Monday, October 31, 2016

There's a Vampire in the White House!


On Oct. 29, 1969, the Supreme Court ordered the immediate integration of public schools while, a few days later, President Richard Nixon went on television to explain his policy of  "Vietnamization," which seemed designed to provide the illusion of support to South Vietnam even as we began to withdraw our soldiers. If you notice a hint of bias in that prior sentence, it's not your imagination. I despise Nixon and shudder to think that he's going to appear on U.S. currency in a few short years.

Nixon wasn't the only vampire on television that week, though only one of them appeared to be present in the White House on Halloween. On Oct. 31 that year, Jonathan Frid (who played the vampire "Barnabas Collins" on DARK SHADOWS) was a guest of Tricia Nixon at a party for underprivileged children at the White House. A Canadian citizen, it's unlikely that Frid had any serious opinions about the standing U.S. president. In a 1971 interview, he remarked, "I’ve been the heavy in so many Shakespeare supper festivals that even today I owe my allegiance to the House of York."


An estimated 1,200 cookies and 25 gallons of punch served for the 250 "underprivileged" children. The north portico of the White House was decorated by a giant Jack O'Lantern that was guarded by a pair of witches. Connie Stewart, Tricia Nixon's press secretary, wore a costume inspired by I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW), made up of a yellow leotard and yellow pages from the phone book. I'm guessing it was her first Halloween party.

The event garnered national coverage, with photos of Tricia Nixon and Frid appearing in magazines and newspapers across the country. The coverage was universally elitist, though. The "underprivileged" were only passingly mentioned; I wasn't able to find any notices that mentioned who these children were. Even Jet Magazine failed to tell us much about them, devoting much of its text to describing the party's decorations. Frid was absent from much of the coverage, as well, with newspaper notices often abbreviating wire stories down to a description of Nixon's dress.

"(Frid) said that the Nixon girl was just standing around and seemed hard pressed to engage the kids," said Nancy Kersey, a writer for Jonathan Frid's production company, Clunes Associates. "So he decided to step in and try and bite her, and that was captured on film. It made her smile"

Frid's costume was pretty much a given: Barnabas Collins. As was the standard practice for television in those days, most of Frid's public appearances were in character. While he was usually allowed to appear as himself on talk shows, even that wasn't something he could always take for granted.


Frid was absent from both the ABC studio and the airwaves on Halloween that year. It was a strange week of transition for DARK SHADOWS, as the episode broadcast that day, #875, was near the end of the popular "1897" storyline and did not include Barnabas Collins. Meanwhile, the episode shot that day, #888 was one of the first in the ill-fated "Leviathan" arc. It was an important episode for a few reasons: It featured the first appearances of Marie Wallace and Christopher Bernau as Phillip and Megan Todd, as well as the return of actor Dennis Patrick to DARK SHADOWS after a 605-episode absence.

As usual, Dan Curtis allowed Frid only a short break from the production. He wasn't allowed much time for travel, leaving New York City after filming on Oct. 30 and returning to work the following Tuesday. If you're one of the people that thinks it's odd the cast members of DARK SHADOWS don't always remember specific storylines with great clarity, the week after Halloween should explain why they frequently had no idea what was happening on the series. Not only were episodes shot about two weeks prior to broadcast, they were sometimes filmed out of order.

The week after Halloween was especially crazy. Monday, Nov. 3, 1969, saw episode #893 being recorded; the next day the production shot episode #881, followed by episode #891, episode  #890 and ending the week with the production of episode  #889.


And here's where we've reached the limits of this website's design. When I built this sucker more than two years ago, I hadn't planned on having a lot of photo-intensive posts. This is one of those rare occasions where there is quite a bit of documentary evidence involved. There's not as much as I'd like (I'm curious as to what Frid's itinerary was for his day at the White House, as well as the president's whereabouts on Halloween) and it's all a bit overwhelming for this website's relatively simple design.

Below are more photos from the Halloween event ... my apologies if it all looks a bit scattershot.



UPDATE: Avid CHS reader Roy Isbell sent me a handful of newspaper clippings, many of which include photos I've never seen before. You can see them below.






1 comment:

Roy said...

Well done and very timely. Are the photos from Nancy Kersey? I'd like to know who the photographers were.

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