With Dark Shadows starting out on a fledgling network whose daytime lineup struggled to achieve competitive ratings even in the best of circumstances, one has to wonder what good it does for a show that’s only been on the air a few days to have the director actively sabotaging the entire supporting cast.
Dark Shadows director Lela Swift has had Mark Allen, who plays Sam Evans, in her sights since the third week of taping kicked off. That same week George Mitchell, who played Collins estate caretaker Matthew Morgan, had several mishaps during a scene while eating egg whites that came from a nearby greasy spoon. So the next time he was on, Lela took to complaining about him over the control room microphone and in the process cursing him with such an attack of nerves that he couldn’t perform. He was gone by the end of that day’s taping. Now Lela is gunning for lovable Fred Stewart, who makes his Dark Shadows debut as Dr. Reeves, but if she has her way it will be his swan song as well. Her complaints during the taping of this episode become so mean-spirited that she practically turns into a monster.
There can be only one solution to keep Dark Shadows from imploding even before it can complete its first thirteen-week cycle: Swiftenstein must be destroyed!
What should really be discussed as regards this episode is that it represents a significant moment in the character development of David Collins. Having been labeled as a “little monster” from day one, he seems to have lived up to it in causing his father to have what could very well have been a fatal car crash. But in the beginning of this episode, still the night of his father’s accident, he is having nightmares, as can be seen in the opening GIF where he tries to jump from the window, because he didn’t mean to do it, he didn’t mean to kill him! It means that he has a conscience after all, and he will grapple throughout the episode with the sad realization that he really doesn’t love his father. Despite what he has done, he still has a soul, one that is worth saving. Vicki Winters is right to try reaching out to him, and Elizabeth Stoddard is right in keeping him safe from whatever it is he fears.
But there are other issues going on behind the scenes, things that could well affect the show every bit as much as the writing of the episode scripts.
Lela Swift has discovered that complaining about an actor through the control room microphone while the show is being taped for broadcast is the most effective means of getting rid of that actor. It worked in episode 16 on George Mitchell, and she wastes no time as episode 17 gets underway in getting to work on Fred Stewart. Even before the opening narration concludes, she can be heard complaining to the executive producer about an actor whose scene is still yet to begin.
Lela Swift: Dan, we need to replace Fred Stewart. I can’t friggin’ stand him as Dr. Reeves.
Dan Curtis: Oh, come on, Lela! I just got rid of George Mitchell because of your complaining. Are you going to complain all through this episode, too? Fred Stewart is one of the best actors on television.
Lela: Yes, Fred Stewart is one of the best actors on television. But he isn’t right as Dr. Reeves!
Dan: Alright, Lela. What’s the problem?
Lela: Well, for starters, he plays it like a sitcom, not a soap opera. If we need a comedian, we can call Milton Berle.
So this is the problem Lela Swift has with Fred Stewart? That he’s funny? Well, maybe he is. In fact, his debut as Dr. Reeves is easily the most charming performance on the show thus far:
[Bill Malloy returns to Dr. Reeves’ office]
Dr. Reeves: Well, that certainly was a fast half hour. I barely got this stuff finished.
Bill Malloy: I saw what I wanted to see.
Dr. Reeves: Hanky panky?
Bill: Didn’t say that, doc. Just said I saw what I wanted to see.
Dr. Reeves: Aw…! Someday I’m going to write a book, about Down Easterners. Myself included. I’m gonna write about all those wooords that never get said.
Bill: I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, doc.
Dr. Reeves: I’m a freak around here, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. I open up. I tell people what I’m thinkin’. For instance, Mr. Collins and I were just havin’ a little chat about his old friend Burke Devlin.
Bill Malloy: Well what about him?
Roger Collins: Am I through, doctor?
Dr. Reeves: Yeah, you see what I mean? As soon as the conversation gets on to important things, we hold up a sign, No Trespassing.
Bill Malloy: Well some things are nobody else’s affair.
Dr. Reeves: Oh, that’s all an illuuuuusion. In this case anyway. Well, there was a public trial ten years ago, wasn’t there? And now Burke Devlin’s back. Do you honestly believe there’s one person in this town doesn’t think he knows why?
Roger: I can’t worry about what people think, doctor.
Dr. Reeves: No, no, I know you can’t do that. All you can do is roooooll downhill in a car and get yourself nearly killed. Well, alright, you’re well enough to go home. Be sure you go right to bed.
Following the waves intro, as Act I gets underway, you can hear Fred Stewart reacting to Lela’s comments made over the control room microphone. The set for Dr. Reeves’ office has two rooms: the waiting room and the exam room. The boom mic is over the waiting room, and even though the door to the exam room is closed, it picks up Fred Stewart’s reaction, just before he makes his entrance.
Fred Stewart: So, Lela Swift can’t stand me as Dr. Reeves. Well, that’s a nice thing to hear, from your director. Oh well.
Stewart seems more easy going than George Mitchell, so Lela’s going to have her work cut out for her when it comes to undermining his ability to perform. After the initial scene with Bill Malloy in the waiting room, there’s a pause of silence in the studio as Dr. Reeves returns to the exam room to attend to Roger Collins. Those occasional pockets where no one is speaking is just the sort of thing Lela is looking for, because it gives her a better chance at winning her war of attrition when she’s the only voice being heard in the studio in a given moment, and she wastes no time swooping in to capitalize with yet another withering comment through the control room microphone:
Lela: Damn friggin’ right I can’t stand you, Fred Stewart!
But Stewart does just fine in his scene with Roger Collins – in fact, if it’s anyone who slips up in this scene it’s Louis Edmonds, who makes one of his rare yet most beloved of bloopers (see the bloopers section below). Dan Curtis comments to Lela on her apparent failed attempt at disrupting his performance.
Dan: Well, Lela, looks like you’re not going to rattle him. He’s holding his own.
Lela: He’s still not right as Dr. Reeves.
Dan: Lela, Fred Stewart is one of the nicest guys.
Lela: Dan, Dr. Reeves is not supposed to be making jokes! I told you. If we need a comedian we can call Milton Berle!
When Bill Malloy returns to Dr. Reeves’ office after getting another look at Roger’s car wreck, he is seen in the waiting room checking his watch, during which Lela takes another opportunity at lobbying the executive producer for the dismissal of Fred Stewart as Dr. Reeves.
Lela: Dan, we need to replace Fred Stewart.
Dan: Forget it, Lela. We are not going to replace Fred Stewart.
In Fred Stewart’s final scene in this episode, he is in the waiting room putting on his hat before switching off the lights to step out for a house call. Lela comments even on this:
Lela: Oh, just look at him! He’s nothing but a vaudeville comedian!
But as with all of Lela Swift’s complaints about actors, there’s always another issue at the heart of the matter, underneath the subject of her initial complaints. During the scene with Dr. Reeves and Roger, there’s a trousers moment, which Lela comments on.
If you go back to episode 1, there’s a similar instance with Conrad Bain, who plays Mr. Wells, the desk clerk at the Collinsport Inn.
When that scene in episode 1 cuts to the Blue Whale, Lela Swift can be heard on the control room microphone loudly complaining:
Lela: I don’t like Conrad Bain! I can’t stand actors whose trousers ride up.
If you’ll notice, Conrad Bain wasn’t in many Dark Shadows episodes, just three of the first sixty-one. They only brought him back in 1968, after a two-year absence, to be eaten by the werewolf.
So that’s why Lela Swift can’t stand Fred Stewart and wants him off the show. At another point in their ongoing discussion, Dan Curtis raises another issue.
Dan: Isn’t Fred Stewart behaving himself?
Lela: Yes, Fred Stewart behaves himself, just like George Mitchell behaved himself. But they’re both disgusting!
With Dan pleased that Lela’s complaining couldn’t weaken Fred Stewart’s capacity to turn in a solid acting performance, she tries another tactic. Stewart is still in the television studio and there are a couple of scenes left to tape, these being in the Collinwood foyer and drawing room. As Roger and Bill are being greeted in the foyer by Elizabeth, Lela can be heard brainstorming from the control room.
Lela: I can still talk about Fred Stewart. I’ll think of something. Just give me a minute… I know! I can talk about those trousers.
There is a pocket of silence as Elizabeth is gently closing the drawing room doors, during which Lela drops a bombshell through the control room microphone for everyone in the television studio to hear:
Swiftenstein: Fred Stewart’s butt smells! Ha-ha! What do ya think a’ that, Fred Stewart? Dan, Fred Stewart has a terrible ass odor, and he reeks up the entire studio!
Dan: Jesus fucking Christ, Lela! How can you talk like that when we’re taping an episode for broadcast?
Swiftenstein: Dan, I’m going to keep talking about Fred Stewart like that until you get rid of him! I won’t work with that stench in the studio!
Somewhere nearby, Fred Stewart can be heard to react as he consults with a crew member on the studio floor:
Fred Stewart: Uh, about these comments coming through the control room microphone. Will this stuff be heard when it goes on the TV?
You mean those single-speaker analogue television sets with the rabbit ears antennas on top? Not to worry, Mr. Stewart. It would be several decades before dedicated Dark Shadows fans could repeatedly binge watch episodes, stopping to rewind a scene and play it over and over, with earbuds plugged into sophisticated sound systems. If you really want to go all out, you can even purchase a headphone amplifier, which you plug your headphone jack into with another cable running from the amplifier into your sound system. These are designed for the hearing impaired, but you really can’t go wrong for detecting control room microphone conversations with four volume adjustments in addition to four separate equalizer settings. You were saying, Lela:
[Another pocket of silence in the drawing room as Roger, drink in hand, approaches the portrait of Isaac Collins]
Swiftenstein: Fred Stewart, that’s a fine doctor. Reeking up the entire studio with his ass odor.
From somewhere nearby, a voice reacts as the scene fades. It may be a crew member, it may be Fred Stewart, it’s actually hard to tell:
Voice on studio floor: Son-of-a-bitch!
As the final scene plays out, after all the dialogue has been spoken and Roger ascends the foyer staircase with David hiding at the bottom in a corner, Dan and Lela have another exchange.
Dan: Jesus fucking Christ, Lela! What are you trying to do, sabotage the whole show?
Swiftenstein: No, I’m just trying to sabotage Fred Stewart! Dan, I can’t stand actors whose trousers ride up. You know that! And I’m going to keep talking about Fred Stewart this way until he’s off the show.
For the finale, as David emerges from his hiding place at the bottom of the stairs, with the camera moving in for a close-up, Lela takes a final opportunity at the control room microphone:
Swiftenstein: Fred Stewart! Butt smell! Stinks like a pig!
As the end credits roll, Dan Curtis gives his director a piece of his mind:
Dan: Jesus fucking Christ, Lela! What are you trying to do, give Fred Stewart a bad name? Fred Stewart is one of the finest actors on television, and Broadway. And he came on my show to work for me, not you! We are not replacing Fred Stewart, and that’s final! Now I want you to stop complaining about the actors…
She won’t stop, of course. How does one stop the Swiftenstein monster?
Introducing the behind the scenes cast members for today’s soap within a soap: director Lela Swift and executive producer Dan Curtis.
Below, Lela Swift in rehearsal with cast members on June 12, 1966, the day before taping the first episode. Left to right: Mitch Ryan, Louis Edmonds, Harriet Rohr (production assistant), Lela Swift.
Dark Shadows creator and executive producer Dan Curtis, c.1966.
David awakens from a troubling dream.
Elizabeth comforts David after his nightmare.
Bill Malloy doesn’t believe Roger’s car crash was just an ordinary accident.
Dr. Reeves adjusting the sling for Roger’s arm.
David panics after a strong gust from outside blows his bedroom window open.
Elizabeth is there once again to comfort David.
Elizabeth tries to get David to go back to sleep.
Based on Roger’s accident, Dr. Reeves suspects that Burke Devlin has a special reason for returning to Collinsport.
Bill Malloy is now certain that Roger’s car crash was no accident.
Bill shows Roger the part that was missing from his brake system.
Roger is convinced that it was Burke Devlin who tampered with the brakes on his car.
David hints that he has nightmares because he doesn’t love his father.
Bill Malloy: How is he, doc?
Dr. Reeves: He’s lucky. You gonna take him home?
Bill Malloy: I have to. How much longer before you think he’s ready to leave?
Dr. Reeves: Oh, fifteen minutes, maybe. I’ve got a few things to clear up with him. Insurance forms, all that nonsense.
Bill Malloy: Think you can stretch it to a half hour? I wanna run back and take another look at that wreck.
Dr. Reeves: Oh you go ahead, I’m not goin’ anywhere. Unless Lucy Cameron decides to have a baby ahead of time.
Bill Malloy: Well I’ll be back in a half hour.
Dr. Reeves: Ah, what do you expect to see? A wreck is a wreck.
Bill Malloy: Not this one, doc.
Dr. Reeves [as Roger struggles to put on his suit jacket]: You’re gonna need some help with that, Mr. Collins.
Roger Collins: Yes, I’m afraid so.
Dr. Reeves: Ah, as a matter of fact, you’re gonna have to ask your sister or somebody up at the house to give you a hand gettin’ dressed for a while.
Roger Collins: If it’s anything I can’t stand, it’s being treated like an invalid.
Dr. Reeves: Invalid? [shakes his head and chuckles] Maybe you don’t realize just how lucky you are. Few stitches in your forehead. No, just a few contusions and one arm, bruised and sprained. Oh, by all the rules, I should have been signing your death certificate instead of helping you into a jacket.
Roger Collins: Well, I’m sorry to be breaking the rules, doctor.
Dr. Reeves: That’s alright. I get a bigger fee this way.
Elizabeth [to David]: You’re not afraid of a little wind, are you?
David: Aunt Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: What is it, darling?
David: You won’t let anyone hurt me, will you?
Elizabeth: But of course not.
David: Do you promise?
Elizabeth: Well of course I do, David. It was only a dream, believe me, only a dream.
David: I don’t think I can sleep.
Elizabeth: No, I suppose not. Well, why don’t you put on your robe and we’ll go downstairs and wait for your father and Mr. Malloy.
Bill: You know much about cars?
Roger: You put the key in the ignition and the car starts. You turn it off and it stops. That’s about it.
Roger: I don’t give a damn about proof. I’m going to go to Burke and make him admit it himself.
Bill: Well what are you gonna do, beat it out of him with one arm?
Dr. Reeves: You two still here? Thought I told you to go home and get some rest.
Bill: Well I’m takin’ him home right now.
Roger: Now look, Bill –
Bill: Now look, there’s nothin’ that can’t wait until tomorrow.
Dr. Reeves: Except babies! I got one right now, just can’t wait to get into this world. Do you think it’s worth it?
Roger: I’ll tell you tomorrow.
David: Aunt Elizabeth, did you hate your father?
Elizabeth: Of course not. I loved him very, very much.
David: How did you feel when he died?
Elizabeth: Such a strange question.
Dr. Reeves, the Collins family doctor who was first mentioned in episode 16, makes his first appearance. As seen from the plaque outside his office, his first initial is “D.” But because he only appeared in two episodes over several months, the character is never referred to by a first name.
In episode 13 the viewer learns that a man died and Burke Devlin went to prison. In episode 17 the viewer learns that the man died as the result of an automobile accident and that the man was treated by Dr. Reeves, who also attended the Devlin trial. When the manslaughter story is revisited in episode 199, this angle will be changed; instead, the man is said to have died instantly, the second he hit the pavement.
This is an episode where characters are mentioned on the show but never appear onscreen. Lucy Cameron is a patient of Dr. Reeves who is due to be giving birth soon. As Roger Collins is preparing to leave the doctor’s office, Reeves gets a telephone call from Mr. Cameron.
A diagram is presented where Bill Malloy illustrates for Roger the workings of a hydraulic brake system, including how the system will fail if a crucial valve is removed. Malloy even tells Roger (and the viewer) specifically what tools could be used (a wrench or a pair of pliers) to easily remove the valve. Perhaps it is fortunate that Dark Shadows was not popular with kids during this time.
According to this episode, Collinsport founder Isaac Collins crossed the ocean in a small sailing ship in 1690, landing in what would later be called Frenchman Bay off the coast of Maine.
This is the first and only appearance of the set for the office of Dr. Reeves. The exterior footage, probably taken from the spring 1966 location shooting done in Essex, Connecticut, suggests that Dr. Reeves practices out of a house with first floor office space.
The exam room is fully equipped, with even a model human skull on Dr. Reeves’ desk.
The waiting room has the home-like feel of a converted living room.
The dramatic sting music cue starts late at the close of the teaser, so that it is still playing when the scene cuts to the waves intro, resulting in the opening theme starting late and clashing with the music cue for a few seconds. In addition, the music cue at the end of the teaser has a sluggish beginning; the opening horn part drags before playing at normal speed. All the music cues are dropped into the taping of an episode in “live” fashion, that is, by vinyl records playing on turntables in the control room.
While Bill Malloy is in the waiting room of Dr. Reeves’ office, a boom mic appears for a moment (top right) as the camera angle rises to accommodate the actor’s movements.
As Bill Malloy walks out the front door of Dr. Reeves’ office, the shadow of a boom mic sweeps over Fred Stewart as it’s being moved to another part of the set for the scene with Dr. Reeves and Roger Collins.
Several times in the exam room of Dr. Reeves’ office, the teleprompter can be seen moving about as reflected in the glass of the medicine cabinet against the wall. In the image below, it is seen midway up in the glass of the left panel.
During the scene with Dr. Reeves and Roger Collins, a studio light is visible through the blinds and curtains of the window for the exam room in Dr. Reeves’ office.
Louis Edmonds makes one of his best known bloopers as he describes for Dr. Reeves the moments leading up to the accident. He confuses miles for feet, but recovers nicely by making it seem like a natural slip of the tongue: “…When I pulled out of the garage, the brakes were acting fine. And they continued to work alright until I got about halfway down the hill. Then all of a sudden that pedal went right to the floorboard. I tried to keep it on the road, but…I couldn’t make it when I got to that big curve about a hundred miles from the…hundred miles. It seemed like a hundred miles. A hundred feet from the bottom of the hill….”
In the scene in David’s room, as the camera moves in for a closer shot while Elizabeth promises to protect David, the image goes momentarily out of focus and blurry.
In the waiting room of Dr. Reeves’ office, as Roger recounts to Bill how Devlin had invited him into town for a meeting after having been seen in the Collinwood garage, loud footsteps can be heard moving through the production area of the studio floor.
In the drawing room, Elizabeth tells David of how Collinsport founder Isaac Collins landed in Frenchman Bay in 1690, except that Joan Bennett refers to it as “Frenchman’s Bay.” From the style of hair and dress in the drawing room portrait representing Isaac Collins, the subject looks more like someone from the turn of the twentieth century than from the 1690s.
While Elizabeth and David are in the drawing room discussing Collinsport founder Isaac Collins, as David says “My father tells me 1690” another voice can be heard speaking in the studio, which sounds like actor Frank Schofield who plays Bill Malloy, saying “We got here early.” Presumably he is talking with Louis Edmonds, both of whom have a scene coming up on the Collinwood set but have gotten there early after having made their way over from the set for Dr. Reeves’ office, which, as another couple of visual bloopers will show, is immediately adjacent to the Collinwood drawing room set.
As Elizabeth is preparing to see Bill to the door, several shadows of a boom mic pass across Louis Edmonds’ forehead and face.
As Roger steps before the portrait of Isaac Collins, lights from the set for the exam room of Dr. Reeves’ office can be seen through the drawing room windows.
During the same scene, the camera pulls wide to the left to show the set for the waiting room of Dr. Reeves’ office.
The opening sequence where David wakes up from a nightmare and prepares to jump out the window affords the viewer one of the closer glimpses of the LOOK photo to be seen in the early episodes.
There’s a medicine cabinet against the wall in Dr. Reeves’ office (left).
The same medicine cabinet will be seen again in 1968 (episode 466) when a Collinsport Hospital nurse (played by Katharine Balfour) telephones Collinwood about the automobile accident that Barnabas and Vicki were in.
When Bill Malloy and Roger are in the waiting room at Dr. Reeves’ office discussing the missing valve from Roger’s brake system, between them in the background (on the table beside the sofa) is a balance beam (a brass scale with cupped trays).
A balance beam will be seen in 1968 (episode 556) in Nicholas Blair’s house (though not the exact same model as in this episode), as Nicholas illustrates for Angelique the balance he seeks in using Dr. Lang’s experiment to create a race of super beings to serve his Master and control the world.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
Upon returning home from the doctor’s, Roger pours himself a brandy in the drawing room and Bill Malloy accepts the offer of a drink, saying “I wouldn’t mind a short one.”
Cast Member Spotlight: Fred Stewart
In addition to his years of work in television and movies, Fred Stewart brought to Dark Shadows thirty-five years of experience as a distinguished Broadway actor, appearing in several notable original productions including The Devil and Daniel Webster (1939), The Crucible (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955-1956), and The Gang’s All Here (1959-1960; co-written by Jerome Lawrence, who also wrote the Broadway production of First Monday in October in 1978, which was subsequently made into a major motion picture starring Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh).
Among his work on the small screen is an episode of The Defenders, one of the most progressive and socially conscious drama series ever put on television.
As Alfred Keller in The Man with the Concrete Thumb (season 1, episode 10; broadcast date: November 18, 1961).
On the big screen, Fred Stewart is known for the Peter Sellers movie, The World of Henry Orient. This film features quite a stellar cast, including Tom Bosley (Mr. Cunningham from Happy Days), Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote), Paula Prentiss (The Stepford Wives), Al Lewis (Grandpa from The Munsters), and John Fiedler (The Munsters, That Girl, Bewitched, both the movie and TV series of The Odd Couple, and the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker). Stewart only has one scene, playing a doctor who assists a young girl who has caused a public scene by pretending to be sick, and he has some funny lines:
“A joke, huh? You know what doctors do with people who make jokes like that? We take ‘em straight to the hospital and pump their stomachs out. Did you ever have your stomach pumped out by a real good pumper? I once pumped out a joker until he couldn’t get out of bed for a week.”
DVD cover for The World of Henry Orient.
As the Doctor in The World of Henry Orient, 1964.
Despite the best efforts of Lela Swift, Fred Stewart does manage to survive the current purge enacted against the male supporting cast. He will return in 1967 for episode 158, in which Dr. Reeves makes a house call at Collinwood during the Phoenix story.
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 18: Can I Get a Witness?
— 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.
14 thoughts on “Episode 17: Swiftenstein Must Be Destroyed!”
I’ve had the best results with the Insignia 9″ portable, which seems to provide the fullest sonic range. A DVD player that has more of a tinny, trebly sound quality will tend to muddle these more peripheral background voices. I have Insignia speakers on my computer, which also work pretty well. Your choice of headphones will also make a difference. BOSE headphones are good, but I also get great results with in-ear buds like Skullcandy INK’D 2.0, which has been discontinued by the manufacturer unfortunately.
By the “left channel”, I mean where you hear the actors’ voices — it’s all about what the boom mic is picking up.
To provide an excellent example of how it sounds to hear a voice coming through the control room microphone, and to acquaint yourself with the sound and tone of Lela’s voice in particular, play episode 13 and listen closely to the second half of Act I, with the location footage as Vicki is walking through the Collinwood garage area. After she knocks twice on the door of Matthew’s cottage and then begins to push the door open, you hear Lela cueing the cameraman for Vicki’s entrance into the studio set for Matthew’s cottage: “We’re on, hit her on two!”
Then at the beginning of Act IV there is more location footage of Vicki leaving Matthew’s cottage. She hears something from the garage, and as she begins walking over to investigate you hear a crew member on the studio floor saying, “Quiet, please!” Immediately after, you hear Lela’s voice barking through the control room microphone, “Cue into set!”
What kind of DVD player do you need to be able to hear these things on the left channel? Can you give me a specific brand name? I have a few different DVD players, some of them not currently plugged in; maybe I have the same kind already.
Well, I can’t agree with Swift’s tactics, but I’m afraid I do agree with her with respect to Stewart’s Dr. Reeves. The dry humor is written into the lines and I think they would have played better spoken laconically rather than whimsically. To me his tone clashes with the severity of the situation.
I’m thinking that if there were two different audio tracks, then the reproduction people for digital used sound masking technology to clean up the right side, isolating those frequencies and using reverse phase on them.
And left the original on left.
So, maybe the right side is the thing we hear on mono DVDs.
Very good point about character and plot development in these early episodes. I’ll certainly be devoting ample space to this important aspect of the beginnings of Dark Shadows. But these behind-the-scenes rantings and ravings of Lela Swift are also technically part of the final broadcast, and as appalling and unfair as she often seemed, it does go a long way to explaining most, if not all, of these frequent and early changes in the cast. Without her input, there may never have been any Thayer David, Robert Gerringer, David Ford, and Dana Elcar, to name a few. It would have been a very different Dark Shadows not only early on, but later in the series as well.
Wow. I never would have imagined that this happened on the set of DS. Today it would be classified as workplace harassment. Lela sounds as if she suffering from some sort mental illness – or, worse she’s just downright nasty! I rewatched this episode with a new set of eyes, putting myself in the actor’s shoes. How humiliating.
Regarding the actual episode: IMO David Henesy as a child actor is extremely talented. And he’s so darn cute! It’s comforting to know that his Aunt Elizabeth (and Vickie) are there for him. I’m currently watching the later episodes of DS (1840 plot) for the first time. What a stark contrast – such an emphasis is put on over-the-top “shock” factors and cliff hangers. At least the beginning episodes took time to develop characters and plots. That’s how I fell head over heels for this show.
Thank you, Prisoner, for providing all this intriguing behind-the-scenes accounts. I am really enjoying your blog posts.
Took me a while after reading this just to get thoughts together – suffice to say I cannot think of Ms. Swift in the same terms ever again. And yes, I’ll believe you; it’s there on the audio track, and besides, who could make this up?
This was an unforgivably infantile display on her part, certainly unworthy of a professional director (or professional ANYTHING). It does seem she’s going after the “character” types, older males – and her outburst here makes me think it’s something pretty deep seated from her childhood (I’m no psychologist, but she is overreacting to something, and only with a certain kind of man, using extremely childish means).
I will guess it would have cost more for Curtis to break her contract than to do likewise with the actors? And because there certainly must have been other directors he could have hired, this is another instance of Dan’s “I used people I liked” philosophy? He let her stay on, it smoothed down, and she went on to direct the bulk of the episodes. Still – that kind of blowup, with Joan Bennett and all the other actors listening! Just incredible, and dreadfully sad.
Lela Swift only had a problem with the supporting actors, and of those apparently only a certain few of the male actors. She never complains about any of the core cast members. There is one supporting actor in particular that she really wants off the show more than anyone else, and once he is finally fired then things pretty much get back to normal, and the Dark Shadows company does indeed begin to become what it’s generally known for to the Dark Shadows fandom, that is, a more or less happy “family” of actors and crew who work closely together on a daily basis and who get along well and develop solid working relationships, such that decades later they would agree to reunite once or twice a year to celebrate with fans their Dark Shadows experience and memories.
Thanks for the explanations, Prisoner. I get that there are many distractions around the set while the actors are working but, hearing your director screeching about someone’s butt smelling had to be more than just distracting!
All the actors must have been terrified that she would say something humiliating about them next.
It was something that occurred at the start of episode 19. In the teaser, after Elizabeth is done talking on the phone with Mr. Malloy and is slowly pacing out of the drawing room and into the foyer, you can hear very clearly, from somewhere off stage, the voice of David Henesy, shouting: “Oh! Let me go!” This always puzzled me, because he wasn’t in that particular episode. I’d read that he liked to hang out in different areas of the studio, including the control room, and that he even liked to sneak a cigarette in actors’ dressing rooms, particularly Joan Bennett’s because she had the strongest perfume to cover up the smell of smoke. So at first I assumed that maybe David was startled at being caught smoking by a crew member or something. He recounted later how he was once scolded by Lela Swift one afternoon for napping in one of the coffins during the Barnabas era.
You know how it is where the more you watch an episode, the more you see? Well, it’s that way with audio as well. For the background sound of conversations coming through the control room microphone, which could be heard clearly in-studio because that’s the technique Lela Swift used to direct the actors while episodes were being taped, I have found that some devices are better than others for picking up on such background stuff from off stage. For instance, a DVD player that has a more tinny, trebly sound quality will tend to muddle and even bury such things as what Lela Swift is saying through the control room microphone. But a better-quality player, one with a nice full “bottom” in the sound quality, that is, one that is better suited for capturing the “bass” aspect of, say, a performance of music in concert, is ideal for detecting these more subtle audio instances in these episodes as taped for broadcast — when wearing headphones/earbuds, the control room discussions can be heard in the left channel.
I’d never heard of the terror of Lela Swift before reading these entries. I’ve read about the less than desirable antics of some of the cast, but nothing about directorial misbehavior. What brought it to your attention? How excruciating it must have been for those poor actors!
Well, actors are trained as professionals to work through all kinds of distractions, which are always going on in the production area just off stage anyway. Joan Bennett mentions some of these in her autobiography: “There are a dozen things to distract an actor and fracture his concentration besides the lights, miles of snaky cable, hand signals and constant movement of cameras. Crewmen stand around just outside of camera range, but always within the sight-line of the actor; they stretch, yawn, walk around, scratch and mutter, and once I thought I was getting a cue to elongate a scene when a technician gave out with a splendid yawn and stretched his arms in a wide arc.” (The Bennett Playbill, p. 327)
When it comes to firing, I think Dan Curtis in the beginning was reluctant to fire anyone, especially actors. When the show was starting out, they were all under contract and were guaranteed a certain number of episode appearances. So if he fired an actor, that meant he would have to also pay for all those episodes ahead that the actor wouldn’t get to appear in and which would probably have to come out of his own pocket because the limits of the show’s budget didn’t cover that area.
He never expressed a desire to fire Lela Swift, but at the end of an upcoming episode he does threaten to have her put behind bars because of what she attempted to do to one of the actors during taping.
Trust me, Count, it’s all there — no one could make this stuff up. 🙂
Brace yourself for the next three episodes, as we return to… The Perils of Mark Allen.
It’s a miracle any of the actors got their lines right with all that Hell coming out of the control room. What made Lela think Dan wouldn’t get rid of her?
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