Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 27


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 222

With nothing to lose but his inhibitions, Barnabas explores the wild world of male modeling to win Maggie’s heart. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas, eager to have Maggie in his home, asks Sam Evans to paint his portrait. Probably also so he knows what he looks like. Sam agrees, and the two men start working late at night.

Barnabas awakens to find himself in a new world of gods and coincidences, although I suspect he’s wishing that Maggie’s dad were a contractor, given the state of the Old House wallpaper. The coincidence leads to one of Dark Shadows’ classic moments and raises questions about practicalities, as well.

Critics of the show would be hard-pressed to cite this with the usual cavils of chintz and camp. It’s spare and elegant, with Jonathan Frid delivering a performance that’s somewhere between little-boy-lost and utterly sinister. His chemistry extends to the entire cast, and the result is an unusually tight episode. It has an ending we all see coming, but is still redolent with mystery and implication. Sam insists on finishing a final detail on Barnabas’ portrait as the sun begins to rise. As he finishes, Barnabas has escaped, impossibly.

That’s the moment, and we enjoy it three ways. Even a new viewer is Barnabas’ secret confidant, knowing what Collinsport doesn’t. But we don’t know everything, including what he’s up to or how far this will go. And at the same time, we’re seeing Sam’s model vanish from his point of view, and can enjoy the eerie mystery, and wonder if either artist or model will return the next night.

As schemes go, this whole painting business is yet another moment that makes Dark Shadows the most poker-faced sitcom on TV. Like a love-struck 14-year-old, Barnabas comes up with every scheme possible to “just accidentally” keep running into Maggie as if he’s getting advice from Ralph Mouth and Potsie. This is right on the heels of the moment where he just-so-happens to leave his cane at the diner (so he has another excuse to see Maggie). In this case, he schemes to have Maggie’s dad paint his portrait under ludicrous circumstances so that he can again be in her company. You call it creepy. I call it adorable. It’s beyond a meet-cute. It’s Barnabas’ wacky concession that it’s a new world. What were his prior courting opportunities? He’s exhausted himself looking for a good cotillion or public hanging, and with those surefire heart-melters gone, he has no choice but to resort to schemes. I think such Puckish madness is the only reason WIllie puts up with him. Well, that and the threat of constant beatings. The comical highlight of the episode may be when Barnabas and Sam are awkwardly negotiating on a price, and Barnabas offers to pony up a grand. That’s well north of $6000 in 2020 money. But when was the last time Barnabas commissioned a portrait of himself? The last thing he paid an artist was probably three casks of rum and the promise to keep Ben Stokes off the lawn. Come to think of it, Sam probably would have gone for that, too, and never mind that he’s never heard of Ben Stokes. Barnabas is not exactly in his element here. Locked in a coffin since the Washington administration. Resorting to feeding off Willie. Living a renovation nightmare. Can’t find a good jabot at Brewster’s. And then there’s your ex-fiance. I mean, right there. So, how cool can he be? If he tried to play it smooth, he’d wind up looking like Sinatra in the love beads when he Did His Thing with the Fifth Dimension. And no one wants that.

Except for me.

In the best scene of the episode, the irony train roars through the Collinwood foyer at full blast. Maggie comes by to report to Vicki that Barnabas might as well be converting the Old House into an artist’s colony with impassioned and demonstrative treatises on naturism inevitably to follow after the fifth round of claret cups. Before they can call Sheriff Patterson to join in, Vicki introduces Maggie to the portrait, and Maggie is the one person who doesn’t bother with noting Barnabas’ resemblance, probably because she’s seen the last few episodes. Instead, she notes the eyes, and both women admit that it’s a relief to finally have someone pleasant around Collinwood. Liz? Roger? Are you listening? I’m not here to tell Mrs. Johnson that she’d get bigger tips if she’d smile more, although I have no doubt Burke said that once or twice after his fifth Tanqueray & Tang, but, you know, it might make breakfast a tad less funereal.

In seriousness, it’s a marvelously true and beautiful moment. They can sense it in him. Even though the audience is supposed to chuckle at the irony, Yes, we are supposed to think that Barnabas’ innate and radiant kindness is camouflage hiding the Beast. No. So great is his genuine spirit that even Angelique’s curse is eclipsed by it. This is only evident when you know the full story of Barnabas Collins, but it’s about fifty-three years too late for spoilers.

The show inevitably feels foreign when revisited after exploring its full expanse. Quiet. Focused. Affectionate toward its well-drawn characters. It is exactly the tone we need to root us in, and I mean it, the reality of these people. This moody tone poem in black, white, and creamy gray is the real world from which we depart. Knowing that it’s there is what allows us to stay invested into the wildest of futures, pasts, and parallels.

This episode hit the airwaves on May 3, 1967.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 24


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1001

What’s better than Lara Parker? Two Lara Parkers! Dark Shadows is seeing double in this very special episode where Angelique inaugurates her new life by beginning a spree of murder, malice, magic, and mirth! Chris Collins: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Angelique rises from the grave, draining Alexis of her life energy, exchanging clothes with her, and consigning her to the coffin to take her place at Collinwood. Cyrus begins changing spontaneously into Yaeger as Quentin moves to destroy what he things is Angelique’s body.

Dark Shadows passes its 1000th episode, and with no more milestones left, it slides into entropy, a perspective only possible when seeing the series as a whole. To put the division of the story into perspective, it has 224 episodes left. That’s only a few more than carried the story between Vicki’s arrival in Collinsport and the unleashing of Barnabas. 200 after that moment? We’ll find ourselves in the thick of the great man’s origin in 1795. The end of the next 200 brings Barnabas to the height of his struggle to reclaim his core goodness through both working for and fighting against Nicholas and Eve, seeing how easily his second self, Adam, falls from innocence to malevolence. The eventual triumph makes a proper midpoint for the series and over the next two hundred, our first hero -- Vicki -- leaves, and Barnabas enjoys the full height of his power before having iy taken away. The journey to episode 1000 will lead to his complete immobilization in Parallel Time while the series builds the necessity for him to stop running. In the final arc of the series, he realizes (like Dorothy Gale) that he lost nothing; a good man forced into the service of evil doesn’t become evil. In the right circumstances, he finally stops seeing himself as the man who was defeated by his own past and recognizes that the future is eternally unwritten.

You know, then it’s all 1841PT. And we all know how THAT is? Amiright? Amiright? And howabout that airline food? What’s up with that? Here’s a joke Jim Pierson told me over a curling match: an Irishman, Istvan, and a Leviathan walk into the Blue Whale….

… and the bartender says, “Aristede can stay, but only if the Caretaker gets to watch!”

1001 is all about unholy twins -- Angelique and Yaeger -- taking replacing the rightful hosts. The horror here is Dark Shadows at its most meta, because what else is Parallel Time but an unwelcomed substitute that seems interesting on the surface, but leaves us, like Barnabas, a chained prisoner who’s beginning to fear that this sinister duplicate might never leave? On some level, the writers had to be aware of that, even if it were never spoken aloud.

And before that sounds like a catty strike at the show, think about how that tight audience identification helps the overall story. Dark Shadows begins as the saga of someone seeking a home. But it never quite takes, does it? Barnabas refashions his house over and over again, only to lose it over and over again. In the case of Parallel Time, he thinks he’s found a better home, only to realize that he should have valued what he had in the first place, even if it smells like Teen Jeb. Perhaps we should have, also. But once he realizes that, it’s too late. When he returns to Collinwood, it is already a smoldering hulk he failed to save… before he even gets the chance.

Dark Shadows is rampant with twins, doubles, and alternate sides. Of course, any drama is (actor vs. part), and none more than those in which we follow performers taking on parts so numerous that we stop identifying roles and simply note the actor beneath as the real character we follow. But PT is literally the show’s twin, born while the crew is creating yet another twin for the big screen. As we see Angelique take over for Alexa, and John “Lounge Hulk” Yeager burst out of Cyrus of his own volition, the show feels like it is finally being honest. Twins are intrinsically nightmares. If they are worse than us, we dread their potential havoc and implication. If they are better than we are, we dread them even more. We’ve been fighting to maintain our optimism while the show grinds away, and just when it’s wise to give up, the evil twins at least get it over with and assume the places of the good. PT thus earns its place, if not as a second home, then as a proving ground for Barnabas to see who he really is.

Lara Parker’s doubled performance, timed exquisitely, allows her to demonstrate range like few other moments granted to any actor on the show. She’s at her most maniacally fierce, so much so that we glimpse a strange rage boiling under the skin of a Memphis debutante who’s escaped the south but not quite the 1960’s. It’s a performance that, sure, what the hell, it’s acting… but it’s acting with a realism more easily interpreted as real. Parker, here, represents what makes the show so vital, and what makes her so vital to the show. It is that fusion of impossible beauty, impossible knowledge, and impossible rage that fascinates us, frightens us, repels us, and makes it impossible to turn away.

One veteran not to survive this moment is Don Briscoe. It’s his last, haggard, exhausted episode. Briscoe remains a paragon of gentle magnetism and relatability. He’s what we’d like to see in ourselves, and somehow that guy snuck onto the set. His presence, even as a villain, was immediately reassuring that we, inexplicably but clearly, had a friend at Collinwood. He was holding a place for us at the table, not as impossibly macho as Burke nor as neurotic as Willie, Briscoe was the truest audience surrogate on the show. It’s a colder show -- and world -- without him.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 27, 1970.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 22


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 480

Heads up! Julia wigs out when she finds out Lang’s big plan, but will Jeff Clark continue to stick his neck out? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Lang persuades Barnabas to recruit Julia’s hypnotic aid to relieve Jeff Clark of his near beheading. When Julia learns the truth, she vows to help the experiment but decides to call the cops on Lang, instead.

Mention the Adam storyline to fans, and -- because Adam is a big, shambling lug unconnected to the overall Collins family -- you’ll see an expression that is worn typically only by xenophobic toddlers dragged to cheese expos. Since Adam is missing a head, it may be the wrong time to talk about him as a sex symbol. However, it’s the perfect time to figure out why the Adam storyline is there, both in the saga’s timeline and to explain why it’s there at all in the overall series. Back in the days of VHS or strip syndication reruns, these questions were as useless as an AA meeting in the drawing room. You were lucky to see any of the show. Whatever fell into your lap from the gods of money, tv timing, and Suncoast was a randomly distributed bauble. Now, with the entire show in free streaming on Tubi, it’s only proper to see the show as One Big Red Marble that you consider all at once.

So, what I’m getting at is that the Adam storyline is the most important one to the series.

Like Adam, himself, it is a mechanical kind of importance. It is the fulcrum on which Barnabas’ journey gains its most important leverage… and it does similar things for Julia. I bring it up because we are seeing the choices in an episode like 480 that galvanizes that change. It is the change that will be celebrated in 1897, then challenged relentlessly until 1840 provides the opportunity for them to reclaim their moral identity for the final time. Right now, they’re just finding out that they have a moral identity to later reclaim.

Barnabas’ exploitation of Julia’s love gets Lang to put his gun away, which is always a calming sight in a lab full of overpowered electronics and wildly volatile chemicals. He merely wants one more decapitation… one more life so that her subscription to Scientific American wasn’t wasted. It’s an odd choice by Barnabas in the light of the man he will be for much of the series, but practically Dalai Lamatic compared to the creature Angelique made him. He would probably even help Lang give the head donor some novocaine so the decapitation would be something they’d never even notice. It seems like he almost has her convinced. Barnabas is doing this for both survival and love, so she should apply the same measure. But Barnabas Collins is no Vicki Winters in the siren department, and Julia’s love suddenly falters when the price is sawing a man’s head off… although if she chose carefully, it would somewhat reduce the catering bill at the wedding. So, both Barnabas and Julia are aware of the moral stakes at play, and even though Julia is passing the test and Barnabas is failing, he is aware that he’s failing as he moves from the world of the beast to the world of man.

Lang is crucial to the spectrum because he is a fusion of the best and worst of Barnabas and Julia. He’s a monstrous sociopath and a man of science. Both can see the worst of themselves in him, and both can see the strange optimism and sense of purpose that will be their greatest motivational ally.

Everyone is a swinger, here. Lara Parker sells total sincerity and total nonsense -- with a dash of seething jealousy -- as she thanks Julia for being her only friend at Collinwood. Unbeknownst to Julia, they have everything in common. Both came to the area to do specific jobs the Collinses couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Both have esoteric powers to bend minds and bodies. Both arrived there under false pretenses. Both are in love with Barnabas. Two women enter, only one will leave on her feet. Julia may not have Barnabas when she leaves 1840, but she does have Julia.

Jonathan Frid’s nervousness is once again his ally. Just as he flubs a few lines, so does Barnabas because that’s what people do at gunpoint. Grayson Hall has the unenviable task of having to Scream a Whole Lot, and this episode is the special delight of people who like to say she’s a bad actor. No, she’s a great actor. She’s a pro who was told to Scream a Whole Lot, and that’s exactly what she did. Roger Davis deserves special kudos for epitomizing the stakes of the episode. First roofied by Lang and then tied up in a bedroom, he arises from a slumber of uncomfortable subtext to explain to Julia what’s happening. The dialogue deals a lot with stealing his head, and Davis does what actors are supposed to do. He justifies its authenticity. Tough words to pull off? Whether it were Shakespeare at his wordiest or poorly translated Strindberg, he had flirted with both and more as a stage actor and a teacher. If he can make much of that sound true, he can sell a man’s reasonable concern with decapitation.

A last note in terms of when this falls. The show had not yet given up on the idea of Barnabas’ soul entering a new body with a new face. Considering that this was in and around the first anniversary of the debut of Barnabas Collins, it would not surprise me if this were also in and around the time for contract renegotiations. Could this have been a subtle message from Dan Curtis (the Sultan of Subtlety) that Dark Shadows may have needed Barnabas Collins, but Barnabas Collins doesn’t necessarily need Jonathan Frid?

Of course, this is a wild theory, but I know that it would be on my mind were I there.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 26, 1968.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

In Dark Shadows, your reflection always tells the truth

This week marks 52 years since the first appearance of Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows. To celebrate the occasion, The Collinsport Historical Society is spending the week looking back at the "introductions" of the character in various media.


Barnabas Collins made his first appearance in any medium on April 6, 1967.

Even if you watched this episode, though, there’s a pretty good chance you missed him. During the closing scenes of the episode, Willie Loomis (played by James Hall in his second-to-last appearance on DARK SHADOWS) tries to assault Carolyn Stoddard, who pulls a gun on him and issues a stern warning ...

“If you don't leave me alone, I'll blow your head off,” she says. Fade to credits.

It was here that most people in 1967 — and probably many viewers since — probably stopped watching the episode. Those who stuck around, though, saw a significant piece of art had been added to Collinwood’s foyer.

In a bit of retroactive continuity, we later learn the portrait of Barnabas Collins has been hanging in full view for many, many years. After regenerating into John Karlen in episode 206, Willie takes an active interest in the portrait, eventually meeting Barnabas Collins face to face on April 10 during a bit of grave robbing. It’s not until the following episode that we get to see Barnabas for ourselves, when he makes his iconic arrival at Collinwood.

All of this makes it difficult to pinpoint the “first appearance” of Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows. Complicating matters is that the character's first physical appearance is in Episode 210 when Barnabas’ hand emerges from the coffin to choke Willie Loomis. On that episode, he was played by set extra Timothy Gordon. Meanwhile, the character’s “first appearance” is almost always credited to Jonathan Frid’s debut, which is fair … but that doesn’t make the milestone any easier to read. By the time we formally meet the character, we already know a lot about him.

Barnabas’ piecemeal introduction is in keeping with the dominant theme of Dark Shadows during much of its run, which is underscored in the final reveal of Jonathan Frid: In Dark Shadows, your reflection always tells the truth.

Duality was a series theme from the very first episode, which implemented a shocking amount of symbolism in its photography. As a daily series, it was never designed to withstand the scrutiny of re-runs, let alone the far-flung fantasy concept of "home video." The series was as disposable as a newspaper, something to be enjoyed for a few minutes and then forgotten. The writers and directors of Dark ShadowsS did not get that memo, though, and set about creating afternoon entertainment that was more psychologically complex than it had any right to be.

The first episode established this dynamic immediately. Victoria Winters is riding on a train through the night, her reflection in the glass beside her. We discover that she’s a “foundling,” anonymously abandoned to the state as an infant. She’s traveling to Collinsport, Maine, to take a job — and to learn the truth about her own mysterious past.

In other words, she’s looking for the real Victoria Winters — represented throughout this episode by her own reflection. We see Victoria reflected back in the window of the train carriage, the mirror in the restaurant of the Collinsport Inn, and in a mirror (in a flashback!) at her bedroom at the foundling home.

Most telling is the reveal in the episode’s final scene. When she arrives at her destination, the doors of Collinwood open to show Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard standing in the entrance, looking very much like Victoria’s reflection. (For me, this is all the evidence I’ve ever needed that Liz was Victoria’s mother.)

We get the same kind of imagery in the introduction of Barnabas Collins, though it’s less direct. Again, the “real” Barnabas is the character we see in the portrait — the ancestor who lived at Collinwood more than a century earlier. While it’s only a fraction of the truth, it’s much more reliable than the tales told by Barnabas, himself.

We see this over and over throughout the run the series, always to different effect. The portrait of Quentin Collins — a magical creation that spared him from harm — represents the real person, the Quentin that suffers the consequences of his own bad decisions. But this duality has a downside: Quentin will live forever, but he might as well not exist at all. Neither the world nor Quentin Collins had much effect on each other in the 20th century.They just drift through the years, body and soul detached.

Interestingly, Barnabas returned to the “portrait” well twice during the show’s first year. As a ruse to lure Sam Evans away from his daughter, Barnabas arranges to sit for the artist to have a new portrait done. The painting is meant to do something beyond keeping Sam occupied; it’s designed to transform Barnabas’ lie into something approximating the truth. The portrait would lend credibility to his tale of being “The Cousin from England,” enshrining his new likeness with those of the other Collins family ancestors at Collinwood. It makes his backstory legitimate.

It must have been handy for the writers to have characters like Sam Evans and Charles Delaware Tate in the cast. It made the symbolic use of portraits easy to justify without having to do logistical cartwheels to introduce each new prop. One of the first portrait devices used on Dark Shadows was an illustration by artist/alcohol enthusiast Sam Evans many years before the start of the series.  During a visit to his home, Victoria finds a portrait of a woman named Betty Hanscomb among his older works. Despite the obvious similarity (the portrait was unsurprisingly based on a photo of actress Alexandra Moltke) he claims he doesn’t see much of a resemblance. We eventually learn Hanscomb and her family are dead, and the plot point — like so many that involved Victoria — was left to dangle.

Another of Sam’s portraits would also reveal an ugly truth about Laura Collins. While under the influence of supernatural compulsions, Sam painted a portrait of Laura that shows her to be the demon that she truly is. By the time Barnabas Collins shows up — just a few weeks after the first incarnation of Laura Collins is dispatched — the writers had polished the old “Portrait as Id” trope to a high sheen. They’d go on to use it to different effect with Josette Du Pres, Angelique Bouchard, and several characters in the Night of Dark Shadows feature film.

Before the end of the series, Dark Shadows even introduced a character who was literally a portrait come to life. Amanda Harris, played by Donna McKechnie, was another of the magical creations of Charles Delaware Tate, who made a pact with Hungarian sorcerer Andreas Petofi for a boost to his "Talent" attribute. Once again, it was the portrait that was "real." Much like Victoria, Harris was unaware of her own origins. And what little she knew was fiction. Her romantic entanglement with Quentin Collins — a man whose soul was also linked to a magical portrait — was one of Dark Shadows' most appropriate relationships. Naturally, it was doomed to fail.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sam Hall's "Dark Shadows" postmortem, 1971

One of the great things about used books are the occasional prizes you find stashed between their pages.

Above is a copy of the famous essay written by Sam Hall  head writer for DARK SHADOWS during its final years — and published six months after the show aired its final episode. I found photocopies of this article in the pages of a DARK SHADOWS fanzine purchased off Ebay a few years ago, which was terrific luck. In the essay, Hall outlines where the series might have gone had it not been cancelled. Granted, there were other writers on the show to contend with (as well as producer Dan Curtis and the demands of its cast) but it makes for interesting reading.

Below is a transcript of the article.

From left, Grayson Hall, Sam Hall and Jonathan Frid.

In Case You're Curious ...
Here's What Really Happened to Barnabas & Co.
By Sam Hall
TV Guide,October 9, 1971

When Dark Shadows recently went off the air, the audience was left with all of the troubled characters  and many questions as to their fate. We had certain long-range plans for most of them  but what the characters would do with the rest of their lives can only be fantasy. However, after three years of living with them, I feel I know moments of their future.

Elizabeth Collins Stoddard remained the matriarch of Collinwood. After the sudden death of her brother Roger, she was determined to hold the Collins' family empire together until Roger's son David was old enough to take over and she did with the help of an elegant, very bright man from Boston to help her and with him she finally found some personal happiness.

Roger Collins, just before this death, discovered the secret that his cousin Barnabas was a vampire, but he told no one, and vowed to end Barnabas's unhappy existence. Armed with a stake and a hammer, he discovered Barnabas's coffin during the daytime, but Angelique appeared and killed Roger. She forced Willie Loomis to carry Roger's body to the woods, where it was found. Death was attributed to a heart attack.

Shortly after the funeral, Mrs. Johnson was cleaning out Roger's room. She swore later that a cold hand had touched her. At first everyone felt she was simply hysterical. But one night, Carolyn saw Roger's ghost standing in the great hall. The ghost pointed a spectral finger at the portrait of Barnabas Collins. When Carolyn implored the spirit to speak, it disappeared.

Carolyn, with the aid of T. Eliot Stokes and Julia Hoffman, attempted a seance to find out why Roger's spirit could not rest. But the seance was unsuccessful. It is known that on certain stormy nights Roger's ghost can be seen coming down the stairs, staring at the portrait of the man who caused his death.

Carolyn Stoddard found herself more and more interested in the world of the occult. She knew that with the death of her husband Jeb Hawkes one part of her life was finished and she was determined to understand the unknown forces which had taken him from her. She began studying with T. Eliot Stokes and then went to a large university which had a department of psychic research. While there she discovered that she herself was the reincarnation of Leticia Faye, a woman who had lived at Collinwood during the 19th century.

Working with various mediums she became a psychic-research investigator. She published many books on the supernatural and established a foundation to examine the existing evidence of the world beyond. She continued to regard Collinwood as her home and established a mother-daughter relationship with Amy Jennings which contributed greatly to the stability of that confused and very scared young child.

Years later Carolyn re-met Adam who had loved her so deeply. He had become a successful and sophisticated man, and he wanted to marry her. But she knew she could not go back in time. They parted warm friends.

As time went on Quentin Collins found living at Collinwood more and more difficult. He was unable to forget his love for Daphne, though both she and Gerard were finally at peace. And he was afraid to love again  afraid that his own secret would be discovered. For, as long as Charles Delaware Tate's portrait existed, Quentin would not age. And he well knew that if he destroyed the picture, he would suffer the awful curse of the werewolf.

Finally, he left the town of Collinsport to roam the world  Athens, Alexandria, India ... always hunting some solution for his existence. And with each country, he became more and more withdrawn. He became more aware that he could never become close to another human being.

Often he was tempted to return to Collinwood, destroy the portrait and kill himself before the full moon could cause him to change into the wolf man. But some slight hope stopped him from doing that. For, at the beginning of his travels, he had heard rumors that there existed a man  a man with a wooden hand and miraculous powers. A man who had transcended time  a Count Petofi. And so Quentin kept on, looking for the Count, knowing that if he could find him again perhaps the Count could take pity on him and help him find peace at last.

Maggie Evans, who left Collinwood with Phillip [sic] returned a year later a divorced woman. She moved into her father's cottage and began working at Wyndcliff, the private sanitarium. There she remet her former fiancee, Joe Haskell. With her help, Joe managed to regain his sanity. He left the sanitarium with no memory of Angelique and the circumstances which had caused him to lose his mind. Joe and Maggie married. He returned to the Collins' fishing fleet. They lived happily in Collinsport.

But Chris Jennings and Sabrina Stuart did not have Maggie and Joe's luck. For they found they could not run from the curse that afflicted him. Though they had a few days of happiness when they left Collinsport they were both aware that time was their enemy. For soon the moon would be full and Chris would become the werewolf again. They constructed a cell to lock him in. But when he became the wolf man, he broke out of it and killed Sabrina. Her brother found her body that same night. The following morning, Chris returned to their home. When he discovered what he had done, he committed suicide.

Barnabas was deeply affected by Chris's death. He and Julia Hoffman had tried desperately to help Chris. Barnabas identified with him very much. He began to feel that it was only a matter of time until he too would become a victim of his curse. When he learned from Angelique that Roger had discovered his secret, his depression deepened. Again, Barnabas felt that he had brought new tragedy to those he loved at Collinwood. He knew that his vampirism would be discovered.

Julia and Willie Loomis decided they must get Barnabas to leave Collinsport. They were both willing to sacrifice their lives and travel with him. He finally agreed to go, but just before they were to start, Barnabas became very ill. Julia was astonished. She knew that Barnabas could not, because of his vampirism, have human ailments. Yet the mysterious fever so ravaged him that Julia feared for his very existence.

She suddenly realized that there could be only one explanation for Barnabas's illness. Adam. She remembered the mysterious link which began to exist when Barnabas helped bring Adam to life. At the time Adam disappeared from Collinwood, they knew that if he died, Barnabas would, too. Julia knew she must find Adam, wherever he was. Adam must have the same fever. He had to be cured if Barnabas were to be saved.

Enlisting the aid of T. Eliot Stokes, she did find Adam  in the Far East. She managed to cure him, but in the course of the treatment, she contracted the illness herself. She was near death when Barnabas  well now  came to her. He realized how he loved her, and promised her that if she lived, they would marry.

They were married in Singapore. Barnabas felt they must never return to Collinsport. Angelique must not find them  for she would never allow Julia to live. So they stayed on. Julia began working with an Asian doctor and experimented with a new treatment which she was positive would take away the curse of Barnabas's vampirism. They began the treatments. They were successful. Barnabas Collins at last could walk in the light of day  walk with the woman he loved, but walk with an ever present fear  a fear that Angelique would find them, and destroy the only happiness he had had in his life.

No audience will see these stories playing out. But for those for whom the characters were real, these are merely signposts pointing the direction the characters might have gone.

Who killed Dark Shadows?


Dark Shadows was pronounced dead on this day in 1971. As with many of the characters from that television serial, though, it has refused to stay that way, periodically rising from the grave whenever the mood strikes.

What drove Dark Shadows to cancellation is a favorite topic of discussion among fans, who have blamed its demise on fatigue, the Leviathans, changing demographics, and the result of a production spreading itself too thin to include feature films. Like a good game of Clue, there’s an endless supply of suspects … but the truth is probably more like the conclusion of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. There are simply too many hands on the murder weapon to place the blame on any one individual.

In 1971, though, one man publicly confessed to pulling the plug on the cult television program. James Duffy — then president of ABC television — took credit for the cancellation of Dark Shadows … and a few peripheral crimes, as well. "I hated to do it," he said. "I cancelled Dark Shadows and my daughter won't speak to me. I cancelled Lawrence Welk and now my mother won't speak to me."

He said his wife also gave him the silent treatment for taking Tom Jones off the air.

Duffy served as president of ABC television for 15 years, succeeding Elton Rule as the network’s head in March, 1970 … right in the middle of the show’s first ratings slump during The Leviathans storyline. A few weeks later, much of the cast — including star Jonathan Frid — abandoned the television show for a month to shoot HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. It was probably not the best time for the stars, writers and show runner to leave post.

A few months later, local affiliates began to drop DARK SHADOWS from their schedules. Ohio’s WKRC was one of them, taking DARK SHADOWS off the airwaves in August, 1970, and again in February, 1971. Fans were, as you might imagine, outraged. In March, 1971, the channel’s programming director addressed the issue in a column published in The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Citing “hundreds of phone calls, petitions and letters,” the programming director announced that Dark Shadows would return — for the third time — to the channel's schedule. The announcement was accompanied by a warning for viewers not to get attached, though: “ABC-TV is expected to cancel it in late April for a revived Allen Ludden game show, ‘Password.’” That story was published March 3.

The passing of Dark Shadows was later noted in the press with the kind of brusqueness you’d expect from authoritarians — when it was noted at all. Lee Hamilton, the entertainment editor at North Carolina’s The Robesonian did not take the cancellation in stride, though, and vented his frustration in a lengthy editorial titled “Things look dark for ‘Dark Shadows.’”

“After five years of interesting — if not really top quality entertainment — this unusually creative program about the strange Collins family is being cancelled and will be replaced by another of those mindless game shows, this one called ‘Password’ with Allen Ludden as host,” he wrote March 26 that year. The violence and “complicated plot” were cited as reasons for the show’s cancellation, he said.

“As for the ‘complicated plot,’ this facet has always been one of the show’s endearing assets,” he wrote, “but then the simple-minded must be served.”

If anyone was interested in complaining directly to ABC, Hamilton provided contact information for his readers. Have I mentioned yet that I like Lee Hamilton?

As this stage, it’s probably safe to say the methods used by television networks of measuring their audiences in 1971 were faulty. At the heart of the problem was the tendency to measure bodies instead of demographics. At the time, networks liked to connect advertisers to the heads of American households who — theoretically — controlled the purse strings. That eventually changed when everyone figured out kids were stupid with their money.

In 1971, though, networks cared little for the opinions of children. A few weeks after the cancellation of DARK SHADOWS, Bettelou Peterson, a TV columnist with the Detroit Free Press, addressed a question from a reader about the show’s demise:

“Why did they take ‘Dark Shadows’ off the air and replace it with that dull game show ‘Password?’ ‘Dark Shadows’ was the only daytime serial my girl friends and I watched after school.”

“You’re part of the reason,” Peterson responded. “Daytime sponsors want housewives, not school girls. Then too, 'Password' is inexpensive to produce; 'Shadows' cost a fortune."

Perhaps not coincidentally, April 2, 1971, was also the day that news about the second DARK SHADOWS feature film began to hit the press. Then titled “Curse of Dark Shadows,” the film had a relatively late name change to Night of Dark Shadows before its release later in the year. There’s never been any sign that producer Dan Curtis had any intention of shopping the television to another network but, for a few months in 1971, he probably still imagined porting Dark Shadows over to feature films. MGM’s handling of Night of Dark Shadows ultimately made that impossible, though.

Meanwhile, writer Sam Hall did his best to resolve lingering plot threads from the series. There’s a last-minute moment of violence in the final episode that feels almost engineered to incite anger in the audience: Nancy Barrett’s character, Melanie, is brought into the foyer at Collinwood with marks on her neck that look like to be the work of a vampire. This story is set during a period where Barnabas Collins died young, but free of the vampire curse. If I was a more cynical person, I’d suspect it was a Hail Mary Pass on Curtis’ part to fire up the audience to fight for the show’s return … but the closing monologue by actor Thayer David de-fangs that problem seconds later:
“There was no vampire loose on the great estate. For the first time at Collinwood the marks on the neck were indeed those of an animal. Melanie soon recovered and went to live in Boston with her beloved Kendrick. There, they prospered and had three children. Bramwell and Catherine were soon married and, at Flora's insistence, stayed on at Collinwood where Bramwell assumed control of the Collins business interests. Their love became a living legend. And, for as long as they lived, the dark shadows at Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past.”
In October that year, Hall would address possible fates of the show’s central cast of characters, none of who factored into the show’s final story arc. You can read a transcript of that essay, published in TV Guide, HERE.

It’s rare for a daytime drama to become a cultural phenomenon, and even rarer for it to cross the kinds of demographic barriers that were shattered by DARK SHADOWS. Once a soap gains a toe hold in the market, they rarely ever let go. But DARK SHADOWS was a strange beast from the very beginning and was never designed to have the kind of open-ended narrative favored by soaps. At its heart, it had more in common with episodic programs like STAR TREK and THE PRISONER, only told in a serialized format.

Also unlike other soaps, Dark Shadows was forever going to be The Barnabas Collins Show. All My Children could find a way to go one without Erica Kane, but Collinwood would always feel a little empty without Jonathan Frid’s presence. Lightning had struck with that character and no amount of reverse engineering would ever recapture that magic. But that’s a problem that should be celebrated, not mourned.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Dark Shadows is dead. Long live Dark Shadows.

(Note: this piece was first published on April 2, 2015. Consider this a re-run.)


It’s better to burn out than fade away.

On this day in 1971, DARK SHADOWS came to a thudding halt. The show was pretty far from its prime, and was coasting on little more than the strength of its cast and goodwill from its audience. While the ratings during the final year weren't good, its previous success also made it more expensive to produce. The cast was earning salaries negotiated when the show was a ratings smash, so any slip in ratings made it that much more painful to the bottom line. By April 2, 1971, the ratings for DARK SHADOWS weren't far from where they were before the introduction of Barnabas Collins in 1967.

Had Dan Curtis any interest in the show, though, it’s possible DARK SHADOWS might have continued. The production had essentially been running a five-year creative marathon (one that also included the production of two feature films), which gave the show little time to find its second wind. It’s difficult to imagine the cast and crew putting up much resistance when told DARK SHADOWS was over. There might even have been a sense of relief for some of them.

And the final story arc was a weird one. Devised as a sequel to the 1795 storyline, it borrowed elements from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" while also mixing in traditional soap opera plots (infidelity, paternity questions, love triangles, etc.) and the obligatory ghost. As a twist, the story was set in a "parallel time" tethered from the show's continuity. The results felt decided unlike DARK SHADOWS, despite the presence of so many familiar faces here.

It’s kind of amazing how many cast members managed to stick around for the duration of the series. Present in the final episode are Joan Bennett and Louis Edmonds, who both appeared in the show’s first episode in 1966. Also making their curtain call here are Nancy Barrett and Thayer David (who were also part of the pre-Barnabas cast), John Karlen, Grayson Hall, Lara Parker and, of course, Jonathan Frid. Even producer Gordon Russell gets in on the fun, appearing here as “Harris, the second footman.”

Et tu, Brutus?
David Selby was absent from the end of the series, waylaid by a bout of appendicitis. Essentially stepping in for him is Keith Prentice, the final attempt by Curtis to audition a new leading man. Curtis had managed to rescue DARK SHADOWS with the addition of handsome rogues in the past, first with Frid and later Selby. His third attempt, “Gerard Stiles,” played by James Storm, wasn't quite as successful thanks to shortcomings in the writing.

Prentice’s “Morgan Collins” was an utter failure, though.

As far as handsome actors go, Prentice was more “handsome” than “actor.” His performance on DARK SHADOWS is stifled by his obvious stage fright, with his good looks doing most of the heavy lifting. The guy was perpetually sweaty throughout his 40-episode run of DARK SHADOWS, something I initially attributed to the heavy wool costumes and lighting. But that doesn't explain why none of his co-stars ever looked like they just left the gym without showering. While Frid made his panic work for him, Prentice just came across as inhibited.

Frid unfairly gets the lion’s share of the blame for tepidness of the “1840 Parallel Time” storyline. There were a lot of tensions pulling at the seams of DARK SHADOWS during its final year, but Frid is the easiest target because he’s the most visible. As with many soaps, the writers had tried so many different romantic pairings during the show’s run (Barnabas + Victoria; Quentin + Angelique; Willie + Carolyn) that there wasn't much left to mine from the cast’s chemistry.

Complicating matters was the show’s tendency toward inbreeding. It’s difficult to set off romantic sparks when so many of the characters are related to each other, which is what slowly happened as DARK SHADOWS progressed. Almost everyone on the show had become a Collins during the final year. Even Grayson Hall’s “Julia Hoffman” had been transformed here into “Julia Collins.”

In a sense, the 1840 Parallel Time arc allowed the writers to pair actors instead of characters. It was supposed to be a fresh start, allowing actors like Frid and Parker to work without the baggage of Barnabas and Angelique. But the story quickly turned into a brick wall. The writers were no longer engaged in the material, and Frid’s performance as Bramwell Collins — the son of Barnabas Collins — was further proof that he was bored with DARK SHADOWS. He was too much of a professional to phone-in his performance (he’s actually quite energetic in this final episode), but Bramwell clearly did not provide the inspiration he needed at this point in his career.

In fact, nobody’s going through the motions in this episode. Parker is especially good and couldn't be any more invested in her performance if it had been her first episode instead of her last. Story has it that Neil Simon was present on the set of taping for the final episode, prompting a much broader performance from Prentice — who used his final appearance as an opportunity to audition for the playwright.

It’s unclear how much notice the production was given about DARK SHADOWS' impending demise. While it’s probable that Dan Curtis and crew knew weeks in advance that the show had been axed, the script for the final episode hints that the news arrived too late to correct course. Yes, many of this arc’s lingering plot points are resolved here, but the episode ends in what ought to be remembered as one of television’s greatest WTF?! moments:

Melanie Collins (Nancy Barrett) is carried into the foyer of Collinwood, unconscious with a suspicious-looking wound to her neck. Ben Stokes (Thayer David) leaps to the obvious conclusion, telling everyone — the audience included — that it appears to be the work of a vampire. Cut to a closing monologue, also read by Thayer, that begins with these words:
“There was no vampire loose on the great estate. For the first time at Collinwood the marks on the neck were indeed those of an animal.”
Thanks, guys.

Squirrel bites look remarkably similar to vampire bites.
As the camera pans around the empty Collinwood sets, David continues his monologue, telling us of the fates of the many 1840 “parallel time” characters as if we cared. While I doubt these plot points would have been played out had the series continued, the faux-vampire attack is evidence that the storyline was hastily wrapped. Here’s what we're told happened in the years following 1840 PT:
"Melanie soon recovered and went to live in Boston with her beloved Kendrick. There, they prospered and had three children. Bramwell and Catherine were soon married and, at Flora's insistence, stayed on at Collinwood where Bramwell assumed control of the Collins business interests. Their love became a living legend. And, for as long as they lived, the dark shadows at Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past.”
As a conclusion for DARK SHADOWS, this episode left much to be desired. Barnabas Collins and the rest of the show’s core cast hadn't appeared on the show since the January of that year, and were not mentioned. Intending to right that wrong, head writer Sam Hall penned a lengthy epilogue for the series, which was published in TV Guide. Fans quickly stepped up, as well, and have spent the last 40 years writing fanfic that continued the story. From there, DARK SHADOWS already fragmented continuity just continued to splinter. The completely unrelated novels by Marilyn Ross continued for a short time after the cancellation of the show, while the also unrelated comics from Gold Key remained in print until 1976. Lara Parker has written several novels set after the events of the original television show, which contradict the events depicted in the comics published a few years ago by Dynamite Entertainment. And then there's Big Finish, which has produced almost 50 audiodramas extending the show's continuity ... which are also unrelated to any other stories set in the years after the end of the original television show.

In a sense, DARK SHADOWS is both blessed and cursed with resolutions to the original series. We've got enough material out there to pick and choose what we like, constructing our own narratives using the "best of the best" of what's been created since the show's end in 1971. In that regard, it's likely DARK SHADOWS will never truly end.

The graceful ending of Dark Shadows


Episode 1245 is the most important episode of DARK SHADOWS. It may also be my favorite.

In 2012, I watched all of DARK SHADOWS in 45 days. One of the results was that the beginning of the show was still fresh in my mind as I watched the ending. Seen that way, the show became more than a mishmash of episodes and storylines; it was a story. One story. One, long, rambling, inconsistent story, but a story nonetheless. We all know that it wasn’t written that way. It was assembled piecemeal, one thrill being stacked on top of the next as the show continually tried to hold viewers and outdo itself.

Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter one bit. When any story is finished, it stands on its own. The meaning and significance of that tale belongs to each viewer as true and inviolate. Their interpretation and experience with the piece is as true for them as anyone’s That includes the author.

Episode 1245 unspooled before me with a cavalcade of emotions. Relief was chief among them. It had been a long two months. With that, I was also profoundly surprised. These writers accomplished the impossible: they ended the DARK SHADOWS story.

As we commonly think of it, the DARK SHADOWS saga ends with the death of Angelique and the desolate return of Barnabas to 1971… yet another year in which he doesn’t belong. But that’s not the finale of the story. The constant time travel and recasting of a core ensemble have a striking effect. At a certain point, despite their versatility, we are no longer seeing an individual character played by an actor. We are seeing one figure, played by one actor, sporting a multitude of masks and identities, exploring the essence of their true character. We don’t see Willie and Kendrick and Desmond. We see "The Karlen.” The same with “The Barrett,” “The Frid,” and so on. All sides of the same basic figure. Looked at this way, the death of Angelique and the emotional ruin of Barnabas are ends of facets of the characters, but not the characters, themselves.

I think of 1841PT as an epilogue in which the characters have evolved to their highest and final states. Think of how different they’ve become from when we first met them in the roles the actors initially played. The Frid and the Parker can openly pursue the love only hinted at at the end of 1840. Morgan stands in for Trask, and it’s Bramwell who’s shot. The Karlen has evolved from a sycophantic lackey into a man of action who risks all to defend Bramwell. Justice is served. The curse of Collinwood is defeated by the one element it seemed designed to eradicate: human loyalty.

When I see the love between Catherine and Bramwell, as well as Kendrick and Melanie, I can’t help but see Barnabas and Angelique, as well as Willie and Carolyn. What have they symbolically overcome? As several admit in the episode, the past. I have always felt that one of the key messages of the show was that our current happiness is based in our ability to overcome the wrongs of the past. Very few characters come to that realization with such finality. And the house is full of orphans at that point… those who either don’t belong or didn’t grow up there. By the end, each has learned what Collinwood was built to teach them and plans on moving on. Considering that the show begins with an orphan seeking answers, it’s only fitting that it ends with spiritual orphans finding the strength to leave. Yes, Bramwell and Catherine eventually return, but that is on their own terms, as masters of the house, perhaps to oversee the adoption and transformation of a new generation.

There is no finer way in which the saga of DARK SHADOW could come full circle. For me, it could have no finer ending.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 1


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 727

When Trask takes advantage of the Collinses generosity, will Barnabas take advantage of his Charity? Charity Trask: Nancy Barrett. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Quentin, revived, is distressed to find no one in the tower room. He and Barnabas dislike Trask, who’s now staying at Collinwood, but Quentin mistrusts his cousin from England more. Later, Trask’s daughter arrives and knows Rachel. The latter later reveals to Barnabas that she was once forced to work for Trask, who abused her when she was younger. Barnabas retaliates by biting the younger Trask.

There’s a great moment in this episode early on. Trask is in the drawing room, praying to, literally, the high heavens, full-force, and Barnabas walks into the foyer from outside. He hears the religious ecstasy roiling within the drawing room. He knows who it is. And he knows what all of that implies. At no point has anyone in history said, “Oh, good, a Trask is here; our troubles are over.”

You know as if his mission weren’t difficult enough. It was just a year or so ago, kind of, that he was having to wall a Trask up. That should have fixed it. How could an ostensibly celibate guy have such a legacy, and seemingly do so from behind a wall of bricks? Yes, he could have had his kids beforehand, but it’s not as interesting to contemplate.

I don’t know what it is  about a really forcefully uttered prayer by a guy in a long black coat and muttonchops, but it is a portent of doom like few others. Jonathan Frid captures the only rational response. It’s not so broad as to ruin the day of theology enthusiasts, but it definitely lets us know that he’s not hearing a blissfully gentle cover of “Moon River,” either. And Barnabas’ expression subtly conveys the rarest quintessence of an understated, “Oh, shit,” that simply commands that I use the word, for none other suffices. Of course, like any irresponsible critic, I read into these things what I want to, and in this case, as he’s processing bellicose and Biblical booming from beyond the door, I wonder if Barnabas is asking himself, “Should I hang up my coat, stroll in, and engage in thoughtful banter, redolent of implicated knowledge and planned counter-strikes, or should I simply hoist my cane aloft and beat the bullying bastard into 1898 before he can screw up the storyline any more?”

Banter wins.

Later, Quentin enters, strangely compliant to Trask until he’s alone with Barnabas. In that scene, we see Quentin’s strength and the weakness Barnabas must overcome. For a moment, we see them collaborate against a common enemy. Quentin, however, assuming everyone is as opportunistic as he is, turns his suspicions with wearying inevitability toward Barnabas, cuing our hero to again show the patience of one of the saints embarrassed by Trask’s allegiance. It’s frustrating, but it illustrates the size of the challenge confronting Barnabas and again outlines the overall arc of Quentin’s story, indicating that it’s only the beginning. In structure and complexity, it is an arc that may very well be the show’s greatest, narrative triumph, necessitating nine or so months to tell.

Mechanically, Barnabas and Quentin have very different story arcs, not only in particulars, but in the gears of the storytelling, itself. Clearly, Barnabas has the longer story in number of episodes. But he also has a longer arc in terms of sweep and span of life. Barnabas’ story is not about what his origin does to transform him, it’s about what it leads him to do with his life. Quentin’s story is shorter, especially in that everything interesting possible is knit up in his origin and immediate aftermath. No wonder Quentin seemed wasted after 1897; what else could they do with him? His story is about going from boyhood to manhood. Barnabas’ story is about going from being a man to, ironically, a god. A master of time, space, and the very plasma of life. He would sometimes reject his godhood. Sometimes embrace it. Quentin can never use his condition to any advantage. Barnabas’ true curse was that he could. 

Beyond that, the episode putters along perfunctorily. It’s another episode in Trask Recruits, this time letting us know that Rachel was his prisoner and that his daughter loves the power to say ‘no,’ as much as he does. Well, Barnabas has other plans.

Unable to crush him immediately, and suspended by Rachel’s fright, Barnabas lets it go. Well, other eras of Barnabas would let it go. But the 1897 Barnabas is Silver Age to the point that I’m amazed Willie Loomis didn’t become a talking dog sidekick. Which would have been great. Like, you know a spaniel? I digress. THIS Barnabas might not punch Trask’s lights out, but he can at least bite his daughter and hold her in his sway as spy and saboteur. Besides, biting and controlling Nancy Barret is a legitimate part of the cyclical story that the show is developing.

The only dependable Trask I know. Hallelujah!

This episode hit the airwaves on April 8, 1969.