit that I was wrong. Not only about Dress Me in Dark Dreams, the Benson-starring Dark Shadows installment, but about The House by the Sea, as well.

There's a HUGE gap in my Doctor Who experience. As a lad I watched the Tom Baker and much of the Peter Davison episodes, but when my family was kicked out of left England I lost touch with the show until it's much later revival with Christopher Eccleston. I'm not the least bit familiar with Colin Baker. But I think I might have a non-sexual nerd crush on the man after listening to The House by the Sea.

Baker delivers one of the best one-man horror shows since The Evil Dead 2 in The House by the Sea. As former attorney Gerald Conway, Baker plays a man who's lost his family, his career and his sanity, and has traveled to Collinsport in hopes of finding some explanation for his spiritual apocalypse. Haunted by visions of a mysterious house, he catches a glimpse of the building on a documentary about the shipping industry in Maine and decides to get a closer look at the property.

The device used to tell this story is familiar but effective: as with many of H.P. Lovecraft's tales, the episode is a document of a man's growing madness. Conway is recording his experiences in Collinsport (and within the increasingly haunted Sea View) into a tape recorder. While it might sound like an obvious device, it allowed for storytelling opportunities I had not expected: the appearance of characters rarely seen in Big Finish dramas. Baker recounts his encounters with his landlord, Elizabeth Stoddard, as well as her daughter Carolyn and Dr. Julia Hoffman (who he describes as a woman who looks "serious, but also like she owned a dozen too many cats.")

And yes, Barnabas Collins also makes an appearance.

The script is witty and filled with the kind of Lovecraftian dread usually missing from even the best of Lovecraft's adaptations. The House by the Sea is also one of the most atmospheric productions I've heard from Big Finish, with wind, rain and the occasional thunderclap lurking in the background of many of the scenes. This is a tale to be listened to in the dark, for sure.

Without spilling the beans too much, the ending of The House by the Sea sets the stage for a much bigger story, as well as for Baker's possible return. I hope we get to hear that story someday.

Listen to the trailer for The House by the Sea HERE.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kathryn Leigh Scott to discuss Dark Shadows in online chat at Goodreads

Kathryn Leigh Scott will be participating in an online chat next week to discuss Dark Shadows and her new book Return to Collinwood. Scott will be available in this Goodreads group from Friday, May 25, to Monday, June 4.

Now that I think about it, I haven't written a formal review of Return to Collinwood. I've got her entire line of Dark Shadows books (note: Pomegranate Press has a great many other books for sale that aren't related to Dark Shadows) and thought RtC was a terrific summary of the Dark Shadows phenomenon as a whole.

Jonathan Frid, reluctant vampire, 1971

Following the cancellation of Dark Shadows in 1971, writer Helene LaCaccia unearthed some notes from an interview she'd conducted earlier in the year with actor Jonathan Frid. The archival scan is barely legible and the story's not the best-written piece you'll ever read. But, Frid's comments are quite interesting and certainly illustrate a very specific state of mind at the beginning of the final year for Dark Shadows. I've typeset the story below and left the errors intact (such as the reference to "Collinswood.")


Jonathan Frid, reluctant vampire
Friday, April 30, 1971
By Helene LaCaccia

Reading of the distressed reactions of many viewers of all ages to the cancellation  of ABC's 'Dark Shadow' reminded me of the day, mid-January, when I was allowed into the vampire's coffin. That is Jonathan Frid's apartment in New York.

Jonathan Frid, for those who were in China these past years, is the most beloved screen vampire this side of Bela Lugosi. He is Barnabas Collins, the accursed soul lurking in the Dark Shadows of "Collingswood," site of the one soap opera mother and child watched in unison with equal involvement.

In no time at all, even by television standards, Jonathan, alias Barnabas crept, tortured eyes, fangs, somber demeanor and all, into the hearts — if not the jugulars — of his audience. Kids find him deliriously, frighteningly for real and women, a large part of', his audience, find him deliciously, frighteningly romantic. Like: "If I'm going to be bit by a vampire, let it be Barnabas Collins."

Thus Jonathan found himself not only plucked  from an honorable but anonymous career in Shakespearean theater and given a ghoulish success on the screen, but also a success on trding cards, bubblegum wrappers, comicbooks, games, paperbacks and the supreme test of appeal, on T-shirts.

And here is where we stop being cute.

The man 'is not cute. He is terribly human — a characteristic many actors I've met manage to hide well — not in the sense of goodness to but frailties and inconsistencies and questioning of goals and values.

To those who may feel sorry for Barnabas-Jonathan, let it be known he, for one, is probably relieved today that the choice has been made for for him.

"I am an actor with more serious ambitions. I don't want to go on the rest of my life doing this Vampire thing.. I'm in a trauma right now. I want to quit, but I'm not sure I can relinquish the. fame and the financial rewards, all this ..."

He gestured toward the pleasant apartment. "I like the comfort and the recognition, but I don't like what I have to do for it. I really dislike the role and I'm ashamed of my acting . . ."
I apologized for not being particularly familiar with the show. He interrupted: "Listen ... if I thought you spent your day watching soap operas, I wouldn't have let you in."

"Yeah, I like the adulation, but some of the audience reaction is frightening. All those people who want me to come over and speak on the occult, or be honorary president of their occult society, frighten me more than I frighten them as a vampire. They're terribly serious. I've had adults ask me, but seriously, not if I always sleep in a coffin, but how does it feel to sleep in a coffin ..."

The typecasting was becoming abhorrent and he expressed the worry that even the trade may consider him only good enough for the kind of role he was doing. "The trade is as stupid as the audience that can't tell the difference between an actor and a character."

On the other hand he expressed the hope that his present name fame could get him some, good roles. "I'd like to do some good movies. Not necessarily just the theater."

For the Hamilton, Ontario, boy who studied at the Royal Academy of London, the theater, Shakespearian preferably,  is still what, he knows best; and Richard III, is the favorite role. "I get to where I defend that miserable man, where I convince even myself of the legitimacy of the Yorks over the Lancaster's and
defend it."

"What, could Jonathan Frid not distinguish between an actor and his character?

"Oh that's different. I don't wind up feeling I am Richard the Third. But I must defend him as human ... like Barnabas I  try to do him humanly, not a caricature, a Lugosi type-of vampire who was strictly vampire. The way I do Barnabas, he is a pathetic man who hates to be a vampire but can't help it. He has a problem; He has to bite girls on the neck and drink blood, but he is really very unhappy about it afterwards ..."

The tall, man, surprisingly blue-eyed, 47 years old and with forward blown ear-covering hair, kept on talking in a well-modulated baritone. .He was a study in paradoxes, of  non-commitment, of which he was well aware.

"I can give you opposite answers to any question. 'I  suppose I am fairly easily influenced."
He thought of himself  as basically shallow, yet also knew there was depth to him but was to lazy to plumb it.

"I was always a lazy boy. A bad student. I have been a dilettante for so long. Because I didn't need the money I guess."

"Why? Do you think, starving actors are better?"

"No; but they have to try harder to get a job and hang on to it. It's like during the depression. All of a sudden workers had to be good. Today, electricians, masons, anyone doesn't have to be so good. But, when jobs are scarce, you just don't fool around any more. You know, like love of God. It's not enough to love God to keep the narrow path; you also have to fear God."

Is he very religious?
"I don't think so. But I do think a lot about the after-life. I worry about doomsday."
He had no definite, dogmatic answer o the problems of living, as most actors do when they know they will be quoted.
"I like the way young people question things, but then it also leads to anarchy ..."
"Women's lib bores me. I love to see a soft, feminine woman, yet I gravitate towards the strong, more aggressive types. But then I can't stand them too long, .either ..."

"I believe in discipline in schools, but I also see the other side of it ..."

Jonathan Frid has no hobbies and I was grateful that he said as much honestly, instead of the standard "People are my hobby" type of answer one gets from 4 out of 5 celebrities whose only hobby-people is often themselves.

"My apartment, maybe, is my hobby at this, time. I love comfort. I indulge myself a lot in the luxurious life. I am very selfish."

And so he was, yet as the conversation progressed in the philosophical aspects of life and of his business, it was easy to see the reluctant vampire was also very thoughtful, perceptive.

One got the impression that were not so tiring, or tiresome, he might like to be involved, to be sure of his way. Only that would require the making of a decision, something Jonathan Frid does only when absolutely forced to, or when convenient.
No  doubt he feels relieved at the cancellation of Dark Shadows. it made the decision for him.

"Though, if I do quit, I'll probably regret the days of fame and recognition and miss them."
And then he also might not.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

David Selby cast in animated Batman: The Dark Knight Returns movie

This is something Batman fans have been waiting years for: WB has confirmed that an animated feature is in the works based based on the classic '80s Batman series, The Dark Knight Returns. Peter Weller will be playing retired lunatic Bruce Wayne (and his alter-ego Batman,) according to The Hollywood Reporter blog, Heat Vision.

"One of the most influential comics of all time, the Dark Knight Returns is set in a near future where Batman is retired and Gotham City has slid into a dystopian state ruled by a gang of hooligans called The Mutants. The 55-year old Bruce Wayne is forced to don the cape once more, this time partnering with a female Robin to not only stop the Joker but keep the peace when the city falls into chaos after being hit by an electromagnetic pulse."

According to his Twitter feed, Selby will be playing, Commissioner Gordon, who is one of the leads in the original graphic novel. A small segment of The Dark Knight Returns was adapted for the animated Batman TV series back in 1998. I've embedded a clip from that episode above, for you newbies.

Night of Dark Shadows wallpaper

Back when this site first launched, I created some images show what trading cards for the movies House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows might have looked like. I even made "wax wrappers" for these cards, then used the images for desktop wallpaper. It seems that I never shared the Night of Dark Shadows wallpaper, though it was probably posted in one for or other on my Facebook page.

Jonathan Frid in Mexico?

Did Jonathan Frid move to Mexico to take a job in Spanish-language media? This Q&A from a Texas newspaper in 1977 seems to think that's the case. The scan wasn't legible, so I transcribed the relevant text below. It appears the word "bilingual" was missing from the answer, though, but was included in the photo caption. I've amended the text below.

UPDATE: Henriette pointed out that the book Barnabas and Company mentions Frid's journey to Mexico, where he spent some time in the town of Cuernavaca where he studied Spanish and Shakespeare.

Nancy Kersey, a longtime collaborator of Frid's, also had this to say: "Jonathan told me he went to Mexico for vacation, study Spanish and start putting together lecture material on Shakespeare and some readings for Poe. He never said anything to me about doing television down there."

 THE VICTORIA ADVOCATE, Sunday, July 10,1977
Q: Will "Dark Shadows" — a daytime serial that ran from '66 through, I think, 1971 — ever be back on the air again? I mean with new segments? And where is Jonathan Frid, who played vampire Barnabas Collins?
— Mrs. T. Thompson, Oakland.

A: Jonathan is living in Mexico and studying Spanish so he can handle (bilingual) roles, "Daytime TV" editor Paul Denis tells us. Also the popular series, now syndicated in San Francisco. Chicago. Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities, will continue presenting the oldies. But no new ones are planned.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hipster Douchebag Collinwood Haiku

Dining at the House of Dark Shadows

The Bridgeport Post ran a feature story about location shooting that took place at The Three Bears Restaurant in Connecticut during the filming of House of Dark Shadows. Published July 12, 1970, the story explains the role the restaurant played in the film, as well as the role the restaurant's owner was allowed to play on screen. Unfortunately, the master scan of this news page is terrible and almost unreadable ... so I typeset the story below, complete with typos.

I've included a fake House of Dark Shadows trading card within the text of the story that shows a scene that was likely film inside the restaurant, which closed in 2009 after roughly a century in business.

Photo courtesy of

Three Bears Restaurant Used In 
Filming of 'Dark Shadows'
The Bridgeport Sunday Post, July 12, 1970

The Three Bears restaurant on Route 33 was recently used in the filming of an upcoming MGM motion picture based on the afternoon television serial, "Dark Shadows."
Incorporating many of the favorite characters (but not all; in a half-hour a day for nearly four years, there were a lot of characters), this film is adding expressive Gothic atmosphere by shooting many Fairfield and Westchester county ancient buildings still in use.

For instance, Lyndhurst, a lavish Tarrytown, N.Y. estate, formerly owned by the financier, Jay Gould, is portrayed as the ancient mansion, Collinwood, where all of "Dark Shadow's" dire doings take place.

Dates Back to 1779
The selection of The Three Bears restaurant was a natural one, since this 200-year-old inn has painstakingly kept its Early American charm down through the years.
Dating back to 1779, it was a former coach stop on the original Boston Post road.
It's authentic mellowed brick and smoke stained rafters have never been updated. Modern electric wiring replaces flickering candles and modern plumbing supplants the old pump that stood out back, but, even with the modern heating, the present owners still use the existing six roaring fire places.
The Three  Bears restaurant is recognized as the oldest eating place in Westport, and was known in early days as "The Three Bears Tavern." This held until the repeal of prohibition, which gave the word "tavern" a totally different meaning.
The black and white sign, with the three members of the popular storybook Bear Family, was designed by John Held Jr. in 1923. Famous as an illustrator at the height of the flapper period, Mr. Held was one of the many artists and writers who were habitues of the inn in the earliest days of Westport's artistic growth.
Today, The Three Bears restaurant consists of three charming dining rooms and  cocktail lounge, each of which retains traces of the original trappings and charm. The Old Dining Room, dating back to the original 1700 ancestry features many authentic antiques and lighting fixtures.

Dan Curtis, producer-director for the film felt that location scenes shot within the confine of this authentic inn would solve atmosphere problems, and hold the cost of production to a reasonable level. As a reward for the use of his famous landmark, owner Stephen Vazzano will be seen (prominently) as an extra during one of the critical dining scenes.
There are other spooky houses in the script; further location shooting took place in atmospheric houses in nearby Scarborough, and in Norwalk. The entire film, as a matter of fact, was shot on location; no studio shots were used at all, which will certainly give the film a far different, look from the Hollywood horrors of the '40s. The priceless collection of furniture and objects would be impossible for any set decorator to duplicate.
The film's stars are Joan Bennett, Jonathan Frid, and Grayson Hall, all veterans of the television version. They portray their original .characters: respectively, Elizabeth Stoddard Collins, matriarch of the doomed Collins clan; Barnabas Collins, the 175-year-old family vampire; and Julia Hoffman, lady doctor. These are "original" characters in, the sense that the serial has incorporated multiple plot lines in its history, and almost all the actors have portrayed several roles. Also on hand for the film are other "Dark Shadows" reguars Kathryn Leigh Scott, Roger Davis, Nancy Barrett, Don Briscoe, and David  Henesy.
"Dark Shadows" made its original impact by being the first daytime serial to employ the talents of a noted screen personality who was, of course, Joan Bennett. It received an upward surge in ratings when its first true supernatural character, vampire Barnabas, appeared. Since then, all stops were pulled: werewolves,
ghosts, and man-made monsters ran wild, and an enormous audience ranging from middle-American housewives to the hippest of the high school crowd stayed enthralled.
"Dark Shadows" will not only be joyously received by its television audience, but will be a boon to all those workaday types unable to watch in the afternoon who have wondered what all the fuss is about.

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