Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 17


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1084

David and Hallie come to grips with the haunting by writing down their entire narrative in a notebook. Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw visits Collinwood and is asked to sense what he can of the ghostly entities there. He has visions of Rose Cottage and haunting music, but he keeps them to himself, a fact that frustrates Julia after she hears him playing the tune she heard in 1995. Shortly after finishing their notebook, the children are shocked to find that it has vanished, leading them on a hunt that ends at the playroom. Throwing the doors open, they see it being read by their 1840 equivalents, Tad and Carrie.

There are so many metrics for change in DARK SHADOWS (and the culture) in a four year span, and 1084 is as vivid as any of them. The 1966 show begins with sweaty businessmen, Brill-creamed and boozing, in skinny ties, holding court over missing pens in the drawing room. From there, we wind up with a darkly flirtatious Julia Hoffman, at Collinwood irrespective of Barnabas, confronting a leather tunic-wearing, long-haired astrologer about music from the future. And they’re the stars of the show right now! If there is any better argument against entropy, this is it.

After Jeb and Cyrus/Yaeger, Chris Pennock was unsure if he’d appear on DARK SHADOWS again. The words “hippie astrologer” were ones he didn’t have to hear twice. He found a darker, more vulnerable and secretive approach to take, differentiating Sebastian from Jeb. This is complimented by a heavier brow and more recessed eyes. With these subtle choices, he deftly avoided creating a “Pennock-type,” instead furthering a truly individualized roster of unique characters. It takes a delicate touch that pays off. Sebastian’s ambiguity is just palpable enough in this episode that he can get away with almost any story while accumulating just enough suspicion from the audience.

Julia, with great purpose, strides further and further into the position of unofficial, heroic lead, now with Stokes as her sidekick. It’s a shame that the proper breakdown of DARK SHADOWS and its various storylines is absent from much of pop media. Everyone’s losing it for the new, female Dr. Who, citing this as some kind of watershed, which it really isn’t. Over two decades ago, STAR TREK VOYAGER was a franchise tentpole with a female lead hero. And over twenty years before that? I give you Dr. Julia Hoffman… at least at this point on the show. She even passes the Bechdel Test, which measures female protagonists by their independence from romantic involvement.

On this day in 1970, we had a partial lunar eclipse and the American space probe, Venera 7, soft landed on Venus.

Louis Edmonds: The Country Gentleman of Collinsport, 1969

The Country Gentleman of Collinsport 

From "Afternoon TV" #9, 1969

by Jay Edwards

"Right now—especially when we go into the past—I always hope I can be a tyrant, or very selfish, or anything unattractive. Bad people are much more fun to play."

That terribly proper, terribly English, terribly dignified aristocrat who has been a star of Dark Shadows right from the beginning —that Louis Edmonds — had a teen age ambition that may come as a surprise to you.

"When I was a teenager I always wanted to play the villain in a cowboy picture," he said recently.

There's another interesting thing you discover in talking to him—he would probably still love to play the villain in a cowboy picture. You realize this when he starts talking in the present tense, saying "Actually, I could save them a lot of money, since they wouldn't have to hire a stuntman. I could do my own riding; I can even jump — moderately but not extravagantly."

Louis Edmonds, today, is a star. But the teen-age dream is still there.

There is also no reason to doubt that he could do it since he not only plays a country gentleman as Roger Collins— Louis Edmonds is a country gentleman. As a child (he was born in Baton Rouge on Sept. 24) he grew up on a sugar plantation near a levee on the Mississippi River, visiting his grandfather's farm in upstate New York during the summers.

"I was always around open spaces without really being conscious of it," he said. "I was very active in outdoor sports — not competitive things like football; I mean sports like riding and swimming. I did all the things little boys do when they grow up in the country."

That part of Louis Edmonds really hasn't changed as much as you might assume, considering that he is now a successful New York actor with two movies, several Broadway plays and almost three years of Dark Shadows to his credit. He doesn't live in an over-priced, noisy, hectic, uncomfortable Manhattan apartment. Louis Edmonds is still a country gentleman.

"About four years ago I realized that New York was changing," he said, "and I didn't like the city anymore. I still have an apartment here, where I stay when I'm in town, but I live now in a little New England-style farmhouse on Long Island, where I have maximum privacy."

Louis (pronounced Louie by his friends) was obviously reacting to his Southern boyhood when he withdrew from the hustle of the city, but the house itself is not necessarily done in a Southern style.

"When I was up in Cape Cod (Mass.) I saw lots of little farmhouses like mine painted in a pure blue with no green in it — there it's called Puritan Blue; in Virginia it's called Williamsburg Blue; some places it's called Dutch Blue — with white trim and bottle-green shutters. I liked it so much I decided to have my house done that way."

Somewhere between leaving the countryside of Louisiana and settling in the countryside of New York Louis Edmonds lost — obviously—the Southern accent that comes with a Louisiana childhood. Even when he is not playing Roger Collins he still has the sound and rhythm that has made English actors think he is English, too.

"It's not unusual for Southern people to do an English accent easily," he said, "but it has been a problem. As an actor I get typed as anything but an American — and that's not good.

"I can get back into a Southern sound if I need to, and I played a German in a movie once. I think I was blessed with a good ear for the way people talk; the only sound that's very difficult for me is the Midwestern or the Madison Avenue sort of businessman."

Acting—which certainly contributed to his present very correct English diction—has been the most important thing in Louis Edmonds' life. "I wasn't a very good student in high school," he said, " but I made the Honors List when I started studying acting at Carnegie Tech because expressing myself made me interested in learning. I didn't become aware of me until I started acting."

After he discovered himself as an actor in college he was off to the navy (he started as a pilot then became a Communications Officer in Panama), after which he wound up in New York (where he was once a doorman at Radio City Music Hall), then did a series of plays that finally led to Dark Shadows.

"l started out as a villain on the show, which was great fun, but they made me nicer as time went along. Right now — especially when we go into the past — I always hope I can be a tyrant, or very selfish, or anything unattractive. Bad people are much more fun to play."

Again the word villain, so unlikely coming from this gentle, flawlessly dressed country gentleman (he was wearing a terribly British brown jacket with short lapels which the wardrobe mistress had originally brought in for Roger Collins, gray pin-striped slacks, a brown pullover shirt, suede walking boots and one of those short-brimmed British caps made famous here by singers such as Donovan and Bob Dylan).

The fact is that Louis Edmonds requires challenge — like playing roles from Shakespeare to the musical version of Candide—and he most enjoys playing eerie, evil roles; roles unlike himself.

But his life does — unlikely as it may seem—include one thing very much in keeping with the foggy, mysterious world of Dark Shadows.

Louis Edmonds, in the comfort of his quiet, dignified farmhouse, really does live right across the street from a graveyard. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 16


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 565

Barnabas is tortured over the plight he suspects is being experienced by Collinsport’s new vampire. In between excursions to search for him, Barnabas returns the ring Vicki allegedly lost in the woods. This incites a skeptical Jeff to search the Old House, where he finds Lang’s notebook before being escorted out. Shortly thereafter, Tom Jennings attacks Julia in the basement lab.

I think this episode was written by Plato, in that it is an ideal example of the show at… if not its best, then its most entertainingly durable. There are multiple storylines that all crisscross through Nicholas Blair. We see characters evolving in unexpected ways, such as Barnabas mustering maturity about Vicki. At its worst, the ratio of exposition to new information is woefully slanted toward covering old ground. In the case of 565, I feel as if the show’s story is very deliberately advanced with each scene. Best of all, the characters show appropriate doubt in themselves, allowing them to contemplate aloud where they’ve been and where they’re going with cerebral eloquence.

It’s also a good opportunity to contrast Vicki and Julia. Because of Julia’s age, angularity, and more than occasional severity, we discount her too easily for the show’s leading lady. No, the story does not revolve around her, but it is through her mortal eyes that we see much of the action unfold. Her sense of heroism is unlocked by the story. Her moral compass, realigned by it. She is not a Collins, but she gives her all for that house, nonetheless. Like Vicki, she is something of an orphaned stranger at Collinwood, but Julia is a catalytic agent of action. For all of her moments of frightened “Barnabaswhatarewegoingtodo?” she’s just as likely to issue orders of the day. I like Vicki, but I often get tired of her baffled timidity. (In fact, the version of Victoria seen in the 2004 pilot is the only one I can really get behind.) Things happen to her. She is too often the object and too rarely the subject. Julia’s the opposite. And Julia has an arc, too, from shrill villain to brassy defender, with lots of steps in between. Often, Vicki’s arc is frustratingly restricted to going from, “I just don’t understand,” to, “I understand a little more than I once did, but that may not be saying much.”

Not only does Julia seemingly do more and make it through the entire show, her episode count is only two shy of Vicki’s. Vicki appeared in 347 episodes before vanishing. Julia? 345, returning from the past on her own two feet. (These numbers soar above Carolyn at 267, Liz at 264, Maggie at 203, and Angelique at 175.)

She’s also a Jackie Gleason fan. “Love is Here to Stay,” from the 1953 album "Music for Lovers Only," is heard playing as rare source music in her lab as she labors on the mate for Barnabas’ sake. The song says a lot about Julia, and is an Easter egg is useful insight.

In other news, it was the birthday of Gordon Russell. Born in Salem, MA, Russell is one of the two finest writers on the show. Christopher Pennock noted him as the man behind the show’s most sparkling dialogue. Sam Hall was about the gravitas. Russell was pure elan.

Twelve years prior, in 1956, the world said goodbye to Bela Lugosi. It wasn’t ready to, though, and I hope it will never be.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 15


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 826

Gypsies take Magda to the secret room in the crypt where she is to stand trial. Johnny announces that her jury will be comprised of dead murderers. She asks for a gypsy witness. Szandor appears, but as she tries to question him, she is constantly interrupted by King Johnny. She is sentenced to die. Johnny announces that her method of death is a game called ‘hunt the weasel,’ and she is the weasel. She battles various phantom gypsies, and once more, Szandor appears to her. She says he belongs to the dead and tearfully banishes him from the earth. The cliff of Widow’s Hill behind her, Johnny stalks Magda, forcing her toward the edge.

With a cast of nine, 826 is packed with both players and excitement. And yet, it has a strange intimacy; the only speaking parts are Johnny, Magada, and Szandor. Interesting to note that many of the gypsies should seem familiar. Henry Baker, who plays Istvan the mute soldier, can be seen as Jackal the Giant, towering over Jonathan Frid in Oliver Stone’s 1974 comedy, SEIZURE. Another, Joseph Della Sorte, was one of the “Buttons” that Joe Spinell witnesses about in THE GODFATHER PART II. (He was also on CAGNEY AND LACEY, with John Karlen.) Another gypsy, John LaMotta, also appeared on that show, as well as playing sweaty wife-beater model, Trevor Ochmonek, on NBC’s prequel to THE X-FILES, the science-fiction thriller, ALF. Additionally, he was Jake LaMotta’s nephew. Yet another gypsy, Victor Mohica, appeared in many of the same series as the others. I think they all appeared on that sophisticated comedy-of-manners, AIRWOLF. Norman Riggins, yet another gypsy, was a man of mystery. Know him by his subsequent appearance in THE ALIEN DEAD. As far as the final gypsy, Andreas, goes, we have feud on our hands. iMDB credits Joe Van Orden. But Craig Hamrick’s BARNABAS AND COMPANY, as well as THE DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC, cite the part as played by Ray Van Orden. Will any of us sleep? Joe only has one credit on iMDB, and it’s the episode. Nothing for a Ray van Orden. I can’t solve every mystery. I had a crush on Joan van Ark from KNOTS LANDING, if that helps.

On this day in 1969, the Woodstock music festival opened in Bethel, New York. A dream to some. A nightmare to others. It would be the basis for Colonel Robert Neville’s favorite documentary. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ratings Battle: Dark Shadows Vs Twin Peaks, 1991


Before FIREFLY came along, TWIN PEAKS was the poster child for great television shows cancelled too soon. The David Lynch/Mark Frost joint debuted to stellar ratings in the spring of 1989, but had lost much of its audience during the following 12 months. A television series hadn't lost its luster so quickly since BATMAN in the 1960s.

But there was another television show cancelled in 1991 that managed to hold a grip on its audience long after it left the airwaves: Dan Curtis' reboot of DARK SHADOWS. If you were to compose murder ballads for DARK SHADOWS (1991) and TWIN PEAKS, the verses would be almost identical. Both had incredibly strong openings, but fell victim to network uncertainty, shuffled schedules and multiple preemptions by news coverage of the Gulf War. Each production fought like hell to keep their audiences engaged, but were foiled by the inability of their respective networks (NBC for DARK SHADOWS, ABC for TWIN PEAKS) to provide them with ideal timeslots.

Those ballads, however simplified, are also accurate representations of what happened ... more or less. After reviewing the ratings for both programs, though, I was shocked to see that DARK SHADOWS, the little television show that could, had consistently stronger ratings in 1991 than its spiritual counterpart, TWIN PEAKS.

(Before I go on, let me stress that this is merely an amateur comparison of the ratings of two television shows. None of this is meant to suggest that these ratings make either show better or worse than the other. Good ratings do not automatically equal quality. In other words, there's no reason to fight.)

From the very start, the DARK SHADOWS "revival," as it would come to be called, was being compared to TWIN PEAKS, a show that arguably owed a debt of gratitude to the original 1960s gothic soap.

"NBC is expending a large amount of its attention on promoting 'Dark Shadows,'clearly hoping it can be the 'talked about' show this winter, the "Twin Peaks" of 1991, wrote Bill Carter for The New York Times in January, 1991. "Even the show's own producer, Dan Curtis, described it as a 'gimmick' show."

Unfortunately for TWIN PEAKS, though, when it broadcast its first episode of 1991, the series was already hip-deep in its creative nadir. "The Black Widow" aired Jan. 12 to approximately 10.3 million viewers, which is among the lowest ratings of any show broadcast that night. The following evening, DARK SHADOWS aired the first of its three-part debut, with 23.6 million people turning in. (A "thank you" to for providing a terrific archive of A.C. Nielsen ratings for 1991.)

Now, it's not entirely fair to compare a series premiere to a random installment of an established television series. But it's worth noting that TWIN PEAKS began the year on already unstable footing. And this footing would become more precarious throughout the rest of the season as it was shifted to different days and times before finally getting axed after its June 10 finale. By June, DARK SHADOWS had already been mothballed, having aired its last episode March 22 ... despite pulling in ratings consistently better than TWIN PEAKS.

A look at the ratings for both shows illustrates just how far TWIN PEAKS had fallen. NBC killed DARK SHADOWS after two months of episodes averaging a viewership of 12.5 million people. During its final months, TWIN PEAKS failed to reach even 10 million people, bottoming out for two consecutive weeks in 1991 with 7.4 million. The lowest-rated episode of DARK SHADOWS fared better than the highest rated episode of TWIN PEAKS.

So, when ABC brought TWIN PEAKS back from the dead for one week in June to air its final two episodes, its was an act of kindness. Even though the Lynch-directed finale was an amazing piece of work (and one of the best episodes of the entire series) it was incredibly unlikely that ABC would bring the show back for a third season. After all, at least once in April, TWIN PEAKS was the lowest-rated show broadcast by any network that night (April 18, 1991.) It finished out the year #100 on a list of 134 shows.

Below is a chart comparing the ratings between DARK SHADOWS and TWIN PEAKS during 1991. I've tried to group these episodes by their closest weekly counterparts, but schedule changes made that a challenge. Also, none of these ratings identify which episodes were preempted by news alerts.

KEY: A ratings point represents 921,000 TV households. Shares are the percentage of sets in use. Number of viewers is in millions.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 14


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1085

Daphne slowly seeds the path of the children with further opportunities to identify with their past doppelgangers, Tad and Carrie. Meanwhile, Julia and Quentin investigate the family history of the 1840’s and find the journal of Quentin Collins I, who discusses his theories on time travel and outlines his plans to build a staircase through time in the west wing around the spot of the playroom. Upon investigation, it’s nothing but a linen closet. Quentin later struggles to gain freedom his fascination with Daphne as the ghosts of Tad and Carrie continue to beckon to David and Hallie.

At the heart of what is so often the most dismissed and unpopular section of the series is a story that is the quintessence of DARK SHADOWS and, in many ways, brazenly defiant of its shopworn conventions. Perhaps more than any other storyline, this one is devoted -- with a very tight focus -- to the supernatural. No potboiler elements are simmering elsewhere. Discounting the Roxanne storyline, it’s right up there with Parallel Time in its extremely tight emphasis on one major threat that consumes all of the characters to the exclusion of subplots.

In middle of this emerges a post-Barnabas romance Julia Hoffman, arguably the hero of this arc. She contrasts interestingly with Quentin, and it’s a good example of the writers knowing on which side of the bread they’ve spread the butter of audience vicarious identification. A largely middle-aged, female audience is finally given a strong, middle-aged female hero. Grayson Hall carries the show effortlessly as she plows through the Collins history to get to the origin of these particular shadows of the past. It’s gently nostalgic to see Julia with longer hair going through the family history in the drawing room, just as she did when we met her, but now it’s no longer as a cover story. It’s to save an adopted family… adopted in the same way that the audience has. Not a Collins, either, she makes for the ultimate surrogate.

Contrast this with Quentin. By the time 1897 winds down, the writers have no idea what to do with this invulnerable immortal. Instead of making him a Man of Action, they leave that to the unlikely Julia as Quentin slides into hopelessly impotent lovesickness, once the domain of the good Doctor H. By this point, having been scared shishaless by Collinwood over and over, Julia has seasoned into a dogged adventurer before the audience’s eyes. If DARK SHADOWS is a story about finding and transforming into your true self, few do it quite like Julia.

On this day in 1970, Stephen Stills was arrested for drug possession.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Aug 8-11 Recap

If you've been paying attention to the Dark Shadows Daybook, you already know this was a weird week at the ABC studios in Manhatten back in 1967. When you live in Collinsport, it's reasonable to expect a timeslip or two. In New York City this week, though, something happened with the production that forced them to shoot episodes of DARK SHADOWS out of order.

If you've been following along at home, this might have made for a confusing experience this week at the Collinsport Historical Society. Patrick McCray has been chronicling these episodes as they were taped, which meant (for this week, at least) that episode 302 came before episode 300. It also meant that episode 304 came before episode 301. (Maddeningly, episode 303 was not taped until Aug. 14!?) So keep this in mind the next time you pester your favorite cast member about their experiences with the series. Odds are they were deeply confused and just trying to get through the workday with their skins intact.

Here are some highlights from the week that was, featured below in their proper narrative order:

Aug. 8, 1967, Episode 300
"Dark Shadows was not really genre television. It was a soap opera aired in the late afternoon for housewives, designed to sell canned hams and pantyhose. That makes the subversive moments enjoyed by the show even craftier." LINK

Aug. 10, 1967, Episode 301
"The centerpiece of this episode of Dark Shadows may be the series’ most famous verbal battle… that doesn’t result in gunplay, witchcraft, or a hurled brandy glass. It's also actor Jonathan Frid's favorite scene from the series." LINK

Aug. 7, 1967, Episode 302
"This episode is a special treat for fans of Grayson Hall. Is she at her most athletic in it? No. People looking for pursed lips, eyelashes the size of palm fronds, and sandpapery shrieks will have to wait. No one watching this episode could cite Hall for anything outside of insightful, shrewd, witty, subtle, and urbane gamesmanship." LINK

Aug. 9, 1967, Episode 304
"Do you want the Rosetta Stone for Dark Shadows? Okay, here it is; these people aren’t the sharpest stakes in the hunter’s bag. They can’t be. In fact, no main character on a soap can be. From a writer’s perspective, that makes for a helluva challenge. The characters on Dark Shadows are seemingly about as bright as they are allowed to be." LINK

On Friday, Patrick did the time warp to 1897 and found himself ankle deep in the battle of wills between County Petofi and Barnabas Collins. It's just a jump to the left.

Aug. 11, 1969, Episode 821
"Leave it to 1897 to deliver a wacky, splashy comic book of gypsy lore, threats, torches, and monologuing. And, in fine DARK SHADOWS tradition, it manages to turn five minutes of plot progression into twenty-two minutes of show." LINK

Friday, August 11, 2017

The first color episode of "Dark Shadows" turns 50

"Good news! This program, Dark Shadows, is now being presented in color!"

Those were the words that greeted audiences during the upgraded opening credits for DARK SHADOWS 50 years ago today. Granted, anyone with a color television set would have figured that out, having already seen a dazed Maggie Evans wander into the Blue Whale during the cold open. Still, it was a not-so-subtle reminder that audiences still watching their old black and white sets needed to get with the program.

The first color episode, #295, was taped July 31, 1967, following a week-long break to allow the production to make whatever technical changes were necessary. Sadly, the show's second color episode has been lost, and has been replaced in syndication and home video with a B&W Kinescope copy.

OFF TOPIC: It's end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)


So, there's been some weird shit going down lately in the Carolinas.

I should clarify: Some atypical shit has been going down lately, as opposed to our traditional "Let's rally around the confederate flag and pretend we ain't racist" foolishness. I've lived in the South long enough to be able to quantify that behavior, regardless of how depressing it can be. The same can't be said about our recent rash of cryptozoology news stories.

A “large bi-pedal animal covered in hair” was reported in North Carolina’s McDowell County last weekend prompting reactions that not even God could have predicted. Bigfoot was allegedly spotted in a forested area of the county, and might have thrown rocks at a group of Bigfoot "hunters." The group was scattering glow sticks in the forest in an effort to lure Ole 'Squatch into the open. “Its face was solid black, no hair on it. The hair looked shaggy all over,” witness John E. Bruner reportedly posted to the Bigfoot 911 Facebook group. (The group has since closed itself to the public, probably because of assholes like me.)

Buckle up, because this tale is about to get weirder.

Concerned that the residents of Greenville, S.C., might contract a lethal case of Bigfoot Fever, the city's police department asked people to refrain from shooting at the cryptid. You know, should he show himself in the area. Which he hasn't.

After watching this video from nearby Boone, North Carolina, Facebook followers and friends, I think we can say with...
Posted by Greenville Police Department on Tuesday, August 8, 2017

“If you see Bigfoot, please do not shoot at him/her, as you’ll most likely be wounding a fun-loving and well-intentioned person, sweating in a gorilla costume,” said a post on the Greenville Police Department’s Facebook page.

Speaking of costumes, a man named Gawain MacGregor came forward yesterday to suggest that he might have accidentally been responsible for the N.C. Bigfoot sighting. The Minnesota tourist claims he had been walking around the N.C. woods wearing animal skins as part of a ritual to “become one with nature.”

"That night not too long after I started wandering I ran into a couple of people little ways away. I was not in a very heavily trafficked area so I was surprised to see them and they were surprised to see me. So I just turned around and left," MacGregor told the Citizen-Times. "What was I supposed to say to them?"

Just a normal guy with normal interests.
Are we done yet? No, we are not.

Bigfoot is really small potatoes in the Palmetto State. Much like a once-outrageous rock band, Bigfoot has slowly become tame over the decades and has lost the ability to frighten people (2014's WILLOW CREEK being the rare exception.) Here in South Carolina, we've got a bona fide Spider-Man villain wandering our rural habitats: The Lizard Man. Our local cryptid was first spotted in Lee County, South Carolina, way back in 1988. Since then, he's made only sporadic appearances, presumably devoting his time and energies to other interests. He came out of retirement briefly in 2015 and looks to possibly make a full comeback this month.

"Could Lizard Man emerge during eclipse? SC agency says to ‘remain ever vigilant,’" is an actual goddamned headline published by an actual goddamned newspaper here in South Carolina. This headline comes courtesy of the Twitter feed of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.

"SCEMD does not know if Lizardmen become more active during a solar eclipse," the agency explains. "But we advise that residents of Lee and Sumter counties should remain ever vigilant."

Let's recap: We've got a rare solar eclipse heading our way on Aug. 21, a number of recent UFO sightings still being processed, Bigfoot reports, preemptive lizardmen warnings, and a nuclear showdown involving two international "leaders" with the self-control of silver age comicbook villains ...

Holy shit, I ALMOST FORGOT, Y'ALL. We also had a possible Chupacabra sighting in Santee, S.C. last week. A man named Doug Stewart posted a series of photos Aug. 5 he had taken at a golf course, asking "Can somebody pleeeeease tell me what the flock this is!?!?" His message was accompanied by the No, I'm not making this up hashtag, #ThatAintNoDog.

#ThatAintNoDog ... it's clearly a sick fox.
Not to be left out, Bumcombe County, N.C. has also had reports of a "devil dog," which was photographed as part of the state's Candid Critters program. The Charlotte Observer published a headline that read "Some say a chupacabra is on the loose" ending the story with an explanation that every "chupacabra" that's ever been studied has turned out to be some common North American animal. Which is a representative look into America's cultural psyche, frankly. "Mythical being spotted! Science has yet to prove its existence, but let's pretend that's not a relevant factor."

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 11


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 821

King Johnny believes that a faked “Petofi Hand” is the real thing, and uses it as evidence to put Magda on trial. Meanwhile, a gloating Petofi ponders 1969 and wakes up a chained Barnabas to threaten and menace him… generally because, well, he can. Later, we see the ghost of the man whose hand was posthumously removed to be the Petofi decoy. This causes enough chaos in the gypsy camp that Magda escapes.

Leave it to 1897 to deliver a wacky, splashy comic book of gypsy lore, threats, torches, and monologuing. And, in fine DARK SHADOWS tradition, it manages to turn five minutes of plot progression into twenty-two minutes of show. That’s what we love about it. In this sense, DARK SHADOWS creates some kind of temporal alchemy, and the only thing that explains how they pull it off is charm. If 1897 represents anything for the show, it is the zenith of its confident status as a video man-who-came-to-dinner, holding court in the living room and savoring the details and flourishes of the storytelling ritual. At its rambling best, DARK SHADOWS is the Orson Welles of video raconteurs.

If you break it down, DARK SHADOWS gets away with being boring because the writers find inventive ways for each character to endlessly question every fact, decision, and mystery of the show. Handed to the actors, they manage to execute those moments with enough decisions and discoveries (acting’s two best friends) to keep what should be stale incredibly fresh.

I have very mixed feelings about the appearance of Henry Baker in the episode. He plays Istvan, King Johnny Romano’s mute, chief soldier. Baker is a massive man who uses the guttural remnants of his voice to intimidating advantage. (The actor can also be seen as Jackal in SEIZURE -- with Jonathan Frid.) He’s also one of only two black people I recall seeing on DARK SHADOWS. When Magda goes running for the door and screams when she sees him, I wondered why he was so scary. He seems friendly enough, so is the unspoken message that he’s frightening because… do I really need to say it? Is the show so lily white that the appearance of a black man in Collinsport inspires that kind of fear? I’m sure it would be denied and rationalized around, but was that the unconscious message back in 1969? I hope not. I hope that Magda recognizes him from the byline for his Boy’s Life column. Or that he’s just tall and threateningly musclebound. But the semiotics hint at what may be an uglier truth. Politics is everywhere, my friends. Welcome to 1969 daytime TV!

On this day in 1969, Don Drysdale retired because of a shoulder injury. It is unclear whether he joined his brother in the Beverly Hills banking field.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 10


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 301

Barnabas is dissuaded from killing Devlin -- immediately, anyway -- by Willie, who stresses that Burke is well-liked, unlike Jason McGuire. Meanwhile, Vicki parses through her decision as Devlin mends fences with Elizabeth, a chat with whom helps Vicki make up her mind. Barnabas and Burke enjoy a tense drink at the Blue Whale as it becomes clear that Burke is amassing information to use against him.

The centerpiece of this episode may be the series’ most famous verbal battle… that doesn’t result in gunplay, witchcraft, or a hurled brandy glass. It is widely reported as one of Jonathan Frid’s favorite scenes. Burke and Barnabas enjoy drinks at the Blue Whale. It is a study in the fine art of playing the opposite. The more vicious the implication, the wider-eyed the innocence in asking, the more genteel the invitation to rumble. Burke likens their relationship to a game of cards. For Barnabas, it’s a saber duel. Burke takes the moral high ground until Barnabas points out that a card game can be just as deadly. There is a strange glimmer of affection from Barnabas to Burke, but I think it’s just the certainty of Devlin’s upcoming murder that is warming Barnabas’ heart.

Why did Frid love the scene? Playing opposites is always great fun and makes any actor feel like a smartypants. It’s all about implication, and that makes it into a game. Hinting at menace is great fun. Showing it is ultimately undignified. As far as hints go, these are some of TV’s most lethal.

On this day in 1967, BONNIE AND CLYDE was a box office champ, spreading the Gospel of the Anti-Hero across America. DARK SHADOWS got there first.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 9


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 304

As Julia and Victoria explore the implications of the girl known as Sarah, and question David accordingly, Burke begins thinking the unthinkable about Barnabas; could he be a vampire? It explains everything. At the Blue Whale, he gives Victoria one request: never go to the Old House.

Do you want the Rosetta Stone for DARK SHADOWS? Okay, here it is; these people aren’t the sharpest stakes in the hunter’s bag. They can’t be. In fact, no main character on a soap can be. If they were, the stories would be over in 3-5 episodes. From a writer’s perspective, that makes for a helluva challenge. The characters on DARK SHADOWS are seemingly about as bright as they are allowed to be. As the stories go on, the mysteries become far more cosmic, also helping. This episode shows a typical demonstration of the other saving grace that kept the characters from looking too dim: David. David is another face of the Cosmic Gilligan. The Cosmic Gilligan sees the most extreme of truths, but is never believed. We all feel that way at times, but children -- easily dismissed -- seem to identify with the Cosmic Gilligan most acutely. I think David is a woefully underrated reason for the show’s success. David is a bright kid who exudes untrustworthiness. The protagonists are seemingly intelligent, but have a primal unwillingness to believe David. Thus, all manner of skullduggery can take place over vast expanses of time as the characters are trapped by mutually dependent tragic flaws. And I have to credit the adults of Collinwood with this; David loves to lie, so they’re simply being vaguely prudent. With David as the keystone, though, the protagonists are led into new depths of misdirected disbelief, thus appearing far dopier than they are and slowing the stories to a soap’s pace. Today, though, Burke finally puts it all together, and you’d think that this would be curtains for Barnabas. Well, um, uh… no. That’s -- literally -- showbiz.

On this day in 1967, we lost the great, English playwright, Joe Orton. Author of LOOT! and WHAT THE BUTLER SAW, he combined the prurient irreverence of Benny Hill with the postmodern conscience of Tony Kushner. He was arguably one of the funniest men of the 20th century.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 8


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 300

At the Old House, Barnabas awakens and asks for Willie. Barnabas orders Willie to spy on Vicki and Burke as closely as possible. Is Barnabas afraid of losing her to Burke. Later, Julia reports to Barnabas that his cure is coming along. She accuses him of being in Vicki’s room. Barnabas admits to temptation, but nothing happened. Julia emphasizes that there must be no next time. He chafes at taking orders. Neither Julia nor he can afford the questions. He agrees to stay away from Vicki. Later in the garden, Burke reveals that he’s buying Seaview for Vicki, and then asks her to marry him. She loves him but is torn. She’d have to leave the Collins family. She needs time to think. Meanwhile, Willie sees all. He and Barnabas meet at the Old House, and he reports the proposal. Barnabas vows there will be no marriage. Devlin must die!

When we think of social issues on fantasy TV of the sixties, the conversation begins (excluding a few months of 1959) with TWILIGHT ZONE and ends with STAR TREK. DARK SHADOWS addresses political circumstances, too, but in the case of episode 300, it is with fear and the shackles of baffling tradition. In STAR TREK, differences are celebrated. In DARK SHADOWS, they are often (initially) seen as challenges to be hidden and overcome. If you examine DARK SHADOWS politically, it has moments that are shockingly conservative for genre television. However, DARK SHADOWS was not really genre television. I mean it. It was a soap opera aired in the late afternoon for housewives, designed to sell canned hams and pantyhose. That makes the subversive moments enjoyed by the show even craftier. Number 300 is not subversive, but it is sadly revealing of the era. There is a lot we take for granted now. Even I am bewildered by the 60’s attitude regarding Vicki and Burke. Really? Vicki’s marriage would necessitate her leaving her job at Collinwood? The assumption is that she’s immediately supposed to become a baby factory for Burke. For a show filled with strong women, is it all smoke and mirrors under this core ethos? Because it’s taken for granted. I’m sure women from the time would affirm that it’s an accurate portrait, and that makes the decision by several of the show’s actresses to remain child-free even more remarkable.

Just as significant is the conversation that Barnabas and Julia have about what life will be like when he’s a “normal” man with no secrets… someone who can “love like a normal man.” Okay. New York. The Sixties. The theatrical arts. Haven for confirmed bachelors. Wallace and I have written about homosexuality in and around DARK SHADOWS before in separate essays. Secret identities. Living in various closets. The family can never know. Tortured yet compulsed. If you see their real self, you’re horrified. Vampirism is a razor-pointed metaphor for the pitfalls and power of closeted gay life in the 1960’s. Metaphorically, the secret of the Collinses isn’t that some of them are monsters….

On this day in 1967, the Association of South East Asian Nations was formed.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 7


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 302

Barnabas is tense about the progress of his cure. He shares his frustrations with Julia, and discusses the growing presence of Sarah, and how he feels morally monitored. Later, Barnabas overhears Vicki accepting Burke’s marriage proposal. Since the costume party, Barnabas has likened Jeremiah to Burke (and Burke to Jeremiah) more and more. After overhearing the proposal, he tells Julia to finish her cure. He will win Vicki.

Today is the anniversary of both the death of Grayson Hall and the death of David Ford. In the realm of brooding, red meat, American practitioners of the Stanislavsky system, they may be the show’s most accomplished actors. This episode is a special treat for fans of Grayson Hall. Is she at her most athletic in it? No. People looking for pursed lips, eyelashes the size of palm fronds, and sandpapery shrieks will have to wait. Those are awkward installments for Hall, used as evidence to accuse her of inept performing. Moments such as those are incredibly hard to pull off, and we’re used to seeing ingenues in peril, not sassy, middle-aged women. These critics need to get over their ageism. People in peril generally do look awkward. Their lack of certainty is what puts them in peril in the first place. No one watching this episode could cite Hall for anything outside of insightful, shrewd, witty, subtle, and urbane gamesmanship. It is slick, truthful stage acting at its finest. A Hall performance in an episode like this has a subtly ferocious and predatory power. Maybe that intimidates some viewers into seeking out fault with her elsewhere. They’ll do it without my help. Hall really plays a subtle gamut in this installment, also. She transforms from confidence to caution to muted scorn as she goes from holding the cards with Barnabas’ cure to realizing that she’ll lose him to Vicki directly after. She also goes from on the rhetorical run from Liz’s q&a to running the conversation with a social magician’s aplomb. She doesn’t just ape the urbane sophistication we hope to see in the show; she embodies it.

On this day in 1967, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was a box office champ. While it is a spectacle of the first order, it was the first time the Bond films went too far. The next offering would be a subtler piece, closer to Fleming. Thus, the Bond cycle of intense to outrageous begins. 

UPDATE: Who won the Miss Ghost America pageant?

"This calls for a beauty pageant!"

The marketing department at MGM must have been an interesting place to work during the early 1970s. The studio was probably grateful to have a brand like DARK SHADOWS in its stable, even if that relationship was fleeting. While the first film in the truncated series is credited with saving MGM from the first of many flirtations with bankruptcy, the marketing for the film underlined a profound lack of understanding of the property. The PG film was sold to audiences like an exploitation picture, its many taglines littered with double entendres that suggested sexual content that wasn't there.

If you have trouble reconciling this cognitive dissonance, it gets stranger: MGM also tacked on a series of beauty pageants to the promotion to help sell the film. I don't know who watched the dark, nihilistic HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and thought "beauty pageant," but that's inevitably what happened.

And when it did, it happened on a grand scale. Regional competitions were conducted around the country to find "Miss Vampire America," with the winners moving on the finals in Los Angeles. They even managed to rope Jonathan Frid, Nancy Barrett and Regis Philbin (?!) into the fun. You can read more about that competition HERE.

MGM must have liked the pageant idea, because they followed it with "Miss Ghost America" as part of the NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS campaign the following year. Unfortunately for all involved, the DARK SHADOWS television series had already been cancelled by the time the competition was announced. Miss Vampire America had the chance to win a spot on an episode of the gothic soap; Miss Ghost America had to settle for an appearance on THE DATING GAME.

"Wait a minute ... you're not Jim Lange!" 
Here's the advertised elevator pitch for Miss Ghost America: "Contestants may compete in any attire or make up they feel will be consistent with the image of Miss Ghost America. They will be judged on the originality and imagination of their conception of Miss Ghost America and their potential qualities for television performance." 

John Karlen made an appearance at the Aug. 28 regional competition that year, held at the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. The winner was crowned Sept. 25 on FRIGHT NIGHT, a television horror show produced by KHJ-TV in Los Angeles hosted by "Sinister Seymour." Competing in that event were Kate Sarchet, the Los Angeles regional winner, Summer Robin Bartholomew of San Francisco. Nancy Bonsall of Philadelphia, Nytza Diaz of New York, Elaine La May of St. Louis, Layne Merrell of Dallas, Carolyn Norman of Charlotte, N.C., and Dianna Owen of Gary, Indiana.

I can say with absolute certainty that one of those women won the contest. I'm just not sure which one it is.

Newspaper accounts of the Sept. 25 event identified Kate Sarchet as Miss Ghost America. At the time, Sarchet was an 18-year-old student in UCLA's drama department. She later had small roles in Michael Ritchie's SMILE and Carl Reiner's THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS (where she's credited with playing "Hooker #2") before going on to get her Ph.D. in psychology. She sounds like an interesting lady.

And then there's Summer Robin Bartholomew, who'd go on to win the Miss USA Pageant in 1975. An obsolete Geocities website for the actress has a list of her credits, including one for "Miss Ghost America MGM." Sure, this might refer to the regional title (Bartholomew won the San Francisco event) but that credit muddies the water slightly.

Bartholomew was later a substitute "letter turner" on WHEEL OF FORTUNE in 1979, and auditioned for the spot full-time when it opened in 1982. She lost to Vanna White, but was hired as the hostess for NBC's SALE OF THE CENTURY in 1984.

So, who really won the Miss Ghost America pageant? Sacheen Littlefeather was the Miss Vampire America winner in 1970, but it was regional winner Christine Domaniecki who got the guest spot on DARK SHADOWS. Consequently, it's Domaniecki that history remembers as the pageant's winner (at least, for the few of us who still think about such things.) Finding out who got THE DATING GAME gig might clear things up, but 40-year-old game show records are a little difficult to find. Sarchet was most likely the winner of the national contest, but it's unclear if she's the contestant that appeared on THE DATING GAME.

But there's one interesting account of Miss Ghost America's game show appearance online ... though it doesn't identify the pageant winner by name. THE DATING GAME host Jim Lange died in early 2015, prompting writer/comedian Will Durst to share the following anecdote on Facebook.
"Was on the dating game in 1972. Won a date with Miss Ghost America. She was gorgeous. The other guys both looked like Mark Spitz. I had hair down to my shoulders, glasses and was wearing a white jacket with a psychedelic tie. Her face visually blanched when I came around the wall. The couple before us went on a date to Japan. We got to go to the zoo in San Diego. Jim Lange thought it was funny."
It gets worse!
"Miss Ghost America totally ignored me on the date and hooked up with the golf pro at the hotel we got a free round of golf at. Which left the chaperone and me to drink in the hotel bar. Drank so much. Missed the ride back to LA the following morning. And had to get back on my own. First national TV exposure was pretty miserable."
UPDATE: We have a winner!

Reader Gary P. has unearthed a photo from the Miss Ghost America pageant, along with some information about the event's judges. The information came from a story published in the Oct. 2, 1971 edition of The Daily Report, a newspaper serving Ontario-Upland, California. He writes:
I found that the judges for the contest were Nancy Anderson, West Coast editor of Photoplay Magazine; Dick Strout, syndicated radio-TV commentator; and Gene Banks, producer of THE DATING GAME. The article also confirmed Miss Sarchet as the winner.
Gary included a screenshot of the newspaper photo, which you can see to the right. When the photo was published, DARK SHADOWS had been off the air for exactly six months, which probably explains why nobody from either the series or the movie were present for the pageant. The band has essentially disbanded, so to speak, and the film's cast members that might have been inclined to attend were still living in New York City at this time. (Although I'm 99 percent sure that Lara Parker, who had been promoted as the star of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, was already living in Los Angeles at this time. She, along with future Dead Kennedys frontman Brandon Cruz, appeared in the first episode of KUNG FU, which was broadcast the week after this story was published.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 4


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 816

Barnabas is now the captive of Petofi, who chains his coffin. Petofi says their battle will continue until Barnabas gives up his mission to the past, attacking those in 1897 and in 1969. Petofi may begin his attack with the use of a single name: David Collins. Petofi enters a trance, commanding Jamison Collins to meld minds with David Collins. Jamison awakens with David’s mind, calling Nora “Amy” and demanding she call Quentin’s ghost on the phone. He has no idea it’s 1897.  When Tim Shaw is unable to get the package left with Amy, Quentin tells him to go to the abandoned mill. An awakening Jamison thinks he’s dead, and that they are both ghosts. It’s just as the ghost of Quentin promised. At the mill, Tim accosts Aristede with a gun, but Petofi intervenes. Petofi reveals he’s 150 years old, and that the hand is his. He holds it aloft in victory. Petofi may help him seek revenge on Trask for a price. Tim leaves, and Quentin enters with Jamison, imploring the count for help. He explains the possession of Jamison by David. It was a name Jamison mentioned from a dream. Quentin reasons that Petofi owes Jamison a debt for serving as a vessel. Petofi impishly wonders if he will or will not help. Jamison murmurs for Quentin. But how is that possible from a boy from 1969?

This episode would air on the day the Manson murders were announced. Suddenly, I suspect that television horror seemed much safer to the parents of 1969. I wonder if this somehow, even unconsciously, shaped the next storyline. The Leviathans are, if anything, a family. The episode’s highlight for me is Petofi’s impish uncertainty over whether he will or will not help Jamison. Sloppy writing? On the contrary. It is marvelously controlled chaos. Petofi is one of TV’s true original characters, reflecting the ripe ingenuity of the show’s writers. He is like Kramer in his wondrous uniqueness. I envy audiences of 1969. This is no longer a soap opera; it is grand opera... with a libretto by Stan Lee.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 2


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 297

As Sam and Joe contemplate moving Maggie elsewhere to avoid her kidnapper, they find that Maggie has no interest in running. Nor does she have any memory. When she is visited by the ghost of Sara, Maggie only thinks her to be a local girl.  Later, when Barnabas visits, she shows no fear of him. He is, however, deeply disturbed by the news of Sarah's visit. When he visits Maggie that night to watch her sleep, he hears Sarah singing and demand to When he visits Maggie that night to watch her sleep, he hears Sarah singing and begs to know what she wants of him.

The Sarah Storyline really, officially, we-mean-it-this-time, begins. With it, the redemption of Barnabas Collins. I contend that the story of Barnabas is one that is only properly understood if you begin in 1795 and move forward. Because of hasty choices and a conflicted heart, events in Barnabas’ life snowball to such an extent that love becomes a punishment rather than a reward. Nowhere is this more poignant than in the denial of Sarah’s love. In a life devoid of love, the quest for power can become the most powerful motive. But Sarah, who refuses to appear to Barnabas, teaches him that the quest for power is no substitute, because it will never grant him what he truly wants. He just wants his sister back. The sister whose impending death propelled him to marry Angelique. The sister who died,nonetheless. He failed her and he failed himself, and if the true curse of Barnabas Collins is his inability to forgive himself, at least she might be able to do so. That she doesn’t? He is left with no choice but to change. Barnabas Collins must find not only the man he used to be, but one far nobler, wiser, stronger, and worthy of love than he ever knew possible. He must fulfill the potential that Jeremiah showed. He must love as much as his father scorned. He must be model David will never find in Roger. He must be the champion who will inspire Quentin to push through tragedy and unleash the hero within. That’s real power.  Angelique’s curse was as much a gift as a torment. It was a fire that burned away his mediocrity and then his petty impulse for evil’s easy way out. What is left is the true Barnabas Collins, and the one we know from the hundreds of episodes to come after he destroys Nicholas’ equipment to revive Eve and commits himself to his ultimate moral journey.

The most important event for this day in DARK SHADOWS history happened in 1966, and that would be the first appearance of Thayer David, who would still be with the show five years later in the last episode and in his ninth role. 
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