Friday, July 15, 2016

Clippings: A 1972 interview with Grayson Hall "superfan"

Show dead, fan club carries on

By Mimi Teichman
St. Louis Post Dispatch
Jan. 24, 1972

Mark Messina is a Superfan.

He is 21 years old and president of the Grayson Hall Official Fan Club.

Grayson Hall?

She is the actress who used to appear in "Dark  Shadows," the television horror soap opera. "Dark Shadows" is no longer on the tube but Grayson Hall's loyal fans, led by Mark Messina, go marching on.

Mark, who lives at 2815 Dalton Avenue, was a fan from the very beginning. He was in the eighth grade at St. Aloysius grade school when "Dark Shadows" began. All through his four years at Southwest High School, Mark missed only four or five episodes. If he couldn't get home in time to see DS, he would watch it in the audio-visual room at school. When he couldn't be either place, he set up a timer with a tape recorder so at least he would have the sound for the show. There wasn't time for dating in those days. Between studies and TV, life was positively full.

The first DS fan club was the Lara Parker Club, started a girl named Paulette from Bronx. It was followed by the Chris Pennock Official Fan Club, the Don Briscoe Fan Club, the David Selby Fan Club, the Hümbert Allen Astredo Fan Club, the Joan Bennett, Alex Stevens, Donna McKechnie, David Hennesy, Jerry Lacy and Louis Edmonds Fan Clubs.

Mark started the Clarice Blackburn Fan Club. It had 30 Or 40 members and was active for about a year. But, lovely and talented as Clarice was, she wasn't interested in show business, so Mark closed down the club. At that time a girl in Pennsylvania was president of Grayson Hall's fan club, but wasn't doing much with it, so Mark decided to seize the moment.

"'I got Grayson's phone number out of the New York telephone book," he said. "I called her up with my heart in my mouth. I told her who I was and asked her if I could start. 'I'd be delighted' were her very words."

Mark and Grayson started communicating by telephone (busy Grayson hates to write letters). She sent Mark a check for $75 to cover the expenses of printing and mailing.

From the other "Dark Shadows" fan clubs Mark got mailing lists and he advertised in their newsletters. As true-blue Grayson fans expressed their interest, Mark worked till wee hours on the first club kit, which contained a biography, a welcoming letter, a membership card, pictures and a newsletter.

The newsletters are nine pages of single-spaced, spicy tidbits about Grayson and other members of the "Dark Shadows" cast.

"My cup runneth over with joy, or THE DAY GRAYSON CAME TO ST. LOUIS!!!! To my it's all the same, and it was just heaven!  ... Grayson eagerly tore open her welcoming present, explaining for the second time that she wasn't one to be dainty with gift wrappings. A large simulated wood-grain box held six ice cream sundaes ... and six different flavors of topping. Grayson exclaimed her thanks, and loaded the heavy box on her husband, who nearly stumbled with the weight."

In addition to the account of Grayson's St. Louis stop on a publicity tour for the "Night of Dark Shadows" movie, the newsletters, which Mark sends out six times a year, contain poems and other artistic efforts of club members, photo offers, reprints from studio pressbooks about the two DS movies.

Recent ones contained features Mark gathered when he visited New York two summers ago, such as a description of the DS set and an interview with the show's hairdresser.

After DS was cancelled by the network, the newsletter contained a plan of action for having it reinstated. Club members were instructed to write letters, circulate petitions, and picket their local stations.

Grayson Hall and Mark Messina.
There was an account of the wedding of a DS cast member in the 1970 fall edition and the newsletters always contain the latest lowdown on what the DS cast is doing. For example:  "Denise Nickerson is doing just about everything! She's in the new movie 'Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' and plays, I think, a blueberry."

"Jerry Lacy has been parading his handsome face around the sets of  'As The World Turns.' He plays Simon Gilbey, a millionaire playboy. He is also in a Hartz Mountain commercial for a flea collar."

The tidbits about Grayson in the newsletters are many. For instance, there was this account of doings in her bedroom: "Chaos is breaking loose in the Hall house right now. The whole point is, the Halls are doing some redecorating. Relax, all the red is staying. Grayson has decided to redo the bedroom. The master bedroom was a pale shade of blue. By now, it should be getting a little livelier. Grayson's having the whole thing covered in a floral fabric. The results should be smashing."

In the historic visit to Grayson's smashing New York apartment, Mark taped hours interviews which he uses in the newsletters as a regular feature.

"What was your first reaction when you saw yourself on screen?
"I threw up."

'What do you think of Melnac (plastic) dinnerware?"
"I've never heard of it."

"Are you a lover of children?"
"Yes, of course."

"What kind of vacuum cleando you have?"
"I have a little round hoover."

"Were you an extremely beautiful child?"
"Apparently, although I never thought so."

Although there is only one member besides Mark in St. Louis, the Grayson Hall Official Fan Club has 250 members throughout the country. Mark feels he knows them all, and says many are the "teeny-bopper type," but there are 15 to 20 adults, including the woman from Minneapolis who sends him Christmas presents and writes about the weather there.

"My club has prospered because there's lots of dedication involved," he said. "A person has to be willing to work. There are some people who start a club and then can't go through with its I'm very hesitant to recommend other clubs in my newsletter because of their lack of stability. Before I'll recommend one I have to review a sample kit.

"A fan is different from a teeny-bopper magazine, which is often inaccurate or sensationalized, because there's one person at the head of the club who is dedicated to telling it like it is about the star. The future of the club is good as long as Grayson's interested."

Grayson used to send him cartons of fan letters, which he answered for her. Because DS is off the air, she no longer gets them.

Mark Messina and Grayson Hall in the lobby of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.
Mark keeps the letters in a file that is a fan's treasure chest. It contains movie scripts, club member contributions, assorted photos, material for pending newsletters, clippings, etc., all in neatly labeled file jackets. In the back of the drawer are Mark's memories, his library of tapes of "Dark Shadows" and his super-8 movie cartridges.

His other memories, a scrapbook 20 inches high, is a real treat for the "Dark Shadows" fan, but it wouldn't fit in the drawer. There is a section for each character in the show. Most of the clippings are from daytime television magazines and teen mags.

"I began collecting almost immediately after the show began because I was so taken with it," Mark said. "The show has been gone for some time now, and of course I miss it, but I have lots and lots of memories."

Asked what he would do if Grayson retired, he gave a little gasp and replied, "Oh, she'd never do that. It's too much a part of her blood. When she's not working she becomes irritable."

About once a month Mark picks up his telephone and spends a few precious minutes talking to Grayson.

"I don't like to bother her too much because she's always busy, cooking or entertaining or something," Mark said. "I'm very proud of my personal relationship with Grayson. She probably thinks I'm a very dear person to be doing all this. She likes me, I can tell, or she wouldn't have anything to do with me."

Why does a college sophomore who wants to become an interior designer and whose other hobby is flower arranging direct a fan club? Why is the basement room he occupies in a southwest St. Louis house (shared with his mother, father and 13-year-old sister) decorated with horror movie posters?

"Everybody has to have a hobby," Mark says.

(Editor's note: the color images were taken from the defunct "Mr. Juggins" fansite. I'd link to the page, but it appears to have been infected by malware. Search for it at your own peril.)

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