Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy has died. Spock Lives.


He was a kind man.  I know this because he did not want me to burn my hand.

I was performing in VINCENT, a play he wrote about Theo Van Gogh, brother of the painter.  In it, Theo had to hold his hand over a flame for an extended period, and there would be no way that I could safely do it without some kind of stage effect.

I studied his video, but didn't know what to do to protect myself.  My father suggested writing to him, which I thought was a crazy notion.  But then I remembered there were always possibilities.  I write that with no coyness.  It was a A Lesson.  I thought laterally.  Another Lesson.  He was a fine photographer, and as such, had a website.  I contacted him through that agent. The agent told me that he might not respond, but that he would read my question.

Seconds later, another email popped up.  He sent it.  He described the effect in detail.

He took the time to do this because he didn't want me to burn my hand.

His book was misunderstood.  People saw I AM NOT SPOCK as a rejection of their love of the character.  No. It was simply a reminder of humility.  He was not a man who rejected people.  He was generous when he didn't need to be.  Was some of it wacky?  Yes, but with affection.  The strangest song had a benevolence to it.  A love to it.  He rejected the notion that he wear the IDIC symbol.  He had too much love and respect for the character to make him a sales ploy.  In that sense, he loved Gene Roddenberry's art too much to sacrifice it to the same man's temptation for avarice.

In looking over his art, love comes back again and again.  Books named WARMED BY LOVE and WE ARE ALL CHILDREN SEARCHING FOR LOVE are not titled by accident.  His photography of God and body acceptance were about love.  STAR TREK III is an underrated film, allowing fans to engage with these characters with a hope and generosity that only an immense security could afford. Was he beset by demons of alcohol at the time?  Yes.  Perhaps we were the beneficiaries of the love he could not give himself.

His integrity never flagged, and that was a love of the art.  (He hated the blooper reels not because he lacked humor, but because he loved the integrity of the finished product.) When he played hardball with the new regime at Paramount before joining STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, it wasn't just for money.  It was to prevent his likeness from being used to undermine the character.  It was to ensure that castmates like troubled brother William Shatner would share in the riches he was being offered, thus ending any possible rivalry.  When he directed, it was with a sensitivity to all of his fellow Trekkers.  Their fans had just as much passion as his, and by engineering moments for Walter, George, Nichelle, Jimmy, and Grace, he paid tribute to all of them.

He was the first real adult I knew of outside my family and their friends.  My father was very careful about this.  He had me watch STAR TREK for reasons other than shared entertainment.  It could teach the lessons he could not.  Its heroes could make the decisions with a resolve or bravery that no human can reasonably claim.  Fitting that its true hero, in his eyes, was only half human.  Reason and rationality were core tenants of his messages to me.  The world lacked those things.  Spock's did not. He wanted me in the wisdom of that world more than the grim pessimism of ours.  My father was right.

He chose Spock as a second father.  In that sense, he chose STAR TREK as a second home.  And the two, really, are synonymous. But Spock was only words on a page and two rubber ears.  Who was he?  Leonard Nimoy.  The nuances of mirth and wisdom are things only an actor could bring.

Perhaps with Kramer, Spock is one of the only truly original characters to ever come from television. And that's where we truly thank an actor.  That is where we see the actor's generosity.  That is where we see the actor's wisdom.  That is where we see an actor's love.

The life is over.  The prosperity is moot.  What is left from Leonard Nimoy? His love for art and wonder and for us.  That can be shortened -- simply -- to his wry, cranky, warm sense of love.

PATRICK McCRAY is a comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Zombies! Vampires! Burke Devlin!

Big Finish has released cast and story details for the DARK SHADOWS audiodramas scheduled for release this year. There are almost certainly spoilers below, so if you haven't taken the time to listen to BLOODLUST you might want to tread cautiously.

Here's the official press release:

"Panic" sees Quentin Collins (David Selby) telling his great-great grandson Tom (Michael Shon) about how he came to be married to Doctor Lela Quick. The story is written by novelist Roy Gill.

David Selby and Susan Sullivan on stage in A DELICATE BALANCE.
“I’ve long been fascinated by Dark Shadows. It’s a mixture of gothic horror, mad fantasy and epic storytelling, all of which I love,” says Roy. “Joe liked my work on the The Confessions of Dorian Gray range, and asked me to pitch a story that would explain how and why Quentin Collins got married. It was a challenge I couldn’t pass up!"

Lela is played by Susan Sullivan, currently a regular in the television series CASTLE. Panic sees her reunited with her FALCON CREST co-star, David Selby.

In "The Curse of Shurafa," by Rob Morris, Barnabas Collins (Andrew Collins) tells Harry Cunningham (Scott Haran) about the time he spent in Cairo with Julia Hoffman and Professor Stokes – fighting zombies!

“I adore Dark Shadows,” says Rob, “both the TV series and the audios, so when the chance to pitch came up I jumped at it – not least because it would mean I could write for the dream team: Barnabas, Julia and Stokes. It’s such a privilege to write for such an iconic trio and I genuinely can’t believe my luck.”

In "The Twinkling Of An Eye" is by Penelope Faith, another writer new to Big Finish. “As I have always been drawn to the supernatural in storytelling I was thrilled at the chance to pitch for Dark Shadows and then beyond thrilled to get the chance to write an episode,” says Penelope. “My story investigates a near-death experience which is no surprise considering my high regard for both A Matter of Life and Death and It’s A Wonderful Life. Prepare to be unsettled.”

"Deliver Us From Evil" is by Aaron Lamont, writer of popular stories "The Haunted Refrain" and "Beyond The Grave."

“This is quite a nice return to Dark Shadows for me, as I’m following on from events set up in the 2013 audios,” says writer Aaron Lamont. “Bloodlust has completely redefined what can be done in the range too, and that’s very exciting. I get to tread on the dark side again – I’m good at that - so I’m hoping we’ve got some big psychological shocks in store for a certain character.”

Mitch Ryan
The following month sees the release of "Tainted Love" – the story of a twisted love triangle - by Daniel Collard. Daniel previously played Victor Frost in "Snowflake" and Deputy Eric Hanley in "Bloodlust."

“I’d heard about this ‘Dark Shadows thing’ for ages before I finally got involved myself, but once I did I was hooked – my iPod is currently chockablock with the stuff!” says Daniel. “Though primarily an actor, I’ve been dabbling in writing for a quite a while, so I was thrilled when Joe asked me to pitch a story for three brilliant characters.”

And finally, in "And Red All Over..." Maggie Haskell (Kathryn Leigh Scott) finds herself trapped in a cabin in the mountains with a madman. A madman who looks strangely like her old friend Burke Devlin (Mitchell Ryan). The story is written by Cody Schell who previously wrote the award-nominated "The Flip Side."

"The pre-Barnabas era of Dark Shadows is an overlooked gem and Burke Devlin is the main character that everything revolves around,” says Cody. “The Collins Family, Victoria Winters, the Evans clan - everyone is talking about him! 'And Red All Over…' brings this amazing character out of unjust obscurity and casts some light on his mysterious past. It also returns Mitchell Ryan to the role, which puts me over the moon!"

Oscars obits include DARK SHADOWS make-up artist

The internets were abuzz this morning about the snubbing of Joan Rivers from the Academy Awards' 2015 Cavalcade of the Dead. People are legitimately surprised that a woman who spent much of her life mocking people on the red carpet was omitted from the "In Memoriam" tribute. At least they finally got rid of the obligatory applause during the montage, which had the awkward habit of rising and falling based on the celebrity of the person appearing on the screen.

I saw about five minutes of last night's ceremony, which is five minutes more than I've seen of the presentation during the last two decades. I pretty much quit the Oscars during the whole FOREST GUMP vs PULP FICTION kerfuffle and have (rarely) looked back. By chance, I was in the room during the "In Memoriam" segment and spotted the card for make-up artist Dick Smith. For a moment, it appeared that Barnabas Collins had found his way into the montage ... but it was only Dustin Hoffman from LITTLE BIG MAN. Yes, it's essentially the same make-up appliance Smith used in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, but still ... I had disappointments.

Smith, of course, worked on the DARK SHADOWS television series, creating the first version of the "Old Man Barnabas" make-up in 1967. I still prefer the work Smith did on the television show, but concede that the make-up in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is scarier.

There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the visuals used in this year's presentation. The images were actually quite attractive, and were so complex that I wondered how long they took to prepare. Rather than just using a still photo from the archives, the producers opted to have mixed media images (or their digital counterparts, anyway) for each of the people featured in the gallery.

The variety of the images used was a little weird, though. This was a remembrance of people who died during the last year, but many of the images were photos taken of the actors when they were much, much younger. I'm positive James Garner has had his photo taken since the release of THE GREAT ESCAPE in 1963, so I don't know what they had to dig that deep into the archives unless they were trying to make some other statement. (Gasp! Can Hollywood be ... shallow?) Edward Herrmanm's photo looked to have been taken a few months ago, while the one for Robin Williams might have been from his Mork years. And I'm still a little confused as to why a photo of Eli Wallach from THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY was used. Were they afraid people wouldn't know who he was? See also: Bob Hoskins' portrait, which showed him kissing Jessica Rabbit.

Friday, February 20, 2015



The final episode of DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST was released this week. I've yet to catch up, so don't tell me how it ends. Spoilers have a way of appearing in the strangest of places.

For example: The series title was accidentally announced here during a podcast interview last July with Big Finish writer Alan Flanagan. We both learned quickly that Big Finish was still a few months away from officially releasing the details of the series ... details which included the title. I edited the offending word from the episode and immediately re-uploaded it to my host. By then, though, my listeners had already downloaded it a few dozen times. Oops.

If you're a regular visitor, you already know I love what I've heard so far of BLOODLUST. It's an opinion that might be taken with a grain of salt (I have a very small role in the series) if I weren't known to be an opinionated crank.

Meanwhile, Big Finish's tumultuous romance with Amazon is back in bloom, and BLOODLUST is currently doing very well in the audiobooks rankings (Volume 1 is sitting at the #10 position as I write this). You can get it from Amazon HERE, but I don't know for how long.

Depending on your level of patience, a direct purchase from Big Finish might be a better option. Both volumes are available as MP3 bundles for less than the cost of the CD collection at Amazon. If you buy the CD set from Big Finish, you also get an MP3 edition that's immediately available for download.

You can find BLOODLUST at Big Finish HERE.

And don't forget to vote in the BLOODLUST AWARDS! Which I've taken to calling "The Lusties," even if nobody else does.

An open letter to AMERICAN HORROR STORY's Ryan Murphy

Dear Ryan,

You've gone on the record several times about your love of DARK SHADOWS. “I went as Barnabas Collins, like, three Halloweens in a row, and my dad was thrilled because it was the first time I wanted to be a boy," you told OUT back in 2013. "I usually wanted to be a witch or something like that.” A year earlier, you even included Barnabas Collins' iconic "Alpaca" cane in your show, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM. That was pretty awesome. The fact that the cane was used by James Cromwell (one of my favorite actors) made it even better.

It's now 2015, and time to up the stakes.

In my humble opinion, you missed an opportunity in COVEN by not including Lara Parker (who played the witch Angelique on DARK SHADOWS) in the cast. Things seem to have worked out for you, though, because a Google search of the word "coven" brings up a dictionary definition first, and a link to your series second. That's not too shabby when you consider the word had a lead of several hundred years on you ("coven" dates back to the mid-17th century). But having Lara Parker, Stevie Nicks and Jessica Lange on screen together — even for a few seconds — would have been pop culture alchemy.

Because you're a guy who doesn't like to repeat himself, though, I believe the witchcraft ship has sailed. But there's another one on the immediate horizon.

Kathryn Leigh Scott has had something of a career resurgence in recent years. Hollywood is notoriously cruel to actresses after they hit their 33rd birthday, but here she is — almost 50 years after making here television debut on the first episode of DARK SHADOWS — and busier than ever.

What I'm proposing, Mr. Murphy, is not just a cameo appearance by Scott, but a crossover of sorts. It's time for Maggie Evans to appear on AMERICAN HORROR STORY.

As a character, Maggie has survived just about everything AMERICAN HORROR STORY could throw at her (asylums, witches, ghosts, etc.) and is still alive and kicking. This doesn't have to be a hostile takeover of franchises. I'm not suggesting AHS become DARK SHADOWS for a season, or that DARK SHADOWS should be remolded in the image of AHS, But Maggie Evans and all the supernatural baggage that comes with her could be a profoundly interesting character for whatever storyline you're planning next. Collinsport doesn't even have to be mentioned.

Don't worry ... this isn't the beginning of some bizarro fan campaign designed to harass you on the internet. This post is as exactly bizarro as its going to get. But I thought I'd throw this out there, in hopes you might read it.

Thank you for your time.

- Wallace McBride,
The Collinsport Historical Society

Rare uncut sheet of DARK SHADOWS postcards for sale

An uncut sheet of  "Quentin Postcards" is up for auction on Ebay. While it's not in mint condition, these kinds of collectibles are so uncommon that a few creases probably don't matter much.

The postcards, which feature promotional photos of David Selby in character as "Quentin Collins" from DARK SHADOWS, were released by the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp. in 1969. There were 12 different cards in the series, which were sold in packs (three cards per pack) for a dime.

The uncut sheet (which was removed from the production process before it was cut into individual cards) features 30 postcards, and measures roughly 25" by 42". The auction ends Feb. 24, 2015.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kathryn Leigh Scott's AGENTS OF SHIELD role revealed?

Marvel has released a detailed episode summary for the mid-season premiere of AGENTS OF SHIELD, which includes the name of the character played by Kathryn Leigh Scott:

"The Baroness."

Kathryn Leigh Scott
The episode looks to have a huge cast. In addition to the regular cast members are recurring guest stars like Kyle MacLachlan, as well as new faces like Edward James Olmos, Fred Dryer and Scott. Beyond that, there are still no details about the nature of her character. With a name like "The Baroness," though, I'm guessing "villain."

As a side note, Thomas Kretschmann will be one of the villains in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, which is only a few months away from theaters. Kretschmann is playing "Baron Wolfgang von Strucker," a character with connections in the film to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Those two characters were recently retconned in the comics to make them "Inhumans," a race of genetically engineered alien/human hybrids. The Inhumans were introduced as a formal concept to the cinematic Marvel Universe in mid-season finale of AGENTS OF SHIELD. Make of that what you will.

Originally titled "Aftershocks," the episode seems to have suffered a name change since it first announced in 2014. Now titled "Epidemic," it's set to air March 3, 2015.

"Epidemic" was written by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, and directed by Billy Gierhart.

Meanwhile, Scott is making the promotional rounds for her new novel, JINXED. The follow-up to DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HEELS is now available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. Customer reviews are beginning to appear on Amazon have been overwhelmingly positive.

Humbert Allen Astredo in THE LITTLE FOXES, 1981

Humbert Allen Astredo and Elizabeth Taylor.
In the past, I’ve had a tendency toward reactionary behavior. I’ve always found it expedient to just say what I think and deal with whatever consequences might follow.  If you’re over the age of 21, you already know how well that attitude works out.

When I got my first “grown up” job as a newspaper writer, my editor cautioned me against this mindset. Journalism is a small field: While honesty is essential, being an asshole is not. The people you worked with yesterday might be the people you’re working with —  or for — tomorrow.

I can’t say I’ve always obeyed the letter of this advice, but I certainly cherish its spirit. I was thinking about those words while browsing through memorabilia for a Broadway production of THE LITTLE FOXES. The Lillian Hellman play was first performed in 1939, but was revived in 1981 as a vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor. It’s a solid cast from top to bottom, one that included Maureen Stapleton, Anthony Zerbe, Dennis Christopher and our own Humbert Allen Astredo. Even though Taylor was already an established movie star, the play was touted as her Broadway debut.

Astredo played a Chicago million named “William Marshall,” a role performed in the 1941 motion picture adaption by Russell Hicks. I only mention this because Hicks appeared in SCARLET STREET a few years later opposite Joan Bennett.  And Bennett played Taylor’s mother in FATHER OF THE BRIDE and its lesser-known sequel, FATHER’S LITTLE DIVIDEND. Meanwhile, Zerbe appeared with Jonathan Frid in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1966, and so on. If journalism is a small world, then the world of working actors must be even smaller.

The 1981 production stemmed from a chance encounter Taylor had with producer Zev Bufman in the audience of a Washington, D.C., play.  During the intermission, he asked her why she’d never been on Broadway. 

“Because I’ve never been asked,” she answered.

It’s likely that Bufman stocked the supporting cast with professional stage actors in anticipation of diva-like behavior from the show's star.

“I was looking forward to her, but I did not expect a certain degree of professionalism from her — not theater professionalism, anyway,” Dennis Christopher told the Chicago Tribune in 2013. “I was wrong. She was shockingly open to every suggestion, never pulled rank, never ran off in a fit, was perfectly willing to run lines, sit on the floor to mark and highlight the script."

The production played eight previews, opening May 7, 1981, at the Martin Beck Theatre for 123 performances.

You can listen to Astredo speak about his acting career in this episode of our podcast.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Interview with the (Canadian) Vampire, 1969

(Editor's Note: Interviews are hard. If you've read any of the vintage press clippings shared here, you already know that much of the cast of DARK SHADOWS were routinely asked the same questions. Many of these "vintage" clippings are interesting merely as artifacts. The interview below, though, is one of the good ones, and is among the few interviews published in Jonathan Frid's native Canada during the original run of DARK SHADOWS.) 

"The Canadian Vampire who's become king of the US"

By David Cobb
Montreal Gazette, April 4, 1969

There he was, this off-duty vampire, lounging around his lushly appointed Manhattan apartment and talking about biting necks.

He was serious about it and, to make sure he had his ideas straight, he allowed himself a few telling pauses. During these, the only sounds in the room were the soft chinks of ice and the ticking, like a measured heartbeat, of an old — probably Transylvanian — clock.

"Beyond the whole sadism-masochism bit," he was saying... pause... chinks... ticks... "Barnabas has this great guilt sense...and he keeps falling in love all the time."

The voice of authority, plainly, since it belonged to Jonathan Frid, the 44-year-old Hamilton actor who plays Barnabas Collins, a 175-year-old vampire-in-spite-of-himself on a daily U.S. afternoon soap opera called DARK SHADOWS. Frid, previously a competent but obscure performer (most recently on stage in the U.S. national tour of "Hostile Witness" in 1967 with Ray Milland), has in two years exploded into U.S. daytime TV's first genuine matinee idol.

The trouble is that it's still pretty hard for Canadians to see him. DARK SHADOWS is ABC-TV's king of the soaps, but it hasn't been bought by either the CBS or the CTV network. This means that unless you live just this side of the border from one of the 190-odd ABC stations that carry it, the extraordinary Gothic pleasures of DARK SHADOWS are not for you.

Still, there are a certain number of Canadian watchers, as the show's fan mail demonstrates: fans in the Sarnia area, across from Detroit; in northern Ontario around Saulte Ste. Marie or the Lakeland within TV reach of Duluth, Minn.; in southern Alberta, near Great Falls, Mont.; in Vancouver, across from Seattle - they all help make up an average weekly total of 16 million North American viewers.

What makes DARK SHADOWS different from other soaps like AS THE WORLD TURNS, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and THE EDGE OF NIGHT (all carried on CBC-owned stations across the country) is that it is a truly Gothic soap: terrors, mysteries, intrigue, the supernatural, all kinds of strangeness in the wings - and absolutely none of the usual soaper hangups like parental alcoholism, illegitimacy, and to-pill-or-not-to-pill.

Dan Curtis, the show's mastermind and executive producer would have you believe that when The Idea came to him in late 1965 his hand was guided by forces beyond his ken.

"I feel kind of stupid telling you this," says Curtis, 41, his eyes blazing with what looks like sincerity, "but I got it from a dream. Yes, I had this dream one night of a girl riding on a train... She was a governess... She gets off the train at a deserted station somewhere in Maine... And she does to this great brooding mansion..."

For a few seconds Curtis, who looks like a flashy Mort Sahl and is known in Canadian TV for his 1968 CBC-ABC co-production of DR. JEKYLL AND MR.HYDE (superb reviews, lousy ratings), seems lost in a trance. Forces beyond his ken appear to have him again. Then he snaps out of it.

"I made a deal ABC that very morning," he says briskly, and pushes a few power-trip buzzers on his desk.

It would neat to say that the show was an instant success when it went on the air starring sixtyish Joan Bennett in June, 1966. Unfortunately, in those early days, forces beyond anyone's ken - to wit, the whim of public fancy - were working against Curtis's DARK SHADOWS. The public found it couldn't plug into Curtis's dream wave-length at all.

By September, 1966, the show was in bad trouble and the dream was turning into a nightmare. In November, Curtis "pulled out all the supernatural stops," and by March, 1967, had signed Frid — who had been about to leave New York to teach acting in Los Angeles — as a vampire.

Originally hired for about three weeks, Barnabas is now the show's No. 1 attraction, which allows Joan Bennett more and more time off, and Jonathan Frid to appreciate the ironies of middle-age fame.

Of fan mail, fan clubs, autograph hunters; of the maddening need to change his unlisted phone number at regular intervals; of the Barnabas T-shirts, the Barnabas kits, the rings, the games, even the bubble gum (collect enough wrappers and you have a Barnabas poster); of his record-album contract reading ghost stories for children; of the offers from paperback companies for "The Private Life of Jonathan Frid"; of the $1,000 tips he gets for personal appearances; of the planned tour of summer fairs with will net him far more; of the Dallas paper - Dallas! - that named Jackie Kennedy and Jonathan Frid as "the two great publicity names of 1968."

"I find that," says Frid, citing the list, "hard to adjust to."

He is a tall man, with an instantly memorable face, gravely brooding like something hewn out of Mount Rushmore. One shoulder seems slightly taller than the other (or is it part of the physical and spiritual uptightness carried over from Barnabas to the neighborhood bar?), and he treats his role with great earnestness.

The son of a Hamilton building contractor, he studied acting in London, England; then with Lorne Green and Eric Christmas at Greene's academy in Toronto in the Fifties; with Uta Hagen in New York: essentially a classic actor, and a good one. And earnest.

"Barnabas," he says without cracking a smile, "is the most fascinating role I have ever played." Come on! "Well, with Richard III..."

In view of that, how does he like the feeling — among the actors and the people who hire him — that afternoon television is not to be taken seriously? Frid frowns.

"That's the trouble - there's a feeling that a vampire is a freak, an 'in' thing, and I'm embarrassed constantly, I cringe, I have to force myself to watch the show."

Here's the rub: despite the fans, the offbeat fame, the thousands of letters a week, despite his liking for the role...nobody else treats the possibilities as seriously as he does. With any comparable kind of success on primetime TV, Frid would by now have been deluged with offers: so far he has had several, he says, "but nothing concrete."

He is his own sternest critic: "The potential is great, I love the idea, but - hell, it's the worst acting I've ever done. I blink too much, I'm not sharp or fast enough, I don't have enough time to learn my lines...

"And I can't get angry with people who find the whole thing ridiculous because the scripts are ridiculous, the dialogue is absurd."

But he rejects the idea that a lot of the show's fans are 'camp' followers: "You can't kid me that people watch the show month in and month out hung up on the camp aspects. Sure, there's a kind of university following in the dorms. This team came up from the University of Miami to interview me the other day, and they wanted to know my interest in the occult - which is nil, incidentally. They were pretty cool about it all. Certainly didn't treat it as camp."

That's why he's peeved with the CBC these days. Some weeks ago somebody phoned him up for a radio show "with a whole raft of blood jokes, sniggering and snickering - it was a disaster right off, and sheer bad manners."

The youngest of three brothers (Kenneth runs the construction business in Hamilton, Douglas a ski lodge in Orangeville, Ont.), Frid still calls Hamilton his home though he has worked out of New York since the fifties. He has done a lot of work off-Broadway and in U.S. regional theater; a few seasons ago he was in the Broadway production of "Roar Like a Dove" with Charlie Ruggles; and he honed some of his subtler vampiric twitches by playing a psychiatrist a few times on "As the World Turns."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

View-Master targets valuable "Glasshole" demographic

Part of the charm of View-Master is its inherent shittiness. While the technology was simple and elegant, there were some profoundly bizarre creative decisions made in regards to the actual content of View-Master reels. I sincerely loved these toys as a child, but remain perplexed as to how "The Omega Glory," easily one of the worst episodes of STAR TREK, was selected to receive the View-Master treatment. As terrible as "Spock's Brain" might be (and it's pretty terrible) it at least offered 3-D visual opportunities otherwise absent from "The Omega Glory."

It's no less odd that the DARK SHADOWS reels devoted so much time to Joe Haskell's diminishing mental state, as well as an appearance by Diabolos (who was featured in all of TWO episodes of the television show.) And don't get me started on their awful/wonderful "Talking View-Master" reels depicting Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf-Man.

Mattel is bringing back the View-Master, though you might not know it by reading the product description. Rather than competing with the other items in the toy section at Target, Mattel seems to be gunning for the hole recently left by the demise of Google Glass. Here's the official description, which practically throbs with corporate synergy:
Mattel’s new View-Master® viewer offers an easy-to-use and affordable platform that will empower users to take dynamic field trips where they can explore famous places, landmarks, nature, planets and more in 360 degree “photospheres.” By pairing the View-Master® “experience reel” and app with a compatible Android smartphone, users will immediately find themselves immersed in an imaginative and interactive learning environment.
I don't know what the hell that means, and suddenly feel like one of my grandparents at a screening of INCEPTION. Read the rest for yourself HERE.

Google Glass was not well received by the general public, which saw the technology as invasive and dubbed its users "Glassholes." It will be interesting to see if the new "interactive" View-Master is received any better. If Mattel isn't careful, they might be seeing the term "View-Masterbators" a lot on Twitter in coming months.

(Thanks to Will McKinley for the tip. You should go visit his website, because it's swell.)

I can quit whenever I want.

DARK SHADOWS got an unlikely (and unwelcome) shout out in the Feb. 20, 1970, issue of Life Magazine. In a story titled "The Heroin Epidemic Spreads into High Schools: Life on Two Grams a Day," a heroin addict expresses their love for the spooky daytime drama.

Image included because I'm a wiseass.
"Tom," whose glamorous lifestyle is depicted on the pages of this story, takes a moment to tell the writer: "You ever watch DARK SHADOWS, man? All junkies dig DARK SHADOWS."

Why was this included in the story? In 1970, children were terrifying to adults. In a few short years, the idea of "youth" had evolved from the already controversial "I Want to Hold Your Hand" phase of The Beatles, to the "Let's Trip Balls and Play the Sitar" phase of The Beatles. You don't need many dots to connect ROSEMARY'S BABY, THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN.

Here, the Life author links hardcore drug abuse to a television show popular with children because he doesn't know the difference between "correlation" and "causation." They remain difficult concepts for journalists to grasp, which is why so many people still believe Marilyn Manson had something to do with the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 ... almost 30 years after "Life on Two Grams a Day" was published.


DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is only one episode away from wrapping. In anticipation of the end of this epic 13-part storyline, Robert Dick (who hosted our most recent podcast) has announced THE BLOODLUST AWARDS to recognize the work done in the series.

Robert has decided on six categories in the awards:


Here's how he explained the concept:
In all six cases please give me your top three- 1) being your gold medal winner, 2) your silver and 3) your bronze.

For ACTOR / ACTRESS / CHARACTER, everyone in Bloodlust is eligible - all the characters and actors are equal, no distinctions about who was in the TV show and who wasn't, it was an ensemble piece.

For MOMENT - I want you to think of your favourite moments, be them pivotal or otherwise. Someone's death, a shock of a different kind, a huge end of episode cliffhanger, or someone cooking breakfast - just your favourite bits, whyever you liked them.

And for LINE - just your favourite line of dialogue. If it's a big speech then I'd call that a MOMENT, this is more about a really killer line that leapt out the episodes at you.

Send your votes to

I'm going to be recording a podcast with Bloodlust producers David Darlington and Joseph Lidster in March for the Collinsport Historical Society website (don't forget the first of the Bloodlust related interviews is already up there) so I'll announce the results in that (without telling Davy and Joe the results beforehand so we can capture the moment) and also write them up here too, obviously.

If you have any comments to include with your votes then feel free to add them - and time permitting we might hear some of them - and if you've any questions for Davy and Joe send them to that email address too and I'll ask what ones I can.
You votes must be submitted by midnight of Friday, March 6, 2015, two weeks after the release of the final episode of BLOODLUST. Please wait until after the release of the final episode before voting.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

THE MORGUE: TV's Year of the Monster, 1964

The Aug. 21, 1964, issue of Life Magazine is a neat little milestone for Monster Kids. Buried within the pages of that issue is a lengthy featured titled "TV's Year of the Monster," which focuses on the spooky new programs slated to begin in the new fall season. Keep in mind that "horror" was something relatively new to the airwaves in 1964, at least in the traditional sense. The genre had gradually morphed into science fiction during the post-war years, with kaiju, robots and aliens replacing the once-popular vampires, werewolves and witches. That began to change in 1964.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY got most of Life's attention in this issue, probably because it was a known quantity. Charles Addams' work had long been a part of the pop culture firmament (the first "Addams Family" cartoon debuted in The New Yorker in 1938), while THE MUNSTERS and BEWITCHED had yet to even air a single episode. BEWITCHED is hardly mentioned at all by Life, which is ironic given that it would last much longer in primetime than either the Munsters or Addams families.

I've transcribed the text from the Life story below, which has some interesting details about Charles Addams' involvement in the development of the series. His role was much more important than you might imagine. What isn't included in this issue is even more interesting: Numerous photos of the auditions for THE ADDAMS FAMILY sat in the Life vaults until just recently. You can see some of those images (and their mostly unidentified actors) at the bottom of this post.

Aug. 21, 1964

They've come alive, the whole creepy, crawly Charles Addams family! And what's more, so completely has television left down its bar sinister - if that is a word and if TV ever had such a thing in the first place - that Mr. Addams' ghoulish people will be but a small part of the monster population explosion at prime evening time.

Cowboys, surgeons and hillbillies have had their day. Now its the Year of the Ghouls, and the new fall season, which will burst upon us next month like a spray of lightning over Frankenstein's castle, will be strictly from beyond the grave. Only - let parents have no qualms - it will be played solely for guffaws. The Addams household will do its spooking on ABC. Like the cartoon characters whom the cast so strikingly resemble, they'll be caught in funny situations of haunted homelife, as batty as they are bat-ridden. On a somewhat blander level, ABC will also offer BEWITCHED, which has to do with a couple of glamorous witches. Not to be outghouled, CBS will counter with a monster family called THE MUNSTERS, who take part in all sorts of wholesome community activities such as the PTA, but look like rejects from the Frankenstein-Dracula assembly line.

It took two years of hard sell to talk cartoonist Charles Addams into letting TV use his macabre family, who were born in The New Yorker magazine 30 years ago. When he finally gave in, he insisted that the characters be described as "nonconformists" rather than ghouls. One trouble was that he had never given them names - and now he insisted on the right to veto any names chosen. The lifelike - or deathlike - results are shown here as Mother Morticia and her brood happily busy themselves in their nefarious pleasures.

Saturday, February 14, 2015



I didn’t have cable growing up. My Dad didn’t believe it in. It was alpha-bet soup for me; ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and eventually Fox.  That was it in my house; fortunately, Dad had a VCR for business, so once Blockbuster invented the concept of the PVT (Previously Viewed Tape) that you could buy and watch, we were able to watch more than just what washed up on the airwaves.  Now that we’ve established that I lived in a whole ‘nother epoch of television viewership, [1] I’m going to talk to you about visiting my Granny, who DID have cable, and didn’t care what we watched as long as it wasn’t published after 1975 [2]. Part of that viewing included Nick At Nite and all those old rerun shows like; Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie, The Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island, and I Love Lucy. 

From the Gold Key comic series.
What the hell does that have to do with Saturday Morning Cartoons?  Well, it means that at Granny’s house I watched, and loved, a lot of The Addams Family.  I was particularly pleased when they crossed over with Scooby Doo [4].  Did you know there was a 1973 CARTOON version of the Addam’s Family, based on the original Chas. Addams illustrations?  Because there totally was. 

Long before there was a TV show, Charles Addams was beavering away drawing thousands of ghoulishly little fun cartoons for the New Yorker and other publications.  After the TV show was successful in the mid 60’s, Hanna-Barbara capitalized on the success of the show by creating an animated property. At first it was a one-shot gimmick on Scooby Do, but was wildly popular and quickly grew into 13 oft-replayed episodes.

And this wasn’t the total chop-shop semi-animation of later Hanna-Barbara Cartoons…this was at least as good [SIC] as the animation of the Flintstones.  In all seriousness, it doesn’t offend the way some cheap jack animated cartoons of the era do (I’m looking at YOU Godzilla).  Not only is the show reasonably animated, they got some of the voice actors from the TV show to reprise their roles.  Fester is still Jackie Coogan, Lurch is still Lurch (Ted Cassidy).  Sadly for people expecting a familiar Gomez, John Astin wasn’t available and Gomez is voiced in an entirely different manner from any other depiction; less latin lover or Peter Lorre wanna be and more good-natured weasel.   Another fun thing about this show is playing “Spot the other Hanna Barbara voice actors”.  For example, Papa Smurf [6] takes a turn as a film flam man.

Get it on AMAZON!
To give the series a little movement and more freely reflect the tone of the comics Addams did (which were rooted in bizarrely humorous circumstances that could be found anywhere) and to throw in a little nod to kustom kar kulture, the Addam’s Family gore-geous [5] Second Victorian style home was converted to the carriage of a hot rod jalopy cum RV.  Like the Tardis, the Addam’s mobile is way way WAY bigger on the inside (hell, the moat digging machinery alone would take up more space than the entire vehicle…oh yeah, the car has an automatic moat digger). 

Storylines revolve around the typical eel-out-of-water antics you’d expect, with people trying to swindle or take advantage of the Addams’ kooky and generous nature and generally failing.  One oddity about the cartoon is that for all the menagerie present in the TV show, the cartoon chooses to introduce an octopus (Ocho) and an alligator (Ali) as animal sidekicks.  Fortunately, they don’t talk or anything, and behave more like creepy versions of Lassie.

The there was a SECOND Addams’ Family animated show in the early 1990’s, which I have not watched.  Perhaps if I can track it down I’ll followup.

Despite some changes in the popular lexicon and the absence of cell phones and computers, the 1970’s edition of the show holds up really really well.  I started watching it on Amazon on demand for this review, and it has temporarily taken place of pride in the evening rituals with my daughter as a great treat if she’s been really good.  That’s right - my techno-savvy 6 year clambers for a cartoon 7 years older than I am.  And we BOTH enjoy it.  I’m given to understand that a manufacture-on-reman set can be ordered from Amazon, so consider picking that up for YOUR little monster.

As a side note, apropos of nothing, I am informed by Carrier Bat that I will be participating on a panel about the Addams Family and The Munsters at Anachrocon the last weekend in February.  If you are there, by all means stop by and say, “Hi”.

(1) seriously, what do you mean you had to tune in to watch a show?)
(2) Unless it was her “Stories”. Granny loved to watch her stories in the afternoon. And you could watch with her, as long as you didn’t talk or move.  So I’ve pretty much seen whole swathes of “General Hospital”, “The Young & The Restless”, and the “evening stories” like “Dallas”.  Also a lot of Murder, She Wrote.[3]
(3) Always loved Murder, She Wrote.  Although in my head it had more punctuation:  “Murder!”, she wrote…
(4) I liked it way better when the Addams Family guest starred than when it was The Harlem Globetrotters (although they were ok too).
(5) I see what I did there.
(6) Don Messick

Friday, February 13, 2015

Big Finish releases titles for upcoming DARK SHADOWS stories

DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is nearing the finish line. Episode 11 of the 13-part series is now available for download, and the folks at Big Finish have been quietly updating the credits for the audiodramas scheduled to follow this summer. While the cast for these episodes have not been announced, we have the titles and partial creative credits for the next six episodes currently in production.

NOT the final cover art.
PANIC (May, 2015)
Directed by: Ursula Burton and David Darlington

Written by: Rob Morris

Written by: Penelope Faith
Directed by: David Darlington

Directed by: David Darlington (DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST)

TAINTED LOVE (September, 2015)
Written by: Daniel Collard (DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST)

AND RED ALL OVER (October, 2015)
Written by: Cody Schell (DARK SHADOWS: THE FLIP SIDE)
Directed by: David Darlington

While Big Finish has yet to officially announce the story and cast details for these episodes, it’s been leaked that AND RED ALL OVER will feature Kathryn Leigh Scott and Mitchell Ryan. Also, I see a conspicuous lack of credits for Mark Thomas Passmore, which means we won’t get a “Tony and Cassandra” adventure in 2015.

Meanwhile, look for an interview with Matthew Waterhouse (DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST, DOCTOR WHO) here later on this evening on the CHS Podcast!

David Selby attends EARL HAMNER STORYTELLER screening

The cast of FALCON CREST reunited last week for a special screening of EARL HAMNER STORYTELLER, a new documentary about the venerable television writer, producer and novelist.

Hamner’s career isn’t easy to summarize, but includes numerous episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, the screenplay for CHARLOTTE’S WEB, and “created by” credits for THE WALTONS and FALCON CREST. If you own a television, chances are you’ve seen something written or created by Hamner.

EARL HAMNER STORYTELLER was screened at UCLA on Feb. 8 for 250 specially invited guests. David Selby and Susan Sullivan are among the colleagues to appear in the documentary about the 91-year-old writer, and were in the audience for the event. Ordinarily, Selby’s appearance would be enough to get a mention of the screening here. But Sullivan is also appearing in an upcoming DARK SHADOWS audiodrama from Big Finish this summer. I don’t know which one yet, but it’s a safe to assume it’s an episode that also features Selby.

The photos here come from the official Facebook page for the documentary. You can watch a trailer for EARL HAMNER STORYTELLER below. You'll probably recognize a lot of faces in it.

Earl Trailer 1 from Michael McGreevey on Vimeo.
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