Monday, October 31, 2016

There's a Vampire in the White House!

On Oct. 29, 1969, the Supreme Court ordered the immediate integration of public schools while, a few days later, President Richard Nixon went on television to explain his policy of  "Vietnamization," which seemed designed to provide the illusion of support to South Vietnam even as we began to withdraw our soldiers. If you notice a hint of bias in that prior sentence, it's not your imagination. I despise Nixon and shudder to think that he's going to appear on U.S. currency in a few short years.

Nixon wasn't the only vampire on television that week, though only one of them appeared to be present in the White House on Halloween. On Oct. 31 that year, Jonathan Frid (who played the vampire "Barnabas Collins" on DARK SHADOWS) was a guest of Tricia Nixon at a party for underprivileged children at the White House. A Canadian citizen, it's unlikely that Frid had any serious opinions about the standing U.S. president. In a 1971 interview, he remarked, "I’ve been the heavy in so many Shakespeare supper festivals that even today I owe my allegiance to the House of York."

An estimated 1,200 cookies and 25 gallons of punch served for the 250 "underprivileged" children. The north portico of the White House was decorated by a giant Jack O'Lantern that was guarded by a pair of witches. Connie Stewart, Tricia Nixon's press secretary, wore a costume inspired by I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW), made up of a yellow leotard and yellow pages from the phone book. I'm guessing it was her first Halloween party.

The event garnered national coverage, with photos of Tricia Nixon and Frid appearing in magazines and newspapers across the country. The coverage was universally elitist, though. The "underprivileged" were only passingly mentioned; I wasn't able to find any notices that mentioned who these children were. Even Jet Magazine failed to tell us much about them, devoting much of its text to describing the party's decorations. Frid was absent from much of the coverage, as well, with newspaper notices often abbreviating wire stories down to a description of Nixon's dress.

"(Frid) said that the Nixon girl was just standing around and seemed hard pressed to engage the kids," said Nancy Kersey, a writer for Jonathan Frid's production company, Clunes Associates. "So he decided to step in and try and bite her, and that was captured on film. It made her smile"

Frid's costume was pretty much a given: Barnabas Collins. As was the standard practice for television in those days, most of Frid's public appearances were in character. While he was usually allowed to appear as himself on talk shows, even that wasn't something he could always take for granted.

Frid was absent from both the ABC studio and the airwaves on Halloween that year. It was a strange week of transition for DARK SHADOWS, as the episode broadcast that day, #875, was near the end of the popular "1897" storyline and did not include Barnabas Collins. Meanwhile, the episode shot that day, #888 was one of the first in the ill-fated "Leviathan" arc. It was an important episode for a few reasons: It featured the first appearances of Marie Wallace and Christopher Bernau as Phillip and Megan Todd, as well as the return of actor Dennis Patrick to DARK SHADOWS after a 605-episode absence.

As usual, Dan Curtis allowed Frid only a short break from the production. He wasn't allowed much time for travel, leaving New York City after filming on Oct. 30 and returning to work the following Tuesday. If you're one of the people that thinks it's odd the cast members of DARK SHADOWS don't always remember specific storylines with great clarity, the week after Halloween should explain why they frequently had no idea what was happening on the series. Not only were episodes shot about two weeks prior to broadcast, they were sometimes filmed out of order.

The week after Halloween was especially crazy. Monday, Nov. 3, 1969, saw episode #893 being recorded; the next day the production shot episode #881, followed by episode #891, episode  #890 and ending the week with the production of episode  #889.

And here's where we've reached the limits of this website's design. When I built this sucker more than two years ago, I hadn't planned on having a lot of photo-intensive posts. This is one of those rare occasions where there is quite a bit of documentary evidence involved. There's not as much as I'd like (I'm curious as to what Frid's itinerary was for his day at the White House, as well as the president's whereabouts on Halloween) and it's all a bit overwhelming for this website's relatively simple design.

Below are more photos from the Halloween event ... my apologies if it all looks a bit scattershot.

UPDATE: Avid CHS reader Roy Isbell sent me a handful of newspaper clippings, many of which include photos I've never seen before. You can see them below.

Zombie Run: The Final Frontier


I had some tough choices to make last weekend. There was the DARK SHADOWS marathon on Decades, which would have offered some fun opportunities to interact with other fans online. Loreena McKennitt was in town, a performer I've loved for almost (yikes!) 20 years now. There was an advance screening of Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE available to me, and a ton of other Halloween-themed events taking place nearby. The stars didn't just align as last weekend ... they dogpiled.

In the end, I opted to trade those opportunities for the chance to dress as a Star Trek zombie in Perry, Georgia. It was part of this year's Zombie Run, a "zombie infested" 5K that takes place at an expansive training center for emergency personnel. The course is pretty challenging, taking runners though hills, multi-story buildings, a flood zone and roads littered with wrecked vehicles. To make things more interesting, runners also have to evade dozens of zombies along the way. Runners wear four red flags attached to their waist with Velcro. If zombies manage to take all four of a runner's flags before finishing the course, they become one of the "infected."

This year, our team opted to play as zombies ... which was a lot more challenging that it sounds. We essentially spent a few hours doing wind sprints as we tried to grab the flags from runners of all shapes and sizes. Our theme for this year? Zombie "Red Shirts" from the original STAR TREK television series. That's our team at the top of the post. You can probably guess which one I am.

After our shift was over, we took a walk around part of the course to see what all we missed. I managed to grab a few dozen photos along the way, which I've uploaded to the MONSTER SERIAL Facebook page. You can take a gander at them by clicking HERE or browse them below. Enjoy!

Photos from this year's Zombie Run festivities.
Posted by Monster Serial on Monday, October 31, 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

Goodbye, John Zacherley (1918-2016)

The folks at the Classic Horror Film Board are reporting that John Zacherley died yesterday at the age of 98. For many monster kids (myself, included) Zacherley was the greatest horror host of them all ... a man whose legend continued to grow even after his ghoulish character left the airwaves. He recorded several records (all of which are Halloween essentials), edited collections of horror stories, made a few stage and screen appearances, and even graced the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.  I don't have the time today to craft the kind of obituary he deserves, so please take a moment to read this 2012 interview with the man with the New York Times.

And, if you're looking for a DARK SHADOWS connection, here's a photo of Zacherley on stage in the 1962 play "La Belle" with our own Thayer David.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Do not attempt to adjust the picture

You might have noticed that a few days have passed without a new Dark Shadows Daybook entry. Fear not: Patrick McCray is busy this week and will return Nov. 1 with a new installment. I swear to god he's not locked up in my basement or anything.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Binge on Dark Shadows this weekend for Halloween

Decades will be airing a DARK SHADOWS marathon this weekend, beginning at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, Oct. 29.

DARK SHADOWS is turning into a Halloween tradition for Decades, which specializes in classic television. It's the second year running that the channel has marked the holiday with a "binge" marathon of the series. As a change of pace, though, this weekend's binge will not begin with the introduction of vampire Barnabas Collins, but will skip ahead a few weeks to episode 251. By this point in the storyline, Maggie Evans is already a prisoner of Barnabas, whose patience is rapidly running out as his victim refuses to bend to his will.

All together, Decades is airing 84 episodes of DARK SHADOWS, bringing the festivities to a halt at 6:30 a.m. EST on the morning of Oct. 31.

Click HERE to see if you get Decades in your area.

Happy Halloween!


Friday, October 21, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 21


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 876

Was any character on DARK SHADOWS allowed the range of Quentin Collins? I don’t think so, and as such, he may be the writers’ most mature creation. Because both Quentin and David Selby are so incredibly charming and winning, and because Quentin has such a reversal from villain to hero, it’s disappointing when his story peters out. Quentin Collins II leaves the show sans sound, fury, nor satisfaction. But I would argue that it’s only truly unsatisfying if you expect something other than what it delivers. Yes, it’s rare that a foil is given greater dramatic opportunities than the person he reflects, but that’s the case here, and I say we thank the strange, wonky wanderlust of the DARK SHADOWS writers for giving us such depth and range at all. Overall, 1897 follows Quentin from cartoonish cad to a thoughtful, conflicted tortured optimist. (His chin is up a bit too much to be a pessimist, and he has too many covert schemes to qualify as a realist.)

The Quentin of this episode is almost unrecognizable from the man we met several months ago. In this installment, he goes through three or four ringers. First, Beth dies -- on Widow’s Hill, no less. Of course, this is another part of his Barnabas parallel. Quentin comes in after Widow’s Hill and pours a drink, almost with a sense of relief. No. Not relief. Just an acknowledgement of the inevitable. Beth was destined to absorb shrapnel. She practically threw herself in the way of it. Frequently. She was never going to get the 2.5 and white picket domesticity remix from Quentin, so she could at least create situations where he’d have to thank her for her sacrifices. Clearly, there was at least one master of Catholic guilt on the writing staff.

Selby is given the entire episode to ruminate on her death, and he goes from bemused resignation to gale force tears. Not one atom of ham in any of it. Selby… a very Zen man with access to a pain mine that could power Morgantown for the next thirty years.

These DARK SHADOWS actors.  They know what they’re doing.

In the news, Jack Kerouac died on the day they taped this episode. He was only 47.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 19


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1131

Under the power of the head, Leticia hides Judah’s reanimated body and receives instructions on how to proceed.  At the Old House, Barnabas sends Julia to New Bedford to get more information on Judah Zachary. Meanwhile, Daniel recognizes Angelique from his youth, but is silenced with the the threat of his dead wife’s ghost… a dead wife he murdered. Julia returns with the story of Judah Zachary. He was a schoolmaster by day, but was an occultist supreme by night, using the title, “Son of Satan,” and wearing a jeweled Mask of Baal that would allegedly grant immortality. At his trial, a woman named Miranda testified against him, earning him the unusual execution of beheading — at the behest of a team of judges that included Amadeus Collins. The head would occasionally be displayed as a warning, but has been missing for some time. Barnabas remembers stories of Zachary from the past, knowing that the worst is to come. Angelique arrives at the Old House, and Julia leaves. She explains that they are still married, and she wants them to try again. Barnabas has no interest. Later, Leticia exposes Julia to the seductive power of Judah’s head, and she becomes enslaved.

Now that we sit atop nearly the entire series, the view provided by the writers is stunning. With so many episodes of perspective, 1840 is almost the ultimate crucible for the series. What’s burned away as meaningless? What endures? By beginning near the end, we have the perspective of ultimate storytelling economy. There is no time for waste. No time for distracting frippery. That’s all burned away in the distant past of exposition, character color, and side-stories.  What do we have, here? Angelique, Barnabas, Julia, the pained ghosts of the past, the (intro to the) reason that Angelique is good beneath the evil, and who-is-married-to-whom. The episode is a rich little confection of character, intrigue, and yet another dance with yesterday. Barnabas and Julia have a curious challenge with Angelique, also. Remember, this isn’t the Angelique of 1897, having girl-talk with Julia and curing Barnabas in a cave. Nor is it (shudder) Sky Rumson’s long-suffering wife. From what I can tell, her timeline is 1692, 1795, 1840, 1968, 1897, 1969. There are different opinions on that, with some placing 1897 at the end. But I recall that she doesn’t seem unfamiliar with Quentin in 1969, and that suggests she’s already been to 1897. Anyway, it’s to the credit of Julia and the stubbornness of Barnabas that they don’t greet her with a hug and a sigh of relief, reminding themselves that when she was last seen, she’d freshly enacted events that lead to the deaths of almost everyone Barnabas loves… including Barnabas, himself, if we count “undeath.”

And yet, if she hasn’t had the Great Mellowings... of marriage to Roger, enslavement to Nicholas, death, Hell Trials, vampirism, Petofi, almost-marriage to Quentin, teaming up against the Phoenix, befriending Julia, curing Barnabas, going straight and marrying Sky, and battlin’ the Leviathans… why is she so quick to be heroic? I think she’s had just enough time to feel guilt and loneliness and nostalgia. By 1968, who knows what bitterness sets in?  Especially because it’s all about Josette, all over again. Here, she comes back less than fifty years later to find Barnabas as a confident, un-self-loathing Vampire in Full. He’s got a female doctor sidekick. He’s no longer pining for Josette, but is still tantalizingly unreachable without being “Josette Unreachable,” if you know what I mean. And she’ll soon be dealing with Judah Zachary all over again, and that’s a brand of evil that makes what she does look like pea-shooters and short-sheeting. None of this happens in the first timeline, but it’s happening now. What triggers the revised timeline? I think it’s Judah, himself. Judah’s curse, for me, was initially a slow, existential one. By the time Vicki gets off the train, the family is a Buzz, a Burke, a Jason, and a David-going-through-puberty-and-bolting away from being a memory. That’s the curse. They’ve just dwindled to nothing. What starts to change that? Barnabas. He kills Jason. He alleviates Roger of the producing of being “the last Collins.” Sarah provides love and mystery and wonder for a family in need of it. Barnabas’ presence summons a healer. It summons Angelique, which introduces Stokes. So, what does Judah do? He unleashes Quentin. That should have killed the family right there, but Barnabas was too strong. So was Stokes. And Julia. Thus, the Leviathans. Nope. Okay, trap him in Parallel Time? Are you kidding? No cell or pocket dimension can hold Barnabas Collins. Fine. Raze it to the ground and humiliate Barnabas with his own powerless ignorance. Well, he didn’t count on Julia Hoffman, the power of the I Ching, and the catnip of Barnabas to Angelique. Or, as she was once known, Miranda.

The thing I really love is that Judah is ultimately in the same boat as everyone else. He gets the shaft from his own past. As is the case with Barnabas, the shaft belongs to Angelique. So to speak.

On this day in 1970, we celebrate the birthday of legendary funnyman and American treasure, Corky Romano, himself… Chris Kattan. All kidding aside, Kattan is one of those lost, SNL stars of great talent. It just got obscured by bad material and excessive Mango. Want evidence? Check out HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999). He plays the comic relief in the film by playing it totally straight. Doing that, he really has it both ways. Kattan has many years ahead of him, so the DSD wishes him a happy birthday with the hopes for a few more haunts to come.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Collinsport represented in upcoming vampire doc

For more than a year now, actress Juliet Landau (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) and husband Deverill Weekes have been hard at work on A PLACE AMONG THE UNDEAD, which they're billing as the "definitive vampire" documentary. It's hard to argue with that tagline .... early additions to the film's panel of interviewees were Gary Oldman, Joss Whedon, Tim Burton and Anne Rice, with new guests quickly joining the roster.

It's an extensive guest list (see for yourself HERE) but  let me cut to the chase: Weekes tells me that DARK SHADOWS alumni Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott will be a part of the production. You can also expect a few DARK SHADOWS-related "perks" to be added to the film's Indiegogo campaign in coming weeks.

Below is a video of Landau with Scott and director Gary Shore (DRACULA UNTOLD), taken from the film's Facebook page. And below that is the original sales pitch for A PLACE AMONG THE UNDEAD. You can find more videos and an explanation of perks at Indiegogo HERE.

Excited yet?

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 18


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 610

Eve visits Jeff in the garden and is surprised when he fails to acknowledge his past love for her... when he was known as Peter Bradford. Perhaps because she looks different from when she was Danielle Roget? Inside, Vicki tells a melancholy Liz that she and Jeff will marry. Liz’s funk lifts briefly when Vicki invites her to help plan the wedding. Jeff descends into anxiety in the garden, giving Vicki her doubts about the wedding. Liz, too, returns to her thanatomania, and when she sees a spying Eve, she declares her to be the Angel of Death. Eve goes to Nicholas, demanding to know of her past identity -- a forbidden topic. They discuss the fact that she was seen by Carolyn, and now by Jeff.  He is livid. All she can offer him is the information that Jeff Clark and Peter Bradford are the same. Curious, Nicholas places Eve in a trance and learns that Peter came to loathe the deeds of Danilelle, who murdered Phillipe Cordier. Peter had, however, enough love to give her a head start before he alerted the authorities that she was a killer. Eve awakens, confirmed in her suspicions of the past. Nicholas is disturbed that other forces are at work in the midst of his own efforts.

What wasn’t going on in 1795? The authors loaded it up like a clown car of expanding cast members and storylines. It would be great fun to retcon the telling of 1795 to include hints of Danielle Roget. And let’s not forget the other, eleventh hour storyline lurking under the 1795 surface: Jeb Hawkes. He had existed in the 1790’s, too, and lured Vicki to leap from Widow’s Hill after her return to that time. Peter later came to the future as a ghost to punish Jeb. This is a storyline that could use a more memorable establishment of causality. On one hand, I give it a hearty WTF and go on to say that it makes the curly-q Ragnarok/1840 storyline look like the Maggie Kidnapping. But it is text. Seen that way, it’s one of Collinsport’s more cosmic mysteries, perhaps not meant to be lashed down with colored paper and a bow.

On this day in 1968, Aristotle Onassis announced his wedding plans with Jackie Kennedy. We also saw Apollo 7 return three bitter and sick astronauts to Earth. Finally, in the-more-things-stay-the-same department, athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos were suspended from the Olympics for giving a black power salute.

What year is it? Really? Forty-eight years later?

You’d never know.

Dark Shadows: Bloodline has been delayed

You're going to have to wait a little longer for "Dark Shadows: Bloodline."

The 13-part sequel to last year's "Bloodlust" was originally set for release this fall, but a conflict in schedules with the cast has pushed back production of the series.

“With a project as big as this,” said co-producer Joseph Lidster, “there are sometimes problems that are beyond our control. In this case, we can't get all of our actors in place to record their roles until later in the year. We’ve therefore decided to postpone the release of 'Bloodline' until early 2017.”

This is a good news/bad news situation, in my opinion. Tom Petty might believe the waiting is the hardest part, but when he wrote that song he'd yet to see ALIEN 3. That movie is all the proof you need that rushing a production to meet an arbitrary release date will only end in sadness. Ultimately, nobody will remember if a piece of media arrived late. If it sucks, though, they'll remember it forever.

“To be honest, considering the number of people we're regularly attempting to co-ordinate from half a world away, I've been continually astonished and relieved that this hasn't happened before,” said "Bloodline" co-producer David Darlington. “But we hope this is the first and last time. We’re so keen to ensure that 'Bloodline' isn’t rushed in any way, and that it’s a worthy successor to 'Bloodlust' – and we can only say we’re sorry for any disappointment this delay may cause.”

News of "Bloodline's" delay has eased some of my gloomiest worries of 2016. There was a bit of a pall over this year's Dark Shadows Festival, which had a vague air of finality to it. I've been a little worried that this year might also mark an end to Big Finish's line of audio dramas, but that will not be the case. In addition to "Bloodline," the company will also be releasing several new "anthologies" in the coming year, following on the heels of last summer's "Echoes of the Past."

The first, titled "Haunting Memories" is set for release in December and features Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Jerry Lacy and Marie Wallace. Details on the anthology are pending, but Big Finish has revealed that Wallace will be reading a story by Kay Stonham titled "A Face From the Past."

"A Face from the Past" is read by Wallace and tells the story of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard meeting a man who resembles the one true love of her life. Details on the anthology's other stories have not yet been announced. (Keep an eye on Big Finish's title listing HERE for updates. It's already available for pre-order.)

“I’ve been working with the writers of these stories for the last couple of months,” says Lidster, “and I’m so pleased with the results. We’ve used a mix of writers – some new and some old favorites – and we’ve a real mix of storytelling styles. Listeners are going to discover why Barnabas and Julia really went to Cairo, what happened when Doctor Robert Harper investigated a poltergeist, how Professor Stokes first met the iconic Madame Findley and even what happened to local petty crook Harry Johnson. Some of the stories are big fun adventures and others are haunting personal pieces. I genuinely think they’re some of the best drama we’ve ever produced so I really want to thank our writers - *deep breath* - Rob Morris, Penelope Faith, Aaron Lamont, Ian Atkins, Ian Farrington, Alan Flanagan, Lila WhelanAntonio Rastelli, Kate Webster, Paul Phipps, Daniel Hinchliffe, Cody Schell, Alan Ronald, Nick Myles and Antoni Pearce.”

Further details for the four collections - "Phantom Melodies," "Dreams of Long Ago," "Love Lives On" and "Shadows of the Night." – will be announced over the coming weeks.

“We’re also working on another two boxsets, hopefully to be released in 2017,” said Darlington, “which we’ll be announcing once they’ve gone into studio. So rest assured that Dark Shadows is still very much undead and kicking.”

Read the full announcement at Big Finish.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 17


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 346

Vicki dreams of being in Josette’s room with Barnabas. She wonders why she is there, and Barnabas answers by taking her to the bed, where Burke lies, tightly wrapped in a shroud. Carolyn wakes her from the nightmare, and the two are expressing gratitude for the other when Vicki speaks on the phone with the airline and learns… nothing. There is no news of Burke’s plane. At the Old House, Julia seethes with jealousy over the hold that Josette still has on Barnabas. She senses a presence that is the ghost of Dave Woodard, but that’s interrupted by a visiting Victoria, who reports that Barnabas is helping her to restore the west wing of Collinwood. Julia attacks her, stating that Barnabas has no time to help everyone who asks, and she is to leave him alone. Later at Collinwood, Barnabas visits and is shocked at Julia’s statements. Julia arrives to make up for it, but after Barnabas settles her hash in private, the flowers she brought have mysteriously died. Back at the Old House, Barnabas orders Julia to accelerate the conversion. Sensing that she might try to sabotage the treatments, he hammers home the point that while Vicki forgives, he doesn’t.

And why should he? I was about to write that this is another example of Barnabas at his darkest, but is it? There are probably a dozen ways that Julia could have kept Dave Woodard away from him, but her screw-ups made killing him a matter of survival. It’s not like there’s Vampire Probation and community service he could have been put on. No, Woodard was going to kill him. What choice had he? He didn’t ask for any of this. Meanwhile, the nicer he gets toward Willie, the less reliable Willie becomes. With total cowardice. God forbid that Willie be a man and simply stake Barnabas or smash the lid to his coffin. No, Willie seems to only do things that will lead to Barnabas’ lingering suffering, underlining his loneliness. Thanks, shmuck. And don’t even get me started on Julia. In the midst of so many small minds and their backstabbing reflexes, Barnabas has to go all Joshua on them in the humorless retribution department. What’s he supposed to do? Hug them? Man, Leo Buscaglia would have fared no better.

On this day in 1967, the Broadway musical, HAIR, opened for reals, having escaped from off-Broadway, proving that, yes, rock had a seemingly moral imperative to be everywhere. Now, nowhere was safe for snooty elitists who appreciated crisp melodies and dazzling wordplay. If they were lucky, they invested wisely so they could afford tickets to HAMILTON.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Clippings: Jonathan Frid "Flips" out, 1969

While he might have had mixed feelings about the show in later years, nobody devoted themselves to DARK SHADOWS  as much as actor Jonathan Frid. For almost four years, his life was devoted to Barnabas Collins, with his days off from the studio often devoted to making promotional appearances for ABC. He only had two legitimate breaks from the series, one to star in a stage adaption of "Dial M for Murder" in Illinois in 1969, the other to shoot HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS the following year. Frid probably spent more time at Collinwood than at home.

If the collection of clippings archived on this website are proof of anything, it's that Frid rarely said "no" to an interview. During the peak of DARK SHADOWS, he was a hot commodity, with publications doing pretty much anything to publish his name and/or photos. Some of those features turned out a little strange, such as this pointless photo spread of the actor shaving. Not to be outdone, FLIP published a bizzaro series of photos in March 1969, of the actor posing in vampire drag with model Judy Nugent (perhaps the actress from the Mickey Mouse Club serials?) and Brian Carrigan, of the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. Interestingly, that band  also included future composers Michael Kamen (LETHAL WEAPON) and Mark Snow (THE X-FILES.)

FLIP published a story the following May about a writer's visit to the DARK SHADOWS set. Below is a transcript of that story, accompanied by the photos published in the March issue. Based on the episode details spilled by Frid in the interview, my guess is the writer's visit took place Jan. 17, 1969, the date episode 675 was taped.

The photos are by Tom Morton.

"My Day on Dark Shadows"

Flip Magazine, May 1969

It's kind of hard getting yourself a day on the set of Dark Shadows, even if you are an intrepid FLIP reporter and have a friend at ABC. First, you've got to pick a day when Jonathan Frid will be Barnabas-ing around ('cause what's Dark Shadows without him?) and that's only once or twice a week. Then it's got to be a day when there are no particular emergencies going on in the FLIP office (the day we go to press being definitely out for field trips).

But, after waiting a month or so, there dawned a day when all the signs were right, and Marty Harrison and I assembled all our various notebooks, cameras, pens and light meters, and taxied over to the huge barn of a building on West 53rd Street in Manhattan where the Dark Shadows episodes are taped.

The guard who met us right inside the door was firm and fatherly, and didn't let us go by until he found our names on a list he kept carefully hidden from himself under sixteen other sheets of paper. Once past the guard, we got into a creaky elevator that almost forgot where it was going between the first and second floors. But finally it let us out grudgingly at the second floor offices, where all the action is before rehearsals start downstairs at noon.

We hung up our coats in the visitors' lounge, where there was a man sitting and talking on the phone. The man turned around to say "hi!" and wow! it was Jonathan Frid! He looked casual and groovy in a green plaid V-necked sweater, herringbone trousers and black boots. He was quite excited, too, over a project he was considering— making a long play record of him reading new ghost stories for children.

Jonathan had to study his lines, So we decided to go down and explore the set before things got too busy there. That same elevator set us down, with a gasp and a sigh, on the ground floor, and the guard gave us a cheery smile as we passed (we were old friends now).

Frid with the story's author, Valerie Berger.
Getting to the set means edging your way down a long, narrow corridor piled to the ceiling with props not in use that day. Barnabas' coffin was shoved in a corner out of the way, and there was an antique shop full of old chests, lamps, chairs and bric-a-brac. The corridor opens up suddenly and you are on the set —almost. Graceful me had to trip over a surgical table first, which called for profuse apologies to the lady dummy with the sewed-on arm that was lying on it. A little detective work revealed that the unhappy mannequin had been a beautiful young girl just the day before, until Chris Jennings kind of chewed on her in one of his werewolf-y moods. But that's the way it goes on Dark Shadows.

There is so little room in the studio that each day they put up only the sets that will be in use. I was hoping to see the graveyard, but it was an off day for haunting, So they had packed it away. We were able, though, to walk through the front door of Collinwood and climb the staircase in the hall. Interesting discovery on top of the stairs: There are no rooms at the end of that little hall, just a tiny platform where an actor can stand off camera until it's time for him to come back down the stairs.

The library at Collinwood was set up for action, and across the studio in a little corner, two adjoining walls and a door made up the sheriff's office.

But there was nothing much going on yet, so we went back upstairs. (This time we took a little winding staircase, to give the elevator a rest.) The first thing that happened upstairs was that I ran bump into Jonathan Frid's dressing room with him inside! He was calmly studying his script and eating what looked like a ham sandwich on a roll. He wasn't a bit surprised or annoyed to see me quivering on his doorstep; he just put down the script and started talking to me between bites about what was going on in the show.

"I'm starting to use my cane more," he began. "It's not just a prop anymore, because its silver head is deadly to werewolves. Of course," he grinned ruefully, "sometimes it doesn't work just right. For instance, yesterday I was supposed to hit a werewolf on the head with it . I really hit him on the shoulder, but it looks real on TV. Anyway, the cane bounced off his shoulder and hit me in the head, and after the show a doctor had to take a stitch in my head!" He sighed and shook his head as he got up and began to move around his tiny white box of a dressing room. "Concussion, that's the word of the day, concussion," he murmured to himself.

I asked him what he thought of his dressing room. It's awfully small, as you can see from the pictures. He didn't mind that, he said, the only thing that bothered him was that he had a makeup table built into the wall which he considered a waste of space, since he never puts on makeup in his dressing room, "and the table just becomes a catchall."

I knew Jonathan wanted to study his lines some more, so I excused myself and went trotting down the hall after an interesting redheaded streak who was hurtling toward her dressing room, calling Hi! to everyone she passed. This just had to be the brilliant, dedicated Dr. Julia Hoffman, alias Grayson Hall. As soon as she saw me, pad and pencil poised, she laughed. "I know," she said cheerfully, "You want to know what it's like to work with Jonathan Frid, right?" I admitted I was going to ask her just that.

"He's a dream," Grayson said promptly, "a man totally without malice. He's never said a nasty thing about anybody and, believe me, he's heard me say plenty! Anyway," she continued, putting on her best Julia Hoffman accent, "I love Barnabas. I left my hospital just to be near him." She opened a bottle of nail polish and started doing her nails. "I've even killed for him." She stopped polishing and thought about this. "No, actually I didn't — I was too chicken. But a year ago in the story, when Dr. Woodard started suspecting Barnabas, I made a long needle, and Barnabas stabbed him."

Suddenly the loudspeaker system started booming that it was rehearsal time, and everyone down on the set, please. "I've got one more nail to do, wait for me," Grayson yelled back at it.

Grayson flew out of her dressing room, her long red robe billowing behind her, and everybody chased after her down the narrow winding staircase. She didn't make it all the way to the set without finding someone to stop and talk to, though. But somebody on the set bellowed, "Grayson!" and Grayson jumped and started running again, calling, "I'm here, I'm here. Hi, Jonathan!"

She and Jonathan took their places on the set. Then Carolyn Stoddard opened the library doors, came in, and said, "They've taken Chris to the police station!" And another episode had begun! This was just a rehearsal for the cameras, though, and none of the actors had their costumes or make-up on yet. It was kind of like watching a tennis game, because they were rehearsing scenes in the library and in the sheriff's office at the same time. So I stood in the middle watching everything except the camera that came up from behind and almost ran me over. But everyone's so nice there that the man didn't even mind that I had dented his nice camera (not really!) The biggest problem at the rehearsal seemed to be that all the actors kept forgetting to close the door after they left a room. (Funny—that's the same problem I have at home.) And the only door that was supposed to stay open kept closing by itself and locking Jonathan in the '"bedroom." But a man with a screwdriver fixed that!

Whenever there was a short break, Jonathan would sit quietly in a chair in the library studying his lines. He's what theatrical people call a "'slow study" and, since he's onstage almost constantly on the days he works, he has a lot of memorizing to do.

When the camera rehearsal was over, everyone trooped up the stairs again. (It seems the only people who use the elevator are visitors who don't know any better!) This time I found myself outside the makeup room and was invited in by Vinnie Loscalzo, who is in charge of the faces that everyone wears onstage. To start things off, I asked him how he developed Barnabas' vampire makeup.

"Jonathan and I worked on it together," he said. "I'd try something, then he'd make a suggestion. We played around with it until we came up with a good vampire-type makeup." Vinnie is constantly devising makeup for new characters. Now that Jonathan is a vampire only during flashbacks in time, he spends a good part of his day doing the difficult werewolf makeup. And once he had to take a beautiful young girl and age her into an old woman, little by little over the course of a week. He's also in charge of special effects for all blood, bandaging, fang marks, and gunshot wounds needed for the show!

It was almost time for the dress rehearsal now, but first we had a surprise for Jonathan. To say "thank you" for being such groovy ghoul in FLIP the past few months, we presented him with the huge photograph of Barnabas that appears on the cover of this issue. He was pleased and surprised and told us he would hang it on the wall of his apartment.

Then, sadly, it was time to go. We clanked down in the elevator for the last time, walked past the guard and went outside in the New York cold.

There were three girls huddled in a doorway outside, waiting to see Jonathan. They were going to have a long wait, but in the end they wouldn't be disappointed — Jonathan always stops outside on his way home to talk to his tans. That's because he and Grayson and Vinnie and everyone else who works on Dark Shadows are as groovy a bunch of people as ever haunted an old Gothic mansion! 

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 14


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 606

Barnabas, weakened by Angelique’s bite, is horrified to see that Nicholas has revived her as a vampire. What’s worse -- Barnabas is now her slave. Meanwhile, Stokes and Julia are unsuccessful at detaining Nicholas further with petty social niceties, and the demon departs dinner. When Nicholas returns, he commands Angelique to demur from summoning Barnabas, and to only do so when he wills it. At the Old House, Barnabas returns, wan with blood loss. He reports nothing of Angelique, and says that he could find neither Adam nor Eve. When Stokes and Julia leave, Angelique appears and, despite her orders, bites Barnabas anyway.

An image from this episode was used in the DARK SHADOWS
View-Master reels in 1969.
Go through your Shadowsiana. Look for Defining Images. I’ll wager that two come from this episode. One is of Stokes as he sees Nicholas off. It’s a closeup, and that big, Maine Coon looks like he’s absolutely swallowed Nicholas Blair’s canary. It is a Stokes in Full, and that’s full, indeed. The second is the bitten and ailing Barnabas, sitting in a chair at Blair House, among antiques and blue-green lighting. Angelique, in the unforgettable white dress, is at his side. To see it out of context may be to see the truth of it. He is Cyrano. Wickedly wounded. And there she is at his side, impossibly large eyes brimming with concern and unending support. Is it the most romantic image in DARK SHADOWS? Maybe. Of course, Angelique is also the cause of his misery. All of it. She benefits from it. He would get the hell away if he could. She is more than happy that he cannot. Eternal combatants. Of course they belong together as the series’ true lovers. In the causing-Barnabas-agita department, Julia is the third billed act at amateur night in Dixie compared to Angelique. Certain marriages, in my observation, often last out of respect to the art of war, not love. Divorce would give too much satisfaction. The secret to these cursed unions is utter contempt. Never is it more lovingly illustrated than here in this image.

Seriously, though, the dichotomy of pleasure, pain, and a shared curse that comes around and goes around is just too perfect. The image is the yin/yang of DARK SHADOWS, and this episode is the perfect frame for it.

It’s the birthday of the nurse from episodes 235 and 236, Frances Helm. Profiled elsewhere in the Daybook, she is best known, to me, as one of the actresses who played Rachel Brown in the original Broadway run of the great American play, INHERIT THE WIND. In less happy news, today marks the passing of Angus Cairns, an actor with a robust Broadway background. On DARK SHADOWS, he succeeded Greek God and part-time actor, Dana Elcar, as Sheriff George Patterson.

On this day in 1967, the world got its first live broadcast by our astronauts in orbit, care of Apollo 7. It was a simple-but-miserable mission. Commander Wally Schirra, that cranky swabo, had a cold (later cited in his Actifed ads), and complained bitterly to Deke Slayton about nearly everything he was asked to do. By the end of the mission, Schirra even refused to wear his helmet for reentry. He had already announced his retirement, but his crew was just beginning in space. And ending. None of them ever flew on NASA missions again.

But we got an ad out of it. BEHOLD!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 13


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1127

Desmond scrambles away from Judah’s empty coffin, concluding that he may walk once more. Meanwhile, Gabriel hectors Samantha about Quentin’s return and the romantic decision awaiting her. Desmond now realizes that the head of Judah Zachery is missing, too. Leticia is glad, but Desmond is driven to find all of him. Although Gabriel tries to bully him into revealing what he found in the cemetery, Desmond keeps quiet. Quentin interrupts, and once alone with him, Desmond reveals that Tad and Samantha are back… and that he’s brought Quentin the now-missing head of Judah Zachery. At Rose Cottage, Gerard attempts to romance Samantha, but is interrupted by Leticia. Quentin and Desmond remain firm in their desire to find Judah, although Desmond senses that the head is detached. Samantha, having sent for Gerard, meets with him and Quentin in the drawing room. She has decided the man with whom she will share her heart.

It’s an odd feeling to dismiss an episode with, “You know, it’s a soap opera.” And when there’s a missing head and missing headless body both on the loose, and they may or may not be joined, it’s ridiculous to try. It’s just a shame that there’s not more headless action. Episodes without core characters from the prime universe can be tough to love. 1897 feels like it takes its time getting to that point, and we’ve logged so many episodes with Quentin in the 1960’s that he basically counts as a prime character. But I think this explains the sometimes-technical feel that PT and 1840 can sometimes have. Within that unfamiliarity are gems. In this case, Christopher Pennock as the anti-heartthrob, Gabriel. God, I feel bad for his teenybopper fans. It must have been bizarre to go from Sebastian Shaw to this. Of course, Pennock is delighted, and Gabriel is perhaps his best opportunity as an actor as theatricality meets acid wit. A thoroughly despicable cad, Gabriel emerges as a platinum-plated curmudgeon before he leaves the show with a verbal wit unmatched since Blair and Petofi.

Today is one of the sadder ones in the Daybook as we note the death of Dennis Patrick, who died on this day in 2002. He appeared in 49 episodes as Jason McGuire and 19 episodes as Paul Stoddard. He’s marvelous in both roles. On the same day, we lost Keene Curtis, who voiced Judah Zachary. A fixture of TV for two decades, he was also an Obie and Tony winner. 
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