The tension at Collinwood is building. Burke Devlin is waiting patiently in the drawing room for Roger to walk in. It seems that an unpleasant confrontation is inevitable. But today the real drama is unfolding in another part of town, where a man fears for his life.
Sam Evans has been having it rough lately. Besides being worried over the return of Burke Devlin, who was at one time a good friend, he’s got both Roger Collins and Lela Swift breathing down his neck. One wants him out of town, and the other wants him off the show.
Just as with the previous episode, episode 12 has “bleeding audio” from the control room, where executive producer Dan Curtis and director Lela Swift guest star in the soap within a soap, The Perils of Mark Allen.
Today’s episode of Dark Shadows begins on Widow’s Hill, where a dire wailing rush of wind that sounds if it’s blowing through the pockets of a hellmouth has given Vicki a start, so she’s a little jumpy when Roger shows up unannounced. Roger is unapologetic about having frightened her; he is still fuming over the fact that Vicki had coffee in town that day with Burke Devlin, and he intends to take her to task on the matter.
So then the waves intro begins, and the opening dialogue from today’s hidden episode of The Perils of Mark Allen can be heard. The voices of Dan Curtis and Lela Swift are not particularly obvious, and most of the time it’s even harder to make out exactly what they’re saying; they can be easily overlooked, though you can make out a man’s and woman’s voices in the soundscape background if you listen through headphones. In fact, you may even need to study the episode, night after night in dogged methodical fashion, for two or three weeks or more, to make a final and certain determination of what you’re hearing, but they’re there alright.
Lela: Dan, we’ve got to replace Mark Allen.
Dan: Pay attention, Lela. I want you to stop complaining about Mark Allen.
Lela: I don’t think he’ll improve in one episode.
Dan: There’s something I want you to know about Mark Allen. Something I want you to know, Lela. Mark Allen is one helluva great actor.
Lela: Dan, I don’t care…
So that’s the opening scene from the control room set of The Perils of Mark Allen. It has all the makings of solid detergent land drama: an actor whose job is on the line, doing his best to perform his scenes as if his very life were at stake; and the running conflict between the man who hired him and who thinks he’s one hell of a great actor and the woman who has just the day before decided she doesn’t want to work with him any longer and is pushing for him to be replaced. This fly on the wall stuff is enough to make you say, “Who cares about what’s going on in today’s Dark Shadows episode? I want to know how The Perils of Mark Allen will play out.”
It’s curious that Lela Swift would arrive so abruptly at the decision that Mark Allen is not right in the role of Sam Evans, after all the weeks of casting and rehearsals. Then again, she only started working with him at the end of the first week, when he had just one supporting scene, then once early in the following week, when he had several scenes throughout an episode; but during his third episode at the beginning of the third week, she can be heard complaining up and down to Dan Curtis about him. So if he didn’t seem right for the part from the beginning, how did he come to be cast in the role of Sam Evans?
The clue can be found in Shadows on the Wall, the series bible written by Art Wallace. In the story outline Sam Evans makes his first appearance just as he did in episode 5, appearing out of the blue to Vicki to relay a message to Roger that Sam was looking for him, only in the story outline this takes place right outside the front doors of Collinwood rather than on Widow’s Hill. Wallace provides a visual description of Sam Evans: “A big man with a bushy red beard and piercing blue eyes” (p. 45).
Mark Allen’s successor in the role would have the bushy red beard down, but when casting for daytime television in the mid-sixties it was a great deal easier to instead go for two out of three and find a tall actor with blue eyes. So if you needed a big man for a role, you would naturally need look no further than Mark Allen, who towers over the six-footers on Dark Shadows. His IMDb page has him listed at six one and a half, but he must be considerably taller. As can be seen from the below photo from episode 7, the difference in height between Mark Allen and six foot tall Mitch Ryan is the same difference as between Mitch Ryan and Alexandra Moltke, that is, a good five inches or so, which makes Mark Allen one of the tallest actors ever to be cast on Dark Shadows.
Dan Curtis obviously liked Mark Allen a great deal. Perhaps years earlier Curtis had tuned in to an episode of Gunsmoke and seen Mark Allen’s work, which was easy given that he was all over television in the early sixties in such well-known programs like Wanted: Dead or Alive, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Peter Gunn, The Untouchables, Bonanza, Death Valley Days, Dr. Kildare, and on and on.
Curtis was likely such an admirer of Allen’s earlier work on television that he may have been willing to overlook a few minor flaws, enough to override any complaints put forth by his lady director. After all, the character casting had already been done and the show was settling into its weekly routine of rehearsal, taping, and broadcast. Sure, it’s a soap opera, and like any other daytime soap you might have a character replaced along the way, but certainly not at the start of the third week and surely not because your director suddenly decides the casting department may have made the wrong choice, and that you, the executive producer, may not have shown the best judgment in hiring a particular actor whose earlier work you greatly admired.
But this is where you have to ask yourself, Is Dark Shadows really a soap opera after all?
To understand Dark Shadows, whether it’s pre-Barnabas or post-Barnabas, one has to think in terms of the theatrical. Sets on typical soaps of the time are as mundane as the kitchen sink, viewed through a single camera lens that often stays fixed for lengthy periods as characters gravely discuss their problems and conflicts. But the set designs on Dark Shadows are more elaborate, grander; the walls in the Collinwood drawing room, for instance, are made of real oak paneling. There are three cameras working back and forth that are in addition always moving about and zooming in. Most of all, the character performances have more dynamics, as if they are being acted out on a live theater stage rather than a tiny, cramped television studio. They are being directed to play it big, take it seriously, and give it all they’ve got, so that they get through it in a single take as though it were a live theater performance. This is because it’s live to tape, where everything, including the spaces between acts left open for dropping in commercials, is timed to the exact second.
So if an actor like Mark Allen makes late entrances to scenes, where such intervals of seconds feel like minute-long pregnant pauses, then you risk throwing the timing of the whole episode off. You have to get it right in the first take, because the taping of the episode is not actually being done in the TV studio itself; the cameras are sending a feed to another building where the taping is actually being captured, and those machines will be needed soon after the day’s scheduled taping for the network news programs to use.
From what can be discerned of Lela Swift’s complaints about Mark Allen, he doesn’t seem to be getting his lines right. He tends to repeat words and also to leave parts of lines dangling with ellipses, perhaps as a strategy to help him remember his lines in full. An example is from episode 11, when Mr. Wells takes Sam into the restaurant so that he can sober him up with cup after cup of black coffee:
Sam: Look, I’ve already had two cups already. You want, you want me to drown?
Here’s another couple of examples from today’s episode:
Sam: Maggie, it was me. It, it, it wasn’t you.
Sam: Because… ’cause, Maggie… there are things that just can’t be said… can’t be faced!”
But perhaps there’s even more to it than that. Maybe a larger issue is the way he says his lines. In more conventional soap operas, as is also true with television in general, the dialogue is spoken in a conversational manner, and this is how Mark Allen tends to deliver his lines, as if he’s on just another TV show. But as already pointed out, Dark Shadows is not exactly just another soap opera; instead the actors are directed to unreservedly perform their lines as if each episode were opening night in a theatrical production. Other cast members seem to understand this. The newcomers, like Kathryn Leigh Scott and Alexandra Moltke, are learning as they go along. Other actors in the cast, like Louis Edmonds, Mitch Ryan, and Nancy Barrett, each bring to their respective roles a blend of stage and television experience, and are certainly able to instinctively give what it takes. Mitch Ryan, for instance, blows a lot of lines, but this is not a problem for a director like Lela Swift because he is perfect in the role of Burke Devlin and perfect on a show like Dark Shadows, where the term teleplay is a more apt description of what is being produced; he can gesture big, and with all his Shakespearean stage experience can make even a single syllable of dialogue suddenly thunder with monumental significance.
Mark Allen does have some stage experience. In the mid to late fifties, he was regularly playing on Broadway in four productions, two of them musicals and all of them comedies. That seemed to be how he was playing it in episode 11, just coasting along with a drunken slur and wisecracking his way through scenes as if it were a Broadway comedy, because that’s the nature of his theater experience. But here in episode 12, aware that his director no longer believes in him, he steps up his game and is delivering his lines more forcefully and giving key words greater emphasis. He even throws in a bit of more expansive theatrical gesturing.
Lela: I’m impressed! He didn’t blow his lines.
So it looks as though the protagonist of The Perils of Mark Allen might have a fighting chance after all. But it doesn’t last long. At the Evans cottage, Sam is about to pour himself a drink, but instead slams the bottle down on the table. “Sam, that won’t help. Burke Devlin, Collinwood,… nothing’ll help.”
Lela: Sam messed up his line!
When Maggie arrives back at the cottage and is trying to find out why her father is so afraid and what’s driving him to want to leave town, you can hear Dan Curtis discussing Mark Allen’s performance.
Dan: He’s not messing up his lines.
But at the end of the scene, as Mark Allen is exiting through a door to another room, Lela Swift is no longer impressed.
Lela: He’s not working out.
Meanwhile, in episode 12 of Dark Shadows, Carolyn shows up at Widow’s Hill to tell Roger that Elizabeth is waiting for him in the drawing room, and that it’s very important… but, who cares? The conflict between Dan and Lela in The Perils of Mark Allen is heating up once more as Roger enters the foyer, where he decides to call Sam Evans instead of going into the drawing room.
Lela: We have to replace Mark Allen as Sam Evans.
Dan: Oh, Lela, I have had it with you. We are not going to replace Sam Evans.
Lela: Dan, you have got to replace him.
Dan: For Christ’s sake, Lela, I’m telling you. Stop complaining about Mark Allen. He is very good as Sam.
[Roger picks up the phone to call Sam] Lela: Dan, listen to me… [phone rings at Evans cottage] Lela [shouting]: Who is Sam Evans anyway? He’s nothing but a supporting character.
After hanging up on Roger and taking the phone off the hook, Sam turns his back and moves to another part of the room, during which Lela Swift drops a bombshell.
Lela: It’s those trousers I can’t stand.
Meanwhile, back in episode 12 of Dark Shadows, Kathryn Leigh Scott is busy transforming the character of Maggie Evans with a knockout performance of great emotional depth… but, who cares? Because in The Perils of Mark Allen, Dan Curtis is proposing further plans for the character of Sam Evans.
Dan: We’ll write him in next week. Mark Allen is wonderful as Sam Evans.
Lela: No, he isn’t.
Dan: Oh, for Christ’s sake, Lela! Will you please stop complaining?
Subsequently, in episode 12 of Dark Shadows, Vicki and Carolyn are back from Widow’s Hill, and as they enter the Collinwood foyer Vicki says that she would sure like to know what has Roger so frightened. Carolyn suggests that she visit Matthew’s cottage to ask the caretaker, who might even have answers to some of Vicki’s other questions… but, who cares? Because in The Perils of Mark Allen, the tension between Dan and Lela is building to a boiling point.
Lela: Dan, we need to replace him.
Dan: Lela we are not going to replace Mark Allen. We are not going to replace Mark Allen, and that’s final!
Concurrently, in episode 12 of Dark Shadows, Vicki resolves to take Carolyn’s advice and is stepping out of the foyer for Matthew’s cottage, renewed in the hope that she may at last learn the answers to her past… but, who cares? Because in The Perils of Mark Allen, Lela has revealed to Dan what bothers her the most about Mark Allen as Sam Evans.
Dan: Lela, for Christ’s sake. Are you really telling me that Mark Allen’s trousers are a problem?
Lela: Yes, they are! They ride up!
Dan: I want you to stop complaining about Mark Allen.
She may have a point there. It’s one of those things you wish you didn’t notice, but can’t help noticing regardless, like in episode 11 when Sam shows up at Collinsport Inn asking Mr. Wells about Maggie.
Or in today’s episode when Sam enters his cottage to turn on a light…
Meanwhile, in episode 12 of Dark Shadows, Carolyn reveals to Roger that Burke Devlin is in the drawing room with her mother and tries to explain why she brought him to Collinwood, which clears the way for the confrontation we’ve been waiting for since the first week, the moment when Roger finally has to face Burke Devlin in person… but, who cares? Because in The Perils of Mark Allen, the conflict between Dan and Lela is about to erupt in an explosive and revealing climax.
Dan: Lela, do you realize how fucked up that is, blaming his trousers for a role?
Lela: Dan, Sam Evans’ trousers are disgusting! Mark Allen wears those trousers like a slob. Mark Allen in those trousers is disgusting!
Dan: Lela, what’s gotten into you?
Lela: Sam Evans is not right! [fade out]
[fade in, Roger removes his coat and heads for the drawing room]
Dan: Well maybe you better tell me what the real issue is. The real issue is Kathryn Leigh Scott. The way he puts his hands on her in rehearsal. I’ve heard about that.
Lela: Kathryn Leigh Scott has nothing to do with it! Dan, I told you. He’s not right as Sam Evans!
Dan: Pay attention, Lela. Mark Allen… is… one helluva good actor. You got that, Lela? He’s trying to save it. Maybe he messes up lines, who cares? Give him time. Who gives a fuck about his trousers? Last time I’m going to say this, Lela… who cares?
Can Mark Allen save his role as Sam Evans? Will they get him a different pair of trousers? Will they replace that missing button on his shirt? These questions and many others will be answered on the next episode of… The Perils of Mark Allen.
Vicki looks down from Widow’s Hill.
The wailing wind atop Widow’s Hill gives Vicki a start.
Vicki and Roger discuss the ghosts that are said to haunt Widow’s Hill.
Sam tells Maggie that he has to leave Collinsport.
Maggie asks her father where he is planning on going once he leaves Collinsport.
Carolyn arrives to tell Roger that Elizabeth wants to see him for something important in the drawing room.
After changing his mind about going into the drawing room to see what Elizabeth wants, Roger instead picks up the phone to call Sam Evans.
Upset that he wants to talk about Burke Devlin and has also suggested that it would be a good idea if he got out of town, Sam hangs up on Roger.
Maggie guesses that Roger Collins is connected with her father’s sudden decision to leave town.
Maggie begins piecing together a sequence of events that somehow connects her father, Roger Collins, and Burke Devlin.
Maggie vows to stand together with her father.
Carolyn suggests that Matthew Morgan may be able to answer some of Vicki’s questions.
Roger reacts to the news that Burke Devlin is in the drawing room with Elizabeth.
After considerable hesitation, Roger decides to go into the drawing room and face Burke Devlin.
Vicki: Mr. Collins, you nearly frightened me to death.
Roger: Perhaps that was my intention, Miss Winters.
Roger: The ghosts of the past are always frightening, Miss Winters.
Vicki: Why should I apologize for having coffee with Mr. Devlin?
Roger: Oh, I didn’t know that I’d asked for an apology. I’m merely fascinated by the fact that you did meet him. Especially after our last conversation on the subject.
Vicki: Mr. Collins, is it possible that you’re mistaken about the man?
Roger: I don’t think so.
Vicki: He certainly seems pleasant enough.
Roger: Are you in the habit of making total judgments on the basis of one cup of coffee?
Roger: I want you to go back to New York. Go back home.
Vicki: Just because I spoke with Burke Devlin?
Roger: There’s going to be a brutal struggle, I know it. And no one who lives at Collinwood will be untouched.
Vicki: He’s not going to murder all of us, is he?
Roger: It won’t be the first violent death on this hill.
Maggie: I used to be so proud of you. I used to tell everyone that my pop was the greatest man on the face of the earth. He knew more than Einstein. He could paint better than Michelangelo. Braver than Daniel.
Sam: It’s easy to be brave when you’re not in the lion’s den.
For the first time, and unusual for the first year of Dark Shadows, the video portion for the opening narration shows a still slide of Collinwood, rather than film footage.
Just before the opening narration begins, episode director Lela Swift can be heard testing a control room microphone, first by making a vocal utterance and then by blowing into it: “Puh! Ffffffffhhhhhhh…”
The opening scene begins with location footage of Alexandra Moltke standing cliffside near Seaview Terrace in Newport, Rhode Island.
The location footage from Newport, Rhode Island, also includes a view of the waves rolling in so as to be merged with the studio set for Widow’s Hill as Vicki looks down at the water in the opening scene, just before the sound effect for the wailing wind is cued up.
In the opening scene, from audio bleeding in from the control room, Lela Swift can be heard cueing the sound effects crew member for the wailing wind atop Widow’s Hill: “Sound to two, try me… sound effects!”
Just before Roger Collins makes his entrance for the opening scene with Vicki atop Widow’s Hill, a crew member can be heard giving an instruction for Louis Edmonds’ entrance: “Stop!”
While Roger and Vicki talk on Widow’s Hill, after Louis Edmonds utters the line “The widows have gone back to… wherever,” a crew member can he heard giving him the instruction “Get a little hideous,” after which Roger’s tone toward Vicki grows more sharp and menacing.
The Dark Shadows TV studio control room, the secret, hidden set for the soap within a soap, The Perils of Mark Allen.
After entering the Evans cottage, when Sam goes to pick up the phone, the camera reveals the top edge of the set.
As Sam prepares to pour a drink, the shadow of the boom mic settles over the painting on the easel.
After Sam takes the phone off the hook, the volume on the boom mic goes lower as Sam says, “I’m sorry, Maggie.”
As Maggie questions Sam about Roger Collins, a light from a piece of studio equipment moves right to left across the reflection of the picture glass hanging to the left of the front door.
This episode features a clear wide view of the green Victorian oil lamp first seen in the Evans cottage in episode 7. The lamp appears to be a reproduction, as it has an electric cord attached.
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 13: Meeting in the Odd Places
— Marc Masse
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from the Beginning. All rights reserved.
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