Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dark Shadows over ConCarolinas

DARK SHADOWS will have a strong presence this weekend at the ConCarolinas event in Charlotte, N.C. THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY will be there, as will original DARK SHADOWS cast members Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott. The likelihood of time slips, science-related disasters and  reported cases of vampirism are expected to rise by 60 percent in Charlotte by the end of the week. You might want to pack some sort of gypsy charm before venturing into the dealer's room.

If you can't make the convention, which runs May 30-June 1, you can keep track of the festivities on THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY's various social media sites. Here's a handy guide:

(The Instagram account is fairly new, but I expect to be giving it a thorough shakedown during the convention.)

For those of you who are planning to attend, ConCarolinas is turning into an accidental MONSTER SERIAL gathering. CHS contributor Patrick McCray will be joining Sara McBride and myself at the CHS table, while Jonathan Chaffin of HORROR IN CLAY is set to attend, as well. All of us have pieces in the first MONSTER SERIAL collection. We'll have copies of the book available for sale, if you don't have one already.

While I haven't figured out a way to get them involved with this website yet, I've also got a bit of a history with the event's musical guest of honor VALENTINE WOLFE: They graciously agreed to perform at my wedding a few years back. They're an amazing band, and you won't want to miss them.

Oh, and that George RR Martin guy will be there, whom I've never met.

But wait! There's more! I'll have some of my modest collection of DARK SHADOWS items on display at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY table. But you'll have to visit us at ConCarolinas to find out what I'm bringing ...


ConCarolinas will have TWO events this weekend devoted to DARK SHADOWS. On Saturday at 2 p.m. there will be a screening of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, which will involve a Q&A with Parker and Scott. How may times will you get to see that film with those actresses in the room?

Then, at noon on Sunday, the actresses will take part in a panel discussion devoted to DARK SHADOWS.

Be there or be square.

Weekend and Saturday passes for ConCarolinas have already sold out. While Friday passes are available, some DARK SHADOWS fans are concerned about making the trip to Charlotte, only to find that today's passes have sold out before they arrived. There's good news, though! If you can't get into the convention, Kathryn Leigh Scott is organizing an off-site gathering of DARK SHADOWS fans this weekend. The meet is set for 6:15 Saturday night at Zapata's Restaurant, located at 8927 J M Keynes Dr., Charlotte, N.C., 28262 (within walking distance of the hotel that is hosting ConCarolinas.)


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Is Jack the Ripper coming to Collinsport?

Here's a bit of news from an unlikely source:

Lara Parker is in Mobile, Ala., this weekend, attending the annual MobiCon with her DARK SHADOWS co-star Kathryn Leigh Scott. While there, Parker took some time to visit a historic house on the city's Government Street to view a portrait of her ancestor Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (see the photo to your right.) Here's a little about the man from Wikipedia:
Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (1798–1859) was a Texas politician, poet, diplomat and soldier who was a leading Texas political figure during the Texas Republic era. He was the second President of the Republic of Texas after David G. Burnet (1836 as ad-interim president) and Sam Houston. posted a photo of Parker's visit, and included this bit of information: She's conducting research on Jack the Ripper for her next (as yet untitled) DARK SHADOWS novel. According to the news site, one of Parker's ancestors was a cousin of John Archibald Campbell, who has a federal courthouse named for him in Mobile. Campbell's sister was the grandmother of a woman married to James Maybrick, one of many people considered a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders.

Florence and James Maybrick
So, we know Victoria Winters returns in the next book, and it appears that Jack the Ripper may also play a part in that story. We have to just wait and see if Jack's last name is "Collins."


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Remembering MICHAEL MAITLAND (1956–2014)

(with Marie Maginity)

He was born Michael Walker, son of Scott Walker, TV and movie bad guy, featured in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, THE MUPPET MOVIE and other light classics. His mom, a former Broadway dancer and daughter of theatre critic Ward Morehouse, picked the stage name Michael Maitland from Sir Harry Maitland, an actor whom she admired.

I met Michael in college when he and I were two of 32 students accepted into the Acting Program at the State University of New York at Purchase in the fall of 1977.

"So, Michael, have you done much acting?"

 "Well, lately not so much, but, I did some stuff when I was a kid."

Maitland as leader of the Leviathans on DARK SHADOWS.
At which point he just casually rambled off a list of professional credits. Michael had played Hal Linden’s son in THE ROTHSCHILDS, and portrayed Patrick Dennis (not Dennis Patrick) in the original cast of MAME with Angela Lansbury. Oh, and some television work for a soap opera called DARK SHADOWS.

Needless to say, I was awestruck. Before the age of 21, this guy had accomplished more than what 95 percent of most actors did in their lifetimes. In comparison, my claim to fame was the starring role of Mortimer in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at St. John’s Church in Yonkers.

The funniest story Mike ever told (and he told many) referred the time he had played Winthrop in a revival of THE MUSIC MAN at New York City Center. The production starred Bert Parks, best known as host for many years of the Miss America Pageant. Mike, however, was very familiar with the film version, so when he and his mother spotted Robert Preston on a Manhattan street, the boy recognized him immediately as Harold Hill, albeit the wrong one.

“Professor Hill! Professor Hill, hi, how are you?”  Mike ran up to the confused actor. “Don’t you remember me? I played Winthrop with you!”
Dan and Mike

But Preston just smiled and feigned recognition. “That's right, son, we did. And didn't we have a wonderful time?"

Mike and I stayed in touch after college. He did not continue to pursue the acting career which had served him so well as a boy. The big city is full of stories of child legends who did not successfully migrate to adult careers in show business, and Michael was one of them.

But Mike was not bitter; if he missed it, he never let on. He adjusted well to real life and established himself in the restaurant business, eventually becoming a banquet manager at a midtown Manhattan hotel.

His favorite pastime was softball in the Central Park leagues where opposing hitters learned quickly to not hit it to centerfield; he ran down everything in the park. And that's a big park.

Word about Michael's cancer started making the rounds about five years ago. At first my reaction was not to be overly concerned. After all, he was only in his early 50s; they’re making wonderful progress with these things nowadays. Time passed, and the truth dawned on me: Mike wasn’t going to make it.

Michael lasted much longer than anyone predicted, but he was in horrific pain. It had reached a point where I began to wish his pain would end. In January, I heard from a mutual friend that if I wanted to see Mike I'd better act fast.

The next day, I drove the roughly 180 miles to his facility in Rhinebeck, N.Y., preparing for the worst. To my great relief, however, he did not appear to be at death’s door — anything but. Mike looked like a guy who had just had his appendix out and was waiting for the doctor to say "go home." It was certainly not my mental image of an advanced cancer patient.

After an hour or so of conversation and laughs, Michael suggested we head down to a room with vending machines, tables and a TV. But we were barely through the door when he stopped me, out of breath.

“It's in my lungs now. I can't go any further."

I stayed for another couple of hours. When it was time to leave I hugged Mike and told him that I loved him, knowing I would never see my friend again.

As I walked down the hall, I was grateful that it was a Sunday evening with only a skeleton crew working the floor. Big boys don't like to be seen with tears in their eyes.

As I waited at the elevator, a young man caught up with me.

"I just wanted to tell you that I have never seen anyone handle something like this as well as Michael has."

The end finally came on April 23. His sisters were present at the hospice in upstate New York.

One of his sisters, Jackie Graves, is raising funds for a memorial bench in Central Park, where he loved playing softball so much.

A family member is raising funds for a memorial bench in Central Park in Maitland's name.

Dan Hickey and Marie Maginity performed together in a production of NIGHT OF THE IGUANA at South Camden Theatre Company. Marie played the role of Miss Fellowes, portrayed in the film by Grayson Hall. Dan played the Nazi father (of Marie’s real life daughter).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Review: GODZILLA is a bore

Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA is a frustrating experience. It manages to improve in every conceivable way on the 1998 attempt to Americanize the King of the Monsters, but that's pretty a low bar by anyone's standards. Today's blockbuster must be oh-so-serious, and the pageantry of tragedy on display in GODZILLA not only drains the film of life, but might even elevate it to accidental camp status. There's probably a drinking game to be made from the film. Take a shot whenever a character stares blankly into the distance toward impending doom. Take two if that character is a child.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays ... well, I don't remember his character's name. Save for the big guy himself, I don't remember anyone's name in the film. It doesn't really matter because the characters are just constructs that exist to get you from beat to beat. Taylor-Johnson plays the kind of role usually reserved these days for Channing Tatum: A young, no-nonsense military officer with more muscle definition than personality. Here, Taylor-Johnson is a Naval officer, but that's mostly an irrelevant designation because he's an expert in almost everything. His military occupational specialty is demolitions, but he later proves to be an accomplished HALO jumper, marksman, diver and survivalist. It's that last skill that proves to be the most useful, because the character tends to be the sole survivor of every Kaiju encounter in the film.

Taylor-Johnson enters the film as his character returns from a lengthy overseas deployment. Almost immediately, he's called away from his family to tend to his mad scientist father in Japan, played by Bryan Cranston. If BREAKING BAD (or even MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE) have you expecting a blistering performance from Cranston, you might want to lower your expectations a bit. His role is a stock character with stock dialogue, and neither the script nor a regrettable wig selection give him anything to work with. It's a glorified cameo appearance, and his character exists mostly has a MacGuffin to separate Taylor-Johnson from his wife (whose name I also don't remember, but she's played by Elizabeth Olson.)

A prologue establishes that a nuclear accident 15 years earlier in Japan killed Taylor-Johnson's mother (played by Juliette Binoche) and drove his father to the edge of madness. Cranston is convinced that there's something more to the accident than the world was told, but even he doesn't seem to really know what was kept secret. It's a little unclear on what he was expecting to discover, but it probably wasn't a giant grasshopper feeding off the plant's reactor. Luckily for us (and unluckily for Cranston and Taylor-Johnson) their investigation brings them back to the site just minutes before the film's first monster hatches.

The rest of the film is disaster imagery designed to conjure memories of everything from 9/11 to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Families are separated and reunited, the badguys vanquished and none it means a whole hell of a lot because the film lacks anything resembling a point of view. The script presents numerous opportunities to express itself with something more than bombast. What role does industry play in protecting the environment? When are government conspiracies justified? Is all the film's talk of ecology a veiled message about climate change? We'll never know, because GODZILLA has no opinion on any of the topics at hand.

There are good ideas in the movie, though. I was pleasantly surprised that the title monster was not the film's villain, and it was delightful to see U.S. Naval vessels following Godzilla around the Pacific as if he were the team mascot. The monster's backstory (which I won't spoil here) was also novel, and it was difficult not to get a little excited when Godzilla finally cuts loose in the movie's final minutes. After two hours of carnage and a body count exponentially higher than that of MAN OF STEEL's, I don't really understand how the world decided Godzilla was a "hero." Perhaps it was the always on-point television news coverage depicted in GODZILLA, which appeared to have all been coordinated by the same producer. A shot of a dissenting Fox News anchor accusing Godzilla of violating U.S. sovereignty might have added a touch of humor to an otherwise grey and lifeless film. But, the movie would have need a perspective for a stunt like that.

Much like Michael Bay's first TRANSFORMERS (which I despise, for the record) GODZILLA fails because the characters are cyphers. Taylor-Johnson and Olsen share all of two scenes in the film, yet we're supposed be emotionally invested in their relationship. Considering the film invests hardly anything in either of them, it's just too much to expect the audience to suspend their disbelief to the levels needed to carry GODZILLA along.

If all of this sounds harsh, that's not my intent. Unlike the 1998 GODZILLA feature, this is not a film to be hated. It's probably too much to expect great human drama from a Kaiju film, and I'm unsure who is expecting too much from GODZILLA: Me, or Gareth Edwards? This isn't a product that was shit out over a weekend script-planning session by studio executives. The film is clearly a labor of love by the director, but don't be surprised if you can't share in his enthusiasm.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

DARK SHADOWS news bulletins

David Selby and Susan Sullivan in A DELICATE BALANCE.
FALCON CREST stars David Selby and Susan Sullivan reunite at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble for A DELICATE BALANCE. The Los Angeles Times calls their performances "riveting." LINK.

Author Jeffrey Cohen writes about meeting the almost-bride of Barnabas Collins, Kathryn Leigh Scott, at the annual Malice Domestic conference. LINK.

CLASSIC FILM AND TV CAFE ranks the "Five Best American TV Daytime Dramas." (Spoiler Alert: DARK SHADOWS is on the list.) LINK.

Robert Cobert's soundtrack for Dan Curtis' 1974 film DRACULA will be released on compact disc and MP3 download on May 13. A remastered Blu-ray of the film has a street date of May 27.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kids visit the set of DARK SHADOWS, meet the "Cool Ghoul"

Golden Magazine visits DARK SHADOWS 
The Golden Magazine, Feb. 1970

By Pat Fortunato

(Note: The Collinsport Historical Society presents the text from this story as it was originally published, complete with errors. Yes, we know "Barnabas" is not spelled with a "u.")

Here's a little test to see how much you know about a certain television show.

Question #1: True or false? Dark Shadows is spooky, mysterious, exciting and fun.

Question #2: True or false? Dark Shadows is not really dark, and not at all fun. It's full of lights, cameras - and plenty of hard work.

If you answered "True" to both questions, give yourself 100%. Because there really are two Dark Shadows: the one you see on your TV screen, and the one that goes on behind-the-scenes at the TV studio.

You probably know about the first one. It's a half-hour drama seen on ABC Monday to Friday. You might even be one of many fans who writes regularly to Jonathan Frid, a "cool ghoul" who receives more than 700 pieces of mail of week.

But how about the second Dark Shadows, the one that goes on behind-the-scenes that you never get to see. Lisa and Scott Gilliam did, and here's what they discovered.

A TV studio is like a three (or four of five!) ring circus, with lots of things going on at once. There are always several sets used for different scenes in the story. On this day, there was a mysterious cave entrance, the dark insides of the cave, an old-fashioned living room, a bedroom and a dining room. While actors performed on one set, cameramen and crew were preparing to use another, a conference was going on between the director and stage manager, and an actress was leaning against a coffin, learning her lines for the next day's performance.

Leaning on a coffin? That's right. Remember, Dark Shadows does have a vampire or two. And you know how vampires are - they like to sleep in coffins.

But no one sleeps on set - there's too much work to do. Each day an entire show is recorded on video tape, to be aired on television at a later time. The taping Lisa and Scott saw was going to be seen 3 weeks later.

Do you think you work hard at school? Would you rather be an actor or a cameraman instead of a student? Not so fast! Before you answer, you had better listen to the facts.

There are about 60 people who work on the Dark Shadows set every day - the producer and his assistant, the director and her assistant, the actors, makeup artists, wardrobe mistress, cameramen and crew. All 60 go through a daily schedule enough to tire out someone your age, not to mention a 175-year-old vampire! On the set each day at about 8 a.m., they leave at about 6 p.m. or later. And for the actors and director, there's more to be done after work and on weekends: they have to learn their parts for coming performances.

The day begins with a morning rehearsal. This takes place off the set in the studio rehearsal hall. Then the actors go to the set for the next step, blocking, in which they move into the different positions they have to take, without reading their lines. This is done do the camera positions can be set up. Then there is a run through - like a rehearsal, but performed in front of cameras. And finally a dress rehearsal, with all actors in full costume.

By the later afternoon, everything is set for the actual taping of the show. And this taping is what you'll see of Dark Shadows on your TV set. Was all the work worth it? Well, what do you think?

(Magazine clippings courtesy of the blog LOST AND FOUND VINTAGE TOYS. Go visit them!)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Full details on upcoming DARK SHADOWS news strip collection

The DARK SHADOWS newspaper strips which ran from 1971 until 1972 are returning to print later this year, courtesy of Hermes Press.

Ken Bald and Stan Lee
The 224-page collection looks pretty exciting. Not only is it chock full of bonus material, but the Sunday strips are being reprinted in color for the first time. While the various DARK SHADOWS comics that have appeared over the years have featured some terrific artwork, Ken Bald's linework on the newspaper strip might the best of the bunch. It's reportedly Bald's favorite work of his career, which is no small statement given that Guinness World Records has crowned him as the world's "oldest comic book artist." The man has worked on everything from DOC SAVAGE to CAPTAIN AMERICA to DR. KILDARE.

DARK SHADOWS THE COMPLETE NEWSPAPER DAILIES AND SUNDAY has a projected release date of Sept. 9, 2014, on Amazon, and the book is now available for pre-order. The previous softcover, B&W edition of the newspaper strips, first published in 1996, is also available.

Here's the official statement from Hermes Press:

The iconic gothic romance vampire television series Dark Shadows was so popular and influential that it was adapted in numerous media. In addition to finding its way into 35 Gold Key comic books — all collected by Hermes Press in five hardcover volumes, Dark Shadows was also adapted into one of the most striking comic strips of the 1970s, running for only one year, from March 14, 1971 through March 11, 1972, with stand out, eye-catching artwork by seasoned comic book and comic strip artist Ken Bald.

Dark Shadows the Complete Newspaper Dailies and Sundays; artwork by Ken Bald; the complete one year run (March 14, 1971 through March 11, 1972) of the strip featuring all of the dailies and Sundays in full color. Essay by noted Dark Shadows scholar Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, documentary materials, examples of original artwork; 8.5 x 11 inches; landscape format; dustjacket and printed laminated cover; 224 pages; $50; available August, 2014.

Hermes Press’ new archival edition of the strip features all of the dailies and Sundays, in their original half page format, and in full color.
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