Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Some TV shows refuse to die; their possessed fans won’t let them.
Lee Rosenbloom was 11 years old when he saw the first episode of Dark Shadows on June 27, 1966. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he says now. “I was hooked right away. There was nothing (on TV) like it before.”
To prepare for the golden anniversary of the golden soap opera created by Dan Curtis, Rosenbloom binge-watched all 1,245 episodes; he started last December and finished in May. This weekend, Rosenbloom, now 61, will join the thousands expected to gather at the Women’s Club in Hollywood in Los Angeles for the second of two official Dark Shadows Festival 50th anniversary celebrations (the first was held last June in Tarrytown, New York).
Dark Shadows was supernatural on TV before supernatural on TV was cool. Just as a previous generation rushed home from school in thrall to the Musketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club, so were children of the 60s bewitched by the cursed Collins clan of Collinsport, Maine. One-hundred-seventy-five-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins, indelibly embodied by Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid, became the most soulful and conflicted vampire in the history of bloodsuckers, the show’s breakout star and romantic antihero.
At the show’s peak in the late 1960s, when there were only three major broadcast networks, it drew 20 million viewers, according to Jim Pierson, marketing director at Dan Curtis Productions, and keeper of the Dark Shadows flame. “At a time of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and all this upheaval, at 3 in the afternoon was this great fantasy escape,” he told Vanity Fair. “The imaginative storytelling and romance sparked the enthusiasm of housewives and there was the spooky stuff to attract the younger generation.”
For several cast members, Dark Shadows was their first professional acting gig and they were shocked at the show’s reach, influence, and impact. “(At the show’s peak) I was in a Land Rover in the Serengeti at 4:30 in the morning watching a pride of lions eat a wildebeest,” remembered Kathryn Leigh Scott, who portrayed waitress Maggie Evans and three other characters—including Josette Du Pres, ranked by TV Guide in 2008 among “the sexiest undead.” “Another Land Rover pulled up next to us, and I heard this little girl’s voice say, ‘Mommy, that’s Maggie Evans.’”
Even eerier encounters awaited Lara Parker, who portrayed Angelique, the witch who put the vampire curse on Barnabas. Her mere presence on a subway platform had the power to freak out children. “The kids would be coming home from school and they would scream, ‘There’s Angelique” and run away,” she said. “Over the years when more and more people came to the (annual) festivals, I realized we had done something unique that had created this faithful following.”
The show had its celebrity fans as well. Parker remembers a telegram sent by Joanne Woodward that read, “Dark Shadows, I love you.” Neil Simon brought his children to the set prompting one of the actors, Parker recalled, to take advantage of a casting opportunity and execute pratfalls to try and impress him.
This is really shocking: Entertainment Weekly left “Dark Shadows” off its 2014 list of the greatest cult TV series of all time. TV Guide, at least, ranked it 23rd on its 2007 ranking of the Top 30 Cult Shows; that’s ahead of Strangers with Candy and H.R. Pufnstuff, but behind Jericho. (Nuts!)
But Dark Shadows has to rank with Star Trek, which also debuted in 1966, for fan devotion and afterlife. It aired its last episode in 1971, but has rarely been off the air since, airing on outlets ranging from Syfy to PBS.
The fans are very protective of the show and its legacy, embracing even inevitable and endearing mistakes that occurred during the show’s live taping. “We had prop men walking through the background, gravestones would fall, people would forget their lines and call each other by their own names,” Parker recalled.
But the show, more Gothic than gory, also cast an indelible spell. “I can’t tell you the number of filmmakers who have taken me aside and said they picked up a movie camera because of Dark Shadows,” Scott said. “Tim Burton, for heaven’s sake.”
Dark Shadows inspired two feature films, one with Frid’s Barnabas (The House of Dark Shadows) and one without (Night of Dark Shadows). In 1991, NBC mounted a short-lived revival. Two decades later, Tim Burton resurrected the Collins clan with his more comic than creepy feature film, Dark Shadows, that featured cameos by Parker, Scott, Frid, and David Selby, who portrayed werewolf Quentin Collins, a character who inspired the 1969 top 40 hit, “Quentin’s Theme” by Charles Randolph Grean Sounde. The week Burton’s film premiered, Mad Men aired an episode titled “Dark Shadows,” in which Don Draper’s wife, aspiring actress Megan, prepared to audition for the show.
A fan newsletter, ShadowGram, is nearing its 40th anniversary. And, of course, the show is available in several incarnations on home video. The ultimate set contains the complete series on 131-DVDs and is packaged in a coffin-shaped box.
At least 10 cast and crew members are expected to attend the 50th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles. As part of the festivities, which will include an auction of “Dark Shadows” memorabilia, Parker will read from her new novel, Heiress of Collinwood, while Scott will read a short story published last year in a mystery anthology that is “a nod and a wink to ‘Dark Shadows.’”
“It doesn’t even cross my mind when I walk on a set, but there are people who grew up watching Dark Shadows and they usually find a time to tell me,” said Scott, who appears in the upcoming Hallmark Channel film Broadcasting Christmas. I just love hearing it. As soon as I finished my last scene, people started lining up to have their picture taken with me. They said, ‘I used to run home from school to watch you.’”
Scott figures that if she had a dollar for every time someone told her that, she would have “a gorgeous apartment on Central Park West.”
Michael Culhane was one of those kids. In Chicago, where he grew up, it aired at 3 p.m. when he was getting out of school. “I was a flat-out fast runner,” he told Vanity Fair, “but most days I was lucky if I got home in time to catch at least one scene.”
The family then moved to Chicago, where Culhane’s father John worked as a media editor for Newsweek magazine. The elder Culhane was assigned a story about the “Dark Shadows” phenomenon and he visited the set with Michael in tow. Michael would later find his diary record of that day and write a song, “I Wrote It Down.” The music video features a photo of him next to Barnabas himself and sporting fangs.
“Once fans find the show,” Parker reflected, “they feel they are part of a club. They know all the bloopers; they know where the bodies are buried. It’s like watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show and knowing every single word. I tend to be very humble about it. I was lucky to get the part and had a wonderful time doing the show. It was my best job.”