By PATRICK McCRAY
Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 115
David continues to bring food and supplies to Matthew, hiding in the Old House and speaking of something that will allow him to go undiscovered. Vicki plans a trip to Bangor, but is sidetracked by fetching David from the Old House. While there, she loses her wallet. David and Liz speak of loyalty, and it’s clear to viewers that his loyalty is to the nefarious Matthew over his father. While searching for her wallet, Vicki finds herself recaptured by Matthew.
Let’s have a hand for Malcolm Marmorstein and the completion of his first script for DARK SHADOWS. Author of 82 DARK SHADOWS episodes, Marmorstein arguably has the most illustrious writing career outside of DARK SHADOWS, including a screenplay credit for Disney.
DARK SHADOWS really had a thing about people being held prisoner. Liz is a self-imposed prisoner for eighteen years. Vicki is prisoner at least four times -- twice in 1966, and twice in 1795… the second time after her return there. Maggie is a prisoner in both main time and parallel time. Carolyn is a prisoner to Adam. I think the Old House hanging chains saw more action than Mr. Wells’ Inn. I’ve no doubt I’m forgetting multiple someones. In “Fall Out,” I’m amazed that Patrick McGoohan didn’t rip off that ape mask to reveal Dan Curtis as Number One. And maybe he did…
Thayer David is so marvelously convincing as Matthew Morgan that I am glad they allowed him to play other roles. A malevolent Lenny, his true menace comes from his capacity to encourage underestimation. In that sense, he’s a perfect opponent for Vicki. He challenges her innocence and always leaves open a strange sense of vulnerability… you never know. He might just turnaround. But probably not.
In the midst of the contemporaneous hubbub in several of our other parallel years -- 1970, I’m looking at you -- even I will admit that it’s nice to see the characters slow and converse revealingly about feelings, aspirations, and values. It’s a good day for Joan Bennett. She engages with both Alexandra Moltke and David Henesy, discussing self-discovery with one and the intricacies of loyalty with the other, and does so with honesty, but never a leaden hand. There’s a purity to those scenes that I really love because I believe them.
And that brings me to last week. I want to mention last Wednesday’s episode in 1970. It was 1160, and I am compelled to mention it since illness and the holidays prevented it on schedule. Do yourself a favor. Go back and watch it. Furious that Daniel is changing the will again, Gabriel shows his hand by rising from his wheelchair and killing his father. He has feigned being immobile for most of his life. As Daniel is in his death throes, his embittered son explains that it was the only way that he could ensure his father’s love and attention. Christopher Pennock knocks it so far out of the park that the ball could take out the Hollywood sign. No exaggeration. It is a monologue that is equally vivid, lurid, vulnerable, and sincere. I’m not sure any other actor on the show enjoyed such a dynamic and challenging slab of writing in a single episode… not since Barnabas recalled Josette on the night of the blackout. I got to interview Mr. Pennock several years ago, and I can’t help but allow two things he said to color my reading of his performance in the scene. I’m not saying that there is a 1:1 relationship with anything, however, I can see that certain personal elements could have provided fuel for inspiration. A distant father is involved. Feeling a sense of collegial competition with David Selby, for whom success and opportunity came seemingly as naturally as his height, likability, and integrity. Now, was Mr. Pennock joking? He always is a bit, but he’s always seems deadly sincere within it. Again, I’m not drawing direct parallels. At the most, I’m just noting… serendipity.
“Who’s the best actor?” is a strange question once a certain mastery is reached, and Selby and Pennock were equally honed performers. What does ‘best’ even mean? It’s not like an athlete, for whom objective, quantifiable abilities have objective, quantifiable measures. It’s all subjective. Only… maybe… with the double-blind of seeing both performers play the same roles against the same co-stars… only then, do I get an idea of ‘best.’ Even then, it’s an ooky question. So, Selby or Pennock? I can only cite the individual strengths I see. Ones that don’t seem to come as easily to the other. Selby characters excel at conveying a very sincere, gentle sense of humor. The Pennock wit is sharper and more political. One has a more open heart, one has a more open set of eyes. Pennock’s real ace is in his vulnerability. Not only are his characters open to visible, in-the-moment change, but we can always see how unexpected that is. Showing change can be tough enough for a performer, but to have a character aware enough of change’s ironies to comment on them? That requires a very unique understanding of life and its intricacies, often hard won.
Back to November 28, 1966. It was the birthday of John Hallow (b. 1924), a Broadway actor and assistant stage manager who stepped in for the role of the train station manager encountered by Quentin and Amanda as they attempt to escape to Manhattan in episode 850. He had a fascinating career, working on classics such as DON’T DRINK THE WATER, BEN FRANKLIN IN PARIS (with an added song by Jerry Herman that happens to be one of his best), DAD POOR DAD, and Gore Vidal’s all-too-timely A VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET. Elsewhere in 1966, America was in the throes of Brian Wilson’s “Good Vibrations.” I find it ironic. This period of the show looks and feels so archaic that it amazes me they were going home listening to “Good Vibrations” -- a song that still feels like it’s from the future -- on their car radios. If you don’t know anything about the song beyond the basic sound of it, do yourself a favor and look it up. It’s one of music’s great accomplishments, created by a genius who excels at mining joy from pain. The song was the most expensive pop piece ever produced at that time, and it’s unthinkable that something so inventive would be tried by someone so widely- beloved, today. It was created during the assembly of PET SOUNDS, and in many ways, encapsulates so much of that landmark album.
1966, a helluva year to be alive, was rounding out with this?