Monday, February 29, 2016

The Doctor meets Mr. Frid

If the cover art for "The Victorian Age" — the upcoming TORCHWOOD audio drama from Big Finish — didn't inspire visions of Collinsport in your head, then allow me to draw your attention to "Doctor Who: The Labyrinth of Buda Castle."

Released earlier this month, the story sees the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) spelunking in the caves of Budapest. Vampires are involved, as is a character named "Zoltan Frid." While I haven't had the opportunity to listen to this episode yet, I'm betting the name "Frid" is a red flag. Or a red herring. It's certainly a red something.

Here's the official summary:

The Doctor and Romana land in Budapest, intent on enjoying another holiday, but shortly after landing they find themselves too late to save the life of a man who has seemingly been attacked by a vampire. As they learn that this is the latest in a series of violent attacks, it becomes clear that they have stumbled onto something that needs investigating. Aided by a vampire hunter who is searching for Dracula, they look into the nearby Buda caves, currently being used for storage by the military - and find that the soldiers have problems of their own. Stalked through the tunnels by a monster, and up against an ancient evil, the race is on to escape alive  and foil the dastardly schemes of the maniacal Zoltan Frid.
Via: Big Finish

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Humbert Allen Astredo (1929-2016)


Humbert Allen Astredo appeared in CYRANO on stage, and that play's forceful, biting, and eloquent world seems made for him. Mr. Astredo died on Feb. 19, and his panache is his legacy. When he first appeared on DARK SHADOWS as Nicholas Blair, viewers were treated to a wholly unique figure. He reveled in his mirthfully menacing sense of style and nimble command of the language. Soap operas are the domain of characters who are intentionally slow-witted. It's the only way to stretch out the stories. With the introduction of figures like Nicholas Blair (and Professor Stokes around the same time), DARK SHADOWS would defy this cliche. Nicholas was almost always one step ahead, and the piercing sense of awareness mustered by Mr. Astredo gave that total authenticity. His singular contribution to the show was his ability to believably fuse HP Lovecraft with Noel Coward. Critics of the show inevitably missed the kind of elan that he brought to it, but without that sense of wit, DARK SHADOWS is incomplete. In his time, Humbert Allen Astredo was a soldier, comedian, and actor. It took all three to make Nicholas Blair.

Astredo and Elizabeth Taylor in THE LITTLE FOXES, 1981.
Jim Pierson remembers, “After Frid during the portions of the show when Barnabas was behaving badly, I think Humbert had the most commanding presence of the male villains on DS. Of course he was always dapper, and he added a unique style of wicked humor to Nicholas Blair that was so different from anything else on the show.”

As Nicholas Blair in DARK SHADOWS.
In 2014, with more than a little help from the endlessly gracious Lara Parker, the notoriously reclusive Mr. Astredo granted us an interview. It was the DARK SHADOWS equivalent to an audience with J.D. Salinger. He was brighter, sharper, and more intense than I expected. The email correspondence leading up to our talk was extensive. I suspected that DARK SHADOWS was only marginally interesting to him, and so I focused on the craft of acting. The dialogue became as much an interview with me as anything, and it was clear that his time and attention were precious things not to be meted out carelessly.

Was it intimidating? Absolutely, and I would have been a bit disappointed if it hadn't been. This was, after all, Nicholas Blair. Acting was very much behind him. His reasons were private, and I sensed well enough not to question his decision. He was firm in it, but there was plentiful evidence that his love of performance and language was nevertheless alive. He ripped into Shakespeare several times when we spoke, and it was a joy to witness. He claimed that his beloved Kindle often grew unreadable from the spray he projected as he would read aloud. Even if he were his only audience, it was clear that Humbert Allen Astredo never stopped performing.

(Note: Listen to McCray's 2014 interview with Humbert Allen Astredo below.)

Friday, February 26, 2016


Last month, Lara Parker's next novel got a title and a release date: DARK SHADOWS: HEIRESS OF COLLINWOOD is scheduled for release on Nov. 8 this year. You might recall that I wasn't bowled over by the cover, which is pretty boring.

Since then, Macmillan Publishers and Amazon have revised the book's cover art in their advance listings, showing off a new-ish design with a different color scheme and typography. I'm still not loving it. It's done nothing to injure my enthusiasm for the book, which is expected to reveal Victoria Winters' true parentage. I won't spoil things for you (so seriously, don't send me any private e-mails to ask) but will tell you this: Victoria's father is not Paul Stoddard.

You can see the two versions of the cover below. DARK SHADOWS: HEIRESS OF COLLINWOOD is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Left, the originally advertised cover. Right, the revised cover.

In defense of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, 1972

Thoughtful reviews of the original DARK SHADOWS feature films can be difficult to find. At the start of the 1970s, film criticism was still a superficial medium, rarely discussing the theatrical experience as anything more than just ephemeral entertainment. As horror films,  HOUSE and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS were doubly damned and about as likely to get meaty reviews as whatever might be playing at your local porno theater.

Below is the transcript of a review of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, published in the first issue of Thriller in 1972. Thriller was a pretty typical fanzine, published on the cheap and written by people in love with a particular subject. Consequently, the opinions in these kinds of publications are better informed than what you'd find in their mainstream counterparts, though the writing was sometimes inferior. This review, by the magazine's editor Jerry Weddle, is a perfect example of that dichotomy. Weddle knows his stuff, but he makes a few glaring errors and dwells so much on the film's flaws that his positive review comes across as decidedly negative.

I've noted a few of the writer's mistakes in the transcript, and corrected a few (but not all) of the typos. This might lead you to ask, "Then why the hell are you sharing this?" Despite these inaccuracies, Weddle had some interesting things to say about the movie, Dan Curtis and the DARK SHADOWS phenomenon as a whole. He also does a good job of presenting the cultural context NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, which was not competing against the original television series, but against movies like TWINS OF EVIL and COUNT YORGA.

There are other nuggets of trivia embedded in the story, which you can read for yourself below ...

Thriller #1, 1972

This further mining of Dan Curtis's ABC-TV series DARK SHADOWS makes its second big screen appearance, and a good one at that. While Dan Curtis is quite a remarkable producer/director, his films have always failed in one way or another, usually due to a weak screenplay, when if written properly they could have been superior to the majority of feature films currently being released by major studios. Such was the case with his first motion picture, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, which was not nearly as good as his two telefilms, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE and Richard Matheson's THE NIGHT STALKER. The later film was go successful on TV it will soon be released to theaters, and Curtis is now working on a major motion picture for MGM, again DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE to star Sir Laurance Olivier and James Mason.

In comparison to HOUSE, NIGHT is much better. The first DARK SHADOWS film had the most inept, ludicrous, unpalatable script ever written for a notion picture, but for this sequel the screenplay written by Curtis and Sam Hall is almost first-rate in my opinion. The opera in a supernatural and gothic extremely well developed (Hammer’s John Elder could learn from that!) and the theme is coherent and interesting. In particular, Curtis and Hall do an admirable job on character development and premise, and even the setting — a grim, ancient old mansion overrun by spooks — acts as a character and not merely a background. The pacing of the film is essentially slow, and its only flaw lies in the fact that, with the exception of the last 25 minutes or so, the film moves at such an aggravating, dull pace it becomes an over-long bore. And everything — the photography, settings, music — adds to this stagnation, and as a result the entire affair becomes a trifle pretentious. It is also dead serious, (too) much so, some humor or satire is sorely needed to liven (not the ghosts, just the people) things up a bit. In fact, I’m sure that if humor had been incorporated the slow pace would not have been noticeable, meaning that NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS could have been perfect. Everything about the film is natural and creative, like the dialogue, and the conventional script resembles THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA in some ways.

Quentin Collins (David Selby) arrives at the old Collinwood mansion with his bride, Tracey (Kate Jackson), where they are greeted by their new tenants, Alex and his wife Claire Jenkins (John Karlen and Nancy Barrett) Quentin is an artist, and he sets to work painting in the strange tower room he is haunted by illusions of the dead witch, Angelique (Lara Parker) who was hanged in the 18th century. The housekeeper Carlotta Drake (Grayson Hall) and her wicked nephew, Gerard (James Storm) warns Tracey to leave Collinwood and let the evil spirit of Charles Collins take over Quentin’s body. Gradually, Quentin's personality becomes more and more like that of his dead ancestor, he tries to drown Tracey and it is his love for the witch that is keeping her alive. But Alex and Claire discover what is happening, and they try to save their friends. In the flashback sequences to the 18th century, we learn that Angelique was in love with Charles, but she was condemned to death by her real husband (Christopher Pennock), Charles's wife (Donna Wandrey) and the resident witch-burner (Thayer David) against Charles's will. In short, all are reincarnations of their turbulent past and the dead come to call on the living. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Weddle refers to Donna Wandrey several times in this feature. Wandrey does not appear in the movie. He's most likely referring to Diana Millay.)

David Selby delivers a very well-drawn characterization in the dual, difficult role of Charles/Quentin Collins, and Grayson Hall, who won the 1964 Oscar for best supporting actress in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, is equally good as the sinister maid who knows all the secrets of the old mansion. John Karlen (who appeared in the Belgian vampire flick, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS) and Nancy Barrett are both quite good as the novelist team who try to save their friends, and Kate Jackson gives a fine, earnest performance as Quentin's mistreated bride; She (cries) a lot and is a great screamer. The rest of the cast, including Thayer David who has three other screen credits to his name, all perform adequately.  (EDITOR'S NOTE: Grayson Hall was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1964 for NIGHT OF THE IGAUNA, but lost to Lila Kedrova in ZORBA THE GREEK.)

The Lyndhurst Mansion, located in Tarrytown, New York, used for Collinwood, was restored by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer just for this film (in HOUSE it looked dilapidated and shabby, which it was at the time). The interiors are extraordinarily designed, the rooms are elaborately furnished with a lavish, beautiful style that contributes a great deal of quality to the film. The house itself is deliciously spooky-looking, what with all the lurking shadows, ghostly windows, imposing towers, creeping doors, etc.

Hanz Holzer, the celebrated ghost hunter, was technical adviser on the film, go one might say that it is "parapsychologically accurate" in the nerve-wracking scenes where the dead take over the living's bodies.

The music score by Robert Cobert is not worth discussing.

Producer/director Dan Curtis does nothing by the rules; he’s a masterful director, and unquestionably as (remarkable) a director as Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis. Curtis is a compliment to the genre, and like the best of them he has his own style, techniques and ideas, and he uses then with a keen sense of know-how and discernability.  Let's hope that someday he will choose a script as good as his talents, for there is no telling what he can accomplish with good material.

NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is a darned good movie, one of last year’s very best. And for those of you who think the soap—opera is silly, you must admit that it much more original than Hammer's boy-saves-girl-from-monster stories, and on an equal level with the Count Yorga films. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

The CHS scores two Rondo nominations!

It's always nice to wake up to good news.

This year's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards nominations went live late last night, and it's list that includes nods for The Collinsport Historical Society in two categories! We've been nominated for BEST WEBSITE OR BLOG OF 2015, and our latest publication, TASTE THE BLOOD OF MONSTER SERIAL, has been nominated for BOOK OF THE YEAR.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is the third consecutive year the CHS has been nominated for Best Website or Blog. (We took home the award back in 2012.) Our previous publication, BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, was also nominated for Best Book last year.

And here endeth the tooting of my own horn.

But we're not the sole standard bearers for DARK SHADOWS on this year's Rondo ballot. A pair of stories from issue #95 of Scary Monsters magazine - an interview with cast member Sharon Lentz and a feature on the history of the Dark Shadows Festival - have also been nominated in writing awards.

Also, congratulations to CHS contributor Jessica Dwyer, who has also been nominated in two writing categories! (Well, three categories, if you count her work in TASTE THE BLOOD OF MONSTER SERIAL.)

As usual, this year's winners will be determined by votes from the public. And that means you. Readers are asked to select winners from this year's nominees and e-mail their selections to awards manager David Colton.

All voting is by e-mail only. If you want to vote in every category, you can find the entire ballot HERE. If you want to vote only for the DARK SHADOWS-related entries, copy and paste this bit of text:

(A short film by Ansel Faraj starring Christopher Pennock of DARK SHADOWS.)

The final entry in our MONSTER SERIAL line of books collects dozens of essays about some of the best (and worst) vampire movies of all time, brought to you by our regular contributors. This book also features a special introduction by Kathryn Leigh Scott!

‘Reunions in the Dark,’ by Jerry Boyd, SCARY MONSTERS #95. The sometimes tortured history of Dark Shadows conventions.

Sharon Smyth, Dark Shadows’ youngest ghost, interviewed by Rod Labbe, SCARY MONSTERS #95.


Send your entries David Colton, at by Sunday at midnight, April 10, 2016.

Voting is limited to one ballot per person. Every e-mail must include your name to be counted. All votes are kept strictly confidential. No e-mail addresses or personal information will ever be shared with anyone.


Monday, February 15, 2016


(NOTE: This interview with David Selby was first published on Feb. 25, 2013. Seeing how today is Presidents Day, it seemed like a good time to nudge this feature back to the top of the website. This conversation was taken from one of our podcasts, which you can listen to in its entirety HERE.) 

If you’re visiting a website called THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY, odds are you’re pretty familiar with David Selby. The actor got his first taste of professional success when he was cast on DARK SHADOWS, and has had a lengthy career on stage, television and movies, most recently trying his hand (or voice, as it were) in the animated feature films THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS as Commissioner Jim Gordon.

But it’s Abraham Lincoln who has beckoned to Selby since the earliest days of his acting career. He first played Lincoln on stage in 1965 in the plays THE LAST DAYS OF LINCOLN and PROLOGUE TO GLORY during his college years. Lincoln would go on to be his last stage role before signing on to DARK SHADOWS a few months later in 1968. Even though movies and television offered him high-profile work, Selby continued to stay active on the stage, returning occasionally to reprise Lincoln whenever the opportunity presented itself. His most recent turn was in 2009, in the play THE HEAVENS WERE HUNG IN BLACK at Ford’s Theater. Barack Obama, who had just be elected president, was among those in attendance when the theater re-opened after a lengthy renovation. 

With President’s Day looming a few weeks ago, I thought it might be interesting to step away from Collinsport and speak with him about his interest in Honest Abe.  Here’s what happened.

David Selby, center, in the outdoor play PROLOGUE TO GLORY at Kelso Hollow Theatre, Ill., in 1965. Photo courtesy of Selby's book, MY SHADOWED PAST.
I think it’s interesting that we’ve moved away from the romantic aspects of Abraham Lincoln during the last 20 or 30 years, and are starting to focus on him as a human being.
DAVID SELBY: You had all of the mythology, and the myth became bigger than the man. And you had to dig down deeper to get to the man. And Lincoln was quite a politician, very ambitious. I have no doubt that he’d hold his own in debates with any politician today.
About four year years ago … I was in D.C. rehearsing a new play about Lincoln. They were re-opening Ford’s Theater at that time. It had been closed for a couple of years for renovation. They had never done a play about Lincoln and I loved the piece. Then I went back last year, exactly this time last year, doing a play called NECESSARY SACRIFICES. It was a play about the relationship between Lincoln and (Frederick) Douglass, the black leader.

How do you approach Lincoln as a character? There’s not much archival material about the man, and there are no recordings of his voice. It seems that actors playing Lincoln tend to play against other actors. How do you bring something new to Lincoln as a character?
DAVID SELBY: I don’t think I approached it any different than Daniel Day Lewis did in the movie. You try and scrape away the myth. There are various newspaper records … that comment on the timber of his voice and all those kind of things. His law partner, William Hearnond, you read his recollections … and I put a lot of stock in Hearndon’s notions. And then you read all of Lincoln’s writing. There’s a ten-volume collection that I have, recollections of his secretaries, (John G.) Nicolay and (John) Hay, his young secretaries.

As an actor, there’s just a wealth of material, there’s almost too much material. Plus, I had all of the background that I had when I was in school in Illinois. Then my family, my own family, came over the Allegheny Mountains approximately the same time as Lincoln’s family. My family moved further north into the northern part of what was then Virginia. So I tended to trust all of the family pictures that I had in my collection. I tended to trust my own gait, my own accent that I recalled from those days. I had loads of personal material.

David Selby, Katie Couric and James Earl Jones greet President Barack Obama at the Ford’s Theatre Reopening Celebration, February 11, 2009. Photo by Reflections Photography, Washington, D.C.

With all of those years of experience between MR.HIGHPOCKETS in the 1960s and NECESSARY SACRIFICES just a few years ago, how has your approach to the character changed?

DAVID SELBY: Well, just your experience in life. You’re a little more savvy, you know what I mean? One of the things about HIGHPOCKETS and PROLOGUE TO GLORY was that they (were set in Lincoln's) young years, so I had that advantage. I wasn’t any more sophisticated than Lincoln was at that particular age.

By the time you do NECESSARY SACRIFICES, you’ve got years of looking at the world, living in the world and forming values about right and wrong … about fairness, injustice and all of those things. You’ve lived through the civil (rights movement) era with (Martin Luther King) being assassinated, when I was on the A Train in New York City, reading about it, seeing the headline in the Post. I was part of the protests when I was doing DARK SHADOWS, the (Students for a Democratic Society) movement, which was run by a guy named MARK RUDD in those days.

Then you had Bobby Kennedy’s assignation, and my friend, RAFER JOHNSON. I don’t know if you know who he is, but Rafer was a gold medalist in the 1960s in the Olympics, and Rafer was with Bobby Kennedy when he was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel. Rafer actually grabbed the gun from Sirhan Sirhan and forgot he had it in his hand.

I had all of that kind of history, very deeply personal history, going into THE HEAVENS WERE HUNG IN BLACK.

Let’s skip forward a few decades. After seeing the unrest and anger in the ‘60s over casual injustices, what were your feelings while standing on stage at Ford’s Theater, dressed as Lincoln and speaking to the nation’s first African American president?
DAVID SELBY: Well, first of all, you’re standing before the president of the United States. The office, itself, carries weight and respect. There was a sense of history and the journey that had been traveled. But I’m not one of those who feels racial injustices has been settled, by any means. I think Lincoln would have loved pulling the voting handle for Obama.

You mentioned in an interview in 1968 that you were interested in doing a one-man show about Lincoln. How long did it take before that came to pass?
DAVID SELBY: I never did do a one-man show. I was asked to do a one-man show, and then decided I’d write my own. I was in Houston working on a play there. I worked on it there, rehearsed it there. (I did) rehearsals in L.A. and took the play to a couple of trials in West Virginia, Morgantown being one of them.

The play was called, at the time, LINCOLN AND JAMES, and was about a caretaker who oversaw the Lincoln Memorial. It was his job to make sure the statue was clean and in good condition all of the time. What happened, in this situation, is he’d worked a double shift on a July 4th weekend and the humidity got to him and he had a heat stroke. I don’t quite follow that in the play, but that was the germ of the idea: To write my own play about a man who works at the Lincoln Memorial. In the process of the play, Lincoln comes to life in the man’s imagination.

Selby as Lincoln on TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.
You also played Lincoln on an episode of TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. How did that happen?
DAVID SELBY: It came about because they had a part about Lincoln, and the gal who created (TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL) became aware that I had done (the character.) Also, a friend of mine knew her also. Ernie Wallengren. Ernie had written on a television show I did, FALCON CREST. He also wrote a show called PROMISED LAND that I believe she had a hand in, and I did an episode of that. It was a great role, a cowboy … wonderful. Anyway, what happened on TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, before I started … my mother passed away, and I told them I couldn’t do it. They told me they would wait for me. So they did, and I could hear my mother saying, “Go do it, David. Go do it.”

That’s a courtesy you don’t hear about too often in Hollywood.
DAVID SELBY: Yeah, television waits for nobody. But she’s a pretty special gal.

David Selby, left, as Abraham Lincoln and Craig Wallace as Frederick Douglass. Photo by Ford's Theatre/Laura Keane.
Which of your performances as Lincoln has been your favorite?

DAVID SELBY: THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK, simply because I like the piece. And because it was at the reopening of Ford’s Theatre and it was very special to stand in Ford’s Theatre and look up at Lincoln’s box, where the president sat. Everything came together there. Obama was elected president … I mean, the gods smiled upon us. Everything lined up. I can’t explain how it felt … it was just very, very wonderful. And every time I go through a bad spot or something, all I have to do is flash back to that ... because everything was promising. It was a wonderful time, and HEAVENS was a dream play that took place during, I think, about a seven or eight month period of Lincoln’s life.

What was the dramatic hook for that story?
DAVID SELBY: All of the things that were going on … Lincoln lost his son, and that was devastating for him, and certainly for Mary. And, also during that time, things weren’t going well, battle-wise. He wanted the issue to be emancipation ...  he read a preliminary to his cabinet. He wasn’t asking for their advice, he just was telling them what it was going to be. Then it was decided they needed a victory on the battlefield, so that it wouldn’t seem like a man with a desperate need.

Antietam while so … many soldiers were killed, Lincoln took it as a victory. And then announced the preliminary emancipation right after that, the first week of January that year. It came up and he signed it. So he must have felt very good knowing what he was about to do. While it only had a certain amount of effect, it only freed the slaves in states where they were already basically free, (but) it also spread the word … if the plantations couldn’t keep a hold of their slaves to plant the crops and make the meals, it would destroy the infrastructure.

But, at the same time, Lincoln was convinced he would lose the election, of course. But then Sherman marched to the sea … and handed Lincoln the election and turned it around. John Wilkes was supposedly in the audience when Lincoln made his last speech.

I’d never heard that.
DAVID SELBY: Yeah, in Washington. He made a comment to somebody that (emancipation) wasn’t going to happen. Then came the assassination and all of the things that (led) up to that day and evening. But THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK was the price that was paid. Lincoln has scenes with an old friend of his back in Illinois, and he has an imaginative scene with John Brown, the abolitionist. It’s a wonderful piece. It was, I believe, nominated for a Pulitzer. It’s now much shortened. It was more than three hours when we did it at Ford’s. It’s now in two acts, I believe, and much shorter, today.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.
What did you think about Steven Spielberg’s recent movie about Lincoln?
DAVID SELBY: I haven’t seen it. But I’m a great fan of Daniel Day Lewis, so I can’t imagine that I would not like it. Can you?

No, my wife and I were actually talking about going to see it  last night and … you know how things happen.
DAVID SELBY: Wallace, listen, trust me, we haven’t even gotten to the James Bond film. I hadn't seen the George Clooney film, the one that takes place in Hawaii … we just watched that the other night. I get behind all of these things. Warners just sent me … THE DARK KNIGHT (RETURNS,) it’s an animation thing. I’ve got a new edition Gene Kelly’s SINGING IN THE RAIN. We have so many things to watch and are so far behind. So no, we have not seen LINCOLN yet. We’ll probably get it on Netflix. 

(Note: The interview above was abridged for space. For the full audio of the interview, visit our podcast page.)

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are there DARK SHADOWS in Disney’s Haunted Mansion?

Even with the cost of visiting their parks rising to exorbitant, borderline unholy levels, Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction is enough to justify at least one trip to a Disney theme park in your life. It's just that good.

The attraction got off to an incredibly rocky start, though. The mansion made its first appearance on Disneyland’s official souvenir maps in 1958, but construction on the project didn’t commence until three years later. By 1963, it had still not opened to the public, and Walt Disney’s death in 1966 brought the project to a thudding halt. The park’s “Imagineers” pooled their resources to find out how to salvage the concept, drawing from such influences as Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING, the 1927 feature THE CAT AND THE CANARY and Jean Cocteau BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

In 1969, the mansion finally opened its doors to visitors. The concept later expanded to Disneyworld in 1971, Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, Disneyland Paris in 1992, and Hong Kong Disneyland in 2013.

What does this have to do with DARK SHADOWS, you ask? The author of LONG FORGOTTEN, a blog devoted Disney’s Haunted Mansion, believes that the changing portrait of Josette DuPres — the perpetually doomed damsel of DARK SHADOWS — might have inspired one of the images in the attraction’s “changing portrait gallery.”

The gallery was the work of lead artist and animator Marc Davis, who designed many of the original scenes found at The Haunted Mansion. Davis had a storied career with Disney, designing many of their most iconic characters, including “Snow White,” “Maleficent,” “Tinker Bell” and “Cruella de Vil.”

While most of Davis’ work on The Haunted Mansion was done before 1965 (a year before the debut of DARK SHADOWS), it appears the April-December portrait wasn’t added to the gallery until sometime in 1968.

The portrait of Josette made its first appearance on DARK SHADOWS on episode 70 of the series, which aired Sept. 30, 1966. The portrait was seen frequently on the series, but it’s the episode that aired Jan. 12, 1968, that the author thinks inspired the April-December Portrait. (Coincidentally, this is the episode voted by our readers as being the best of the entire series.)

The portraits of Josette DuPres and "April-December."
Here's a quick summary: As a challenge to his new wife, Angelique, Barnabas Collins has placed the portrait of his former love, Josette, over the mantle in their home. Not one to ever be outdone, Angelique casts a spell that transforms Josette’s painted image into that of a monster. You can see the two illustrations above, as well as the transformation of the April-December portrait from The Haunted Mansion.
“The point is, there is no evidence that April-December existed before the DS episode featuring the morphing Josette portrait aired,” the author concludes. “April's absence is particularly noticeable when we take into account how often the other changing portraits make appearances. That doesn't prove any kind of connection, of course, but it does mean that there is currently no chronological obstacle to the theory that Marc got the idea for April-December from Dark Shadows. For the record, I am of the opinion that he did.”
Sadly, the “April-December” image was removed from the changing portrait gallery back in 2005. As for the artist’s original inspiration? Well, Disney is notoriously tight-lipped about such things. Almost 60 years after its release, we still have only the word of Maila Nurmi — TV’s “Vampira” — that she served as the inspiration for SLEEPING BEAUTY’s “Maleficent.”

Via: Long Forgotten

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dark Shadows: Into the Light, Episode 2

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of DARK SHADOWS, Jim Romanovich recently launched an 8-part DARK SHADOWS retrospective titled "Into the Light" at The Collinsport Historical Society will be archiving these episodes as they become available; you'll be able to find the series in the tab above titled "Dark Shadows: Into the Light."

The latest episode of the series landed last night, and features conversations with Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Jerry Lacy, Lara Parker and John Karlen. It's a highlight reel (of sorts) for future episodes in the podcast series, which will feature the full interviews with these cast members.

Topics in this episode include:
  • Auditioning for the show
  • Remembering Jonathan Frid
  • Acting inspirations
  • The Death of Dan Curtis
  • Flubs and TelePrompters
  • What made the series successful
You can stream the episode below, or click on the arrow button to download it as an MP3.

Alexandra Moltke in VOGUE, 1949

Today is the birthday of Alexandra Isles, the original “Victoria Winters” on DARK SHADOWS. It’s usually not the kind of occasion I’d recognize here, but a photo crossed my desk involving the former actress that’s just too good to not share.

Above is a photo by Frances McLaughlin-Gill from the April, 1949, issue of Vogue. That’s Isles (then Alexandra Moltke) pictured at far right. The rest of the children in this image are just as interesting. From left are:

  • Actor/author Nat Benchley, the son of author Nathaniel Goddard Benchley and brother of JAWS author, Peter Benchley. He’d go on to play “Det. Augustus Polk” on THE WIRE (among a great many other things);
  • John Steinbeck IV, the son of Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck, who would go on to become a journalist and author; 
  • his brother Thomas Steinbeck, author of 2003’s “Down to a Soundless Sea” and 2011’s “In the Shadow of the Cypress.”
It's nice to see that Alexandra turned out to be such a happy, well-adjusted person given the sketchy characters she grew up with.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Original DARK SHADOWS studios to be demolished

Well, this is depressing.

The location of the studios where the original DARK SHADOWS television series was taped is scheduled for demolition, according to The Real Deal. I've spent the last few years pouring over the history of the television show, and have seen hundreds of photos of cast members interacting with fans outside during breaks in filming. While I wasn't part of this community, it's difficult not to feel a sense of sadness on hearing about the building's pending demise.

The 10,000 square-foot block-thru property, located at 442 West 54th St., is expected to be demolished to make way for a pair of six-story residential buildings. Emmut Properties paid $25 million for the property, it was announced in January.

A deadline for construction on the new properties has not yet been disclosed so, if you've ever wanted to get a gander at where DARK SHADOWS was taped, you'd better move fast.

(Take a virtual tour of the neighborhood courtesy of Google Streetview.)

Via: The Real Deal

DARK SHADOWS: Re-imagined as a generic gothic pulp

On April 1, 1987, author Dan Ross was among the guests on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN. It wasn’t the quality of his work that made Ross, a purveyor of gothic pulp novels since the early 1960s, an interesting guest for the show. In Letterman’s eyes Ross was a bit of a weirdo, a man with the will power to carve out a niche for himself in an unlikely market. He probably admired that quality and thought it would be funny to let him share the couch that night with Dolly Parton.

“To tell you the truth, (Letterman) didn't really stress any particular books,” Ross told writer Craig Hamrick a few years later. “He stressed the number of books I had written, which seemed to be most interesting to him. But as far as I can remember, there wasn't any mention made of DARK SHADOWS at all.”

Under the pseudonym Marilyn Ross, he wrote 32 original novels in the DARK SHADOWS series, as well as the “novelization” of MGM’s feature film, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. That’s a lot of work, but pales in comparison to his lifetime output: The New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia says Ross published 358 novels, 12 plays, and more than 600 short stories in his lifetime.

The original book jacket, left, was redesigned the following year. Barnabas Collins does not appear in this book, though.
But those numbers are a little misleading. Ross was a believer in working smart, not hard. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he didn’t write 358 individual novels as much as he wrote the same book 358 times. As with his spiritual predecessors (people like Lester Dent, Walter Gibson and Norvell Page) Ross frequently worked from a formula. He was obliged to generate a certain number of books every year, meaning that perspiration would always trump inspiration. There's a samey-ness to his work that's unavoidable.

Still, there were glimmers of greatness peppered through his novels. While I’d stop short of calling them "good," I love these stupid, wonderful, plodding romance books. Unencumbered by logic, there’s something sweet and dreamlike about them.

The first book in the series, simply titled “Dark Shadows,” hit stands in December, 1966, about six months after the show debuted on daytime television. The release of this book, as well as the second installment the following March, tells us a lot about producer Dan Curtis’ arrangement with ABC. DARK SHADOWS replaced a teen soap opera called NEVER TOO YOUNG, which starred Tony Dow of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, Tommy Rettig of LASSIE and Dack Rambo. That series was axed after a year, airing 192 episodes. Curtis probably felt like he had exactly that long to make DARK SHADOWS work, which is what led to the introduction of Barnabas Collins at roughly the same point in the series that NEVER TOO YOUNG was cancelled.

Ross was not given much to work with when developing the novels, but he was provided a lot of latitude. He was obviously forbidden from resolving any of the show’s long-standing mysteries within the pages of the novels, and many of the supporting players make only obligatory cameos in the first book.  Overall, it gets the story more-of-less right, while also getting most of the specific details wrong.
“The ominous clouds of the October afternoon had warned of bad weather on the way and now the threat was being fulfilled. Victoria Winters sat huddled in a corner of the shabby back seat of the taxi that she'd hired in the village to take her to Collins House, aware of the driving rain and high wind that had come with the darkness of early evening.”
These are the words that introduced Victoria Winters to readers in “Dark Shadows,” and already the imagery of the series has been distorted. Victoria’s haunting midnight train ride is mentioned only in passing, while her destination still clings to an early — and ultimately abandoned — creative decision made during the production of the show’s first episode. The name “Collins House” is one of a few holdovers from the series bible to survive into Ross’ books, while the relative absence of Burke Devlin (described here as a “wealthy, retired eccentric,”) Joe Haskell and Maggie Evans suggests he didn't know how important these characters were supposed to be.

Roger, Elizabeth, David and Carolyn (referred to as “Caroline” in the early chapters before inexplicably changing to the preferred spelling) are all introduced during the first chapter. Matthew Morgan is also hanging around, being creepy … and he’s not alone.

A police officer holds a photo of Jonathan Frid and a copy of Marilyn Ross's "The Curse of Collinwood."
Living on the Collins House estate is cousin Ernest Collins, a widowed concert violists suffering from depression and violent mood swings. He and Victoria meet in a gothic pulp’s twisted version of the Meet Cute: On her first approach to Collins House, Victoria spots a light in the darkness and moves to follow it. Ernest arrives just as she’s about to tumble into an uncovered well … during a thunder storm, no less.
“Bolt your doors well, Miss Winters,” Roger called after her drunkenly. “It’ll make you feel better, anyway, even if it doesn’t lock out all the ghosts!”
Ernest has also left behind him a trail of dead and/or disfigured women in his wake. His wife Elaine: DEAD. His next girlfriend was hit in the face with a LENGTH OF CHAIN. A third was PUSHED from the top of Widows’ Hill. Naturally, people get uncomfortable when Ernest aims his romantic interests at Victoria, a woman who has other problems to deal with.

Yes, we get a tidbit about Victoria’s mysterious heritage, but it’s just lip service. Ross has no intention of solving that riddle in this book, or any other, until after the proper series addresses it. But two plot points from the TV show carry over in some surprising ways. First up, Roger Collins is as menacing here as he was during the first few weeks of the TV series. The show’s bible explained that Roger was originally supposed to be outed as a murderer during the first storyline, which gave Ross permission to play up the character’s flaws. For example, Victoria is replacing the former governess, Mary Gordon, who quit after a rape-y “misunderstanding” with Roger. Victoria has real concerns about being attacked by the man, and comes close to leaving her employ after wondering about the presence of  a secret passage in her room.

Second: What is Elizabeth hiding in the basement? We spent a great many months watching Joan Bennett fondle that silver key around her neck, occasionally using it to check on the mysterious contents of a locked room in the basement of Collinwood. In the series, it’s revealed that Elizabeth and frenemy Paul Stoddard buried her husband’s body in the room (before later discovering they totally didn’t.)

In Ross’s version of the events, there's someone very different living in the locked basement room. The reports of the death of Ernest's first wife  were greatly exaggerated: Liz has been keeping the violent nutcase locked in the basement. You know, in the same house as her 17-year-old daughter and 9-year-old nephew. Parenting!
The sky had grown unusually dark and there was an eerie stillness in the air that warned of oncoming rain. He stood staring at her in the weird false twilight. Very softly he said, "Victoria, you're a remarkable young woman.”
Elaine has little problem with escaping from her room, thanks to the Scooby Doo network of secret passages riddling the mansion. It proves to be remarkable easy for Elaine to ambush Victoria in the halls one evening and frog march her — at knife point — to an observation platform at the top of the mansion. The plan is to push the new governess to her death. After a brief tussle during another convenient thunderstorm, Elaine falls to the rocks below, bring a quick end to this absurd tale.

And WOW, does it end. The romance between Victoria and Ernest blossoms in much the same was as two lovers in a Taylor Swift song: Their “love” had the oppressive desperation of a suicide pact, with no thought given to their lives beyond the moment. It’s incredibly creepy, but we get some measure of resolve when Ernest decides he's leaving town for a while.
The Collins family had come to seem like her own—perhaps one day she would discover this to be true. In any event, she looked forward to the weeks and months ahead. She could cope with Roger; Carolyn was lovable, and she could get to know the gracious Elizabeth Collins Stoddard better in the strange old, old mansion by the sea, Collins House!
Odds Bobbins
  • Isaac Collins arrived in the new world “before the Mayflower dropped anchor” and founded Collinsport.
  • Jeremiah Collins built Collins House in 1830.
  • Roger is pouring brandy when introduced in the book. 
  • Among the non-canon characters we meet here are “lantern jawed” cabbie Henry Jones, Foundling Home Director Charles Fairweather, and Collins family lawyer Will Grant.
  • The 1861 Victorian novel “East Lynne” is mentioned. Wikipedia says the book is “remembered chiefly for its elaborate and implausible plot, centering on infidelity and double identities.” This should give you some insight into Ross’ goals for his “Dark Shadows” novels.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

See You 'Round (Like a Record)

An interesting relic from the original production of DARK SHADOWS is up for auction on Ebay: A 33 1/3 record with music by composer Robert Cobert used during the show's 1840 storyline. This isn't a commercial release sold in stores, but a disc used during the actual production of the series to layer music into scenes.

There are four tracks on the record, slugged 316, 317, 318 and 319 on the paper sleeve. If these numbers correspond to the those accompanying "The Complete Dark Shadows Soundtrack Music Collection" compact disc release from 2006, then these are the selections you'll find on the album:

  • Poignant Bridge
  • Poignant Curtain
  • Cue #2 (J & H) Variation With Xylophone
  • Tremolo - Woodwinds To Sting

These tracks can be found on Disc 4 of the 2006 CD release.

The seller mentions in the item description that it was purchased in 1999 at that year's Dark Shadows Festival.

Via: Ebay 
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