Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dark Shadows: A 50th Anniversary Appreciation


It’s 1967, and I am 10 years old. Wandering the neighborhood, I discover my teenage cousin and her friends huddled on the front porch, all staring wide-eyed through the window at the television set in the living room.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Watchin’ a soap opera.” Oh. I hate boring soap operas and start to leave. “It’s about a vampire and he’s gonna kill this girl.” Oh! I love horror movies and join them, squeezing in amongst the bigger kids to take a look.

On the screen is a distraught young man sitting by a fountain, agonizing over whether or not to warn the young woman of her impending doom. At that moment I forgot all about my undying devotion to Davy Jones of the Monkees, and Willie Loomis became my drug of choice. Five shots are fired off camera and we all jump, grabbing each other with a communal scream that was heard several blocks away.

Around the time of Victoria Winters’ witchcraft trial, I was kicked out of girl scouts for missing too many meetings. That came as a relief because after-school activities were interfering with my soap opera.

It is 1977; I am 20 years old and a theatre major at a university that looked down its academic nose at my love of musical comedy. I submitted a proposal to write and direct an original piece (well, not completely original) for the black box theatre, a venue reserved for undergraduates.

Dark Shadows was in late-night reruns in tandem with Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and the combo was very popular on campus, so that was to be my source material. The result was a musical parody titled The Late Shows, and Act I was Dank Shadows (or the Flight of the Fledermaus). It had cheap jokes, Mad Magazine-style song lyrics and featured characters like Barnacle Coffins and Victorian Spinsters.

My friend, who owned one of the first video recorders (reel-to-reel), taped the episodes every night and played them the following day to the crowds that gathered in the lobby of the Student Activities Center.

A year later, a fellow student asked me if I would be interested in going with him to a Dark Shadows convention in Los Angeles. He suggested I might be able to publish and sell my musical parody. Well, I never actually pursued that but I donned my 18th century gown, and he his cape and cane, and we flew to LA.

I had never been to con before, knew nothing about the creature, but it was a blast. We met lots of fellow fans and got to talk to the actors. Actually, I don’t remember talking that much to anyone except John Karlen and Dennis Patrick, but I know who was there because in a caption-writing contest, I won a poster autographed by Michael Stroka, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Karlen, Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy.

It is 2011, and I am — older. While browsing through Netflix, I came across old episodes of Dark Shadows. Hey, cool, I used to love that show, and there was bad boy Willie, my favorite.

When I had watched every available episode, I started over and watched them again. Soon I was supplementing my addiction on the Internet and discovered that I was not alone. There was a DS community, alive and kicking, with enough websites, forums, photos, stories and videos to keep me from ever cleaning my house again.

Well, I didn’t care much for the fanfiction. My older daughter’s obsession with fanfic, anime and manga caused her to flunk all her classes, lose her scholarship and get kicked out of college after the first year. Yet, her devotion to those genres did not wane, and she tried to suck me into the black hole of fandom by telling me about other kinds of fan-authored publications, like Dark Shadows, for instance. Then Demon Spawn (an affectionate nickname) introduced me to a site called Willie Loomis Saves Collinsport, authored by SaraMonster. It is a temple to John Karlen and, among its resources, is a listing of Williefic by some of the old masters. I clicked on one — just out of curiosity.

It was a story about Willie at a hardware store picking out paint chips for the Old House. Seemed silly to me, but I finished the story and went on to the next.

There were also love stories, in which Willie mated with Vickie, Carolyn, Maggie, an OC (original character) or the author herself. I can’t count how many times Maggie has begged him to take her virginity and, of course, he always obliges, because he’s a such a nice guy.

Yes, I initially scoffed at fanfiction, but later came to understand its appeal. Then I started to write a little. That turned into writing a lot. My daughter acts as my fanfic consultant and beta reader. Like a good kid, she walked her technology-challenged parent through the confusing process of posting my fics at their first home on

2012. The remake film is released, and this family looked forward with great anticipation. A Tim Burton treatment promised to be awesome and adolescent Daughter #2 had a major crush on Johnny Depp. When the topic of this movie comes up now, my constant comment is, “Really nice art direction.”

Not long after, I befriended a woman on the internet who, as it turns out, grew up down the street from John Karlen and family, and was still friends with his son, Adam. She then introduced me to Adam and with his permission, gave me John’s address of the nursing home he was at.

That was when I wrote my first fan letter. I don’t remember what it said, but it was four pages long. A few days later my phone rang and it was Adam Karlen, who called to tell me how much his dad enjoyed the letter and that John wanted to meet me. Then John got on the line and called me sweetheart. I booked the flight.

My editor at Collinsport Historical Society heard of it and jumped in to ask if I would do a podcast interview with John. It was not the greatest piece; I was so nervous, but we had lunch in his room and watched a ballgame on TV. We keep in touch by phone and every Christmas and birthday I send him something Polish.

Later I attended my second fest in 2014 and scored interviews with Sharon Smyth, Christopher Pennock and James Storm. I’ll just keep practicing till they better.

Marie Maginity and Dennis Patrick.
Marie Maginity is the author of the Willie Loomis World Series, writing under the name Mad Margaret. She freelances for several publications and blogs, including The Collinsport Historical Society. She now works as an actor, director and acting teacher. Previous jobs have included facepainter, bartender, film projectionist, opera singer and legal journalist. She once conned her way into a newspaper job as a reporter and later became a feature writer and assistant editor. Marie lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with one husband, two daughters and two cats. 

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