From the beginning, Dark Shadows lives up to its name. Full of mysterious characters with secrets to be kept, the debut episode, and the three that follow, is set during the nighttime, when a sense of foreboding pervades the deepest, when the ghosts of yesterday seem the most threatening, piercing the looming shades of darkness like the light of an oncoming train.
And this is how Dark Shadows begins, a few minutes before nine o’clock at night aboard a high-speed railway train somewhere Down East as the protagonist, Victoria Winters, staring ahead with a look of dreamy optimism, introduces herself via thinks monologue and tells us about the purpose and destination of her journey as she speculates on what she may find there in that “strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea, high atop Widow’s Hill, a house called Collinwood…” Everyone she meets along the way will attempt to tear apart the hope she has centered on this determined quest, beginning with the nosy woman seated beside her, Mrs. Mitchell, who engages Miss Winters in conversation.
Mrs. Mitchell is everyone’s fellow traveler nightmare, a busybody old lady with a hornet’s nest for a hat whose voice is so monotonally pronounced and overbearing she makes even single-syllable words sound eternally drawn out and intolerably migraine inducing. But her poking into Miss Winters’ business is a necessary bit of exposition, because episode writer Art Wallace wants the viewer to know what kind of a place the town of Collinsport is — the sort of place where even the most seasoned of traveler stays clear of. Which is odd, because in the Collinsport travel brochure that Wallace also wrote up (aka the “series bible” Shadows on the Wall), he describes the town as a popular tourist attraction in summer as well as a haven for bohemian artists. But, whatever, we have to create some tension for the protagonist to walk into, because this is detergent land television, Gothic novel style.
Incidentally, while Mrs. Mitchell is rambling on, a curious thing happens. You hear what sounds like a railway crossing that the train is apparently passing through, because there is the sound effect of a clanging bell whose report bends as if it were being passed at high speed. Right away, we encounter something that sets Dark Shadows apart from the more typical detergent land drama programs. It’s as if there’s a real and full-dimensional world just outside the impressively true to life sets the show is taping its scenes from. When you think of a typical soap from the time, you might think of plain cheap sets housing perpetually troubled souls brooding or stressing their way through deeply personal dialogue, with that dreary, clichéd ballpark organ music meandering about, a bit like those parodies you would see on The Carol Burnett Show in the seventies, like As The Stomach Turns. Because from the moment Victoria Winters steps off the train, it will feel more like she is walking into some kind of film noir, with its very own decidedly spooky soundtrack as an atmospheric backdrop.
But she hasn’t reached that point just yet. And thankfully for the viewer as the incessant goat-like voice of Mrs. Mitchell rattles on like a sheet metal factory an hour before lunch break, she slips into reverie where she recalls discussing with Mrs. Hopewell, her supervisor at the foundling home where she grew up and more recently has been working, the letter offering her the job of tutoring a small boy. In this flashback, something significant is mentioned.
Mrs. Hopewell: Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, Collinsport, Maine. No, I’m sorry, Victoria, that name doesn’t mean anything to me. When did you get this letter?
Victoria: This morning. Mrs. Hopewell, I don’t know why she should offer me the position. I’ve never heard of the woman.
Mrs. Hopewell: Well obviously she’s heard of you.
That’s something that may be worth recalling at a later date, that obviously Mrs. Stoddard has heard of Victoria Winters. But, how so? We also discover from this exchange that Collinsport is only fifty miles from Bangor, and that when Mrs. Hopewell asks Victoria if she thinks there’s any connection, it means that there is indeed something linking her past with this general area of the state of Maine. So this is the basis for her journey, to see if being a companion and governess to the son of Elizabeth Stoddard’s brother will clarify for her what connection there may be, if any.
Speaking of Elizabeth Stoddard’s brother, Roger Collins is quite an interesting character — mainly because he seems like someone who has something to hide. When you view that opening scene in the Collinwood drawing room between Elizabeth and Roger, you might think he knows more about the soon to be arriving governess than he lets on given the way he does a dramatic palm smashing of a brandy glass to close out the scene. Or maybe it’s just that he has no control over his own life. He has lived extravagantly for the last ten years, having spent his way through his entire inheritance so that he is forced to move back home to a house that is run by his sister and likewise be a mere employee in the family business which his sister also controls. He has just emerged from an unhappy marriage, but is still carrying some baggage from those years in the form of a nine-year-old son he detests (“The little monster’s asleep, and I’m delighted”). Finally, he has no say in the educational decisions regarding his own son, and when he protests by warning his sister that she is “inviting problems…” she cuts him off abruptly with the withering statement, “The only problem I’ve invited is standing here before me at this moment.” This silences Roger’s patrician loquaciousness completely, and after watching his sister leave the drawing room to go upstairs he will end the scene with a dramatic flourish, the breaking of a brandy glass having taken the place of his voice of concern.
When Victoria Winters finally steps off the train, a most amusing thing happens — no one is there to meet her. As we’ve already been told, Collinwood is a secluded residence atop a lonely perch known as Widow’s Hill. In the opening scene we see Victoria’s new employer, Elizabeth Stoddard, looking out the window at the ocean, anticipating the arrival of the new governess. As we will soon discover, there are at least three cars in the garage and in addition the caretaker has a station wagon, but when she finds herself on the platform of Collinsport Train Station she has to ask a stranger if there is any taxi service in the area.
This does at first make the inhabitants of Collinwood, and Elizabeth Stoddard in particular, seem inconsiderate, but it’s only for the sake of exposition, so the viewer can learn that the stranger in question, Burke Devlin, has a past connection with Collinwood and that it isn’t necessarily a pleasant one, and also so that we can be introduced to more sets and characters along the way, as well as get a bit of backstory on this dark and curious man who has offered Victoria a ride to the hotel so she can get a taxi from there to her destination.
But when we get to the lobby of Collinsport Inn, we find that Devlin’s background is for the moment elusive, because he is playing a game called Pretend You Don’t Know Me. When he rings the bell on the front desk and the hotel clerk emerges from the restaurant, the following exchange occurs:
Mr. Wells: Sorry, I was just gettin’ a cup of coffee.
Devlin: My name’s Devlin.
Mr. Wells: What? Why, Burke! It’s nice to see — .
Devlin: Burke Devlin! I wired for three rooms.
Mr. Wells: Yes sir. Oh, yes, Mr. Devlin. We’re expectin’ yah. Your rooms are ready. I think I have a message for yah.
Devlin: And I want a taxi for this girl.
Mr. Wells: Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t think that’ll be possible for a while. Harry… Why, you know Harry!
Devlin: I don’t remember anyone!
So while Victoria goes into the coffee shop to wait for her taxi, let’s follow Devlin to another set. If we can’t learn more about him, at least we can find something else out. After all, we’re only getting the governess to the front door of her new employer this first episode, and in the meantime we’re just picking up all the introductory background information these first twenty-two minutes will allow.
And what better means of acquiring this information than through a private investigator — who will just state the facts on, for instance, Victoria Winters’ new employer Elizabeth Stoddard, a recluse who hasn’t left the grounds of her estate in eighteen years. In fact, the information will be given in so point blank a manner that the private investigator, Wilbur Strake, may just as well be reading his lines off of a piece of paper, which he practically does in the form of a report he has compiled for his client, Burke Devlin, over a beer at the local waterfront drinking and dining establishment known as the Blue Whale.
But Strake does it with real flair. Though his name is mentioned occasionally in some episodes ahead, Strake only appears in the first two, and that’s kind of a shame because the character of Wilbur Strake as played by Joseph Julian lends great style and presence to his scenes. He speaks in a manner once referred to as “hard-boiled.” For instance, when he mentions to Devlin that his assignment in Collinsport wasn’t a particularly easy one, he says it like this: “You know, I should charge you double the way these people clam up.” Just imagine those period mystery noir movies with the tough-talking gent in the suit, tie, overcoat, and hat who goes after all the facts. That’s Wilbur Strake alright.
There’s a rather funny moment in this scene when the bartender recognizes Devlin after bringing a round of beers to their table. On his way back to the bar, the bartender stops, then turns to take a long glance back, and Devlin shrinks away awkwardly, like a fugitive on the lam.
Following this, Strake, grinning with amusement, reassures his client: “He’s a nice fella. Thinks I’m a real estate salesman. That’s a laugh, isn’t it? He says this joint really starts jumpin’ in about a half an hour when the kids get here.” Strake is fun. It would have been nice to have had him appear in more than just two episodes.
So while Devlin is getting the lowdown on every member of the Collins family and everyone connected with them, let’s head back to the coffee shop of Collinsport Inn and see how Victoria Winters is doing. Not so great, as it happens. After being served a sandwich and coffee, the waitress proceeds to call her a jerk.
Maggie: Roast beef rare, and coffee, right?
Victoria: Right. I’m starved.
Maggie: You are also a jerk.
Victoria: Beg your pardon?
Maggie: Jerk. J-E-R-K.
Victoria: Well, thanks.
Maggie: Don’t mention it. The name’s Maggie Evans. And right now I’m the last link in a long string of gossip. Sandwich rare enough for you?
Victoria: Oh, it’s fine. But I still don’t understand why — .
Maggie: It’s like this. A chauffeur tells a desk clerk, who tells a housekeeper, who tells me, that you’re going to work up at Collinwood. That makes you a jerk.
This initial version of Maggie Evans the viewers are introduced to is what used to be referred to as a “brassy dame.” In his story outline Shadows on the Wall, Art Wallace describes Maggie Evans thusly: “Maggie Evans is a cynic. At the young age of twenty-three, she looks at the world through a wry screen of disbelief, protecting herself against hurt through a rich fund of humor…” and “She’s the kind of gal who is everybody’s pal…and nobody’s friend… For essentially, Maggie is a lonely person…hoping for something and expecting nothing…”
It’s worth mentioning that the coffee shop/diner is a favorite set among fans of episodes from the first year of Dark Shadows, and with good reason. It has those classic elements and a certain down home New England charm: walls of knotted pine, a soda fountain of enamel and chrome with three taps, a pie stand with a glass dome, and a Cecilware coffee setup.
The purpose of Victoria’s stopover in the coffee shop is mainly to get another building up of what sort of disquieting situation she seems to be walking into with the folks up at Collinwood, who, according to Maggie Evans, “own the biggest, darkest, gloomiest old house. And they’re kooks! Every one of ’em.” We’ve already seen Elizabeth Stoddard and Roger Collins in action, a sister and brother who call each other fools, the latter of whom will smash a brandy glass in the palm of his hand if he doesn’t get his way. But maybe Roger’s actually harmless — just don’t shake hands with him unless you have a pair of tweezers at the ready.
But the really significant takeaway from Victoria’s diner scene with Maggie comes when she slips into another flashback where she recalls being in her room at the foundling home packing for her journey up the coast and being questioned by a fellow foundling on why she would be leaving New York for a Maine fishing village of three thousand. Incidentally, it’s the second time in this episode where she is questioned about leaving New York for small town living, considering that this is the exact opposite of how a story of self-discovery is told: Usually, the young lady leaves her native small town to find fortune and romance in the big city, as epitomized by That Girl, which would make its debut on ABC nighttime in the fall of sixty-six.
But even more profound than this is what Victoria’s fellow foundling says about her: “With your looks and brains you could get a dozen jobs right here in New York.” Okay, got that? Victoria Winters is smart! That’s how she is written, and that’s how she is introduced to viewers. There is a tendency for Dark Shadows fandom to retrospectively look upon the character of Victoria Winters as dumb — but that’s only because they haven’t seen how the character was portrayed in the first year. In fact, by the end of the second year of the show, there will be in evidence something of a dumbing down characterwise across the board, female and male characters alike. But from the beginning, Victoria Winters is sharp and is no pushover. In fact, none of the regular female characters are: Elizabeth Stoddard, Victoria Winters, Carolyn Stoddard, Maggie Evans — these are unmistakably strong characters, each of whom is capable of taking charge of a situation as the need arises. When creating these characters, Art Wallace wrote them with great integrity and respect.
So, now that we’ve got all these introductory points in order, Victoria’s taxi is ready and it’s time to bring her to the front door of Collinwood so that the pilot episode of Dark Shadows can wrap up. But before we let the credits roll, there’s just one more thing to note. As Victoria steps into the foyer of Collinwood, the camera is positioned in a curious angle — knee high, in the process making Joan Bennett appear six feet tall. Added to that is a longshot from outside the drawing room window, to show the great length of the drawing room and foyer sets together from drawing room window to front door.
In later interviews Dan Curtis has spoken of how the night before the taping of the first episode he and composer Robert Cobert and their wives had been out to dinner, and that after dinner they stopped by the studio to tour the sets that would be used for the pilot, marveling at the dimensions of the Collinwood foyer and drawing room sets in particular. And the knee-high camera angle we are given as the first episode closes seems to reinforce how in awe of these innovative, spacious, and intricately detailed sets the makers of the show were, and that the viewer should share in the wonder of it, as if to say, Just look at the size of that set on your TV screen, the sheer height of it. Have you ever seen anything so grand on daytime television?
No, indeed we have not. And by the time the series has completed its run, daytime television will never be the same again.
Elizabeth Stoddard at the drawing room window of Collinwood.
Victoria Winters and Burke Devlin meet on the platform of Collinwood Train Station.
Mr. Wells, the hotel clerk, welcomes Burke Devlin back to Collinsport.
Wilbur Strake at the Blue Whale.
The bartender at the Blue Whale recognizes Burke Devlin.
Mr. Wells looks in on Victoria.
Maggie Evans warns Victoria about working at Collinwood.
Victoria’s room back at the foundling home as she packs for her journey to Collinsport.
Victoria arrives at Collinwood.
View of Collinwood drawing room and foyer sets as seen from drawing room window.
Victoria: Excuse me. I wonder if you know if they have any taxis here.
Burke: I wouldn’t know what they have here. Not anymore.
Victoria: Well how do they expect anyone to get to town?
Burke: Broomsticks and unicorns.
As Dark Shadows was being developed it was to have been titled Shadows on the Wall. In 1965, when Dan Curtis first signed with ABC-TV to produce the show, the original title was The House on Storm Cliff.
At the beginning of Dark Shadows, rehearsals were held in the Terrace Room of the Empire Hotel on 63rd and Broadway, New York. The first fifty-five episodes were filmed at ABC-TV2 (Studio 2) on 24 West 67th Street, New York.
The location footage in the first episode was filmed two days before taping on Saturday, June 11, 1966.
Instructions on location footage for the first week of episodes.
The location footage for Collinsport Train Station was filmed in Scarborough, New York.
Alexandra Moltke and Mitchell Ryan on location in Scarborough, New York.
The location footage for Collinsport Inn was filmed in Essex, Connecticut, and features the Griswold Inn.
Alexandra Moltke and Mitchell Ryan on location in Essex, Connecticut.
The Blue Whale was originally scripted to be named The Rainbow Bar.
In early drafts of scripts for the first fifteen episodes, the Collins family mansion was to have been called Collins House, which is the name given by Art Wallace in Shadows on the Wall. The name of the family mansion was changed to Collinwood for the final drafts of the scripts, but in an early TV promo commercial ahead of the first week of episodes the announcer says, “Dark Shadows probes the hidden mysteries of Collins House…”
Image from an early Dark Shadows TV promo commercial.
Production document with cast list for first episode.
Page 1 of original script for episode 1.
Page 3 of original script for episode 1.
[Note: Above images of original script pages are taken from the book Dark Shadows: The First Year, by Nina Johnson and O. Crock (summary writers), Blue Whale Books, 2006].
The population figure of three thousand given above for Collinsport comes from Art Wallace’s story outline Shadows on the Wall, where Collinsport is described as having been a popular resort town for the past thirty years that “has grown accustomed to seeing its population of 3000 swell by almost fifty percent during the summer months.”
According to Dark Shadows Almanac, the original name for the character of Victoria Winters was to have been Sheila March.
Dark Shadows extras: In episode 1, Alfred Hinckley is the train conductor; he will also appear in episode 868 as Dr. Ian Reade. It is he who says the line, “Next stop, Collinsport!”
The woman who starts a conversation with Victoria Winters, Mrs. Mitchell, is played by Jane Rose.
During the opening narration, just before the camera moves in for a shot of Elizabeth Stoddard opening the drawing room window, a studio light can be seen above the windows to the right, partially covered by vine leaves.
Studio light from above the drawing room set.
After Victoria asks Mr. Wells whether he knows Burke Devlin, Conrad Bain stumbles on the word “this” when he answers “Since he was th-this high.”
When Maggie Evans is outlining to Victoria the stature of the Collins family, Kathryn Leigh Scott trips over the word “biggest” and says “They own the bisc-biggest fishing fleet…”
In Victoria’s room at the foundling home, as she takes an armful of clothes from her bureau and turns to pack them, the edge of the set can be seen to the right of the mirror and a crew member in a white shirt can be seen walking past.
A crew member walks past where the edge of the set for Victoria’s room at the foundling home is seen.
The Ralston Purina lamp, so named because of its red and white checkerboard design ringing the bottom of the lamp shade, is first seen on the front desk in the lobby of Collinsport Inn, where it will be a fixture for several months of episodes.
The Ralston Purina lamp on the front desk in the lobby of Collinsport Inn.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
Roger pours himself a brandy.
Wilbur Strake has a beer while waiting at the Blue Whale for Burke Devlin.
Victoria sprinkles salt on her rare roast beef sandwich, which she has with a cup of coffee. As a side order on the house, Maggie offers a slice of apple pie as part of her “last meal” before heading up to Collinwood.
From the page I created for Dark Shadows Wiki:
Dark Passages is a novel written by Kathryn Leigh Scott and published in 2011 by Pomegranate Press, Ltd.
Set in the 1960s, Meg Harrison leaves her native Minnesota for New York to pursue a career in acting while working as a Playboy Bunny in New York’s Playboy Club. After changing her name to Morgana Harriott, she soon lands the role of Margie, a restaurant waitress and daughter of a local artist, in the new daytime TV serial Dark Passages. The show will eventually feature a vampire, but the catch is that Morgana is one in real life.
The characters described on the sets of Dark Passages resemble quite vividly those on Dark Shadows and the actors who played them. The diner set where Margie works is greatly similar to that of the Collinsport Inn restaurant on Dark Shadows.
For the back cover, Jonathan Frid wrote the following blurb: “Reading DARK PASSAGES was like being back on the sets of DARK SHADOWS, except with real vampires behind the scenes!”
In this eight-CD box set of composer Robert Cobert’s series soundtrack, every music cue used on Dark Shadows is available, including the full-length original recordings of the guitar instrumentals heard at the Blue Whale.
Since 2006, UK production company Big Finish has been extending the Dark Shadows legacy with audio dramas offering new stories featuring cast members from the original TV series. My favorite is the 2015 audio drama …And Red All Over, in which Mitchell Ryan reprises his role as Burke Devlin to the backdrop of an eerily compelling backstory on how he came to acquire his wealth in business. Also starring Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans, with original series themes and music cues composed by Robert Cobert. A must listen for any fan of the first year of Dark Shadows.
Coming next: Episode 2: A Friend of the Family
— Marc Masse
© 2017 Marc Masse and Dark Shadows
from the Beginning. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of
the content herein is a violation of the
terms and standards as set forth under
U.S. copyright law.