Thursday, October 31, 2019

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 bloodsucker 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. (At least any he was willing to share that day, anyway.) 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 was 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 and numerous Secret Service agents. 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.

"I'm afraid I've destroyed the illusion," Frid told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times about his costume fangs at the White House event. "I keep taking (them) out and showing the kids how they work and now they just don't believe anymore. It's just like grandpa's dental plate."

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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Burn, baby, burn: Dark Shadows goes to the disco, 1969

Halloween was a busy time for the cast of Dark Shadows. You could make the argument that every day was Halloween at the ABC studios on West 66th Street in New York City, but the rest of the world caught up to Collinsport for a few days in October, making the goings on there seems slightly less weird.

On Oct. 29 (and likely into the wee hours of Oct. 30) in 1969, the cast of Dark Shadows gathered at the Cheetah Club discotheque, located at 53rd Street and Broadway. The Cheetah Club was considered the first modern disco, attracting the likes of everyone from the Velvet Underground and Tiny Tim during the 1960s. Here's what Joel Lobenthal’s "Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties" had to say about the club:
"By the time Cheetah opened near Times Square in April 1966, the discotheque had become a self-contained Aladdin’s Cave, in which the visitor surrendered his or her everyday identity in search of Dionysian transport. Cheetah employed many conspiring elements to bedazzle its switched-on congregation. Banks of colored lights shone on its patrons. Suspended high above the writhing crowds, huge sheets of chrome—a giant mobile created by industrial designer Michael Lax—undulated rhythmically, while at the club’s opening night the customers echoed the mise en scene: “each girl was more electric than the next,” Eugenia Sheppard reported. “The swinging hair. The wild colors. The mini-mini-skirts.”...Cheetah initiated a trend by selling earmarked discotheque attire in a boutique included in a multi-level complex consisting of dance floor, underground-film screening room, and hot dog stand. The proprietor of Cheetah’s boutique noticed that many customers were purchasing clothes to exchange for those they had arrived in, so the checkrooms were specially expanded."
ABC's promotional party was held at the Cheetah in 1969, with cast members of Dark Shadows and One Life to Live making appearances. Naturally, the Collinsport gang shows up in costume. Attending were Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Joan Bennett, Grayson and Sam Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Donald Briscoe and Michael Stroka.

The day was harder on some cast members than others. Frid and Scott had spent the day working, taping episode 886 of Dark Shadows on Oct. 29, with Frid and Hall returning to work the next morning to tape episode 887. To make things more challenging, Frid was scheduled to attend the annual Halloween party at the White House on Oct. 31. The guy was a workhorse.

Below are some photos from the Cheetah Club party. Peter DeAnda from One Life to Live appears in one of the pics.

Special thanks to Howie Pyro at Dangerous Minds and the late blog It’s All The Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago for helping fill in the blanks on the history of the Cheetah Club.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Podcast: Return to House of Dark Shadows

Will McKinley loves House of Dark Shadows. As a high school student, working for actor Jonathan Frid nights and weekends on a series of one-man shows that had originated at fan conventions, the 1970 feature film was his gateway into the world of Dark Shadows.

Nancy Kersey, a creative collaborator with Frid in those days, does not love House of Dark Shadows, a film she believes does a disservice to the television series. On Oct. 19 they made a pilgrimage to Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York — the film's shooting location — to debate the merits of the big screen version of Barnabas Collins. Listen to it here!

They also snapped a few photos during their tour, which you can see below.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Marilyn Ross Codex #2: Victoria Winters


Welcome back, creepies, to the Alternate Collinsport of The Marilyn Ross Codex! Today we delve into the sophomore installment of this Earth-2 like canon, Victoria Winters. Though I have to say, these Ross books haven’t really wowed me just yet (like my beloved Big Finishverse has), but Victoria Winters is a marked improvement over the slightly stodgy introduction volume.

For one I feel like this second installment makes much better use of the expanded cast, mixing them all up in a plot involving a mysterious invalid, a hot older ex of Elizabeth Stoddard’s, and a possible serial killer with a ghoulish calling card. For another, it’s pretty damn weird! While the opening book was more about establishing the prose-only cast and laying out the groundwork of “Collins House”, Victoria Winters just GETS to it, throwing out the introductions in the first few pages and then just having a blast throughout eleven breezy chapters. All read lovingly and animatedly by Maggie Evans herself Kathryn Leigh Scott. But enough of my yammering, let’s get into it, yes?

So right at the top, Ross does a bit of housecleaning and I feel like this volume is all the stronger for it. Picking up a thread from the first novel, Ross reveals that Ernest Collins, handsome concert violinist and one of many of Victoria’s potential suitors, is back in New York, having been pressured back out of Earth-2 Collinsport due to townies thinking he killed his first wife Elaine, and subsequent lover Stella Hastings (a spectre that hangs over this whole novel). Carolyn and crystal ball enthusiast David are also shuffled out of the action this novel, having decided to take an extended Summer holiday away from Collinsport.

But Victoria Winters doesn’t suffer for their loss. Instead, Ross replaces them almost instantly, building out this novel’s main action around new characters Henry Francis, former beau of Elizabeth and “successful” stock broker, and his daughters, invalid Dorothy and ginger sex pot Rachel. The Francis family are in the market for new digs, so naturally Elizabeth offers to let them stay in a vacant “Collins House” apartment while Dorothy waits to be examined by a new litany of specialists. As soon as the Francis family settles in however, straaaaange goings-on start to stalk the great House. Specifically the ghost of Stella Hastings and someone with a real hard-on for trying to strangle Victoria.

So, not only do we have the apparent tried-and-true hook of “newcomers arrive in Collinsport, weird stuff follows”, but Ross’ prose here makes a pretty weighty meal of it. Mainly due to his (or maybe their? Pronouns are weird in regards to pen names) commitment to getting the whole of the cast in on the action. While Victoria is still very much the driving force of this action, characters like her friend and spitting image Nora Grant, her hot cousin and Collins family lawyer Will Grant, and even the irascible Burke Devlin all get meaty turns at trying to suss out the mystery of the Francis family and who exactly could be the “Silk Stocking Murderer”.

And better still, the whole affair takes some truly weird and Gothy turns. I’m talking people not saying who they really are, an attempted murder on Roger’s boat (oh yeah Roger has a boat now, its hilarious), and a haughty, also hot artist named Paul Caine who keeps skulking around Collins House. Tempering that weirdness is the renewed focus on soapy aspects of Dark Shadows, in particular the multi-angled love triangle Miss Winters finds herself in. Though Ernest is still in New York, his love still extends outward thanks to pointedly written letters promising to put a ring on it upon his return. Though Vicky isn’t just sitting by the window pining. No, no, dear readers because she starts to get the moves put on her by both Will (who I am into) and Paul (who I am NOT into). It gives the whole thing a nice bit of romance and sexual tension that I can always appreciate.

BUT, as much I liked this one, this range is still far from perfect. I still think the lack of production value really hurt these audiobooks. Now, I’m not saying that we need like a full range of sound effects and the like. But maybe just a BIT more of Robert Cobert music outside of the opening and closing? If only just to accentuate Scott’s wonderful reading cadence, which is even better here as she gets to lean into her innate charm and warmth.

That nitpick aside however, Victoria Winters is, I feel, is a fantastic follow up to the opening novel. One that displays a better handle on the alternate cast members and threads the needle between the soapy and pulpy tone of the TV series. The opening novel read like a fun anomaly, but Victoria Winters reads like a real-deal universe starter. One that can handedly sustain itself, while standing just slightly apart from its source material.

NEXT TIME! Strangers At Collins House from 1967! Apparently we get some of that sweet, sweet 1910’s action with this one. Until then, be seeing you.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 14


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 873

When Petofi enters Quentin’s body to journey into the future, will the sight of Beth Chavez force him to withdraw? Petofi: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Petofi successfully visits the Collinwood of 1969 before the ubiquitous wet blanket, Beth Chavez, drags him back to tell him his painting’s missing. Great. Thanks. He’s convinced that either Charity Trask or Barnabas stole it, and his confrontation with Barnabas ends in Quentin finding he has the power of the Hand. Meanwhile, Kitty realizes she is Josette, Barnabas and Quentin come clean about who they really are, and Charity has a dream sequence that either degenerates or elevates (your call) into a music video twelve or so years before the birth of MTV.

Fifty years has passed since this episode hit the airwaves, but when 873 was shot, the medium of TV had only existed for less than half that time. 3-4 choices (we miss you, Dumont). Only sixteen hours a day or so. Pretty, pretty vanilla. Other than a few science fiction and horror digests at newsstands and the occasional Ace Double, we were hardly living in the genretopia of today. The Dark Shadows stories become a lot bolder when you realize the whole cloth with which they’re tailored. Some of these story elements are not just Dark Shadows’ spin on them. They are some of the very first spins on them. To appreciate television of the era, remember that they lived in modern, rather than postmodern, times. We are used to everything being a “newer” version of something else that’s been done. In episodes like these, we get what feel like firsts.

In 873, Dark Shadows continues to explore time travel in the form of astral projection. In this case, it’s with a body that exists in two places at once. By using creative focusing and tight, controlled camera work, the producers ignore spectacle for storytelling. They end up depicting time travel in a palpably subjective sense that I buy far more than other types of presentations. Other attempts may capture the flash, but fail to capture the feeling. Here, that’s precisely what we get.

And that’s just in the first five minutes. After that, the episode gets really insane. I watched it over a hookah this morning with my father, who is not a seasoned Dark Shadows viewer. Perfect. Explaining it to him as it went really underlined the gutsy weirdness of the show and how marvelously they pulled it off.

The characters in this episode are Barnabas’ human “twin,” Kitty, Petofi, Quentin, Charity, and Beth. Or is that Original Barnabas, Josette, Quentin, Petofi, Pansy Faye, and Beth? Of that ensemble, Beth is the only one who actually “is” who they were initially cast to play. Someone call a Ph.D. candidate, because there’s a dissertation waiting to happen. Recasting the ensemble for 1795 was a risk that required Dan Curtis to defy conservative wisdom. But this sequence takes it to insane lengths. We have “contemporary” characters recast as new characters in 1897, and each is possessed by yet another character. It’s a tribute to long-form storytelling that they’ve made it somehow feel like the most natural thing in the world. More than that. It’s a tribute to the giddy joy of storytelling and the Russian doll nature of creating characters for others to play. How many layers do we really have? Is there a “real” side or is the real side all of them? The entire sequence begins when a vampire pretending to be a human becomes another generation’s vampire-pretending-to-be-human to reintroduce himself to a man he initially met as a ghost, but who will die for reasons that may relate to him secretly being a werewolf. In 1897, Barnabas goes from holding a near-monopoly on secret identities to being just one of the gang.

In an episode devoted to escape from a projected “self” and into the actual self, the strangest moment is, of course, the reason I watched it: the music video.

There is only one character on Dark Shadows more determined than a love struck Barnabas -- that’s Dan Curtis, determined to mine a second hit out of 1897 with “I Wanna Dance with You.” At this point, we’ve been assaulted by the song with a constancy that makes me think it’s some sort of supernatural aid designed to ward off evil spirits. Dan finally lays the I Ching wands on the table and almost-inexplicably introduces a psychedelic dream sequence where Nancy Barrett and David Selby are forced, good naturedly, to appear in what may be the first not-made-by-fans fan video. They not only sing the song, but lay some spoken word action on us as well. The soundtrack for the show had been a hit, and Dan was not running a charity. If the soundtrack were smoke, welcome to the fire.

And, all cattiness aside, it’s actually marvelous. It’s a strange and unapologetic confection that ends, reliably, on a note of terror, making the whole thing a shaggy dog that allows horror fans to not feel terribly exploited by a moment that goes gloriously too far.

873 is supported by unusually strong writing and acting as well. We’ve grown so used to David Selby-as-Petofi that we’ve forgotten the easy informality of Quentin. In this episode, he gets to play both characters, and the difference is clear. Kathryn Leigh Scott likewise plays both Maggie and Kitty, clear and truthful as always in both. And maybe there’s a bit of Josette who shows up. Jonathan Frid, however, steals his own show in his confrontation with Petofi, disguising his fear and playing his confrontation with a chessmaster’s confidence. Watch the scene and try to figure out when Barnabas decides to reveal and conceal what information. It’s a constantly shifting process, and Frid nails it in a word duel that stands as one of Barnabas’ finest and most self-assured scenes.

If someone thinks they know Dark Shadows, this should shake them up. It’s the show at its best and most ludicrous and liberated. Mid-to-late 1960’s television has yet to be topped for sheer imagination. Even though it was toiling away in daytime, isolated from evening audiences, Dark Shadows wasn’t just part of the fantasy revolution of the era… it was among its boldest innovators.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 29, 1969.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Documentary in the works about the life, career of Jonathan Frid

Previously unpublished photos of Jonathan Frid as Tullus Aufidius in Coriolanus (1955) and Barnabas Collins in House of Dark Shadows (1970).

Dark Shadows & Shakespeare: The Jonathan Frid Story

Upcoming Documentary Pays Tribute to 
Legendary TV Vampire & Stage Actor

MPI Media Group announces that production has commenced on the first-ever feature-length documentary devoted to Canadian born actor Jonathan Frid who became a pop culture icon with his portrayal of guilt-ridden vampire Barnabas Collins on the original 1966-1971 ABC-TV daytime drama Dark Shadows. The spooky gothic serial attracted not only housewives and college students but millions of school kids who ran home each afternoon, turning the classically trained forty-something Frid into an unlikely teen idol.

Dark Shadows & Shakespeare: The Jonathan Frid Story will reveal the man beneath the vampire’s cloak. The in-depth documentary explores Frid’s struggles, joys, artistic triumphs and rise to fame through the personal reminiscences of family, friends and colleagues Marion Ross, Dick Cavett, Christina Pickles, Anthony Zerbe, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Marie Wallace and others.  The documentary also includes rare clips, photographs and audio from Frid’s career in addition to previously unseen video interview footage.

Dark Shadows & Shakespeare: The Jonathan Frid Story is produced and directed by soap opera veteran Mary O’Leary, who has garnered seven Daytime Emmy Awards as producer of five daily dramas. She also produced the one-man shows that brought Frid out of retirement in the mid-1980s and back into the spotlight.  Executive Producer Jim Pierson has overseen and worked on Dark Shadows projects for three decades, including the 1991 primetime series and the 2012 film version.  He was also a producer of the 2019 documentary Master of Dark Shadows.

Dark Shadows & Shakespeare: The Jonathan Frid Story will be released by MPI Media Group in 2020.  For updates and further information, please visit the documentary’s Facebook page.

Friday, October 11, 2019

See House of Dark Shadows on the big screen tomorrow!

The first annual Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival is hosting a special screening of House of Dark Shadows Oct. 12 (that's tomorrow!) as part of its Dark Shadows: Behind the Screams event. Set to begin 1 p.m. at Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York, the screening will be attended by Jim Pierson, longtime curator of the franchise and producer of the documentary Master of Dark Shadows, Kathryn Leigh Scott, who starred in the original ABC series and House of Dark Shadows, and Mary O'Leary, who managed late Dark Shadows star Jonathan Frid and produced his one-man shows. Pierson will dig deep into the private archives of Dan Curtis Productions to present a never-before-seen look at the filming of the television series and original feature films, both of which were shot on location at Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown. You can read more about it HERE.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to design the poster for Dark Shadows: Behind the Screams. I think they'll have prints of it available at the event, but if you can't attend you can purchase a print in a variety of sizes directly from me. There are canvas, photographic and art board prints available, plus a few other odds and ends. You can order online from my Redbubble store at
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