Dark Shadows was originally about the story of Victoria Winters, an orphan governess from New York City who accepts a job in a small town Down East where she will live in a large dark house by the sea and tutor a nine-year-old boy. She accepts the job because she hopes it may lead to information about her undiscovered past, in particular the anonymous monthly payments from Bangor that started arriving at the foundling home when she was just two years old.
As envisioned by story creator Art Wallace, who wrote the outline Shadows on the Wall that became the show’s series bible early on, the story of Victoria Winters was fully realized from the start, with a beginning, middle, and complete story resolution. But unforeseen circumstances along the way prevented the story from being told in full as originally planned. Other things got in the way; the murder of a Collins family friend and business associate, a couple of ghosts, a fire goddess from a spirit netherworld, a vampire, time travel, witchcraft, and on and on, until finally the actress playing the role said enough was enough.
Perhaps the biggest factor was the frequent turnover in the episode writing staff. Enough time went by and enough writers came and went that the original framework laid out for the story of Victoria Winters was simply forgotten, a beginning left dangling somewhere in the middle for more than two years of episodes. Below is an examination of the original story resolution, as outlined before Dark Shadows first went on the air.
The story of Victoria Winters is the road not taken.
It’s now the third day of Victoria Winters’ stay at Collinwood, and this episode returns to the subject of her origins for the first time since episode 13, when she ventured out to caretaker Matthew Morgan’s cottage to see whether he’d know if there was any connection between the Collins family and Bangor, the city from where anonymous mailings of fifty dollars in cash would arrive for her at the foundling home in New York, every month beginning when she was two years old.
Recall that in episode 8 Mrs. Hopewell, the director of the Hammond Foundling Home, was dictating a letter to be sent to Vicki because of someone who showed up asking questions about why she was hired by the Collins family and by whom, and that the man who was asking these questions, after initially posing as a magazine editor, was in fact a private investigator, Wilbur Strake. To this point, only Collins fishing fleet manager Bill Malloy has discovered that Strake had been working for Burke Devlin. But Vicki is intuitive enough to sense the connection, and when the letter from the foundling home arrives at Collinwood, it will provide her with a fresh opportunity to level a whole new series of questions at Mrs. Stoddard, who seems more and more like someone with a guilty and deeply personal secret to hide. So it’s fortunate that Mrs. Hopewell ordered the letter to be sent special delivery, otherwise the viewer might have had to have waited at least until episode 38 for Dark Shadows to cycle back to the story of Victoria Winters and the search for answers to her possible past.
Let’s first look at how story creator and original episode writer Art Wallace had envisioned it. His story outline Shadows on the Wall became the series bible, and at one point Vicki finds a handwritten letter at Collinwood:
“…she finds a letter…a letter Elizabeth had saved for many years. It was written to Elizabeth by her husband, Paul, while Paul was courting her. The contents, themselves, are unimportant. What is important to Vicki is the fact that the handwriting in the letter is quite similar to that single note that had been left in a cardboard carton at the Foundling Hospital twenty years ago!” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 79)
Vicki confronts Elizabeth about the letter, and by this time wishing to make peace with Vicki she tells her what she knows about her background:
“…Elizabeth tells Vicki that she is not Vicki’s mother, as Vicki had obviously suspected. She doesn’t know who Vicki’s mother is….but she does know that Paul was her father. She knows because Paul had told her. On that fateful night, eighteen years ago, Paul had taunted her about having had an affair in the early days of his marriage to Elizabeth. He had told her the affair had produced a child. The mother was someone who lived in Collinsport in that period. Elizabeth knows that much. The woman moved away. Elizabeth doesn’t know if she was a local resident or a summer visitor. Paul had made a ‘business trip’ to New York. And it was there that he had placed Vicki at the Foundling Home. Why he did this, or what happened to Vicki’s mother, Elizabeth doesn’t know.” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 81)
But, of course, the story outline Shadows on the Wall was written before Alexandra Moltke had been cast for the role of Victoria Winters.
In Dark Shadows: The First Year, a book of research devoted exclusively to the first 210 episodes, the following is written about the casting of Alexandra Moltke:
“One mystery that was never settled was the identity of Victoria Winters’ parents. During Alexandra Moltke’s screen test, her resemblance to a younger Joan Bennett became apparent, furthering the story idea that Vicki was the long-lost daughter of Elizabeth.” (Dark Shadows: The First Year, p. 14)
In one of the interviews done for the release of Dark Shadows on home video, Alexandra Moltke recalls this aspect of her auditions for the part of Victoria Winters:
“I auditioned, and I think I auditioned several times, but I don’t really remember because, being very near-sighted, and not auditioning in my eyeglasses, the whole thing was a blur. … Joan Bennett, at one point, was around… She was near-sighted, too, and she thought I was her daughter. And I don’t know whether that had anything to do with me getting the part or not….”
In another interview given around the same time, she provides a similar account with additional details:
“I don’t really know how I got the role. I auditioned a great many times, and I’m not sure, but I think there may have been something to do that I… on camera had a certain resemblance toward Joan [Bennett]. Because she said that when she came in one day, I guess to watch auditions, and she saw me from a distance, she thought that I was her daughter. She thought a trick was being played on her. And I think there was some kind of a… I’m not sure of the plot ever resolved that she was my mother, but I think there was some talk that that was… because people started writing in, because they assumed that there was some kind of family connection between us… So, maybe that’s how I got the part, I don’t really know.”
The possibility that Vicki’s past may have had some connection with Paul Stoddard, whose first name isn’t even mentioned until episode 41, is only suggested early on by Carolyn in episode 5 and then again in episode 6. Each time, Vicki dismisses the idea as ridiculous.
It must be that the show is playing instead, right from the very beginning, on the possibility of Vicki having a maternal connection with Collinwood. Recall the post for episode 2, the following footnote added for future consideration: The first thing Elizabeth Stoddard says to Victoria Winters after letting her into the foyer is, “Do you have my letter?” She then asks that the young governess give back the letter that was mailed to her, which is an odd request. However, considering that the letter was handwritten, there may be a reason behind it, one that may be speculated on at a later time.
The reason that Elizabeth asks for the letter back is the possibility that Vicki may notice the similarity between the handwriting in the letter and that in the note left with the foundling home twenty years earlier, which for all Elizabeth knows Vicki may have kept all these years. The story is playing on this one aspect of the original outline given for Shadows on the Wall, the discovery of a hidden truth by recognizing the likeness in handwriting between the note left with the foundling home and the letter from the person who has hired her as a governess twenty years later.
It certainly is a more plausible reason, basing the story on a maternal connection. Why would Elizabeth care so much for the offspring of an erstwhile, philandering husband? There are indeed reasons why she might, which are provided in Shadows on the Wall, but which will be recounted at a later time.
For now, Vicki has something to show Elizabeth, the letter sent special delivery from the foundling home, and with it a whole new series of questions. This is how the scene in Act IV from today’s episode plays out, after Elizabeth has read the letter:
Vicki: Well, Mrs. Stoddard, what do you think?
Carolyn: May I read it?
Vicki: You might as well.
Elizabeth: Have you ever heard of this man before, this Wilbur Strake?
Carolyn: Hey hey, a private eye! What do you know?
Vicki: Yes. Mrs. Stoddard, do you have any idea who would have hired this man to ask these questions about me?
Carolyn: Unless it has something to do with what you were talking about.
Vicki: What do you mean?
Carolyn: Well, mother thought Burke might try to dig up something about our past –
Elizabeth: This has nothing to do with that!
Carolyn: Well it sure sounds like it, listen. [reading aloud the letter] “He was anxious to learn the details of your securing your position.” She means with us, of course. “Why you were hired by the Collins family, who recommended you, and all the rest of it.” Whatever that means.
Vicki: What she means is he wanted to know why your mother hired me in particular when she never heard of me before.
Elizabeth: I’ve already answered that question, haven’t I?
Vicki: Yes. You said your brother was the one who made the recommendation, but I still don’t –
Elizabeth: Miss Winters, I thought we’d finished with that matter.
And look at Elizabeth’s body language: this is how she responds, by turning her back on the questioning (actually, it’s more of a visual technique known as “backacting” done more for the choreography of the camera angle).
Carolyn: Maybe you have, mother, but someone else hasn’t. [to Vicki] Don’t you have any idea who might be this interested in you?
Vicki: I thought your mother might know.
But all Elizabeth knows is to be evasive and avoid eye contact as much as possible…
Vicki [to Mrs. Stoddard]: Do you think Burke Devlin hired this man?
Elizabeth: I suppose it’s possible.
Vicki: But why would he want to know about me?
Elizabeth: I can’t answer that, I don’t know.
Vicki: You think Devlin was responsible for the car accident, don’t you?
Vicki: Well then you must also think that the only reason he came back here was to harm your brother and you.
Vicki: Well, then. It’s logical that the only reason he’d hire someone to make these inquiries would be if the results would be harmful to you. Doesn’t that make sense?
Elizabeth: Miss Winters. Are you asking me whether or not I’m trying to hide something about you and your past?
Elizabeth: The answer is no.
With that, Elizabeth, in an uncharacteristic fit of rudeness, abruptly leaves the room.
Vicki: But then why should he go to all that –
Elizabeth: I’m sorry, I don’t know.
Game, set, and match to Victoria Winters.
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is looking more and more like she has a profoundly personal secret that she wants kept hidden. From this point on, it seems increasingly likely that Vicki may indeed be the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth, rather than that of Paul Stoddard.
Dark Shadows will increasingly play on this probable aspect as it cycles back every so often to the story of Victoria Winters and her continuing search for the truth of her past. But at some point the show will begin to devote less and less time to this quest, as the original series bible Shadows on the Wall is soon dropped in favor of more compelling story content involving murder and attempted murder, ghosts and hauntings, and, finally, the menacing supernatural element of The Phoenix, the point where Dark Shadows crosses over from a rather tame but moody Gothic serial romance to a full-fledged “horror soap opera.”
Yet, even as the Dark Shadows episodes of the final weeks in 1966 are winging their way toward the watershed year of 1967 there will be one episode that will point toward a probable resolution to the story of Victoria Winters; it will be something implied, rather than definitely confirmed, but an unspoken truth nonetheless, to at least provide the viewer with a clear and telling glimpse of the road not taken.
Vicki says it’s a fact that someone tried to kill Carolyn’s uncle Roger.
Vicki believes Burke was telling the truth about not tampering with the brakes on Roger’s car.
Bill Malloy walks in on Burke’s breakfast to question him about Roger’s accident.
“Anything that touches that family interests me. Anything!”
Bill reminds Burke of the threats he made against the Collins family the day he was convicted of manslaughter.
Vicki receives a letter sent special delivery from the foundling home.
Carolyn feels guilty about having brought Burke to Collinwood.
Elizabeth believes Burke Devlin was responsible for her brother’s accident.
“Mrs. Stoddard, I think you ought to read this letter.”
Elizabeth reacts as Carolyn reads aloud the contents of Vicki’s letter from the foundling home.
Vicki wonders if Burke Devlin hired the private investigator to check her background and also why he would want to know about her.
Elizabeth abruptly leaves the room to evade Vicki’s questions about her letter from the foundling home.
“Oh, face it, Vicki. You’re not even sure Burke hired this Wilbur Strake.”
Vicki: I was just thinking.
Carolyn: What about, the meaning of life?
Vicki: No, death.
Carolyn: I guess I’m just a lousy judge of character, that’s all.
Burke: Isn’t it a little early for social calls?
Bill Malloy: It’s not social, Burke.
Burke: Oh, I see. Well couldn’t you have let me finish my breakfast, don’t you think?
Bill: Well go ahead and finish. It won’t bother me.
Burke: Mr. Malloy. You still manage the Collins fishing fleet and cannery, don’t you?
Burke: Well why don’t you go to your office and let me eat my breakfast in peace?
Bill: I’ll get there. Finish your breakfast. Then you and I are gonna… talk.
Burke: Sounds ominous.
Bill: If that’s what you call attempted murder.
Burke: Why are you so interested? Roger was in the car, not you.
Bill: Let’s get somethin’ straight, Burke. Anything that touches that family interests me. Anything!
Carolyn: Vicki doesn’t think Burke was responsible for what happened to the car.
Elizabeth: I’m not interested in what Miss Winters thinks.
Carolyn: Vicki, if Burke is guilty then so am I.
Elizabeth: Carolyn, I remember how difficult it was for you. When you went to school and came home crying because the children made fun of you. ‘Carolyn’s mother is a witch.’
Vicki: Mrs. Stoddard, I think you ought to read this letter.
Burke: Where did you learn about this man, Strake, Mr. Malloy?
Bill: Sister of a man who works at the cannery. She’s a chambermaid here.
Burke [chuckles]: Well, I’m certainly glad I keep my briefcase locked.
Usually, a Dark Shadows episode begins with an image or footage of Collinwood as the opening narration begins; but episode 21 begins instead with footage of the water, which then dissolves to exterior footage from the back lawn of the great house.
In this episode, Collinsport law enforcement is mentioned for the first time, in Act III when Elizabeth takes a phone call in the drawing room from a “Mr. Carter,” the sheriff, but who initially is referred to as “the constable.” Constable Carter will make his onscreen debut in episode 23.
In the final scene, Burke gets a phone call in his hotel room from a business associate named “Bronson,” who will appear in episode 27.
The usually reliable and authoritative Dark Shadows Wiki has John Sedwick erroneously listed as the director for this episode. Sedwick, who started out as an associate director on the show, directed numerous episodes of Dark Shadows between 1966 and 1968, but the first twenty-eight were directed by Lela Swift (Source: Dark Shadows: The First Year, 2006, Blue Whale Books, by Nina Johnson and O. Crock [summary writers], pp. 32-38). The Dark Shadows Wiki says that episode 24 “was mistakenly credited to Lela Swift.” The end credits for that episode indeed have it listed as directed by Lela Swift. So if there are mistakes made in the end credits for one episode, then there could indeed have been errors for a couple more, including episode 21. I’ll go with what’s listed in Dark Shadows: The First Year, since the people involved in that project had direct access to all the primary source materials including original scripts and other production documents, ABC network interdepartment correspondences, etc.
Daily studio schedule for Dark Shadows in 1966
7:00-11:00 a.m. Lighting
8:30-10:30 Morning Rehearsal
11:00-12:00 Engineering Set-Up
11:30-2:00 Camera Blocking & Run Through
2:00-2:30 Dress Rehearsal
2:30-3:00 Test Pattern
3:00-3:30 Episode Taping
3:45-4:15 Technical Meeting
4:00-6:30 Dry Rehearsal for Next Episode
4:00-7:00 Reset Studio
The door for Burke’s room at Collinsport Inn now has a number: 24. When the set is eventually reused for other locations around Collinsport, the same room number will be used, such as for Tony Peterson’s apartment in 1967.
As Bill Malloy grills Burke in his hotel room about the threats he made the day he was convicted of manslaughter, the camera goes momentarily out of focus as it moves back.
At the end of Act III, as Vicki enters the drawing room with her letter from the foundling home, a boom mic shadow stretches across the drawing room doors.
In Act IV, Vicki mentions that the letter is from “Miss Hopewell,” the director of services at the foundling home, but in episode 1 the character was scripted as “Mrs.” Hopewell.
In Act IV, a video monitor showing the action captured by the camera on Vicki and Carolyn as they stand by the drawing room doorway is visible outside the drawing room window (upper left edge of screen).
After Bill Malloy steps out of Burke’s hotel room, between the door and the hallway wall outside there is a foot-wide opening from floor to ceiling showing bare studio space beyond.
Most of the end credits for this episode are noticeably slanted.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
In the Collinwood kitchen, while Vicki watches a coffee pot perk, Carolyn fixes toast with white bread.
In addition to their breakfast of coffee and toast, Vicki and Carolyn each have a glass of juice on the table. To the right of Carolyn’s plate is a jar for jam or honey.
In Burke’s hotel room, Mr. Malloy waits as Burke finishes his breakfast of toast and coffee. Malloy wants to grill him about Roger’s car accident, so after he’s through eating Burke jokes, “I always thought the condemned man got steak and strawberry shortcake.”
After breakfast is cleared away in the Collinwood kitchen, a bowl of fruit is in the center of the table with a banana, apples, and grapes.
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 22: Facts and Justice: The Perils of Mark Allen Concludes
— Marc Masse
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