Monday, March 29, 2021

Robert Rodan's Frankenstein


I wish I could thank Robert Rodan

It was a thankless part. The next big thing after Barnabas. Grand expectations that could never be fulfilled because of the intrinsic differences. But, if you have done Dracula, then you have to do Frankenstein, and someone is going to have to play the creature. I'm not sure if Frankenstein is scary or sexy so much as sad. And sad only goes so far without other, continuing factors to propel it. My hope is that fans look beyond that... and beyond the fact that this lonely and  desperate character was the focus of a storyline that began with great momentum, but, as with most Frankenstein stories, went nowhere. Then again, unless you are a keen student of literature, it can be hard to remember how most Frankenstein stories end. Something about torches and pitchforks. In that sense, the non-ending is as true to the legends as everything else on the show. 

On Dark Shadows, the journey is what matters far more than the destination, and in lauding his contribution to the show, this is essential to remember.  With his death, we have an opportunity to stop and remember that contribution with fresh eyes. It's ultimately inappropriate to compare Barnabas with Dracula. Yes, both are smooth and aristocratic vampires, but that's where the similarity stops. With Robert Rodan and Frankenstein’s monster, we have a much closer analog. 

It's a strange mix of both representing these literary inspirations  and moving beyond them. Few of the show's riffs, though, came as close to the source material as did Adam. So, it's safe to take a moment of license and admit that no other actor was ever given the chance to explore the world of Frankenstein's creation as Rodan.

It was a gift he did not squander. The irony is that a part so broad could be charted with such sensitivity and intricacy. The thing that fascinates me about the creature is that he is, in every sense, us. Few of us feel entirely as in command and knowledgeable of our abilities and circumstances as we like to appear. We are always learning. We're always making mistakes. We are always making dangerous things out of little knowledge. Often before it's even out of the box. Rodan captured the full breadth of that exploration with deftness and commitment. And in one part, he played a variety of them. From pantomime to smug, intellectualized chess mastery, Rodan showed brave command of each phase and of the many gray areas of his evolution between them.  As anything based on Frankenstein would necessitate, it's a philosophical evolution. Humans grow until they die, assembled from the dead and lost parts of life experiences that are constantly forced into new service, just like Adam with his awkward limbs drafted into new battles. Few of us are graceful at it. Less so than any of us will admit.

In his attempt to grow up as quickly as he can, Adam is equally endearing and embarrassing. Rodan embodied that with the right kind of shamelessness. At a certain point, you can't worry about shame. Most compelling characters are beyond it. And most soap villains start out at dizzying heights of power that are then toppled by love. Adam started out as an endearing, oversized infant and was manipulated into abusing that heightened power as it developed. It is a painful reflection gifted to us with joy by this multifaceted actor.  In a show where monsters are used to explore the learning curve of becoming Us, few did so with the forgivable kindness and heart of Robert Rodan. He was our sad friend and most disturbingly accurate reflection. So much of that was in the writing, but so much of it was in him. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Robert Rodan, 1938-2021


Robert Rodan died of heart failure March 25. The actor had an outsized presence on Dark Shadows, appearing in just 82 episodes in 1968 on the controversial "Dream Curse" storyline. For me, Rodan, and his interaction with cast members Humbert Allen Astredo and Thayer David are the saving grace of that storyline. "The Dream Curse" was never meant to be binge watched and is a bit of a repetitive slog for 21st century viewers. Rodan's petulant man-monster "Adam" and his struggles with living up to the impossible standards of his sketchy "fathers" make his episodes a joy, though. And I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.

It's always bothered me that Rodan never got the second chance on Dark Shadows that other, less interesting performers received. Perhaps he just didn't click with viewers. Most likely he just didn't click with show runner Dan Curtis. But it would have been nice to see him in fancy dress during one of the show's many historical flashbacks, perhaps playing the ancestor of one of Adam's "donors." And it would have been great to have seen Adam return to Collinsport older, wiser and more calculating. 

Sadly. Rodan's only other big credits were as a Spock-like alien in a 1969 commercial for Cheer laundry detergent, and a lead in 1969 feature film The Minx, which makes drafting any eulogy a challenge. Rodan returned to Collinsport momentarily in 2006 for the Big Finish audiodrama Dark Shadows: The House of Despair as "Man on Train," and again in 2006 for The Rage Beneath as "Oswald Gravenor." 

None of this leaves me with a lot to say about a man I never met. But you know what they say about the perspicacity of pictures ... so enjoy the images below. The first is a drawing I commissioned from Darth Vader & Son and Unlikely creator Jeffrey Brown a few years back. The rest should speak for themselves. 

RIP, big guy.

- Wallace

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 22

Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 459


In the wake of his mothers suicide, Barnabas Collins vows to take revenge… if his father doesn’t shoot him with a silver bullet, first. Joshua: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 minutes)

Hearing that his mother is dead because of revelations by Nathan Forbes, Barnabas goes about the business of revenge. Meanwhile, Forbes responds with a crossbow. 

In 1795, the cherished friends and beloved relatives around Barnabas Collins have been dead for years. Barnabas was, too. Until, and you see this coming, he died. This would all be “electrocuting a dead horse” except that this arc mentions the concepts of death and life constantly. When Jonathan Frid delivers the line telling Forbes that bullets will have no effect because he’s already dead, he’s savors the words with unusually deliberate relish. In fact, he is at his most Shakespearean in this episode. Not because of an accent. Not because he stands around posing in tights, using archaic language. No, for legitimate reasons. Listen to his treatment of the really grand statements.  Words are stretched into multisyllabic wrappings over decisions and discoveries of cosmic import.  He’s not only getting the most out of their intentional weight.  He has found the dreadful music of death and revenge and the language that describes them.

We take death for granted on Dark Shadows. In 1795, it’s not just a consequence. It is the subject of philosophical heft without weighing the audience down with ascetic and academic self-consciousness about it. Death is both a metaphor and a very real state of being. For once, it has, by explored implication, been given proper attention… and by implication so has a meaningful life. We stand on the battlefield of fallen characters who have no voice. Well, except for one.

By finally standing outside of Life, there are no more appearances to keep up. Really, all of the rules of the living are what cost Barnabas his life. Was he in love with Josette? Perhaps social class taboos and a marriage prospect with a business prospect chaser kept him from confessing his true feelings, even to himself. I don’t call that living. 

The fact that Barnabas walks and speaks and feels is all of the proof we need that, on this program, death simply releases a cursed figure to explore living. Joshua, on the other hand, is a prisoner to expectations. His need to appear in control is so pervasive and toxic that it takes being in the throes of death for his wife to say she still loves him. 

Of course, the real journey of the storyline belongs to Joshua, reluctantly exploring and admitting the moments of humanity forbidden to him otherwise. It’s unclear how Joshua became so incredibly stoic, but I will guess that life at sea, having to coexist among pirates and slavers, changes a man. His charting of an underdeveloped sense of humanity exists less on the page, and so Louis Edmonds must be lavishly praised for his efforts to do so. In theory, it’s a broad part. Shouting. Taking umbrage.  Being at a loss for words on a nearly hourly basis. You know, those things are easy. They are a puckish southerner’s spoof of New England finery.  Underneath that is a keenly focused, gently urged character evolution. Frankly, if the actions of Angelique could not bring that about, the character would lack humanity, completely.

More than anywhere else, we see the effects of the curse. Exactly what she said: those he loved would die. But why make him a vampire at the same time? Of course, so that he could be the cause.  The triple somersault of irony being that, outside of the domain of the living, subsisting by the ethics and standards of the dead, Barnabas would eventually live to a point that he realized he loved Angelique. And that’s the one part of the curse that, in 1840, she forgot to lift. This isn’t a soap opera. It’s Shakespeare writing a Greek tragedy commissioned by Rod Serling

On a technical level, it’s not a soap opera either. An episode like this is the payoff that we somehow knew was possible while making our way through often hundreds of episodes of semi-repeated exposition with a sidecar of looming implication. Every time Dark Shadows has an episode like that, it carries with it an implicit promise for something more. This episode is as tight and propulsive as anything written for prime time. Frid, Edmonds, Joel Crothers, and Thayer David glide through the action with equal parts passion and confidence. There has never been better chemistry on the program than with Jonathan Frid and Louis Edmonds as Barnabas and Joshua. Opening with the immediate fallout from Naomi‘s suicide, and with the ticking clocks of Victoria's fate and the oncoming sunrise, it manages to go about solving its problems (and inventing new ones) with purposeful urgency that never devolves into sloppiness or panic. It’s too busy addressing the problems of the living with the insight of the dead.

This episode was broadcast March 28, 1968.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

What is The Ghastling?

Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. Or maybe you don't? It's possible you don't even know my real name ... the few times I got "recognized" at the 2016 Dark Shadows Festival, people were surprised to discover they were actually talking to Patrick McCray. The most confusing moment was when a reader told me about how Patrick was once mean to them online, but that they didn't hold his bad behavior against me. (Spoiler: 'Twas I who had told him to "eat a bag of dicks.")

That's a long-winded explanation for why you might not know about my other creative alter ego, Unlovely Frankenstein*, who is also the new graphic designer for The Ghastling

The brainchild of editor Rebecca Parfitt, The Ghastling is a biannual short-story magazine modeled on Victorian penny dreadfuls. I'm sharing this on a website dedicated to Dark Shadows, which should tell you what you want to know about its content. If you would like more information, visit or its Patreon at

My first issue (lucky #13) is being edited this week, so it's premature to reveal much of anything about it. But you can see a small sampling of imagery from the issue below. 

* For the sake of brevity, Unlovely Frankenstein is being credited in the magazine as Wallace McBride. Welcome to my identity crisis, Est. 1982.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Fangoria! The Rondo Awards! Exclamation points!

First things first: The Collinsport Historical Society has been nominated for Best Website of 2020 by The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. The ballot for this year's honors was released yesterday, which saw the CHS nominated in this category for the ninth year running. It's great to see this website still represented at the Rondos, which always puts our work in great company. Don't expect to see a huge push from us in this year's competition, though ... I've got too much on my plate at the moment to focus on trying to win a contest against the likes of websites as big as Bloody Disgusting. But by all means, vote! Rod Labbe is also nominated for an interview he did for Retrofan with David Selby. You can see the full ballot at

Meanwhile, Fangoria Editor in Chief Phil Nobile Jr shared shared the list of contributors to the magazine's upcoming issue, due out April. Look, there's my name! And Kathryn Leigh Scott! What could this possibly be about? WHAT?!

2021 began with Fangoria making a few changes to its circulation strategy. The current issue is the first to be available on newstands, so make a beeline for your nearest Barnes & Noble if you want to catch up. Or you can pick up a subscription to Fangoria today online at

- Wallace McBride

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 4

Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 980


Be careful what you wish for, Barnabas. You just might get it when the Parallel Time room takes you on a one-way trip into another dimension. Sky Rumson: Geoffrey Scott. (Repeat; 30 min.)

A desperate Sky Rumson's gambit fails. In the effort, Jeb plunges off Widow's Hill, Carolyn plunges into depression, and Barnabas forces Sky to shoot himself. With the danger passed, Barnabas is no longer distracted from the desperate pangs of bloodlust. In a last ditch hope that the rules will be different for him in Parallel Time, Barnabas explores the mysterious portal once more and finds himself trapped there.

Have you ever had the experience of watching a scene on the show, finding it well-acted and dramatically compelling, about matters that are absolutely crucial to the characters, but when it was all over, you'll be damned if you can remember what happened? It seemed like something was happening. Everyone was behaving as if something were happening.  And yet, turn the corner, and you're still at Worthington Hall. Masters of that particular medium are forced to do what I can only call a form of Zen anti-writing.  Everything has to matter. Everything has to have dramatic dynamism. But it must be limited to as little real growth as possible. 

And it has to happen in a medium designed to be both constantly compelling and yet accessible by audiences who can't afford to be excessively distracted. They’ve got ham salad to grind out by 5:30 and still have to give the kids a shot or two of benadryl before you-know-who gets home. Okay, you can't say that nothing happens. But what was it, exactly?  This strange chemistry is the reason that we can’t stop watching a soap opera once it begins resonating with us. Why is it so familiar? That unlikely fusion of constant tension wrapped up in the frustrating amber of inertia resembles daily life closer than any form of art that comes to mind. Even Dark Shadows. Maybe, especially Dark Shadows. We spend weeks and months waiting for some sort of inevitable change. When it happens, as it does in “reality,” it transpires with a blink-punishing swiftness.  It's always satisfying, and yet, it never quite lives up to our expectations. Sometimes, it’s better.  In fact, it often shames the impulse of having expectations by exceeding them while falling just short enough to keep us watching. 

Characters on soap operas see The Resolution as the end of their problems. We know that they serve to usher in new ones. To writers and producers, they represent opportunities. And for the writers and producers of Dark Shadows, they represent the possibility to electrify the culture, itself. The saturation of Barnabas and Quentin into the zeitgeist proves my point. Creating them created inadvertent cultural power for the producers. And with that came the pressure to sustain it. To top it. To remain on the cultural vanguard. And, through the injection of novelty, often through novel actors, shield themselves from the power of performers to see themselves as indispensable.  Everything after Barnabas, it’s safe to say, was an attempt to re-create that success. It’s easy to evaluate that success or failure based on how storylines resolve themselves, if they ever even do. I think it’s more interesting to look at beginnings and wonder about the aspirations within.

Few transitions are as dramatic as this one. Ultimately, few will be as strangely permanent.  Sky Rumson is gone. Barnabas doesn't even bother to bite him. Even if he enslaved Rumson as his blood-bound servant, he wouldn’t exactly be a familiar worth bragging about. Sky would probably knock on Barnabas' coffin multiple times a day. Asking for a glass of water or warning him that they sent a new milkman.  

Letting go of Sky Rumson‘s small potatoes; we must concede that Jeb is gone as well. It's not like the show didn't give the character a fair shake. His storyline kept going even after the primary threat presented by it was over for weeks.  As much as they tried, Jeb never took off like Quentin or Barnabas. I sincerely wonder what Dark Shadows would have looked like if Jeb had been as popular as the Collins cousins. Would they have needed Parallel Time to cover shooting the movie? Could they have afforded to go at all?

From a certain perspective, PT is the boldest and most awkwardly optimistic piece of storytelling on the show, designed to please fans while taking away all of the characters with enough saturation to carry an unprecedented feature film. But what if it were potentially more?

I have every confidence that the production team looked at Jeb with hope. After two years of dizzying success, was anything outside the realm of possibility?  And if not Jeb, then Parallel Time. Yes, they had every reason to believe that Parallel Time could be a success, also. Why not? They had already done it once. In so many ways, 1897 is a Parallel Time story. It reflects a number of the earlier, more successful plot elements of the classic period but with the confidence and swagger of a show that knows what it's doing. Dark Shadows could have easily continued in 1897, and although everyone would be curious about the events taking place in the present, they were hardly bereft of pure DS entertainment. Among other things, it's Dark Shadows the way it could have been, had Dan Curtis known what he could get away with. After the mixed reception of the Leviathan arc, perhaps the team wondered if they should have stayed with the better mousetrap of 1897. Perhaps this upcoming storyline is a way to correct the mistake, if only metaphorically.

It feels as if the writers are yet again playing their own Monday morning quarterbacks by recreating the show based on even more of what has defined success. This means leaving something behind. The prospect of a successful introduction to Parallel Time explains a number of the more controversial choices of the movie. What kind of film kills off most of its major characters? Maybe one that is preparing audiences for the idea that Dark Shadows can continue without those characters. Obviously, the film universe and the television universe are two separate things, so we are speaking symbolically, not literally. Imagine that Parallel Time had been a roaring success. By the film’s release, the franchise would stand redefined. Could Parallel Time have become the series’ new home? In a post-Vicki universe, anything is possible. 

The potential success of PT was not in its novel concept. No one speaks of it in the same breath as “Mirror, Mirror.” Its strength simply lies in its freedom to rewrite the rules. But with tried and true elements that they had discovered, rather than as points of pre-production speculation.

David Selby is a success, so why not make him the head of the household? I would certainly tune in.  Kathryn Leigh Scott can clearly do more than just pour coffee, so what if she becomes the Mistress of Collinwood…  who is also a stranger? One who can view the mansion’s antics with the objectivity of an outsider.  In other words, Victoria Winters on spiritual steroids. While Grayson Hall plays a tremendous best friend, she's too good as a villain to waste. So, let her do what she does best. At least, what she does best when not in Gypsy drag. And look at how much more capable and intelligent they allowed Willie Loomis to become. Well, Parallel Time allows for that, also. Rounding out the ensemble, you have an Angelique who is deservedly a point of attention for everyone, rather than The Other Woman.  After all, they had seen exactly what Lara Parker could do, so why not make the spotlight even brighter? It may have been intended as more than a placeholder in the Dark Shadows saga. It feels like the a further refinement of marvelous elements they discovered while getting there. And, conveniently, you have your most popular character just waiting to be released. 

Why consider this? None of this happened, of course. Parallel Time was not a Barnabas nor Quentin-level success. Neither were the Leviathans. But look at these storylines based on their potential as well as their delivery. Because at this point, it was all about potential. If you've never seen the show, this might be objectively evaluate valuated as the start of the next big thing. When it's not that, it gives the rest of us a greater reason to sit back and reflect on what really made Dark Shadows, at its best, work.

This episode was broadcast March 27, 1970.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

In Memoriam: Geoffrey Scott (1942-2021)



Dark Shadows was known for actors with myriad positive qualities. When considering the male leads to appear after Mitch Ryan, ‘stalwart’ isn’t always the first word to shuffle up on the rolodex. Could David Selby, Roger Davis, and Joel Crothers project the quality if called upon? Of course. Blindfolded, in their sleep, on an iced tightrope, in a hurricane, backwards, with a drink in their hand… not spill a drop. They could be ‘stalwart’ with characteristic ease and truth, but Geoffrey Scott simply was. This was, literally, the Marlboro Man come to Collinsport. This was a man so tough that he went from having both legs crushed in a biking accident to resuming a career as a virile, athletic screen presence. He topped this by moving to the Rocky Mountain area because he enjoyed the skiing. If I discovered that he were powered by the rays of Earth’s yellow sun, far from his native Krypton, I wouldn’t be surprised. He held his own against the Hulk and Margaret Hamilton at various points in his career, and that cannot be said for many other actors.  

He came to us on Dark Shadows with an unenviable task. Thanks to the 1897 storyline, Angelique credibly transitioned from unforgivable villain to a clever, brilliantly strategic heroine with a wistfully sad Secret. It is probably the most overlooked gem in the crown of that storyline. Soon after, we reunite with her in late 1969 to find her married. Dark Shadows fans are protective of Angelique.  What kind of man could possibly satisfy this literal Force of Nature? Casting the part of her husband may have been one of the most difficult tasks for the producers in the course of the show. The answer? Again, the Marlboro Man… Hollywood-born stuntman, model, and actor, Geoffrey Scott. 

Not just the Marlboro Man, but also a Camel smoker who, we were told, walked more than a mile for one... he walked to the Taj Mahal! Only a guy like Geoffrey Scott could do that with an easy confidence that made him look right at home.  

As hunky, magnate publisher, Sky Rumson, Scott was as warmly likable as he was blindly ambitious when we discovered his true identity as a Leviathan cultist. After the headaches caused by the intense and introspective Collins men, it’s understandable why Angelique finds this rugged, all-American, hardworking businessman an uncomplicated relief. And It's just as easy to feel her betrayal when his occult affiliation surfaces. Lara Parker and Geoffrey Scott had an easy chemistry, and that’s understandable. Both appeared with Dan Hedaya in the off-Broadway musical, Lulu, and made a darn good looking couple. 

Scott went on to be in constant demand for commercials, television, and film. A frequent guest star on programs like Matt Houston, Harry-O, and Dynasty, he was no stranger to comedy, also appearing on Married… With Children. He was a lead as well, starring in the innovative NBC program, Cliffhangers, with Jerry Reed in Concrete Cowboys (taking over in a role originated by Tom Selleck), and in one of the first made-for-cable series, 1st & Ten. The latter was a role he won out from competing actor, Chris Pennock. No hard feelings. He was simply made for it.

Like John Beck, Geoffrey Scott was the kind of star who refused to be taken down by the bullet of fashionable irony that pursued the unique, American institution known as the square-jawed leading man. There was, and we hope, always will be a demand for actors of the honest and knowing strength epitomized by Mr. Scott. His career began on Dark Shadows, and as one of its alums, he made the show proud by continuing to evolve as a hardworking and welcomed presence across the spectrum of performance. His final film role was as the president in 2003’s Hulk. 

He had my vote. Thank you, sir.

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