Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ebay sale: The Dark Shadows "magic slate"

I've come to despise the DARK SHADOWS "magic slate" toy released during the late 1960s. I was never much of a fan of these kinds of toys even as a child ... if I wanted to draw, give me some paper and a pencil, please. Maybe I'll come up with something that won't make me want to immediately erase it.

The limited play value of a magic slate really isn't what bothers me, though. Since 2009, one of these items has been for sale on Ebay for the low low price of $999. Magic slates are the definition of ephemera and are probably pretty rare, but there's no way these toys are worth that much ... not even if it was signed by Jonathan Frid, himself. The seller has updated the listing every blue moon, but the price has always remained the same, apparently in hope of reeling in a customer with more money than sense.

Well, Player 2 has since entered the game. A seller with a decent feedback history now has one for sale for $28.99. I'm a little strapped for cash at the moment, but if you're interested in adding this item to you collection, you can find it HERE. The auction ends later today, so move fast.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Love trumps all (pun intended)


If the word "motherfucker" is the only thing about this photo that offends you, it's time to reassess your values.

The image above, which looks to have originated on Twitter from @goldengateblond, bounced around the social media feeds of such folks as Patricia Arquette, Patton Oswald and Dana Gould over the weekend. Last night, it migrated from Gould's Facebook page to The Collinsport Historical Society's ... an action that seemed to perplex a lot of people.

"This is not a political forum," wrote Debby Taylor, casually dismissing the fundamental human dignity of millions of people as if it was a matter for the Op-Ed page of her local newspaper.

"Politics and Barnabas shouldn't mix What a shame," wrote Frances Ellen, who lives in a part of the world suffering from a punctuation crisis. I'm guessing she lives near Larry Miller (no, not the good one), whose comment "What" was elegantly abandoned in the middle of the discussion.

"This is tacky and disgusting. I don't need this 'SHIT' every where I go on FB," wrote Susanne Jordan Smith, a graduate of Miss Porter's Finishing School for Young Ladies. (Not really.) "Done with this page now. Good lord...use some class!" Eager to prove that he received the alt-right memorandum on civil discourse, Thomas Siirila chimed in with "So I guess this is a political page now? What next? Horse porn and execution videos? NOT COOL! !!"

"Why has this not been deleted?" asked reader Robyn McWilliams, whose time and effort crafting such a well-thought-out question deserved an answer. Here it is: Because I don't want to delete it. But the real tragedy of the evening was the death of Brian Carney's love for one of his favorite television shows. "Way to make me hate Dark Shadows now," he wrote. "Good bye!" Fare thee well, Brian. Fare thee well.

And then there's this guy:

There's a lot happening in America right now. I was tempted to end that sentence with "and not a lot of it good," but that's not true. Every horrible thing President Bannon has done in the last few weeks has been countered by levels of courage and inspiration that I never allowed myself to believe exists. My pessimism will always win out, a perspective that remains firmly entrenched after last night's meltdown on Facebook. There are flesh-and-blood people who can somehow love DARK SHADOWS while also despising its most admirable qualities. I guess this shouldn't be terribly surprising, because there are also a great many alt-right STAR TREK fans suffering from the same cognitive dissonance.

On a long enough timeline, we are all doomed. Mankind will assuredly stupid itself in the grave millions of years before the sun comes close to burning out. But I'm convinced Bannon's policies will be defeated because, for most of us, there just isn't another alternative. The bigoted minority might place a low value on love, hope and compassion, but the rest of us hold these values dearly ... and we will not be convinced to let them go under any circumstance. #Resist

TL;DR: If you try to dismiss a concept like basic human dignity as a political issue, you're a piece of shit. Also, if you need DARK SHADOWS attached to the moral failings of a nation in order to acknowledge it, see below. Warning: One of these people might be a disciple of Satin.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 27


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 950

Quentin’s attempt to convince Carolyn that Jeb killed her father is thwarted when the selfsame Jeb enters and announces that Philip Todd has confessed to the murder. Barnabas arrives and, alone with Jeb, our two heroes warn him that he and the Leviathans will never emerge the victors, but Jeb slides away with menace and confidence. As Barnabas and Quentin debate strategy, Jeb continues to woo Carolyn, and it’s becoming evident that it’s for more than ceremonial reasons. As Carolyn dreams of Jeb as the gloating, murdering incarnation of his child-selves, Quentin and Barnabas steal the Naga Box. Barnabas attempts to smash it with his cane on the Leviathan altar, but a bat emerges from it and attacks him, fulfilling their threat against him.

I awaited this episode for a long time. Years. Far more years than one would think. It brings me profound joy. I’ll explain in a moment, and I’m sure you’re breathless with anticipation.

Before we pop the cork, though, let’s talk lobster.

The Leviathan storyline is like a great lobster dinner that begins with an enormous quart of terrible chowder. And you have to eat all of the chowder before they’ll bring out the lobster. At first smell, it seems okay. Smells good. We’re hungry. Looks okay. But because it’s Manhattan style, it’s a little weird. Not chowder as most humans know it. But not by definition terrible. And yet.... Barnabas is the villain. Julia’s the hero. Who are the Todds? Why do I care? But Quentin’s kinda back. That’s good. And there’s Roger Davis with a puppet-android of himself (still making public appearances, I hear). So that’s okay. Quentin wanders around Hell. And we finally get Paul Stoddard! But, um. Barnabas is the villain. Not even under his own steam. Who are the Leviathans? What the hay do they have to do with anything? Isn’t this show about the Collinses? Why do I care? Two words: Sky Rumson. And what’s up with all the kids? In the acting department, well, they’re no David Henesies, and they’re getting a lot of attention and… what on Earth am I watching?


And how much of this chowder do I have to eat? Because the more I get into it, the weirder it is. Like, cartoon-fish-skeleton-on-my-spoon weird. Just… well, now it’s bad. There, I said it. And I have to finish the whole quart before they’ll serve that lobster.

But, somehow, I soldier through. We’ve now eaten the chowder.

And in episode 950, the lobster is served.

Good lobster.

There’s a lot going on in 950, and most of it is on the bridge of the USS Collinwood… the Drawing Room. Because in 950, three eras of DARK SHADOWS converge. With Barnabas, restored at last to his full heroic nature, we have our first great hero, galvanized into action against the Leviathans. He faces the future of the show in the last* of their long-standing leading men, Christopher Pennock, and the first of his characters, Jeb. Between them? Quentin, the catalyst of the show at its most creative and freewheeling. His memory is restored. He’s well aware of his powers. And although his philosophy differs from Barnabas, the two are finally united in the modern era against a new villain, and one powerful enough to ostensibly demand their combined attention.

Given how fast the series would later move, I kindasorta wish they’d just started with Jeb as an adult. Once Pennock enters the scene and brings in the surly, discontented, revolutionary near-youth to counter the refined (if conflicted) ethicist, Barnabas and his cavalier, scoundrel cohort, Quentin, we see everyone in a slightly new light, and the show revitalizes in an instant.  For me, it is an all-too-rare glimpse of what I’d always imagined DARK SHADOWS would be when I was a kid and saw my first glimpses of Quentin and read the names of the Marilyn Ross books. So many of them pitted Barnabas and Quentin against appropriately ominous-sounding threats. It gave me an image of DARK SHADOWS as the story of two occult-busting monsters, teaming to show the bad guys besting the worse guys. As they openly confront Jeb and then try to steal the Naga Box, even though they bicker to minor extents, we really see a rare glimpse of that dynamic duo in action. Sadly, that energy petered out. There’s very little to throw against an immortal except for threats to his heart, and they’d just killed Amanda Harris, so yet another true love, too soon, would have slid the show into parody. Similarly, the combination of Quentin and Barnabas was too powerful a team of problem solvers to leave united. Pitting them against each other would have gotten monotonous, forcing the writers to the journey into the light made by one of the two, thus rendering huge chunks of storytelling irrelevant. We see how well a temporary return to evil did for the robustness of the series with the ‘conversion’ of Barnabas.

So, Quentin gets marginalized and David Selby recycled into reflections. These should not go too unrecognized. While there’s little encouraging to say about QC2 in PT, QC1 is a damn fine variation on the character, essentially fusing QC2 with Barnabas.

No discussion of the episode is complete without noting Chris Pennock, whose energy on the show is wholly unique. He plays Jeb’s love-driven evolution into goodness with a very deliberate pace. Do I see it coming? Of course. Carolyn could have turned the head and changed the heart of Genghis Khan. But Pennock and the writers reserve just enough unpredictability with Jeb that it’s clear that his path will be neither easy nor obvious.

At this point in 1970, the DARK SHADOWS staff was about three months away from shooting HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, which more-or-less started filming (or at least talking away major series regulars) on March 18. We are also three years to the day away from the accords that would end the Vietnam War. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What's happening with Dark Shadows at Decades?

Since launching back in 2015, the Decades network has had a pretty warm relationship with DARK SHADOWS. The show has been featured occasionally as part of its "binge" programming, and was even one of the first series to be showcased during the lead-up to the network's official launch. It also received a special episode last fall of it's docu-series "Through the Decades"  in celebration of the show's 50th anniversary.

Lots of fans have been asking for DARK SHADOWS to join the network's regular rotation, but that's yet to happen. But, if actress Kathryn Leigh Scott's Facebook page is any indication, something is in the works over at Decades:
Thank you for all the lovely birthday wishes! I'll be celebrating tomorrow with David Selby and Lara Parker . . . we're doing an interview for Decades! Honestly, what could be better than spending the day with dear good friends . . . decades indeed!
Feel free to speculate in the comments section below. Is there another binge in the works ... or something more?

UPDATE: Kathryn has shared a bit more information on Facebook. The trio were taping an interview with Herbie J. Pilato for the series "Then and Now." Any day is a good day to talk about DARK SHADOWS, but I'm still holding out hope that there's some mitigating factor for the interview ...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 25


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1200

Family patriarch, Justin, hovers near death, and both he and Morgan keep a careful eye for the spectral ‘woman in white,’ a figure who portends death for the Collins family. In 1680, ancestor, Brutus Collins, articulated the curse which continues to hang over the clan. Once a generation, when an elder dies, a lottery is held to determine which Collins is destined to spend the night in a haunted, locked room. None have survived. Those who have attempted to flee have found only death. Morgan Collins faces the prospect of the lottery with a strange determination. Gabriel Collins shows reasonable fear (mixed with alcoholism) and contemplates escaping. Bramwell Collins, a cousin and the son of Barnabas Collins, arrives after years away. He was determined to seek an autonomous fortune and is still on the quest. Although mocked, Bramwell remains quietly dignified, if somewhat edgy, in his sense of purpose. Justin, wrought with anxiety over the woman in white, makes his way to the forbidden room and dies. The lottery, then, is inevitable.

1841PT, for the first time in five years, presents us with an entirely new set of characters and situations. With no chain of associations to the original core characters, it can be a tough storyline to embrace. But with class issues, frustrated romance, and the haunting sins of the past ever present, it’s DARK SHADOWS in every sense. As it goes on, we’ll see it metaphorically wrap up the series, taking the characters exactly where they need to go. I am especially fond of Keith Prentice as Morgan Collins. A tall, dark-haired, intense gentleman, he’s in the classic, Dan Curtis mold. Yet there is a strange delicacy to him. Instead of weakening him, we see Morgan compensate with sheer determination.

The costumes are of similar note. Prior to this storyline, they were rented. Now, they were custom built and constructed in interchangeable modules allowing sharp fits, visual flair, and variety. It is a lively and refreshing look for the show.

Today is the birthday of Paula Laurence (b. 1916), who played Hannah Stokes, the aunt to Angelique and Alexis in 1970 Parallel Time. She had a distinguished Broadway career, dating back to the Mercury Theater, where she was a frequent collaborator with the great Orson Welles.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 24


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 417

After gaining Ben’s confidence that he will not attack Josette, Barnabas visits her one last time and is glimpsed by the Countess. Later, Josette admits reluctance to return home because she still awaits Barnabas to revisit her as he promised. Ben goes to the mausoleum to destroy Barnabas, but the ghost of Angelique appears and forbids him, vowing that the curse on Barnabas will last forever.

Because it focuses on the origin of the protagonist, 1795 is romance on DARK SHADOWS at its purest, and that means one thing: pain! Jonathan Frid appears in this episode with an especially delicate mix of passion, honesty, and conviction. His affection for Ben is particularly touching. Barnabas’ attitude toward social position sets him up for twentieth century life surprisingly well. Yes, there will always be class differences that are his birthright to enjoy, and yet he can look beyond those at individual merits. He’s not only freed Ben, but given him access to (some of) the family treasure and encourages him to move away. In so many ways, Barnabas is a man-of-tomorrow, ideally suited for his ultimate destinations. What I love in the show is that he’s not too much of one, though. Of course he won’t attack Josette as he did the girl on the prior night, and not just because of love. One is of noble blood and one is, well, not. Willie gets a sound caning because that’s how an aristocrat of the 1790’s did routine maintenance on home appliances. Yet Willie also earns the trust and respect of Barnabas… unthinkable for Joshua or even Edward. Barnabas Collins, for all of his willful ignorance, pride, and strange self-justifications is also a man of underrated merits. One of the smaller tragedies of the show’s cancellation and Frid’s disinterest in playing Barnabas was that we never saw him evolve further.

For me, there is a clear, final chapter in the DARK SHADOWS story that could not be told because of those limits. Because of the perception of the main story line’s final moments and the general reluctance to see DARK SHADOWS as one, large story, that final chapter never materialized. I love what BIG FINISH has done, and that is to continue the story. What is possible if it were to be to concluded. Of course, no two fans would agree on that conclusion. I would nonetheless be correct. And a statue would be made in my honor, as well it should.

In sadder news, today marks the 1984 death of Ronald Dawson, a day player who appeared twice on DARK SHADOWS, once as an art expert and once as a 1995 records clerk. A native of South Africa, he also appeared on Broadway in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, by Agatha Christie. In the same production, you would have seen Una O’Connor, best known as the most hilariously insane of the reactionary rednecks in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I know, I know. It’s all HAMILTON, HAMILTON, HAMILTON. Give me Una O’Connor any day.

On this day in 1968, Australia intensified its involvement in the Vietnam War and Mary Lou Retton was born. The two incidents are believed to be unrelated. 

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 23


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 416

Joshua returns to the new Collinwood in the wee hours to find Naomi, who informs him that Sarah has died in accord with Vicki’s prophecy. Visiting her in jail, Joshua rejects Vicki’s explanation that she is from the future, as is her knowledge. Later, Ben visits Barnabas in the mausoleum to describe Sarah’s funeral. Barnabas has heard his parents express genuine  compassion at the death of his sister, and is moved to agony. After pondering his options, Barnabas asks Ben to ready a stake and end his existence.

1795 is such quintessential DARK SHADOWS, but that doesn’t make it comfortable to watch.  It is nonetheless deeply fulfilling. An episode like this is the show at its most essential and primal. Let’s face it, even on an ensemble show, Barnabas is the protagonist. Although crucial things happen to him in other storylines, no other arc is his quite like this one. And there are few episodes in it that show such vital moments and decisions as poignantly. We may not know Vicki’s outcome, but we know Barnabas’. Still, the conviction with which the writing and acting is aflame is so intense, it’s easy to believe that we are seeing Barnabas’ best moments. Speaking of best moments of sheer drama, both Joan Bennett and Louis Edmonds are at their finest. Both Naomi and Joshua find strength through the appearances they carefully maintain for others -- even each other. To see those break down is just heartbreaking.

Notable on this day in 1968 was the capture of the USS Pueblo. It was a spy ship with a complement of 83 found in the Sea of Japan by North Korea. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Whale Songs: The Expanded Dark Shadows Jukebox (1966-67)

The jukebox at The Blue Whale had an absurdly limited selection of music. It's become a source of amusement to many DARK SHADOWS fans, even though few people consider this to be a legitimate "problem" with the series. We might make jokes, but it's actually kind of comforting to hear the same faux-surf guitar chords at the start of any scene taking place at Collinsport's favorite (and apparently only) hangout.

Equal parts indifference/budgetary restrictions meant that few pieces of music not written by staff composer Robert Cobert ever found their way to the Blue Whale's jukebox ... but what if that jukebox was stocked with pop music of the time?

It's a question I've asked myself a few times over the years. But it's harder than you might think to compile an honest selection of music themed for a very idiosyncratic television show. Left to my own devices, I'd probably just whittle down the tracks of the first three Velvet Underground albums into a single 70-minute disc, but that's a concept that wouldn't work for everybody.

A DARK SHADOWS playlist needs to reflect not only the era, but also convey something of the atmosphere of the original television show. It's essentially a diagetic soundtrack for the first year of DARK SHADOWS that doubles as commentary. #Pretentious.

Below you'll see a jukebox directory of my final selections, complete with B-sides. Any of these tunes would make a good soundtrack for getting punched in the jaw by Burke Devlin and/or kicking Willie Loomis' ass.

Go hunt for these songs on Amazon!

(UPDATE #1A few readers pitched song titles and bands to be included on The Blue Whale jukebox. Their ideas let me expand the list to include ten more artists. The new tracks are at the bottom of the page.)

(UPDATE #2You can now listen to the playlist on Spotify! As with any good jukebox, you'll find a few discrepancies between the tracks listed and the tracks available. Spotify didn't have every song on the available list, so I've patched the holes with a few different tracks. You can listen to them below.)


Friday, January 20, 2017

Remembering William Peter Blatty


William Peter Blatty died on January 12, 2017. He was born in 1928 and had just turned 89. The Pantheon shrinks, and we didn’t just lose the statue of a god. We lost the Colossus of Rhodes. Blatty is best known for writing THE EXORCIST and a string of less successful books and films. That’s the story, anyway. If you hew to that definition, you will miss out on one of the funniest, most exciting, most poetic, and most optimistic authors of that notoriously bleak period, the second half of the 20th century. In all of his major works, he is an advocate for the best in man. Relentlessly so. Literature, an art form that so often strikes me as a bleak and joyless carnival highlighting the most pedestrian of man’s shortcomings, is like a pirate ship assailed by Blatty. The optimism of William Peter Blatty is not mindless. It is well aware of every rotten thing we can do. It has observational wit that is so sharp and unforgiving, it makes IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA sound like FRIENDS. I had known THE EXORCIST to be That Really Scary Movie for People who Believe That Sort of Thing, but then, when I was 14 and knew everything, I had the chance to see THE NINTH CONFIGURATION on the big screen. The legend had it that you could only get prints from Blatty. The prints were always changing. And this was pretty much true.
It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. The film details life in an asylum for genius-level military officers who suffer an almost viral epidemic of madness. A very witty form of it, too. First of all, it was funny in a way I’d never seen. Profane, literate, obscene, absurdist, unpredictable, and intense. I’d rarely heard such laughter, and never at wordplay. It was the same kind of wit shown by Kinderman in THE EXORCIST and Dyer in EXORCIST III. This all makes sense given Blatty’s pre-horror career of comedy writing. The best example? The finest of the “Pink Panther” films, A SHOT IN THE DARK. I’m not sure that I’d ever seen a film that respected my intelligence as much… or that I’ve seen one like it since. In tandem with the humor, and often resulting with it, came a ringing debate about the existence of God. Although a devout Catholic, Blatty was brutally potent when arguing for atheism, as well. Blatty’s contention, through all of his mature works, is that goodness is proof of God in the same way that evil suggests a Satan. Usually, people just want to argue the latter. Not only does he argue for God-through-goodness, but by doing so, he argues for goodness. He argues not just for extraordinary goodness as proof of God, but for goodness’ very necessity. That sounds redundant and Pollyannaish, but the passion with which he writes overcomes those shortcomings. Blatty depicts the rarity and difficulty of that kind of goodness. It’s not really about head-spinning and take-me-take-me. It’s about a sack of burgers for a bum. It’s about the fact that the ill need extraordinary measures to heal, and that we have it in us to “love, as a god would love.”
I am far from a religious man. Ultimately, I don’t think that matters. Blatty’s theology is a theology of action. It is a theology that simply makes the world a better place, and does so with a sense of hope and possibility and confidence that happens all too rarely. It has beauty and poetry... and maybesometimeskinda results that are worth it. Often, they are not. But that problem is not with you. If anything, it’s all the more reason why the fight is worth it. The influence of Blatty in my life has caused me a lot of loss and pain. It has led to, yes, legions of armored and cynical people clucking their tongues at me, thinking me a sap for helping so-and-so once more. Yet I don’t like the other side of that choice. The alternative of a world devoid of help -- or of help limited to the moral-equivalent-of-an-extended-pinky sensibility -- is not a world I want to help build. So, yes, I guess there are lots of moments of Father Karras and “take me, take me.” The joy of Blatty and his influence is in the long game. It’s played with wit and awareness and irony and, most importantly, love. Rather than be weak, Blatty requires you to be the never-quite-ex-boxer that we see in Damien Karras.
The loss created by his death is balanced by the joy created in those few moments when the extraordinary and heroic kindness he advocated yields extraordinary results. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

David Selby in SIAMESE CONNECTIONS, 1973

Believe it or not, DARK SHADOWS is not the weirdest thing David Selby has ever done.

Hot on the heels of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, UP THE SANDBOX (with Barbara Streisand) and THE GIRL IN BLUE (opposite Maud "Octopussy" Adams), Selby appears on stage in SIAMESE CONNECTIONS. This is usually the point in the post where a blogger would start getting snarky, but SIAMESE CONNECTIONS was a production that defies snark. Hold onto your butts.

Written by Dennis J. Reardon, the production originated at the University of Michigan before finding its way to the Actor's Studio in New York with James Woods. It was the recipient of the 1971 Avery Hopwood Award for Drama.

SIAMESE CONNECTIONS made its mainstream debut in 1973 at the Public Annex Theater in New York. In that production, James Staley played a farm boy envious of his elder brother, played by our own David Selby. When his brother is killed in wartime battle, Staley goes all murder happy, offing his grandmother and a farm worker. Despite his character's death, Selby manages to remain an active participant in the story, returning as a ghost to haunt his brother.

SIAMESE CONNECTIONS also featured two perpetually geriatric actors: Roberts Blossom and William Hickey. Blossom went on to play a creepy old geezer in a number of movies, such as CHRISTINE, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and, most famously, HOME ALONE. He plays Selby's grandfather in this play.

The leathery voiced Hickey plays Selby's grandmother, a point which confused many critics. "Why a man?" asked Michael Smith in The Village Voice. "Are we moving back to an all-male theater?" You might have seen Hickey in PRIZZI'S HONOR, CHRISTMAS VACATION and as "Doctor Finklestein" in THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

SIAMESE CONNECTIONS ran for 64 performances, closing on March 4, 1973. You can see a selection of stills from the production below.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...