It’s no secret that television shows live or die based on the production’s ability to think on its feet. A pilot episode is almost a notional thing, a rough draft that suggests story and character without ever having much of either. You don’t learn the strengths and weaknesses of your actors, writers and production team by shooting a single episode; you learn these things by spending an extended period of time with them in the creative trenches.
So, it’s not shocking that a look back at Art Wallace’s “bible” for DARK SHADOWS differs in a great many ways from the show it quickly became. Overall, the outline and character sketches presented in Wallace’s long-out-of-print SHADOWS ON THE WALL feel like the show’s first year. The central mysteries are the same, as are many of the character’s relationships and basic plot points. But the outline failed to anticipate a central piece of casting that would change the course of the show’s first year in unexpected ways:
On the page, Roger Collins isn’t a role to get excited about. Wallace describes him (several times, actually) as a charmless, irresponsible layabout. The show’s first mystery doesn’t hinge on the death of Bill Malloy and the subsequent justice meted out to his killer by Collinwood’s ghosts. Instead, Roger takes an untimely dive off Widow’s Hill during a violent confrontation with Victoria regarding the conspiracy to send Burke Devlin to prison.
The difference, I’d speculate, was that Roger Collins proved himself to be a more interesting and useful character than first intended. Edmonds deserves a fair share of the credit here, as do the other writers who worked to create a character that played to the actor’s droll strengths. It should have been obvious to all involved that Collinsport would have been a much less interesting place without Edmonds around. Which is why the show spent so much time chasing the whereabouts of a silver fountain pen ... the writers were retooling the story to keep Roger Collins around.
SHADOWS ON THE WALL goes into a shocking level of detail about the show’s settings and characters, almost none of which was ever intended for audience consumption. For example, Collinsport is located in the very real Hancock County, Maine. A sizable chunk of the Collins family history is covered in the outline, but I won’t waste much of your time with it here. Suffice to say, almost all of it was heavily revised by the time Barnabas Collins is introduced, and most of the names were shuffled to other characters.
Curiously, the seeds for both Barnabas and Quentin Collins might even have been planted in the show’s bible long before they were introduced. The outline makes references to “Samuel Collins,” a man who mysteriously left the country around 1895 shortly after the east wing was destroyed by fire. His ghost can occasionally be seen from the windows of the re-built property, standing in a darkened window and holding a lit candle.
Also, Roger and Liz’s parents are identified in the bible by the names Joseph and Carolyn. Their mother died giving birth to Roger, and their father followed her to the grave a few years later of natural causes, leaving a very young Liz in charge of the family business. Liz’s daughter, Carolyn, was named for her grandmother.
While Laura Collins (referred to in the bible as “Laura Robin”) is mentioned throughout, she makes no on-screen appearance in the story’s original draft. She was conveniently shuffled off to a sanitarium not long after Burke Devlin was released from prison.
As for David Collins, the bible lets slip a fairly important detail: David was born seven months after Roger and Laura were married. Roger was not especially happy about the discrepancy, and didn’t buy Laura’s “It was an early birth!” defense. Wallace makes a note in the book to deal with that plot point later in the show, in a manner that best serves the developing storyline.
We also get small bits of character details for the show’s supporting cast. Joe Haskell’s father was also a fisherman, and died as sea when Joe was only 14. The younger Haskell was forced to drop out of school to help his family make ends meet. His mother worked as an occasional housekeeper at Collins House, which is how he first met Carolyn.
SHADOWS ON THE WALL is an embarrassment of riches in regards to character descriptions. Burke Devlin is described as “an angry, hungry man born 200 years too late.” Liz is “a ghost living in a house of ghosts.” Carolyn gets a lengthy character profile that, strangely, doesn’t do much to illustrate her as an actual character. What we get are a lot of ideas, mostly about her conflicting love and resentment for her shut-in mother, and the vague motives for her own bad behavior. The impression I was left with was of Carolyn as a 20th century Rapunzel: “As much as she longed to breathe the fresh air away from Collins House, the tormented girl was terrified of what that air might be like.”
There are a few notable omissions from the bible, as well as a surprising early appearance by one of DARK SHADOWS favorite rogues. The names Mrs. Johnson, “B. Hanscombe” and Matthew Morgan make a total of zero appearances in the DARK SHADOWS bible. But, a name that does make numerous appearances is that of “Walt Cummings,” described in the cast of characters as “a seaman who comes to live in Collins House.”
Don’t be alarmed if that description has you scratching your head. “Collins House” was the original name of Collinwood, and “Walt Cummings” came to be known later in the series as Jason McGuire. Willie Loomis was not invited to this version of the familiar story, which has “Walt Cummings” blackmailing Elizabeth Collins Stoddard for the usual reasons.
Originally, plans called for Jason/Walt to be introduced fairly early in the show. The Laura/Phoenix arc isn’t mentioned, instead allowing the various plot devises to revolve around the central mystery of Victoria’s lineage. And that mystery was actually intended to be solved during the first year … more or less.
As you already know, Victoria was dropped off at a “foundling home” as an infant, along with a note identifying her by name. She was given the last name “Winters” in honor of the season in which she was abandoned (though just barely, since the bible lists her date of abandonment as early March.) The show's plans called for her eventually find love letters from Paul Stoddard to Liz, with his handwriting matching that of her note. Walt/Jason admits to Victoria that Paul Stoddard claimed to be her father … and then provides the writers with an "out" by further elaborating that Paul was a known liar. The floor of the locked basement is excavated by local authorities in hopes of finding Paul’s corpse, but they find nothing but dirt. Walt/Jason further confesses that Paul survived Liz’s attack, but hasn't been seen for more than a decade.
These many differences aside, it’s hard to imagine where the show might have next gone had they stuck to the outline as presented in SHADOWS ON THE WALL. Sure, we still don’t know who Victoria’s mother is (and we’re not given much reason to care), and the bible leave us with the promise that Paul Stoddard will soon return to "Collins House" to generate more drama. But, without the show’s central mystery of Victoria’s parentage -- not to mention the absence of Barnabas Collins -- it seems to me that DARK SHADOWS was almost doomed to becoming another faceless daytime drama. Fortunately, the production team behind DARK SHADOWS knew how to tell their strengths from their weaknesses and was unafraid of trying new things.
NOTE: SHADOWS ON THE WALL is notoriously difficult to find (I dare you to see how much it’s selling for on Amazon) but it’s worth seeking out.