Long before Angelique made her debut on Dark Shadows, the summer of 1966 had its own witchy presence on the show in the first few weeks – in the form of director Lela Swift, who, with just a few spellbinding words spoken through a control room microphone, could make a supporting actor so nervous that he wouldn’t be able to perform his scenes effectively. He might even be forced to leave the show. It seems no one could escape the curse of Lela Swift.
Since the third week of taping, she has been on a verbal rampage leveled at supporting cast members that she can’t stand. In her war of attrition waged through her weapon of choice, the control room microphone, there will be collateral damage, where the innocent are made to be casualties, and in this episode it will be George Mitchell, the originator of the Matthew Morgan role.
In previous posts I have mentioned something I have called “hidden audio” or “bleeding audio” where conversations from the studio control room appear to be “bleeding in” to the audio during taping. What is actually happening is that the boom microphone is picking up peripheral sound in the television studio.
Viewers are familiar with the various noises the boom microphones capture during episode taping; a crew member coughing or speaking to cue an actor, mechanical equipment squeaking or bumping, things clattering to the floor of the studio, and so on. These are the immediate peripheral sounds a boom mic will pick up. Mostly, you don’t even need headphones to hear these noises that occur right on or near the soundstage where a scene is being filmed.
But there are other, more peripheral voices that are captured as part of the taped broadcast, and these are coming from the control room. While an episode is being taped, actors are still being directed and cued; either for entrances or stage business where an actor will need to be cued to perform certain nonspeaking motions, like David rolling a toy car on a table and then a floor before crushing it under his foot for instance.
Lela Swift was one of those television directors who took to the emerging trend of directing via microphone from the control room during the taping of an episode. So in a lot of these early episodes you’ll hear a woman’s voice in the audio – the voice of Lela Swift talking through the control room microphone. Actors and crew members in the studio could hear this clearly, and the boom microphones on set would pick this up peripherally. More often than not, the viewer will require headphones and a quality sound system to make out clearly what is being said.
Being one of the few female directors in that era of television, one would assume that Lela Swift would have had to have been quite strong-willed, even aggressive, to have gotten where she was, let alone to have the tenacity to stand up to such an imposing physical presence and forceful personality like Dan Curtis. As she has already proven time and again, she is opinionated and won’t back down; and if she doesn’t like someone, they will find out about it in short order. If she has a complaint, she just fires away, right there in the control room; she won’t even pause to cover the microphone with her hand. Instead, when she is complaining about something or someone to Dan Curtis in the control room while an episode is being taped, everyone in the television studio, cast and crew alike, will hear about it.
At the beginning of episode 16, as the opening narration concludes and Victoria Winters steps over to the drawing room window to look out on the water and then takes a phone call from Bill Malloy calling for Elizabeth to report on the condition of her brother after the car accident, the following exchange takes place.
Lela Swift: Dan, I’m sick and tired of working with George Mitchell! Every time I look at him, all I can think of are those egg whites he kept spitting out.
Dan Curtis: Oh, Lela. Will you stop complaining?
Lela: Well I’m sorry Dan! But those egg whites were disgusting! We need to replace George Mitchell.
From somewhere off stage, the subject of director Lela Swift’s complaint can be heard to react, clearly dumbfounded by what he has just heard spoken through the control room microphone.
George Mitchell: Did I just hear right? Did Lela Swift just call me disgusting, over the control room microphone? …In all my years of work in movies and television, I never had a director turn against me over something like that.
You’ll recall from episode 13 that George Mitchell, who was required to eat during a scene where Vicki visits Matthew at his cottage, had a problem keeping down what appeared to be egg whites; he kept gagging, and on more than one occasion food bits were regurgitated.
You have to wonder where these eggs came from that they should be so difficult to eat. From one of Kathryn Leigh Scott’s books (My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows), there “was a greasy spoon on the corner that served the usual coffee house menu” (p. 26), and often actors would go out to breakfast there during the 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. break.
It makes you realize where all that food in the diner set came from, all those hamburgers and sandwiches and so on. Dark Shadows did things on the cheap, because of the limited budget allotted to daytime programming. They obviously didn’t have in-studio catering; because if they did, there would be a listing in the credits right along with Ohrbach’s for clothing. Aside from the coffee and donuts and danishes during rehearsals, any food on set that had to be prepared or grilled very likely came from the nearest and most low budget source the crew could find – that greasy spoon on the corner.
Let’s have a look at the plate of food that Matthew has before him in episode 13.
The steak looks fake, and the potatoes, if that’s what they are, look like plastic flowers. Only the fried eggs are functional. So if those egg whites that George Mitchell is made to eat come from that greasy spoon, then just think of how off they must have been. The crew would have had to have gotten them prepared at the place on the corner well ahead of taping to make sure they would be in the studio as needed. Then they’re finally placed on the table in the set for Matthew’s cottage, which is a scene that takes place halfway through the episode. They must have been cold. Imagine eating, or trying to eat, cold leftover eggs from a greasy spoon in Hell’s Kitchen. No wonder George Mitchell started gagging right off.
As mentioned, Lela Swift is a tough cookie, but she’s also a lady – and a strict one at that when it comes to keeping house. Easily disgusted, she will notice and enlarge upon things about male actors that she finds offensive, things that a male director would have naturally overlooked. If she thinks an actor like Mark Allen wears his trousers like a slob, then that’s what will stand out in her mind forevermore – likewise with George Mitchell and his mishap with the egg whites from the greasy spoon.
In episode 16, there’s the scene in the Collinwood kitchen where Mrs. Stoddard phones Matthew at his cottage. After Mrs. Stoddard hangs up the phone and paces to the back of the room before Miss Winters makes her entrance, the boom mic pics up the voice of George Mitchell, just off stage, confiding to a crew member about being ill at ease.
George Mitchell: I don’t know if I can go out there… That Lela Swift made me so nervous the way she was complaining about me over the microphone. And with Joan Bennett right there. I feel almost sick.
While Vicki is in the kitchen preparing a tea tray for herself and Mrs. Stoddard, you can hear George Mitchell just off stage giving himself a little pep talk before making his entrance: “Nervous…Gotta stay calm…Nothin’ you can do about it…Just stay calm…”
Because he is so distressed and distracted, he misses his entrance cue. Lela Swift can be heard from the control room: “George Mitchell, you’re on.” When he doesn’t enter as cued, a stage hand can be heard prompting him: “Pssst! Pssst!” Then you hear Mitchell say to himself: “Oh, yeah.” But he stops short of the doorway, and has to repeat his entrance movements to step into the kitchen. Then you hear Lela Swift: “George Mitchell messed up his entrance.” After he does his lines with Alexandra Moltke, as Joan Bennett arrives on the scene, Lela Swift can again be heard from the control room: “George Mitchell is messing up all his lines.” And things continue going downhill for George Mitchell from there.
George Mitchell’s unease throughout this episode is apparent from the moment he appears onscreen. His posture is stiff; he is frequently clenching his fists. His voice is shaky from the outset; Matthew shouldn’t be so unnerved simply because Mrs. Stoddard called him up to the house at a late hour. He keeps licking his lips as if his mouth is dry, and he is sweating profusely. His timing is off; he gestures and begins saying one of his lines too early when Matthew, Miss Winters, and Mrs. Stoddard are in the drawing room. In his final scene, as Matthew says that he’ll go and fetch some firewood, you can see him shaking his head as he exits the drawing room to walk off set.
As the drawing room scene with Vicki and Elizabeth continues, you can hear George Mitchell talking with a crew member in a lowered voice.
George Mitchell: That was the worst scene I ever did. That Lela Swift made me so nervous. Is there someone I can complain to?
The crew member recommends he go to Dan Curtis, the producer, in the control room. Mitchell asks if Lela Swift would be there as well, and when this is confirmed he mentions that he’ll give her a piece of his mind.
It seems the crew members on the studio floor are on George Mitchell’s side. Just as his final scene in the drawing room begins, as Elizabeth walks into the foyer to take a phone call, you hear a crew member saying “Quiet on the set, please.” Then a second crew member can be heard making an unusual request: “And the control room, too,” after which the first crew member follows through: “And the control room, too.” Soon after you hear an indignant Lela Swift saying, “What does he mean, quiet in the control room?” A crew member can he heard responding to her question, saying “You’re making George Mitchell nervous.” Then Lela: “What do you mean I’m making George Mitchell nervous?”
Naturally she’s not pleased to hear that George Mitchell is on his way to confront her when a crew member phones the control room with a heads-up. She can be heard as the drawing room scene plays out: “George Mitchell’s coming up here? I don’t want to speak to George Mitchell. Keep him out!”
By then it’s too late; George Mitchell has barged in to the control room, and as the episode concludes, the following exchange can be heard.
George Mitchell: What do you think you’re doing, making me so nervous I couldn’t even perform?
Lela Swift: What’re ya talkin’ about? You messed up an entrance. And you messed up your lines.
George: Joan Bennett messes up lines. She messed one up just now. [“Caryn left – Carolyn left about a half an hour ago.”]
Lela: Joan Bennett messes up lines because she’s nearsighted and can’t see the teleprompter.
George: Well, the teleprompter isn’t the issue I have with you.
Lela: What’re ya talkin’ about?
George: I know you! You made me so nervous out there I didn’t know if I was comin’ or goin’. You called me disgusting because of those damned egg whites from that greasy spoon!
Lela: Damned egg whites? You watch your language with me, George Mitchell!
The final scene fades, and then there are the end credits, during which only George Mitchell’s voice can be heard.
George Mitchell: Let me tell you something. Joan Bennett has always been one of my favorite actresses. Why did you have to mess it up by getting on the control room microphone and complaining about me? If you had a problem, why didn’t you come to me about it? You made a fool of me, with Joan Bennett right there to hear every word. Joan Bennett is one of my favorite actresses, and you embarrassed me in front of her…. If you want me to leave, I’ll go….
There’s a reference book titled Written Out of Television, detailing five decades worth of cast changes made on many of the best known programs during that time span.
There’s nothing in it about Dark Shadows, but if there were it would be fair to assume that George Mitchell’s departure from Dark Shadows would have to be the strangest and most unlikely ever in the history of television: fired over fried eggs.
Vicki in a quiet moment by the drawing room window.
Vicki takes a phone call from Mr. Malloy.
Vicki gives Mrs. Stoddard Bill Malloy’s message about Roger.
Elizabeth tells Vicki she doesn’t believe her brother’s car crash was an accident.
Burke, Carolyn, and Joe at the Blue Whale.
Elizabeth phones Matthew’s cottage.
Vicki informs Matthew that the brakes on Roger’s car failed.
Matthew tells Mrs. Stoddard that the garage checked the brakes on Roger’s car only two days ago.
Carolyn is dancing with Joe but dancing for Burke.
Joe Haskell, a not so proud graduate from The New England School of Dad Dancing.
Burke decides he’s too old to dance to the music that’s playing.
Carolyn gives Burke a dance lesson.
Joe reacts to Carolyn’s suggestion about bringing Burke along on their movie date.
Joe grabs his coat and storms off alone.
Burke tells Carolyn that they are going to try and find Joe.
Matthew describes to Vicki what the wreck of Roger’s car looks like.
Mrs. Stoddard erupts over Vicki knowing that Carolyn had decided to go to the Blue Whale because she knew Burke would be there.
Vicki: You really don’t think it was an accident?
Elizabeth: All I know is that a man came to town. A man my brother thought had reason to hate him. And a few days later this happened.
Vicki [about Burke Devlin]: But Carolyn said he seemed so friendly.
Elizabeth: Carolyn is a child, Miss Winters!
Burke: Don’t you think we can drop this Mr. Devlin, Miss Stoddard business? Joe, Carolyn, Burke. [to Carolyn] Okay with you?
Carolyn [beaming]: Just grand.
Burke: Okay with you, Joe?
Carolyn [prompting]: Joe.
Joe: I’m just trying to figure out why we started out to go to a movie and ended up here at the Blue Whale.
Burke: Never try to figure out a woman, Joe. It’s a waste of time.
Joe: What do you say, Carolyn, wanna dance?
Carolyn: Uh uh.
Joe: It’s a pretty good number.
Carolyn: Joe, I just want to sit here and talk. Okay?
Joe: You’re wasting your time, Joe. When a woman wants to talk, you’ve had it.
Joe: I don’t remember asking you, Mr. Devlin.
Burke: Burke. We agreed on that, remember?
Burke: I think that jukebox needs another quarter.
Carolyn: Please don’t bother.
Burke: I thought you liked that beat.
Burke: What do you like?
Carolyn: Does it really matter?
Burke: Well, you like Joe Haskell for one.
Carolyn: Hmm. He’s okay.
Burke: He’s more than that, Carolyn. He’s a nice kid. Hard working, ambitious. Feet planted on the ground. A real solid citizen.
Carolyn: Who will probably spend the rest of his life right here in Collinsport.
Carolyn: I’ll bet if you wanted someone, you’d go to the house, hit her over the head, and drag her out.
Burke: Is that what you want, Carolyn? To be dragged out of Collinwood?
Carolyn: I don’t know. That’s just the trouble. I don’t know what I want.
[Joe returns to the table]
Joe: Well, I just checked the movie house in Logansport. We still have time to make the last show.
Carolyn: Joe, if I asked you to hit me over the head and drag me out of Collinwood, what would you do?
Joe: I’d say you were nuts.
Carolyn [to Burke]: Still have that quarter?
Burke: Coming right up.
Elizabeth: How is David?
Vicki: Asleep. At least his eyes were closed when I went in.
Matthew: Mrs. Stoddard, I’m tellin’ you the truth. I don’t like your brother very much, but I don’t want you thinkin’ I tampered with his brakes, ‘cause I didn’t.
Mrs. Stoddard: What makes you say someone tampered with them?
Matthew: The garage checked those brakes only two days ago.
Mrs. Stoddard: Then they were working two days ago.
Matthew: Perfectly. And if those brakes failed so soon, it’s because somebody was foolin’ around with ‘em.
Carolyn [to Burke]: Wanna dance?
Burke: Oh, I don’t mind if I do. [starts to get up but changes his mind when a fast guitar instrumental plays on the jukebox] Ohhh, I’m too old for that.
Carolyn: Oh, come on. I’ll show you how. [begins dancing at the table right beside Burke]
Burke: No, the last time you gave a demonstration, Joe punched your partner in the eye.
Carolyn [laughing]: You’re not afraid of Joe, are you? [to Joe, as she stops dancing] He thinks you might through a punch at him.
Joe [smirking as he eyes Devlin]: I just might.
Carolyn [concerned]: You know, I think you mean that.
ABC announcer Bob Lloyd begins the opening slating segment with “And a happy Independence Day to you all,” given that today’s episode was taped on Monday, July 4.
The telephone number for Collinwood is now “Collinsport 4099” and will remain so for the rest of the series.
In Act I, the name of the Collins’ family doctor is mentioned for the first time. At this point in the show it is Dr. Reeves.
To play selections on the jukebox at the Blue Whale, it costs a quarter.
Collinsport does not have a movie theatre. The closest movie theatre is in the nearby town of Logansport.
When the Collinwood kitchen was first shown in episode 5, it had no telephone. But now there is a phone hanging on the wall just inside the door near the row of cabinets, which Elizabeth uses to call Matthew’s cottage. This means that Collinwood now has at least three telephones on the first floor: one in the drawing room, one in the foyer, and one in the kitchen.
Matthew Morgan mentions the name of a character who never appears onscreen; Jim Hardy from the constable’s office, who was at the scene of Roger’s accident making out a report.
This is George Mitchell’s third and final episode. The role of Matthew Morgan will be played by Thayer David as of episode 38.
As Vicki looks out through the drawing room window after the opening narration, the “2” light from camera 2 can be seen reflected in the glass of one of the window panes.
While Burke stands at the jukebox, the camera catches the edge of the set at right of screen.
George Mitchell misses the cue for his entrance in the Collinwood kitchen. A stage hand can be heard prompting him: “Pssst! Pssst!”
At the Blue Whale, as Carolyn gives Burke a dance demonstration he comments that the last time she had done that “Joe punched your partner in the eye.” Joe had actually punched Carolyn’s dance partner in the stomach, back in episode 2.
As Vicki goes to meet Matthew as he enters the drawing room, the shadow of a boom mic sweeps first forward then backward across the top of Alexandra Moltke’s head.
As Vicki holds her left hand forward while asking what Roger’s car looks like, as he raises his hands to gesture, George Mitchell’s right hand bumps against Alexandra Moltke’s fingers.
In the drawing room, as Matthew talks of fetching some firewood, the Collinsport Fly makes a surprise landing on Alexandra Moltke.
When making an analogy to Vicki between Burke’s hurting Carolyn and wrecking her brother’s car, Mrs. Stoddard says “The only difference between the two of them is the car can be repair-paired.”
In the final scene, Mrs. Stoddard tells Vicki that she just called the bar, saying that “Caryn left – Carolyn left about a half an hour ago.”
In the beginning episodes, the cigarette machine at the Blue Whale is along the back wall. Before the first year is up, its location will be nearer to the bar, approximately where the jukebox is now.
As the images merge for the change in scene from the Collinwood kitchen to the Blue Whale, you can see Mitchell Ryan in position at the cigarette machine looking toward the camera for his cue to begin the scene.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
Burke orders a round of drinks at the Blue Whale…
…Burke is drinking a whiskey on the rocks…
…while Carolyn drinks a soda with ice.
While Elizabeth is waiting in the kitchen for Matthew to come up from his cottage, Vicki brings in a finished food tray containing a sandwich with an empty glass that looks like it had milk in it. Elizabeth asks her how David is, so she is most likely bringing the tray down from David’s room.
Vicki prepares a tray of tea for herself and Mrs. Stoddard.
Dark Shadows Cast Member Spotlight: George Mitchell
By the time he originated the role of Matthew Morgan on Dark Shadows, George Mitchell’s career in movies and television had already spanned more than a quarter century. Below are just a few highlights from his vast body of work in television and film.
With Larry Tate from Bewitched (David White) as Mr. Wizinski in Delusion, an episode of One Step Beyond (season 2, episode 1; broadcast date: September 15, 1959). Also co-starring in this episode were Norman Lloyd (known for St. Elsewhere) and Suzanne Pleshette (known for The Bob Newhart Show).
As Mr. Maney in The Doreen Maney Story, an episode of The Untouchables (season 1, episode 24; broadcast date: March 31, 1960).
As Munro Dean in Forty Detectives Later, an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (season 5, episode 28; broadcast date: April 24, 1960). Also co-starring were James Franciscus and Jack Weston.
As the Judge in Killer Instinct, an episode of The Defenders (season 1, episode 2; broadcast date: September 23, 1961). The character in the witness box is Mr. Halper, played by Billy Sands (also known for his work on The Odd Couple).
This Defenders episode also features Mitchell Ryan, in the courtroom scene where Burke Devlin attacks Captain Kirk.
George Mitchell appeared in four episodes of The Twilight Zone between 1960 and 1963…
…as the Gas Station Man in The Hitch-Hiker (season 1, episode 16; broadcast date: January 22, 1960)…
…as the Old Man in Execution (season 1, episode 26; broadcast date: April 1, 1960)…
…as Luther Glover in Jess-Belle (season 4, episode 7; broadcast date: February 14, 1963)…
…and as Dr. Floyd in Ring-a-Ding Girl (season 5, episode 13; broadcast date: December 27, 1963).
After leaving Dark Shadows, George Mitchell co-starred, with his wife Katherine Squire, in a western co-produced by Jack Nicholson, Ride in the Whirlwind.
That same year, George Mitchell is credited (according to the not entirely reliable IMDb) as appearing in an episode of Bewitched (Soapbox Derby; season 3, episode 16; broadcast date: December 29, 1966). Except that he is credited as George André (who plays the Announcer). However, one look at George André will tell us that this is clearly not our George Mitchell from Dark Shadows.
So how to explain this discrepancy? The answer can be found elsewhere on George Mitchell’s IMDb page. He is credited for the role of “Kolla” in the 1935 film Once in a Blue Moon. But his Wikipedia page (also not a one hundred percent reliable source) says that he began his career in acting after marrying actress Katherine Squire in 1940. After that his career slowly but surely progressed with an uncredited appearance in the 1941 film Virginia, then a name role in the 1945 film Captain Eddie, and from there to television series starting in 1949 and then 1952 and so on.
Also credited for the role of “Kolla” in the 1935 film Once in a Blue Moon is a George André, an Australian actor born George André de Beranger, better known as George Beranger, who was active between 1913 and 1950.
So that must be the answer. Someone saw a photo of George André de Beranger and took him for a younger George Mitchell, so that whenever the name of George André pops up in a film or television credit, it is assumed that it must be George Mitchell going under an alias. And, of course, once a piece of misinformation is published on the internet, it is taken as fact and perpetuated, like the Bewitched fan who posted a birthday tribute image of George André from the Soapbox Derby episode and put George Mitchell’s life dates on it.
Obviously, there were two different George Andrés who became actors: one who was active in the 1930s and the other in the 1960s. Who was the second George André from the 1960s? Because he’s mistaken for George Mitchell, we may never know. What is known about the George André from the 1960s is that besides the episode of Bewitched, he has two movie credits from that decade. The first is a low-budget film titled Fallguy from 1962, which is about cars, teenagers, murder, and The Mob, in that order.
The second George André’s other credit is as Professor G. Octavius Neon in the 1966 low-budget flick The Wild World of Batwoman (aka She Was a Hippy Vampire). Maybe someday the real George André will get his own IMDb page.
Despite that George Mitchell never actually appeared on an episode of Bewitched, he was still a versatile enough actor to do television comedy, as he proved (as Jonah Applewhite) in Centennial, a 1969 episode from the series The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. The full episode via YouTube clip follows (uploader: NoMudinJoyville).
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 17: Swiftenstein Must Be Destroyed!
— Marc Masse
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