Thursday, August 1, 2019

Sy Tomashoff 1922-2019


Along with Bob Cobert, there is one man who appeared in every episode of Dark Shadows, and did so while balancing the impossible. He was artful and practical at the same time, just as he was menacing and nostalgic at the same time.  He was past and present at the same time. Grand and forbidding, and warmly domestic. Ancient and new. City and country. Rich and poor. Innovative and innocuous. Secular and supernatural. And most of all, inevitably iconic.

Scenic designer Sy Tomashoff was not only responsible for the look of the continuing world of discovery and time travel on the program, but also for its sense of time, itself. Chronologically, yes, but also as the prison first Presented by Collinwood for the viewers. He never had the luxury of not thinking ahead. Would the show be going to color? Would the show be going to unknown storylines? Would the show eventually feature something actually scary? He was responsible for the look of the program in the present, and was constantly preparing for what the show might be in the future, an impossible feat.

Oh yes, and he did all of this in a space with less versatility than a bowling alley. Making room for actors, technicians, and three, cable dragging, giant television cameras. In fact, on Dark Shadows, he helped envision, plan for, and execute one of the first three camera programs in the daytime television industry.

In assembling a program, no one really knows that he is creating icons. They have too many jobs to do. The best evidence for his genius may be seen in the other versions of Dark Shadows, Most of which already provided mansions and mortar from previously established buildings. Those versions prove an unmistakable point. They either had real locations, such as Lyndhurst and Greystone, or grand designs that rose from a backlot to be as grandiose as possible. Indeed, they were authentic and fanciful, but the pre-existing structures and backlot behemoths lacked something essential. Collinwood must be a source of fear and a symbol of wealth while also being a source of loyalty and warmth and family and a thing worth defending. Creating that visual world was one of television’s great accomplishments. The subsequent versions and visions of Dark Shadows were grand design. But Tomashoff did that while creating a home.

Sy Tomashoff arguably had more influence on the program than anyone short of the show’s musical composer. He continued to work for decades, exploring the possibilities for visual storytelling in the strangely rigorous world of daytime television. He is a legend to other designers in the industry. And his genius lives after him, defining Dark Shadows in every frame.

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