Monday, March 4, 2019

Spooks haunt Tarrytown estate, 1970

The Collinsport Historical Society's new Facebook group The Drawing Room has really been a boon. Lots of readers have helped point the way toward trivia and newspaper clippings, so much so that I'm rushing just to keep up with them. This one comes courtesy of  reader J.R. Nichols, who is as much a clipping junkie as I am. It's an early newspaper account about the making of House of Dark Shadows, at this point still just titled "Dark Shadows." It's interesting for a number of reasons: It includes a rare photo of Kathryn Leigh Scott and Donald Briscoe on location, and it makes mention of many of the behind-the-scenes crew of the film. You can read a transcript of the story below.

Spooks haunt movie making on Tarrytown estate
By Blanche Feldstein
The Journal News (White Plains, New York)
April 4, 1970

If Washington Irving's ghost is wandering around Tarrytown, these days, he will be surprised to find at Lyndhurst some spooks who never haunted his tales of Sleepy Hollow.

Kathryn Leigh Scott and Donald Briscoe look over the script
 for "House of Dark Shadows" on location at Tarrytown, N.Y.
The vampires and ghouls occupying the imposing former Gould estate are part of a large cast and crew who are filming "Dark Shadows," MGM's new film based on the afternoon TV soap opera. Tarrytown is accommodating itself to the influx of celebrities, having already hosted two other films. "Lovers and Other Strangers," a Hollywood production, was shot at the Hilton Inn last fall, and the "Ceremony of innocence," an off-Broadway play for TV, used the Axe Castle as a set.

Lyndhurst, the charming gothic mansion, used as a country home by the Duchess of Talleyrand-Perigard, has taken on the eerie qualities of the movie plot. The gelled windows reflect the grim tale of lust and love played out by vampire Barnabas and those he gets his teeth into. The actors and actresses including Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas, and Joan Bennett, who is the elegant Elizabeth Stoddard Collins, in the movie, are imported daily by limousine from New York City.

Monday's bright sunlight after Easter Sunday's surprise snow kept the vampire Barnabas from appearing on the set. But Miss Bennett arrived late and told of the traffic problems which made the usual one-half hour commute to Lyndhurst into an hour and a half. The snow, wrong for the fall setting of the film, forced director Dan Curtis to call an unscheduled indoor rehearsal.

The stars, actors, sound crew, lighting crew, equipment and props moved into the mansion where the priceless collection of furniture, ''objects" and Tiffany glass will lend authenticity to the incredible story. As on the soap opera, the actors play the scenes straight, vampires and victims take their roles seriously.

Making a movie is grueling business. Director Curtis shouts to an actor, "If you don't step in, the whole scene will lay like a lox," as the scene is hot for the 25th time in a half-hour. Kathryn Leigh Scott, seductive young romantic lead who as Maggie Evans captures the vampire's affection, gets kissed about 300 times in one hour by Roger Davis, tall, blond and handsome, who plays Jeff Clark.

Kiss of Passion 
Each time, the kiss must portray passion, concern and tenderness. The director shouts for quiet in the hall. Filled with workers, photographers, makeup men who rush in every other minute to fix Kathryn's hair and powder her nose sound effects men and miscellaneous Lyndhurst personnel, total quiet is not easily accomplished.

Everyone tries, however, and stands frozen from the few minutes the shot is being taken. The actors and actresses with seeming infinite patience get new directions and start the scene all over again, until the director is finally satisfied.

Nancy Barrett, a wispy young actress with long blond hair, who plays Carolyn Stoddard, one of the vampire's victims, has the bad luck to become a vampire herself. Even as a vampire, her lot is not happy. After biting a few people, she is killed by a stake driven through her heart.

Last week, the scene where Carolyn tries to kill David Collins, is played by 14-year old David Henesy, was shot for three long hours in the freezing temperature and decaying atmosphere of what used to be the Lyndhurst swimming pool building. Offering a perfect setting for a murder, the gigantic former pool is surrounded by large pillars, partially eaten away by mold. The debris, mud and ice on the floor is caused by the leaking roof.

Shivers in Shroud 
Dressed only in a shroud over a body stocking, Nancy emerged shivering from the building and spoke of her role which she has played for four years on the soap opera. Biting has become a habit with her she explained and she finds no difficulty playing a vampire. Hot coffee was being sued on the grounds, but Nancy was afraid to have some since the only rest room was over a mile away from the pool building.

Bob Laden is the makeup man for the show. "Have blood, will travel," he says as he dashes around fixing faces and wounds with the proper gore. He also carries vampire bites, vampire teeth and lots of false eyelashes. Prop man is Michael Maloney, who weaves spider webs out of glue and creates fog out of carbon dioxide. He also has a wind machine to get the eerie effect' of the capes blowing in the wind.

Make believe Is very much in the mind of young Henesy, especially since the story calls for his being hanged. "Is that my hanging closet?" he asked the workmen as they carried a large wooden box gingerly through the front hall of the mansion. David explained that he really gets hung on a harness attached to a canvas vest he wears. "It's all fake," he says, "there's no way I can be hurt."

Never be the Same 
When the actors, directors, photographers, sound men, makeup artists and vampires pack up their gear and leave, will Lyndhurst ever be the same?

Hopefully no, says Gerald Fiedler, director of Lyndhurst. The guides and visitors feel the rooms come alive as they are used as settings for the film. An increase in visitors is excited.

Lori Watson, 20, of Yonkers, who works as a guide says, "Naturally it's much different because of the sets. The garden room is being used as a sheriff's office. People are shocked by the darkness but also are thrilled by being on a set."

Mr. Fiedler has some exciting long-range plans for Lyndhurst which includes creating a theater for stage productions and concerts out of the swimming pool building, restoring the greenhouse, the carriage house and barns and possibly creating a restaurant on the grounds. Although a 515 million project, Mr. Fiedler is optimistic about accomplishing much of the restoration, within the next five years. Meanwhile Tarrytown end Lyndhurst are getting known as a good place to make movies.

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