Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas Collins, left, and David Selby, who plays Quentin Collins, in the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows”, April 16, 1969. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)
by Herbie J Pilato
EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t miss Part 1, conveniently located HERE
THE MAYHEM OF THE MACABRE
1969: 20,000,000 viewers are now obsessed with Quentin, Barnabas and DS in general. The show’s popularity reaches mammoth proportions. Followers from every nook and cranny come out of the woodwork…even the woodwork from the White House. For on October 31st, Halloween 1969, Tricia Nixon gives a Halloween Party for 250 underprivileged children, and Jonathan Frid is invited.
Other invitations are accepted. DS cast members help to raise more than $300,000 for Muscular Dystrophy; 680,000 screaming fans show up at a Founder’s Day parade.
Grayson Hall (who plays Dr. Julia Hoffman, and later with utter genius as the gypsy Magda – and who’s married to DS writer Sam Hall), Frid), and a young DS ingénue fear for their lives when rabid vampire fans attack the vehicle in which they are riding. This is it. Frid has had it. He needs a vacation. He demands time off. The writers comply…to deathly consequences.
Edward Collins (as played by the late, great Louis Edmunds) discovers Barnabas’ secret…that he is indeed a knight of the living dead. For the first time in the show’s history, an all-out vampire hunt is underway.
Barnabas is then cornered and staked, which causes a riotous upheaval from fans.
As appeasement, the show introduces a storyline with the powerful Leviathans who rescue Barnabas. The time-line shifts once more, and Barnabas returns to 1969 – the present. But he’s cold and unfeeling – very unlike the Barnabas viewers first fell in love with. He’s free from vampirism, but seemingly more diabolical. It doesn’t register with the viewer. So he’s cursed again to suck blood, so the watchers can once again feel his pain. But the show turns too violent, and becomes a blood bath. He’s sucking people dry left and right. The fans are not happy.
Their dissent worsens, especially since David Selby has by now left the show (when Quentin exits Collinwood to search for a lost love). ARookie-actress and future Charlie’s Angel joins the cast as a ghost hoping to fill the void. But not even a later-day Goodbye Girl in the guise of Marsha Mason can capture the magic of Shadows gone-bye. The situation grows darker, when the “Parallel Time” episode arc begins. The show is different. The fans accept the time-traveling, the actors playing ancestors of the descendants they also portray. But the viewers aren’t buying the parallel universe bit, in which the actors play doppelgangers of the same-time characters.
The plots become confusing, even to the players. To top it all off, there’s a movie afoot.
House of Dark Shadows, the first of two feature films based on the TV series, goes into production. The cast films the movie and the television show at the same time. Everyone’s exhausted. Tempers fly during the scant five weeks all are given to complete the motion picture. Actors are shuttled from Manhattan, where the series is filmed, to Tarrytown, New York – 25 miles away – where the movie is being shot.
The schedule is hectic, and the strain is showing up on both the small and large screens. What’s more, tests audiences object to the hanging scene with little David Collins (played by David Hennesy). So it’s clipped from the movie. But then, MGM thinks the film is too long. The suits request some editing, to size it down to 90 minutes, instead of 2-hours. Dan Curtis protests. But he has no choice. He succumbs, and the movie suffers, creatively. Yet the fans still line-up to see it – by the groves.
However, all is not like it used to be, certainly not the TV show. For the like the new movie, it wreaks with violence. The charm and innocence at the core of Dark’s original appeal has been lost. As Jonathan Frid once put it, the film lacked the “naivete of the soap opera. Every once in a while, the show coalesced into a Brigadoonish never-never-land. It wasn’t necessary to bring the rest of the world into Dark Shadows, which is what the film did.”
Still, House of DS saves MGM from bankruptcy, and a second movie is ordered. This one, titled, Night of Dark Shadows, is worse. It’s not even scary. Again, the blame is pinned on editing. Apparently, the film’s consistent storyline ends up on the editing room floor.
Back on the small screen, things aren’t much better. The “Parallel Time” story arc is killing the show. A time-travel trip to 1995 fails to rev up viewer engines. One last dabble into the occult serving as a possible saving grace. Once more, Dan Curtis borrows from another familiar tale. A curse storyline based on the controversial Shirley Jackson story called The Lottery. But there’s no winning numbers. Soon, the lights are out, and the Shadows are no more.
The series ends with wink-eyed words to the viewer spoken by Thayer David’s marbled-mouthed Ben Stokes: “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…and for as long as they lived, the dark shadows of Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past.”
And despite thousands of fan letters that form a “Bring Back Dark Shadows” campaign, the lights go out, and newly-made Shadows fade to black.
That is, until some twenty years later.
THE DARK DESCENDANTS
1990: Five years before the fantasy 1995 time-line on Dark Shadowsis to actually end the original series, a new DS shows up in prime-time in reality, once a week on NBC – not even its original ABC network. The characters are the same, but the actors are different. As with the two DS feature films and the last season of the first series, missing is the campy charm, replaced with too serious a take and rendering on the Collins family portrait. This new Dark is filmed with a big-budget, and not videotaped on a shoestring. The new DS is just plain no fun to watch, even with the respected Jean Simmons (of classic movie-lore, as well as sci-fi fandom via the Planet of the Apes).
None of it matters. The backlash begins.
It’s the “Old Shadows Fans” v. “New Shadows Fans” scenario. It’s like “Original Trek” v. “Next Generation.” Fans of the first Shadows are aghast with what they see – and don’t see – in the new Dark. Where’s Jonathan Frid? Who the hell is Ben Cross?
But then, something characteristically eerie transpires. The DS fans combine and begin to realize that any Dark, is better than no Dark. And a subtle cult following soon begins to take form for the new series.
But it’s too late. NBC cancels the series after six episodes, and Dan Curtis is left wondering if he should have instead taken this new Shadows into syndication.
THE FESTIVAL OF FRIGHTS
Cast reprise. So many are gone. The veteran grand Grayson Hall and Thayer David. The charming young Joel Crothers (who succumbs to AIDS).
Others are snarled in controversy (Alexandra Moltke finds herself testifying in court over a scandalous marriage).
Still others flourish in many an enterprise. David Selby finds a comfortable regular role on Falcon Crest. John Karlen plays a drunken dad on the Emmy-winning Cagney & Lacey. Kate Jackson goes on to be one of Charlie’s Angels, while we learn her former co-star Jaclyn Smith was once married to Shadows cast member Roger Davis (who at one point replaces the late Peter Deuel on ABC’s prime-time western Alias Smith & Jones).
Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans, Josette Du Pres) discovers further fame as a frequent TV guest star (on shows like the original Police Squad TV series and the aforementioned Star Trek: The Next Generation), and becomes the official DS literary chronicler. Her former Shadows costar Lara Parker now writes Dark novels, while she also continues to act. They all try to make it to as many DS Festivals as they can.
But the one fans still most eagerly stand in line to see is none other than Jonathan Frid. The man who could not see himself in the mirror…the man who brought unanimous joy to countless DS fans throughout the world, throughout the ages.
Until the day he died in real life in 2012…tellingly, right before the premiere of the new Dark Shadows feature film starring Johnny Depp (and directed by Tim Burton), Jonathan Frid – the talented, theatrically-trained thespian traveled with his one-man show variously titled, “Jonathan Frid’s Shakespearean Odyssey” and “Jonathan Frid’s Fools & Fiends,” each hearkening in some subliminal – and maybe direct – way, to the fact that Dark Shadows was indeed a hit show due to this…one and only original iconic man…surrounded by an original cast of legends that can never be fully duplicated – in any time period, parallel or otherwise.
In addition to his work as an author, and TV producer, Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between popular culture and education. For more information, log on to www.ClassicTVPS.blogspot.com.