Monday, September 29, 2014

SAM HALL, 1921 — 2014

"As a head writer, I didn't really write the scripts ever. I just plotted them. If I didn't like the writing (my staff) did, I could certainly rewrite it. But it became more of a routine: editing and plotting and dealing with networks."

From left, Grayson Hall, Sam Hall and Jonathan Frid.

 In the early hours of Sept. 27, Matt Hall reported on his blog that his father, Sam, had died.

It was a short post, possibly the shortest that's ever appeared on his website, titled "Sam Hall" and accompanied by the text "March 11, 1921 - September 26, 2014." This is one of those occasions where brevity carries more weight than a 4,000-word obituary, and makes a very clear plea for privacy. A writer like his father, I suspect Matt will get around to saying more about his Sam Hall in the near future.

Sam and Grayson, courtesy of SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT.
Hired near the end of 1967, playwright Sam Hall quickly became the default voice of DARK SHADOWS for many fans. Myth has it that Hall was the reason that his wife, Grayson, landed a role on the series, but he was always quick to point out the faulty math inherent in that story: Grayson made her first appearance on the show earlier that year and was actually responsible for getting Sam a job on the series.

With more than 300 episodes of DARK SHADOWS credited to him, it's likely that Hall wrote more of the series than anybody else. But television writing is a lot more complicated than credits might suggest. While a credit implies that a writer is responsible for an entire script, it's common that they're just responsible for a preponderance of the material. Television shows like DARK SHADOWS have a staff of writers working together to keep the machine moving forward; scriptwriters often go uncredited for minor contributions.

Of course, this also means that Hall's contributions to DARK SHADOWS weren't limited to the scripts that just had his name on them. He was eventually promoted to head writer which gave him much more control over the future direction of the series. When Dan Curtis decided to translate DARK SHADOWS to the big screen with HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, he recruited Hall and Gordon Russell to write the screenplay. As an example of how complicated the show's DNA can be, the film's screenplay distilled the television show's first "Barnabas Collins" story ... which had been written by guys like Malcolm Marmorstein and Ron Sproat.

Grayson Hall and David Selby in NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS.
The following year, Curtis brought Hall and Russell back to write the sequel. The film was simply known as DARK SHADOWS 2 during the writing stage before changing to CURSE OF DARK SHADOWS, then NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. It was a (mostly) original story that also provided a meaty role for Grayson. Much of her performance would wind up lost in the vaults for decades, though, thanks to a last-minute decision by distributor MGM to mutilate the film in an effort to reduce its running time.

"It just wasn't my work they butchered, but my wife Grayon's, as well," Sam Hall recounted in THE DARK SHADOWS MOVIE BOOK. "That affected me more. I didn't want to have to tell her."

When DARK SHADOWS was cancelled in 1971, TV Guide turned to Sam Hall was details about where the series might have gone had it remained on the air. While Hall points out that these plot points are not definitive, fans were so grateful that that many quickly elevated his concepts to the level of canon. You can read the entire thing for yourself HERE.

Hall would work again with Curtis on the adaption of FRANKENSTEIN for "The Wide World of Mystery" in 1973. Two years later, the series would reunite him with DARK SHADOWS director Lela Swift and former castmembers Diana Davila, Bernhard Hughes and wife Grayson for THE TWO DEATHS OF SEAN DOOLITTLE.

While it's a mere blip on his career, Hall also worked on a TV movie in 1969 titled DEAD OF NIGHT: A DARKNESS AT BLAISEDON. Produced by Dan Curtis and directed by Lela Swift, the short film (it clocks in at less than an hour) was meant to serve as a pilot for a primetime variation of DARK SHADOWS. It also featured two other Collinwood stalwarts, Louis Edmonds and Thayer David. It was not picked up as a series, though. In 1991, a second (and more legitimate) attempt was made to bring DARK SHADOWS to primetime. Again, Curtis recruited Hall, as well as his son, Matt, to write for the series. The show's pilot was based less on the original series, and more on 1970's HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

Hall would later write for GENERAL HOSPITAL, SANTA BARBARA and ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Earlier this year, he filed a lawsuit against ABC for royalties he believed were owed to him when the latter was made available on Hulu and iTunes.

"I'll probably be remembered for DARK SHADOWS instead of the things I really cared about," Hall said in Jeff Thompson's THE TELEVISION HORRORS OF DAN CURTIS. "DARK SHADOWS will be the thing that's on my gravestone but I love DARK SHADOWS. I guess it's terrific to have somehow created something that will live forever. It will live forever.)

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