“The character of Sam Evans will be played by David Ford.”
Dark Shadows is known mainly as a “vampire soap” to even those with only a passing knowledge or awareness of the original TV series that aired weekday afternoons between 1966 and 1971.
Before rocketing into the public lexicon as television’s first vampire series, there were five gradual transformations that took place without which the “Barnabas era” of Dark Shadows would not have been possible.
The most significant transformation is, of course, the arrival of Barnabas Collins in 1967. The precursor to Barnabas was the phoenix story, featuring a fiery goddess threatening to consume and destroy the lives of all those with whom she comes in contact. The phoenix was the first supernatural monster on Dark Shadows. Before this was the first appearance of a ghost in episode 70, which was preceded in episode 52 by a supernatural occurrence in the Collinwood drawing room where a book was opened as if by the hand of an invisible spirit. The first essential transformation occurs here in episode 35 with the acting department, as David Ford joins the cast in the role of Sam Evans, taking over for Mark Allen who last appeared in episode 22.
One of the things Dark Shadows is known for is its theatrical quality of acting. There is television style acting, where people are in a room talking as people would normally talk, and there is Dark Shadows style acting, where scenes are played out as though it were live theater.
But Dark Shadows didn’t have this theatrical acting style so much in the beginning. Though some actors like Louis Edmonds, Mitch Ryan, and Nancy Barrett had theater experience as part of their background, the roster of actors the show started off with were picked mainly for their television credits. To this point Dark Shadows has been written, directed, and acted solely as a vehicle for television.
Here in episode 35, the style of acting on Dark Shadows takes a theatrical turn with the debut of David Ford, who, with one grand and sweeping wave of the arm and eloquent turn of phrase, will single-handedly transform the acting approach from that of a standard television show to that of a teleplay:
“A façade, my dear boy!”
You have to wonder if that line was an ad lib; it fit in perfectly with the gesture, and thus far Art Wallace has never written with such a fanciful flourish.
David Ford is the first purely theatrical actor to be hired for Dark Shadows. Aside from two television episodes of Armstrong Circle Theatre, one in 1958 and the other in 1960, and a bit part in a major motion picture in 1959, the La Jolla, California native occupied himself exclusively with work in the theater, ranging in numerous capacities from stage manager to understudy to performer in several Broadway productions between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s.
In the year preceding Dark Shadows, Ford was performing on the Hartford Stage in a successful production of the Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the role of Big Daddy. That’s why when he first appears on Dark Shadows he has that half a beard type style, having fashioned his performance of Big Daddy after the one made famous in the 1958 motion picture adaptation, especially the way he scrunches up his eyes for the effect of dramatic intensity, giving it his best Burl Ives:
(Burl Ives as Big Daddy in the 1958 film adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)
Ford must certainly have helped the Hartford Stage production be quite successful with its long run of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in providing such a visual reminder of the star-studded motion picture of the previous decade; in addition, he must have really stood out to the Dark Shadows crew member(s) out searching for a new Sam Evans. In the Hartford Stage production’s Big Daddy, they found the ideal fatherly image for the gruff but lovable artist who inhabits the Evans cottage.
David Ford’s transition to daytime television was not without its occasional bumpy moments. Having been accustomed to only needing to learn his lines once, and to have plenty of time to study them before the curtain would rise on opening night, and then settling into countless evenings of smooth and comfortable repetition, the theater veteran must have found the fast-paced grind of daytime television unsettling. In his first scene with Mitch Ryan, where Sam goes to Burke’s hotel room to try to talk him out of getting his portrait painted, Ford loses his place a couple of times, consulting the teleprompter with long awkward glances before Ryan helps him along until he recovers.
Thereafter Ford gets through the rest of the scene smoothly enough, but eyes the teleprompter with a consistency that manages to break the fourth wall convention, or at least crack it somewhat:
(David Ford catches up on his reading in his first scene with Mitch Ryan)
But all in all, David Ford is utterly perfect as Sam Evans, almost as though the role were made for him alone to play, with a stage voice as warm and rustic as the bay window of the Evans cottage itself.
It makes you think that maybe this is why the missing brake valve story played out for so many episodes, that they may have been buying a little time in the scramble to find a new Sam Evans after letting go of Mark Allen. Because in Shadows on the Wall, the missing brake valve story never had such a dramatic big finish where the sheriff had to come to Collinwood only to be put off the case by the protective instincts of Elizabeth Stoddard; as originally outlined, after Vicki discovers the missing valve in David’s room the issue fades and is soon forgotten, without any clear resolution:
“She goes directly to the drawer in which she had hidden it. The cap is gone!
“Now Roger is there. They face David, who denies any wrongdoing, accuses Vicki of trying to get him in trouble. He plays the role of the frightened little boy as he clings to his father and sobs. But Vicki can see the glances of hatred from the ten-year old eyes….and the dread of Collins House takes on a darker tone.
“The cap cannot be discovered and now, even Roger begins to feel that Vicki had tried to blame his son for something Burke had done. Roger’s hostility is greater…..but, above all, Vicki feels the hostility of David as a penetrating and fearful thing.
“Why had he done it? Impulse? Hatred of his father? Pure madness? Vicki ponders this again and again….and all Carolyn can tell her is a simple, ‘Do yourself a favor. Get out of this house while you can walk out.’” (Shadows on the Wall, pp. 49-50)
So now that Sam Evans is back, after an absence of thirteen episodes, things can move along as before in further exploring the unresolved issue between Burke Devlin and Roger Collins; because Sam Evans is the key that both binds and divides these two men. He interacts on friendly terms with Burke and not so friendly terms with Roger, but something involving Sam Evans and ten years ago is what stands between them. Now that the character of Sam Evans is back in the picture, we can move toward unearthing some of those hidden secrets from the past and perhaps even settling the dilemma that drives Burke Devlin so fiercely, whatever the prospects or consequences of the probable resolution to come.
Today’s episode of The Dan and Lela Show, the behind the scenes audio drama that plays out through the control room microphone of the Dark Shadows television studio and is captured in the taped episode broadcast as peripheral audio, features a surprising twist; executive producer Dan Curtis is pleasantly surprised to find that there is finally a male middle-aged supporting actor who is liked by director Lela Swift.
In the opening scene, as David descends the foyer stairs before any dialogue is spoken, Lela is excited about the debut of the actor who is taking over the role of Sam Evans.
Lela: Dan, wait till you see the new Sam Evans… [cues Nancy Barrett to make her entrance] Carolyn!… He’s absolutely perfect. His name is David Ford.
Dan: Wow, Lela, it’s great to see there’s finally a male middle-aged actor you actually like.
Lela: Oh, Dan, I have nothing against male middle-aged actors… [cues Nancy Barrett to pick up the phone in the drawing room] Carolyn!… I like this one because he’s perfect for the role. I’ve just got one thing to say. I’ll save it for the opening theme, after the announcement.
[waves intro, after ABC announcer Bob Lloyd announces the cast change for the Sam Evans character]
Lela: Dan, you are going to love David Ford as Sam Evans! He gives a great dramatic reading. He’s perfect…
As Act II gets underway, with Burke in his hotel room finishing dinner and then getting up to answer the knock at the door, Lela is enthusing about David Ford’s performance at the close of Act I on the set for the Collinsport Inn restaurant.
Lela: Dan, wasn’t that great the way he said, ‘A façade, my dear boy’? That’s the kind of theatrical acting Dark Shadows needs.
But Dan Curtis finds less to enthuse about when David Ford gets lost early in the dialogue where Sam is trying to talk Burke out of doing the portrait. David Ford takes long awkward glances at the teleprompter, but Mitch Ryan starts feeding him lines until he manages to find his way.
Dan: He’s messing up his lines. This Sam Evans can’t get his lines right either.
Lela: He lost his place, but he’s recovered. Mitch helped him out.
Dan: Mitch is a trained theater actor himself.
When the scene between Sam and Burke resumes in Act III, both Dan and Lela are making their own occasional observations about David Ford’s performance.
Dan: He’s got a great voice!
Lela: He relies on the teleprompter.
The clincher is when David Ford does his big scene closer at the start of Act IV, when Sam is warning Joe to marry Carolyn and get away from Collinsport. When the scene changes to the Collinwood drawing room/foyer, both Dan and Lela are suitably impressed.
Lela: That was brilliant! Dan, it’s okay if this Sam Evans misses a few lines. I told you he would give a great dramatic reading.
Dan: A great dramatic reading? He’s terrific! Where’d you find this guy?
Lela: On the Hartford Stage. He was in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Big Daddy.
Dan: I love Tennessee Williams! He was great. What else has he done?
Lela: He was in the motion picture Middle of the Night.
Dan: Middle of the Night? He was in a Kim Novak movie?
Lela: He was stage manager in the Broadway production.
Dan: Wow, so this guy’s really been around.
As Nancy Barrett makes her exit from the scene, Lela drops in another tidbit relating to David Ford:
Lela: Nancy Barrett is smitten. She likes older men.
You can hear Miss Barrett reacting from somewhere offstage:
Nancy Barrett: Oh, why did she have to say that?
Over the closing theme, Dan Curtis arrives at a decision.
Dan: Wow, Lela, I’m really impressed with David Ford. I guess if you don’t mind him missing a few lines, we should keep him around. I’ll hire him!…
Until next time, this has been The Dan and Lela Show.
Carolyn hears from Joe that Vicki is having dinner in Burke’s hotel room.
“Were you listening to that conversation?”
“Let me go!”
“You like Mr. Devlin, don’t you?”
“Get out of here!”
When Vicki asks if there is any food left over from dinner, Carolyn remarks, “Why, didn’t Burke feed you well?”
Carolyn reacts to Vicki’s account of having visited with Burke in his hotel room.
Sam pays a visit to Burke in his hotel room to try and talk him out of having his portrait painted…
…but finally accepts that it’s useless.
Sam advises Joe to marry Carolyn and get away from Collinsport, because of…
“…It’s come to live with us, Joe.”
Carolyn: What are you doing down here? I thought you were locked in your room.
David: Aunt Elizabeth unlocked it.
Carolyn: That’s too bad.
David: Do you know where my father went?
Carolyn: No. And I don’t care.
David: Did he go into town?
Carolyn: I said I don’t know. Go find Miss Winters.
David: I wish she’d never come here. Why does she have to stay here anyway?
Carolyn: Maybe she likes the people she meets.
David: Well I don’t like her. I hate her.
Carolyn: David, do me a favor. Go back up to your room and leave me alone.
David: You like Mr. Devlin, don’t you?
Carolyn: I asked you to go upstairs.
David: That’s why you’re sore. Because she’s having dinner with him.
Carolyn: So you didn’t listen to my phone call, did you?
David: Then you do like him. I know. I heard you telling aunt Elizabeth and father.
Carolyn: What are you trying to do, David, start something?
David: I’ll bet she knows you like Mr. Devlin. I’ll bet that’s the only reason she’s seeing him.
Carolyn: Oh, David! David, you are a monster. A real solid fourteen-carat monster.
Joe: How’d you guess?
Sam: I’m an old hand, Joe. I got a million recipes how to cure it. None of ‘em work. The best thing is black coffee.
Joe: Ah… [points down at the counter] My fourth cup.
Sam: Well, that’s the cure. Either cure it or drown it.
Sam: Oh, you’re eating.
Burke: Don’t let that bother you. Sit down, Sam.
Sam: Two worst places to interrupt a man are when he’s sleeping or eating. I’ll come back later.
Burke: Sam, don’t be ridiculous. Come on, sit down. I’ve been expecting you. [Lifts cover off of second dinner plate] I even ordered you a steak.
Sam: You adding telepathy to your other talents, Burke?
Burke: Well, alright. So, a young lady walked out on me, huh? It’s medium rare. Little cold, but it’s good.
Sam: Thanks, I ate. You go right ahead… What lady was it, Carolyn Stoddard?
Burke: What if it was?
Sam: Burke, you’ve been away for a long time. And this is a – have you forgotten how small this town is?
Burke [chuckles]: Well, I always thought that you artists were bohemians.
Vicki: Carolyn, are you angry because I met Burke Devlin?
Carolyn: I thought you said you were hungry.
Vicki: That can wait. I want to know what’s troubling you.
Carolyn: Vicki, you don’t have to give me any explanations. You have a perfect right to see, or meet, or have dinner with anyone you please.
Vicki: I don’t think you really mean that.
Carolyn: You think I’m jealous of you, don’t you?
Vicki: You hardly know him. You’ve only met Burke once or twice. And I’d always thought of you with Joe.
Carolyn: Vicki, let me make it very clear. I’m not jealous. Not jealous at all. I was… surprised. Nothing more.
Vicki: Surprised at what?
Carolyn: Well, after all, you spent so much time telling me I shouldn’t trust Burke. That I shouldn’t believe what he tells me. Even hinting that I should never see him again. And the next thing I know, you’re in his hotel room having dinner and…
Vicki: Carolyn, you idiot!
Carolyn: Thank you. Thank you very much.
[Opens drawing room doors to find David glaring up at her]
Vicki: David, what do you want?… I asked you a question. What do you want?… Alright, then, don’t tell me… Now, stop it!… Tell me what you have to say.
David: You’re going to be sorry you ever came here!
The character of Sam Evans is the first on Dark Shadows to be played by more than one actor.
Episode 35 is the last to have a tag (short closing scene after Act IV). Beginning with episode 36, Dark Shadows episodes will be structured with a teaser (short opening scene ahead of the opening theme/waves intro) and four acts.
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
In Act I, just as David Ford makes his entrance on the set for Collinsport Inn restaurant, while saying the line “Hello, Joe,” a loud clattering sound of something being dropped on the floor can be heard offstage in the production area.
In Act II, after letting Sam into his hotel room Burke pushes the door to close it, but because it wasn’t shut all the way it slowly swings back wide open as he and Sam make some introductory small talk.
During Act II, David Ford forgets his lines in his scene with Mitch Ryan, and has to turn away to the side and check the teleprompter.
In Act III, when Vicki comes into the drawing room to find out what’s troubling Carolyn, the camera angle momentarily exposes the edge of the set.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
In an attempt to ease his hangover, Joe sits at the counter of the Collinsport Inn restaurant with a fourth cup of black coffee.
Earlier he had a hamburger…
…which he couldn’t bring himself to eat…
…so he just sips more coffee instead.
In yesterday’s episode, with Vicki as his guest, Burke ordered down to the restaurant for two steaks, two salads, and two black coffees. In this episode, as Burke works on one of the steak dinners after Vicki decided to pass, the cups of coffee are on the table, but the salads do not appear to have been included; instead, French fries come with the steak, plus a glass of water and a basket of bread rolls.
In Act III, after helping himself to a drink in Burke’s hotel room, Sam makes most of it disappear in a single gulp after finally agreeing to do the portrait for Burke.
Dark Shadows Cast Member Spotlight: David Ford
In his year-long run on the Hartford Stage as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof during the 1965 to 1966 season, David Ford was being directed by Jacques Cartier, who founded the Hartford Stage in 1963 by converting a grocery store warehouse on Kinsley Street.
Because the bulk of his early work involved Broadway and regional theater, there is not much in the way of video or photographic instances of David Ford’s work before joining the cast of Dark Shadows.
The two episodes of Armstrong Circle Theatre he appeared in (The Invisible Mark [season 9, episode 5; aired December 10, 1958] and Engineer of Death: The Eichmann Story [season 11, episode 1; aired October 12, 1960]) are not commercially available nor are they in circulation among collectors.
The only known existing illustration of David Ford’s career before Dark Shadows is a brief appearance in the 1959 film Middle of the Night, alongside a stellar cast that included Kim Novak, Frederic March, Lee Grant, and Martin Balsam, in the role of Paul Kingsley. He’s only onscreen for barely a minute, and most of that time is not facing the camera. He likely landed the role from having been stage manager of the original Broadway production, which ran from February 8, 1956 to May 25, 1957.
Joan Bennett’s 1970 autobiography (original front and back covers).
The Bennetts: An Acting Family, the 2004 biography (front cover).
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 36: The David Ford Effect
— Marc Masse
© 2018 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.