(Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland in the 1944 motion picture The Uninvited)
Dan Curtis is the last man you’d think would ever create a soap opera for daytime television. Very much a man’s man, Curtis began his television career in the 1950s by pitching TV syndication sales for NBC and eventually breaking through in 1963 as creator and executive producer of The CBS Golf Classic. The year before, he had created the Golf Challenge for ABC. You couldn’t get any further from the audience for such daytime soaps as General Hospital than a sports program featuring ball competition between Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
While asleep one night in 1965, Curtis had a dream about a young governess on a train taking her somewhere up the coast of New England to a large house where she gets caught up in the intrigues of a wealthy and mysterious family. It has often been said that it was Jane Eyre that Curtis was bringing to daytime television as the first gothic romance; but it’s more likely that while in the dream state his subconscious was piecing together a reinterpretation of a 1945 motion picture called The Unseen.
The Unseen stars Gail Russell as a governess in her early twenties who travels from the big city to a New England village to tutor two small children, one of them a troubled boy whose mother is recently absent from the household and whose father is cold and disdainful toward him and who thinks of him as a congenital liar and “little monster.” Produced by John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase), The Unseen was Paramount Pictures’ follow-up to 1944’s The Uninvited, which also starred Gail Russell as a young woman who gets thrown into the center of paranormal disturbances plaguing a large house along the rocky coast of Cornwall, England. In terms of atmosphere, there are a good many similarities between The Uninvited and what was first presented on Dark Shadows more than twenty years later, including the strange and unsettling sound of a woman sobbing in the night, the source of which can never be pinpointed to any exact location in the big house.
So while Dark Shadows is still Art Wallace’s baby, at least in terms of story development and episode script writing, let’s take an in-depth look at the earlier influences he drew upon to bring the dream vision of Dan Curtis to life on daytime network television…
One of the things Dark Shadows is noted for is its use of mashups, taking ideas from existing bodies of work and blending them together to create new story ideas, and the origins of Dark Shadows are no exception.
If you’re familiar with Peyton Place, ABC-TV’s groundbreaking nighttime serial drama which made its debut in September 1964, then you may find it particularly striking how the series begins – with a train from New York making its way up the coast of New England on a sleepy summer evening…
…just the way episode 1 of Dark Shadows begins.
In that first Peyton Place episode, following the exterior footage of the train, the scene cues into the studio set showing the passenger who is traveling from New York to live and work in Peyton Place, Dr. Michael Rossi.
Dr. Rossi has left his professional prospects in New York behind to practice medicine in a small New England town in which he will be an outsider with no personal ties, aside from the fact that he went to medical school with the recently deceased Dr. Brooks, whose office space for private practice he will be taking over. The train’s conductor remarks on how most people go away from small towns like Peyton Place…
…which is similar to what fellow train passenger Mrs. Mitchell tells Victoria Winters about a town like Collinsport…
In a contemplative moment, Dr. Rossi explains that he is not in fact making a return trip to Peyton Place. It becomes clear to the viewer that in his journey he may well be searching for something, perhaps even with the hope of finding himself…
Just like Victoria Winters on Dark Shadows, the character of Michael Rossi on Peyton Place, as a newcomer and therefore an outsider, fulfills the role of audience recognition, where the viewer gets to know the people of this small town gradually as does Dr. Rossi. Also like Victoria Winters, he is traveling from New York to a one-industry town which takes its name from the wealthy and illustrious family that founded it. Once having settled in, he will be thrown into the middle of controversy surrounding that very family, the repercussions of which will challenge his personal and professional standing within the community.
Early on, Dr. Rossi inhabits a beach cottage…
(Michael Rossi lounging in the front room of the beach cottage in Peyton Place episode 34)
…which holds a dark and dangerous secret from the distant past, the re-emergence of which will directly affect the serious relationship he has developed with Constance Mackenzie.
(Michael Rossi checking to see who is lurking outside the beach cottage in Peyton Place episode 34)
The beach cottage is located on Sailor’s Bluff, the edge of which is a cliff overlooking rocks and waves a hundred feet below, just like Widow’s Hill on Dark Shadows…
(View from the bottom of Sailor’s Bluff in Peyton Place episode 205, April 1966)
(Victoria Winters looks down from the top of Widow’s Hill in episode 12)
Incidentally, the real star of Peyton Place, in this reviewer’s not so humble opinion, is the lovely Dorothy Malone, and not Mia Farrow. But that’s a subject for another (not too distant) future blog.
(My 8 by 10 color print of Dorothy Malone, 1967. Photo by Don Ornitz-Globe Photos, Inc.)
Dorothy Malone as Lorna Shay in this 1961 episode from the TV series Checkmate (The Heat of Passion; season 2, episode 3; aired October 18, 1961)
…and rocking those tight blue jeans with star quality. ‘Nuff said!
And yes, that is indeed Anthony George (middle), who in 1967 would replace Mitch Ryan as Burke Devlin on Dark Shadows and go on to originate the role of Jeremiah Collins in the 1795 flashback story. Anthony George was one of the co-stars of Checkmate, seen here with one of the other co-stars, Sebastian Cabot.
In filling out the background for the outline that became the series bible of Dark Shadows, Shadows on the Wall, Art Wallace recalled some of his previous television work.
In 1954, the half-hour anthology series The Web broadcast a story by Wallace called The House, in which Elizabeth Stallworth is visited by Walt Cummings, the man who helped her cover up the murder of her husband twenty-five years earlier, which happened because she caught him trying to abscond with the jewels she had inherited from her mother.
The House is the basis for the Jason McGuire blackmail story used on Dark Shadows in 1967. Elizabeth Stallworth has a grown daughter who lives with her named Louise, who intends on marrying her boyfriend, a local fisherman named Joe. In the opening scene of The House, there is even an alcoholic in the bar named Sam. In Shadows on the Wall, Wallace retains the name of Walt Cummings as the prototype for the Jason McGuire character, despite having made several changes to other character names intended for Dark Shadows.
Below are several screen images from a kinescope of the 1954 broadcast of The House, which was shown for the first time in more than sixty years at the 50th anniversary Dark Shadows Festival in Tarrytown, New York in 2016. These images are taken from the YouTube video uploaded by attendee BarnabasBytes, which appears to have been recorded with a cell phone, so the images below are a bit lopsided but nonetheless provide a view of part of the original Dark Shadows backstory as first envisioned by Art Wallace a dozen years before. Even the condescendingly cajoling way Jason would say “Liz” when scheming for favors is there with this initial portrayal of the Walt Cummings character.
Toting a stuffed white sea bag over one shoulder, Walt Cummings stops in at a bar in a small New England coastal village, where he asks about someone he used to know, Elizabeth Stallworth, who lives in a big house at the edge of town.
Elizabeth Stallworth, matriarch of an old and crumbling house, lives there with her grown daughter Louise.
Elizabeth has refused to leave the house since her husband walked out on her and Louise twenty-five years earlier.
Louise is dating a local fisherman named Joe and wants to get married…
…but Joe thinks it unfair that Mrs. Stallworth is tying Louise down and that there is something strange about the house she and her mother live in, and doesn’t believe he would be welcome to live there if they did get married.
But Mrs. Stallworth warms to the news of their marriage, and as she welcomes Joe into the house she tells him that she hopes they will be happy.
After recovering from the shock of Walt Cummings’ unannounced visit at the house, Mrs. Stallworth tells Louise and Joe that she must speak alone with the gentleman.
Walt explains to Liz that he’s getting to be an old sailor and is looking for a place to settle down in.
Liz objects to Walt’s hint of inviting himself as a guest in her house.
Walt advises Liz to explain to Louise that he’s an old friend of her father’s.
Fearful that Walt’s presence in the house would spoil Louise’s impending marriage to Joe, Liz orders Walt to leave.
Walt voices threats about revealing secrets from the past, that she murdered her husband [John; who died at sea 10 years ago].
Mrs. Stallworth is evasive when her daughter begins asking questions about their new houseguest.
That morning, Walt comes downstairs and tells Liz to cook him some eggs for breakfast. Still agonizing over his staying in her house, she again tells him to leave, that all she wants is for her daughter to be happy. Then Walt wonders what might happen if someone should tell her daughter about what lies buried in the basement. Once Walt is sure they have an understanding, he reminds Liz that he likes his eggs sunny side up.
A story that took less than one half hour to tell in full on live television in 1954 was sustained for months on Dark Shadows in 1967, from episodes 193 to 271.
In 1957, Wallace revived The House for broadcast on the Goodyear Playhouse TV series, expanding the story to one hour for a color presentation. For this version, the blackmailer was still called Walt but Elizabeth Stallworth’s name was changed to Carolyn Barnes and Louise Stallworth became Elizabeth Barnes. When creating characters and story ideas for the outline that would become Dark Shadows, in revisiting this later version of The House Wallace would switch the first names of mother and daughter.
One thing you notice about The House is that throughout there is not even a single mention of ghosts. It seems that not an episode from the early days of Dark Shadows goes by where ghosts aren’t mentioned. Occasionally, the viewer is given the impression that there might possibly be some supernatural phenomena at work in and around Collinwood, but through the summer of sixty-six nothing definite is brought to light. Instead, ghosts are spoken of more in the metaphorical sense, as something unwanted from the past that intrudes on the present.
This is very likely something that was picked up from a series of Peyton Place episodes from September 1965. As outlined in the post for episode 37 (One of Our Ghosts), Betty Anderson was to attend a party with Steven Cord at the Peyton house, which was then occupied by new Peyton Mill manager David Schuster and his family. For a short while Betty had been married to Rodney Harrington and had lived in the Peyton house when the mill was still being managed by Rodney’s father Leslie. The marriage was soon annulled when Betty finally revealed that she had lost their baby the night she and Rodney were in a car accident, which was the result of Rodney having become upset and driving recklessly after Betty had first told him of her pregnancy. Shortly before leaving for the party, while working as a nurse’s aide at Doctors Hospital she would confide in her friend Dr. Rossi about revisiting the “ghosts” given that this would be her first visit at the Peyton house since the end of her recent marriage. That exchange occurred in Peyton Place episode 112.
In episode 113, while en route to the Peyton house, sensing that Betty is ill at ease over the prospect of returning to the house in which she had once lived as Mrs. Rodney Harrington, Steven takes up the metaphorical subject of ghosts in the form of a riddle:
Steven: What walks like a man, talks like a man…
Steven: …looks like a man…
Steven: …but is really a ghost?
Steven: I’ll give you a clue.
Steven: He’s sitting right here between us.
Betty: I don’t think I like this riddle.
Steven: Give up? No, you’ll never give up, will you? You’ll drag that moth-eaten memory through every room tonight.
Betty: Rodney has nothing to do –
Steven: You see? You guessed it. Rodney Harrington. The ghost that looks like a man.
Betty: That’s not true.
Steven: Isn’t it? The closer to the castle we get, the louder his sword clanks. I never realized ghosts could take up so much room.
Betty: He’s not a ghost!
Steven: Then why treat him like one? I thought you’d finally kicked the habit. Yesterday you were so brave, so sure, so ready to bury the past.
Betty: I can’t because it’s not dead.
This metaphorical discussion between Steven and Betty is revisited in episode 115, by which time the party has been cut short because the Schuster’s housekeeper Mrs. Chernak had been given the news that her son Joe had just been found dead on the wharf. Dropping Betty off at home, Steven tries to convince her to put the past behind her:
Betty: It’s… it’s difficult for me to think now.
Steven: Please, I took a calculated risk bringing you to the party tonight.
Steven: I knew it would be a strain on you. But I didn’t think it’d be enough to depress you the entire evening.
Steven: I was right, wasn’t I?
Betty: It’s late…
Steven: Betty, you’ve been through a great deal. But you’re mature and intelligent. And you don’t frighten easily.
Steven: There were no ghosts in that house tonight.
Both Dan Curtis and Art Wallace were setting out to respectively create a show and background story that would be aired on the same network as Peyton Place. With Peyton Place having already become a huge cultural phenomenon by the time these episodes with their metaphorical talk of ghosts aired in September 1965, it’s doubtful that they would have failed to notice how useful such a context could be to a show whose main characters were always being haunted by ghosts of the past.
Another thing that Dark Shadows most likely borrowed from Peyton Place was the Burke Devlin story.
On the one hand, it may seem like the story of Burke Devlin was based on the nineteenth century French novel The Count of Monte Cristo, given the way that it’s referenced in episode 38 when Carolyn drops in to visit with Burke in the restaurant at Collinsport Inn. It does, after all, seem to sum up Burke’s reason for returning to Collinsport to begin with:
Carolyn: The Count of Monte Cristo? I thought only kids in school read this.
Burke: Well, when I was in school I didn’t have much time for reading. It’s a good book.
Carolyn: Oh, I remember. The rich, handsome man of mystery returns to take revenge on… Say, you wouldn’t be the Count of Monte Cristo, would you?
Burke: No, but I’m starved.
Then there’s episode 39, during which another nineteenth century novel is referenced when Bill Malloy explains to Elizabeth the reason Burke would have for making inquiries into the Collins family business holdings, as well as every piece of property she owns:
Bill: Moby Dick, Liz. Captain Ahab chasing after the great white whale that chewed his leg off. Went after it for years. Not just to get a leg back, but to destroy it, all of it. That’s all he ever thought of, destroying the thing that hurt him.
Elizabeth: Captain Ahab was a madman.
Bill: Single-minded, like Burke.
But these are just references, neither of which qualifies as the basis for a character template. An experienced television writer like Art Wallace would most likely once again have gone to that blockbuster nighttime serial which at that time was on everyone’s mind: Peyton Place.
A good many parallels can be drawn between the story of Elliot Carson and that of Burke Devlin. Accused of murdering his wife, Elliot Carson was sent to prison for a crime he knows he didn’t commit. Paroled after serving eighteen years, Elliot returns to Peyton Place with only one thing on his mind: to find the person who did kill his wife and clear his name. He has a hunch that Leslie Harrington was somehow involved, and possibly that he covered up evidence to railroad him into prison. It eventually comes to light that both he and Harrington were rivals for the same woman: his wife. Leslie is not a Peyton, but he married one in Martin Peyton’s daughter. In having carried Peyton Mill to a profitable position and in so doing having had the privilege of raising a family while residing in the Peyton house, the name of Harrington in town carries all the weight of a Peyton. Elliott is hot-headed and will not hesitate to use his fists if the situation demands it; like Mitch Ryan’s Burke Devlin, Tim O’Connor’s Elliott Carson is a formidable presence. But underneath is a heart of gold, framed by a poetic soul. The pursuit of justice is the very force that drives him.
(Having just returned from prison, Elliott Carson checks in with his father Eli [Frank Ferguson] at the ship’s chandlery that he owns and operates; episode 33)
(Reflecting on how much things have changed in eighteen years, Eli says to Elliott, “You’re as old as I was the day you left for prison.”)
(In episode 34, Elliott pays a visit to Michael Rossi at the beach cottage where he used to live before being sent to prison)
(Elliott relives childhood memories of the beach cottage, which was built by his grandfather, while standing in the very room where his wife was killed eighteen years before)
(In episode 35, after having paid a visit to Constance Mackenzie at the bookstore she owns and operates, Leslie Harrington drove up and then approached them to welcome Elliott back; you can see from the look on his face just how thrilled Elliott is to see Leslie again)
Leslie: Elliott, if there is anything I can do, if the chandlery doesn’t work out for you, I can always pull a few strings, arrange an opening for you at the mill. You mustn’t be too proud to ask for help.
Elliott: Don’t wait on it, Leslie.
One thing that sets Dark Shadows apart from other TV shows of its time is the almost complete lack of one modern prop as encountered in the everyday lives of most people by 1966: the television set.
According to a write-up in the January 23, 1965 issue of TV Guide, as of 1953 the average home in the United States had a television set going for four hours and forty minutes a day. By 1965, the average was up to five hours and twenty-five minutes a day, though according to Nielson figures the daily average had climbed as high as six hours and twenty minutes in the winter of 1964.
(Article by Harold B. Clemenko, “What Does Television Add Up To, Anyway?”, in the TV Guide for January 23-30, 1965, pp. 10-11)
Either television sets as frequently seen props or discussion of television and even involvement in the production of television projects were always being encountered by characters in the most popular television series of the time.
One example is the ABC-TV show That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas.
(Freeze frame close-up at the end of the opening scene for the debut episode, aired September 8, 1966)
In the pilot episode (Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There), while working in a gift shop in the lobby of an office building aspiring actress Ann Marie is approached by a producer to star in a TV commercial.
This is also the episode where she meets her boyfriend-to-be, magazine writer Donald Hollinger, whose office with Newsview Magazine is also in the building.
The scene in the commercial calls for Ann to be bound and gagged and taken captive…
…which of course is something Don Hollinger would have no way of knowing about when he walks right into the middle of a scene in progress.
So it’s Don Hollinger to the accidental rescue…
…during which he fails to even notice the camera equipment.
All Don is focused on is getting Ann out of harm’s way…
…and preventing anyone from trying to stop him…
…even if it means saving Ann from filming a TV commercial he doesn’t even realize he’s ruining.
In the second episode of That Girl (Good-Bye, Hello, Good-Bye; aired September 15, 1966), Ann returns home to Brewster, New York, to visit with her parents so they can watch the small part she landed in a popular children’s program.
Another popular series of the day, Bewitched, which in the 1966-67 season was airing on ABC nighttime in the half hour leading up to That Girl, also had numerous instances where characters had scripted interactions with their television sets, with some situations intended for comedic effect as in Aunt Clara’s Victoria Victory (season 3, episode 26; aired March 9, 1967), where Aunt Clara, casting a spell to send herself back to the Victorian Age…
…instead misfires by summoning the eponymous figure of that epoch to the living room of 1164 Morning Glory Circle, throne and all.
Before seeing how the common everyday prop of the television set enhanced the overall effect of this episode of Bewitched, let’s take a moment to hear a word from our sponsor.
“Get that sure feeling in the sixty-seven cars from Chevrolet.”
I really enjoy looking at these vintage TV commercials, because it affords one the pleasure of looking at all these gorgeous vintage cars.
“The command performance car is here.”
“The driving machine that’s something else.”
One of the many things that make television so utterly unwatchable in the unbalanced, unhinged world of the twenty-worst century is the unending flurry of ads for ridiculous pharmaceuticals.
“Camaro. Priced low…”
“…with big car stance, big car engines.”
They never would have gotten away with that in the 1960s. Back then people just wanted to drive around in their ace automobiles, in search of hamburger stands and ice cream parlors.
“Camaro. The new name.”
“Brand new from Chevrolet.”
“In coup or convertible.”
“With bucket seats and new safety features.”
“All standard equipment.”
Side effects may include boundless joy, fulfilling pride, and constant grinning.
“Camaro. With different interior and exterior packages. Including special instrumentation.”
“Pull-down rear seat. Multiplex stereo radio and stereo tape.”
“Order the rally sport version or the SS 350 package with a 350 cubic inch V8.”
If your smile lasts more than four hours, consult your dealer immediately about getting an extended long-term warranty.
“Camaro. The new kind of car from Chevrolet.”
“Your kind of Camaro is at your Chevrolet dealers now.”
Ask your dealer if Camaro is right for you.
Now back to our feature presentation.
When the presence of Queen Victoria in the kingdom of the Stevens’ becomes a tad too demanding and difficult to handle…
…Samantha gets the Queen to indulge in the twentieth century pastime of watching television…
…which seems at first to be going smoothly enough…
…until Her Majesty gets a glimpse of what the twentieth century has to offer…
…and is not amused.
“Has neither one of you the decency to faint?!”
So Her Majesty turns the TV set off the old fashion way.
Elsewhere on ABC-TV nighttime, television sets were all over Peyton Place. By 1964, TV sets were as commonplace as lamps, chairs, and sofas, so why not have them as part of the list of props for the many living room sets. To add to the realism, characters would on occasion have instances where TV might enter into a subject of conversation.
In episode 1, at the Mackenzie house as Allison comes in from a study date with Norman Harrington, just as her mother Constance is switching off the TV you can hear the voice of a TV announcer: “Be with us tomorrow night, same time, same channel, for full coverage of the world news.”
Allison: Hello, mother. What were you watching?
Constance: Oh, nothing important.
In episode 7, at the Anderson house George walks into the living room to comment on and laugh over a show Julie is watching, just an innocent attempt on his part at small talk following his most recent outburst of domestic abuse.
(Henry Beckman as George Anderson and Kasey Rogers as Julie Anderson)
Once the TV set is switched off though, the tension that vibrates between them is switched back on.
Even the more modest of homes in Peyton Place have a TV set, like that of Lee Webber who lives in a shack type of dwelling near the wharf. In Peyton Place, the wharf is the poor side of town, but in episode 344 Lee Webber’s modest means don’t prevent him from enjoying a televised boxing match.
(Stephen Oliver as Lee Webber)
Not only are television sets prevalent in the living rooms of private residences around Peyton Place, but they can also be found in public buildings, on several occasions in patient rooms at Doctors Hospital. In episode 401, while visiting Rita Harrington’s room Dr. Rossi tries to convince her to rest for the night, but Rita is wrapped up in a sci-fi movie on TV (The Zombie from Outer Space).
So he takes the remote from her hand and clicks the set off.
But when Dr. Rossi is informed of an urgent situation and has to leave, Rita takes up the remote and clicks the set back on.
(Patricia Morrow as Rita [Jacks] Harrington)
By 1968, there are two-TV households in Peyton Place like at Marcia Russell’s house, with one set in the living room (episode 442)…
…and another upstairs in daughter Carolyn’s room (episode 443).
(Barbara Rush as Marsha Russell and Elizabeth “Tippy” Walker as Carolyn Russell)
By contrast, hardly any rooms on Dark Shadows have a television set as part of the propscape, and in those rare instances when one is included, it’s never on. In fact, you won’t find a TV set within fifty miles of Collinsport. The nearest one is up in Bangor, when in episode 27 Burke Devlin travels to meet with a business associate.
(TV set in Stuart Bronson’s room at the Bangor Pines Hotel)
The only way to find a TV set in Collinsport is to cross over into parallel time, where the same (likely black and white) twelve-inch portable can be found in a rooming house.
(TV set in Buffy Harrington’s apartment in parallel time 1970)
Throughout the entire run of the series, the word television is mentioned only once. In episode 166, when Joe Haskell pays a visit to Collinwood to pick up a ledger from Elizabeth’s desk, while chatting in the foyer Carolyn wonders why people in town have to talk about her family the way they do. Joe explains by saying, “Look, Carolyn, when people in this town want a little glamour or mystery in their lives, they’ve got three places they can go to get it. Television, movies, and this house.”
By design, the world of Dark Shadows seems to have less in common with the contemporary world of the 1960s in which it was made, and appears instead to have originated from an earlier period where such things as television sets were not a common element of everyday life, a decade more like the one that produced such a motion picture as The Uninvited.
Historically, The Uninvited is considered to be the first instance in movies where ghosts are presented in the context of serious drama. Until the 1944 release of The Uninvited, the concept of the ghost was merely played for laughs, in situations where the ghost in question was not really a ghost but a deception to cover up the more worldly goings on of, say, a criminal syndicate and where of course the house that was said to be haunted by ghosts was not really haunted.
One notable example of this is the 1941 film Hold That Ghost, featuring the comedy duo Abbott and Costello.
Through a fluke encounter with a mob figure (Moose Matson) who is shot dead by police during a car chase, Ferdie (Ferdinand) Jones and Chuck Murray inherit a piece of property which is also sought after by some of Matson’s associates, who believe the house in question holds the large sum of cash that Matson was said to have stashed away in a secret place.
Looking at this film now through eyes inspired by all things that speak of vintage treasures, one joy to behold is the drug store dining counter, a true slice of bygone Americana that survived into the 1970s.
In my neck of the woods, there is one remaining old-fashioned drug store counter, just a five-minute walk from the house:
Aside from that awful keno screen high up on the wall…
…the place looks exactly as I remember it from the 1970s.
In the drug store scene from Hold That Ghost, a curious fact about nutrition is presented. The character of Dr. Jackson has ordered a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, but refuses to drink it when he finds out from the soda jerk that it was squeezed exactly an hour ago. According to the doctor: “Oh, well that’s exactly a half an hour too long. Well its vitamin C content was deficient a half hour after squeezing.”
That means all that supposedly fresh-squeezed orange juice you buy in the supermarket is just empty calories; it’s a good thing for vitamin supplements.
Oh, and the soda jerk in that drug store scene is played by Shemp Howard.
Soon after Ferdie and Chuck arrive by specially prearranged bus, along with several other fellow travelers, to have a look at the large and spooky house they’ve inherited, strange things begin happening when they are forced to stay overnight after the bus driver speeds off to leave the entire group stranded, like when opening a door to one of the upstairs rooms one of them encounters a mysterious and spectral figure with glowing eyes.
Or when a pair of arms are reaching out from a wall to strangle Ferdie, who is saved just in time by a knock at the door…
Or when during the night a ghost in a sheet follows Camille Brewster downstairs…
Her screaming brings most everyone in the house to see what the commotion is, by which time the figure has fled back upstairs to hide in one of the rooms, which turns out to be Ferdie’s. Once Ferdie wakes up to see what has crept into his room, then his hysterical screaming sends everyone else running in that direction. Naturally, they find the sheet but no ghost.
That’s how the comedy hijinks unfold in these horror comedy ghost films of the period; a group of people are in a supposedly haunted house and something strange happens to one person, but can’t be proven because the others didn’t encounter it and the alleged apparition has fled the scene to hide away only to reappear to someone else a short while later.
Like in the famous candle scene, where Ferdie sees a candle move and another one levitate, even with Camille right there beside him. But she can’t see the candle rising as if by itself, because Ferdie has instructed her to keep an eye on the one that he saw moving just in case it moves again…
And of course each time Chuck rushes in to see what is upsetting Ferdie, things have returned to normal aside from Ferdie’s hysterical ravings about a candle moving by itself.
Being a comedy, it’s only Moose Matson’s associates trying to scare away this group of intruders so they can keep searching for the missing loot they are certain is hidden away somewhere in the house.
Another notable comedy of the period that utilizes a similar formula is Ghosts on the Loose from 1943, which teams Bela Lugosi with the East Side Kids and also stars Ava Gardner.
One of the members of the gang, Glimpy (Huntz Hall), has a sister named Betty (Ava Gardner) who is getting married to an engineer named Jack (Rick Vallin). Jack has bought a house in the suburbs for he and his wife to live in following the wedding, with just one catch. The elderly couple he purchased the house from have said that the large and abandoned house next door is haunted.
(Ava Gardner and Rick Vallin in Ghosts on the Loose)
After the wedding, the gang drives out to Jack and Betty’s new house to help with interior decorating…
…except that Glimpy has gotten the address wrong by one number, which will put them in the supposedly haunted house next door.
Instead of ghosts, the house is occupied by a German spy ring that prints illegal propaganda literature, led by a man named Emil (Bela Lugosi) who wonders how his associates could have allowed this group of intruders to enter upon their secret domain.
“Why do I have such idiots around me?”
So the spies resort to creative measures by simulating ghostly occurrences to scare the group of kids away…
…each occurrence of which is only seen by one person at a time, leaving the rest of the group skeptical, which again is the basis of all the comedy hysteria throughout.
This was the state of the ghost story/haunted house genre that greeted the release of The Uninvited in 1944.
Yet it was immediately apparent that The Uninvited, with its shadowy atmosphere, chilling mood, and innovative special effects, was unlike anything that preceded it.
Before presenting an element by element breakdown of what was translated from The Uninvited to Dark Shadows, as well as things mined from other sources, let’s visit with the 1945 follow-up, The Unseen.
As outlined above, most of the day one core characters of Dark Shadows are present and accounted for. This leaves Roger and David Collins and Victoria Winters, which are patterned after characters from The Unseen.
It’s the story of a young governess traveling from the big city to a New England village where she will live in a large and luxurious townhouse while tutoring two small children, a brother and sister. The boy’s name is Barnaby and is played by Richard Lyon. At first glance, you can spot an overall resemblance between David Henesy from Dark Shadows and Richard Lyon from The Unseen.
(Young Barnaby witnesses a murder from his bedroom window at the beginning of The Unseen)
The governess is named Elizabeth Howard and is played by Gail Russell, who arrives by train from Boston.
When stepping out of the taxi at the address of her destination, 10 Crescent, the first thing she notices is the boarded up townhouse next door.
The abandoned property of 11 Crescent holds a dark secret directly related to the murder that her young charge witnessed from his window during the night, a mystery that connects the two houses and the people among whom Miss Howard will be living and working. Like Victoria Winters on Dark Shadows, this will be her first job as a governess.
Elizabeth Howard’s employer is the father of the children she will be tutoring, whose name is David Fielding (played by Joel McCrea). As the prototype for the character of Roger Collins, Fielding is regal, imposing, and condescending. After the housekeeper points Miss Howard in the direction of the library where her new employer can be found, Fielding at first refuses to even look up from the work he is engrossed in.
Fielding’s initial words toward the new governess are curt and dismissive:
Elizabeth: Mr. Fielding?
David: What is it?
Elizabeth: I’m Elizabeth Howard.
David: Take a chair, Miss Howard.
[phone starts ringing]
Elizabeth: Shall I answer it?
David: Why? It’ll stop ringing after a while.
[phone eventually stops ringing]
Elizabeth: Perhaps you don’t remember. The agency in Boston sent me here, as a governess.
David [absently]: Uh huh.
Elizabeth: Well aren’t you even going to look at me?
David [sigh of annoyance]: Sure.
Once Fielding does bother to look at the governess, he flares up with disapproval and ignites a heated exchange:
David: Well you’re too young to know anything about children.
Elizabeth: Well, I’m sure I’m not –
David: The agency said you were twenty-five.
David: You’re not twenty-five, are you?
Elizabeth: No, I’m not, but –
David: You’re nothing like twenty-five. Have you ever had a job as a governess before?
Elizabeth: No, but…
David: Have you ever had any kind of a job?
Elizabeth: Yes, I have, but…
David: Don’t you ever finish a sentence?
Elizabeth: Yes, if I’m allowed to!
Fielding then relents and asks Miss Howard to tell a bit about herself.
David: You’re young and pretty, and you seem intelligent. What makes you want to be a governess?
Elizabeth: I’m fond of children, Mr. Fielding.
David: You think that’s enough?
Elizabeth: Yes, I do.
David: You don’t know my children.
Elizabeth: I’ve seen them.
David: Seeing them is one thing, and making them behave is something else.
Having at last agreed to take the governess upstairs so she can meet the children, upon spotting them on the landing looking down, Fielding comments, “That’s where they belong, behind bars.”
To make settling in with her job at the Fielding house even more difficult, Barney lets it be known right off that he doesn’t like his new governess. With his mother having died some time ago, he carries a lingering attachment for his previous governess Maxine.
Barney: Maxine was prettier!
Ellen: Maxine was mean. She wouldn’t do my curls.
Elizabeth: Who is Maxine?
Barney: Maxine’s our governess! She’s coming back. She told me so!
Ellen, on the other hand, likes Miss Howard, so her main challenge will rest in reaching out to Barney, an obstacle that may prove to be more than she bargained for.
Elizabeth: I’m not Maxine, but can’t we be friends too?
Barney: Why did you come here? We don’t want you here!
[Elizabeth motions to speak, but when she can’t find words gets up to leave Barney’s room]
Barney [calls after her]: You’re my enemy, I hate you!
On Dark Shadows, David Collins is a disturbed young boy whose father thinks of him as a liar and who is repeatedly referred to as a little monster. The “little monster” reference was lifted directly from the following exchange in The Unseen between governess Elizabeth Howard and Barney Fielding’s father David:
David: How’d you make out with the children, Miss Howard? Everything alright?
Elizabeth: I think so. Ellen and I read all about the cowardly lion and I put her hair in curlers.
David: How ‘bout Barney?
Elizabeth: Oh… Barney and I had a talk, too.
David: You mean you had a talk. Let’s have it, Miss Howard. What do you really think about Barney?
Elizabeth: He seems very intelligent.
Dr. Evans: He is very intelligent.
David: He’s also tricky and over-emotional. If you cross him, he’ll find a way to pay you back double. On top of that, he has a vile temper and he’s an unprincipled little liar.
Elizabeth: You make him sound like a little monster.
As did Art Wallace with David Collins during his initial eight-week run as story creator and developer and episode writer for Dark Shadows.
Additionally, though not technically an orphan, governess Elizabeth Howard has no parents; that is, during her initial interview with David Fielding she revealed that her mother died when she was a child and her father died while she was at college. She gives her age as twenty-one.
So now, let’s close things out with a look at what Dark Shadows borrowed from the groundbreaking motion picture The Uninvited and points elsewhere.
Referenced by name:
The Uninvited. In episode 168, Dr. Guthrie invites Laura Collins to the séance he will soon be conducting at Collinwood in the hope of making contact with the spirit of Josette Collins. She initially declines, but just as Dr. Guthrie is leaving does ask who will be there. In providing her with an answer, Dr. Guthrie namechecks The Uninvited:
Laura: Who will be there?
Dr. Guthrie: There will be those who are invited, and of course… those who are the uninvited.
(Diana Millay as Laura Collins and John Lasell as Dr. Peter Guthrie in episode 168)
The Unseen. The 1945 mystery noir is mentioned by name in Victoria Winters’ opening narration for episode 190:
“My name is Victoria Winters. Fear is no stranger to the residents of Collinwood. Fear of the unknown… the unseen…”
The big house on the hill:
Set along the coast of Cornwall, England, in The Uninvited the paranormal events take place in a big house high up on a cliff overlooking the sea. On Dark Shadows, the Collins mansion was originally referred to as Collins House in the early drafts of the scripts for episodes 1 through 15. Though never mentioned by this name on the air, for television promos that preceded the debut of Dark Shadows, the announcer opens with, “Dark Shadows probes the hidden mysteries of Collins House…” For the final drafts of the above mentioned episode scripts, the name of the house was changed to Collinwood. In The Uninvited, the big house on the hill is called Windward, but with the English accents it could just as easily be heard as Windwood.
(View of the big house known as Windward House)
Very often on Dark Shadows characters and also the opening narration will refer to Collinwood as “the [big] house on the hill”; this is undoubtedly something borrowed from Peyton Place. As the largest home in Peyton Place, the Peyton mansion is up on a hill overlooking the town the family gave its name to. In episode 8, Leslie Harrington’s sister Laura Brooks has driven Dr. Rossi to the Peyton house for Sunday brunch, a big social event hosted by Leslie and Catherine (Peyton) Harrington:
Laura Brooks: I’ve been telling the doctor that sooner or later anyone who is anyone comes to the house on the hill for Sunday brunch.
(Left to right: Ed Nelson as Dr. Michael Rossi, Patricia Breslin as Laura Brooks, and Mary Anderson as Catherine Harrington)
In Peyton Place episode 59, in the opening narration by Warner Anderson, who played Matthew Swain and who did the opening narration for the entire run of the series, the grandeur of the Peyton mansion is similarly alluded to:
Warner Anderson: Behind the iron gates of the big house on the hill, an uneasy Leslie Harrington locks and bolts the door. For Elliot Carson has just phoned to warn him that George Anderson has been drinking at Ada Jacks’ tavern. And now he is on his way to the Harrington house, angry and deeply disturbed.
The waves and rocks below the cliff:
The famous waves intro on Dark Shadows undoubtedly comes from scenes like this from The Uninvited:
Doors closing and opening by themselves:
In episode 3 of Dark Shadows, while giving Vicki a tour of the house, Carolyn tells her about Collinsport founder Isaac Collins.
While their backs are turned, the camera provides a view of one of the drawing room doors opening as if by itself.
Vicki finds this disturbing when she notices, because she could have sworn that she’d closed the door tightly when they came in.
When Carolyn checks, there is no one nearby so she tells Vicki that it must have been the wind.
Episode 3 as scripted provides no definite explanation, but is something borrowed from The Uninvited.
(Ray Milland has an unsettling moment in The Uninvited)
Voice of a woman sobbing in the night:
Thinking at first it may have been his sister Pamela, Roderick Fitzgerald is awoken in the night by the strange, unearthly sound of a woman sobbing somewhere down below.
Bay window in the artist’s studio:
Known as “the Bluebeard room” in The Uninvited, this room on the second floor with an ocean view by a large bay window was once used as the studio of an artist. When Pamela comments that the window looks like a “cucumber frame” Roderick explains that “they put that in later to make a painter’s studio.”
There is a window of similar design in the Evans cottage. Sam positions his easel there because by day this large window admits the north light.
(Evans cottage in episode 60)
(Portrait of the artist at work; David Ford as Sam Evans in episode 46)
Use of deep shadow:
One of the striking features of early Dark Shadows episodes is the atmospheric effect of low lighting, with character faces often partially steeped in shadow. In the art world, this dynamic contrast of light and shade is known as chiaroscuro. Lighting for these early episodes was adjusted somewhat after a complaint was made to production on behalf of Joan Bennett, who thought she looked “ghastly” when she first watched herself as broadcast. In recalling Miss Bennett’s complaint, a biographer wrote that on Dark Shadows “production values were low” and that “lighting was dim and crude” (The Bennetts: An Acting Family, pp. 424-425), but one look at The Uninvited will show that this initial lighting approach was no accident.
(Gail Russell and Ray Milland in a scene from The Uninvited)
A character’s theme music:
Dark Shadows is known for its many themes dedicated to characters on the show, with the most famous and successful being Quentin’s Theme.
In The Uninvited, Roderick Fitzgerald is a composer who in a spontaneous moment comes up with a theme which he dedicates to Stella Meredith. The score for The Uninvited was composed by Victor Young, and the theme Rick composes for Stella was based on the main theme. After Ned Washington wrote lyrics for the piece in 1946, Stella by Starlight would go on to become one of the most popular and widely covered jazz standards of all time.
Closing of the double doors:
In The Uninvited, when Rick and Pam Fitzgerald pay a visit to the home of Commander Beech to ask about buying the big house on the cliff, while they wait in the Commander’s large study Meredith closes the double doors behind her to have a private chat with her grandfather out in the hall. It’s likely no coincidence that the Collinwood drawing room was designed to have double doors.
Likewise, the front entrance of Windward House has double doors.
The Bluebeard room of Windward House has a peculiar effect on whoever enters it. Soon after first unlocking the door to the room and stepping in, Pam felt a sudden chill and in the same moment Rick slumped down feeling inexplicably flattened and wondering if he would be able to compose any music there. After Rick took Stella up to see the room and played the theme he composed for her, she was overcome by a blank and distant mood before turning to bolt away. Rick ran out of the house after her, toward the edge of the cliff…
…catching up with her just before she was about to go over.
Family legends of women jumping off cliffs:
In the above scene where Stella runs as if she were about to jump off the cliff, when she “comes to” she doesn’t realize what she was about to do or why she was even there, but when looking down at the rocks below she says, “I think this is where my mother fell.” It’s well known among the villagers that Mary Meredith fell to her death seventeen years earlier; Rick first heard of this from a shopkeeper soon after moving into Windward House. As the story of The Uninvited unfolds, it becomes uncertain whether the death of Stella’s mother was accidental.
(View from atop the cliff that fronts Windward House)
The signature scent:
On Dark Shadows, whenever Josette has been present, there is a lingering scent of her favorite perfume, jasmine. This first occurs in episode 149, when Vicki goes up to David’s room so that Sam can have another look at the painting he made of Laura.
In The Uninvited, the presence of a spirit is indicated by the scent of mimosa, which according to what Stella told Rick during their day out sailing on the water was her mother’s favorite perfume and which is first detected by Pam.
“Rick, have you brought some more flowers in?”
On Dark Shadows, the first of many séances took place at Collinwood in episode 169, during which Vicki lapsed into a trance and began speaking in French, a language which she had no knowledge of.
In The Uninvited, a séance is held in attempt to contact the spirit apparently haunting Windward House, which is believed to be that of Mary Meredith, during which Stella lapses into a trance and begins speaking in Spanish, a language which she has no knowledge of.
Books opening by themselves:
On Dark Shadows, twice during the phoenix story books are seen to be opening as if by themselves, but this is really the influence of Josette providing clues to help the living avert the danger that surrounds them.
In The Uninvited, there is a benevolent spirit using this method, turning the pages of a journal to guide the living toward the truth behind the forces at work in the haunting of Windward House.
Lamps. In The Uninvited, there are tall, elegant lamps with white shell-type shades.
There’s a lamp like those in the living room of the Anderson house on Peyton Place.
(Betty Anderson in episode 165)
On Dark Shadows, there are antique lamps of a similar design, like the one on the writing desk in Vicki’s room at Collinwood in episode 52.
In The Unseen, David Fielding has in his library an electric replica Victorian green oil lamp.
At the Anderson house on Peyton Place, in episode 158 Julie brought home from the department store the exact same type of lamp.
On Dark Shadows, such a lamp is first seen at the Evans cottage…
(Sam and Maggie Evans with green electric Victorian oil lamp at the Evans cottage, episode 37)
…with a similar type of lamp on the study desk of David’s room at Collinwood…
…and another at Laura’s cottage in episode 138.
Clocks. In the Old House of 1967, there is an ornate-looking shelf clock on the mantel…
(Barnabas with his captive dinner guest, episode 239)
…of a style that suggests the early twentieth century…
…which looks like it could be a Sessions or a Seth Thomas…
…but whose manufacturer name cannot be discerned on the brass plating of its face, even with the closest of views.
In any event, there’s a very similar clock in the 1958 Titanic movie A Night to Remember – the only Titanic movie one needs by the way (the Criterion edition is highly recommended). In creating the set for the first class smoking lounge, down to every detail of specification in both dimension and decoration as on the actual ship, there is a shelf clock on the mantel that looks similar to the one that would be chosen for the Old House parlor on Dark Shadows.
(Michael Goodliffe as Titanic’s designer and builder Thomas Andrews, stoically waiting out the bitter end just minutes before the doomed liner’s final plunge…)
Believe it or not, the Titanic can be loosely associated with Dark Shadows. English production company Big Finish released in 2013 a Dark Shadows audio drama called The Phantom Bride, the setting of which is an eastbound transatlantic voyage aboard a renovated ocean liner from the 1920s called the Raven Queen which is haunted by the ghost of a woman who died on board in 1929.
At first glimpse, it looks like the front cover of The Phantom Bride is featuring the Titanic, but it’s actually her elder sister ship RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Olympic, which entered service in June 1911, nearly a year before Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage.
The key to telling the difference between the two ships is the forward section of the deck just below the lifeboats (A deck). On Titanic, that portion is enclosed along the first and second funnels.
(RMS Titanic docked at Southampton in April 1912)
(Close-up view of the enclosed section of A deck)
On Olympic, the A deck is completely open.
(RMS Olympic leaving port in 1911, with RMS Lusitania in the background)
In recent times there have been some fascinating film clips of Olympic surfacing online, which are to be treasured all the more since the only known existing film footage of Titanic is a minute or two when the ship was still being fitted out in Belfast, Ireland, before even having been given the finishing coat of paint.
The one below is a two-minute clip of Olympic arriving in New York in 1934, all the more of value because it has sound. In one sense it’s rather haunting, because you imagine how Titanic would have looked making her way through New York Harbor if only she had been able to complete her initial crossing. In another sense it’s hugely inspiring because you hear Olympic giving several blasts of those magnificent steam whistles. So, yes, now at last we know what Titanic really sounded like.
(Olympic arrives in New York on May 16, 1934)
There’s another clip, also with sound, from 1928 showing Olympic making a departure from her dock at Southampton. The only way to describe it is that it looks something like a mythological figure come to life. For all our lives there has only been Titanic in pictures and in scale model recreations for motion pictures, but this footage brings it all home and up close in all her beautifully majestic detail. You may notice the black smoke emanating from the fourth funnel. It has often been written that the fourth funnel was a “dummy” funnel, that is to say for show given that only the first three were required for boiler room exhaust, but for the Olympic-class liners the fourth funnel was put to use as a galley flue. Given that the next stop on the voyage, Cherbourg, France, was only a few hours away and no doubt to help passengers settle in, the kitchen crew would have been hard at work preparing food for the ship’s many lounges and dining rooms.
(Olympic making a departure from her dock at Southampton, England, on March 28, 1928)
Like other large ocean liners of her day, during World War I Olympic was converted for service as a troop transport ship, with the new designation of HMT (Hired Military Transport) 2810. From 1915 to 1917, Olympic was armed with a “12-pounder” gun (3 inches, or 76 mm, in caliber; forward) and a 4.7-inch gun (aft). In 1917, she was armed with 6-inch guns.
(HMT Olympic showing 6-inch gun fittings during World War I troop transport service; one can be seen poking out from the starboard side of the forward well deck. Her transport number, 2810, is shown just below the bridge)
During her faithful wartime service, Olympic earned the distinction of being the only merchant vessel in all of World War I to sink an enemy war ship.
On the morning of May 12, 1918, while on an eastbound run from New York to France with a full complement of American troops, the German submarine U-103 was preparing to fire two torpedoes into Olympic’s flank when the sub was spotted by Olympic’s lookouts some 1,600 feet ahead. Once Olympic’s gunners began opening fire on the enemy vessel, the U-boat crew attempted an emergency crash dive, but Olympic’s captain ordered the ship turned in pursuit of the attacker and before the U-boat could descend far enough to safety Olympic’s massive double hull smashed into the back of the submarine’s conning tower.
(The German submarine U-103, sunk by Olympic in 1918)
To finish the job, Olympic’s triple-blade port wing propeller, measuring 23.5 feet in diameter, weighing 38 tons, and made of bronze metal, sliced through the submarine’s pressure hull, forcing the U-boat crew to release the ballast tanks and abandon ship.
(View of port wing propeller on Olympic’s sister ship Titanic, 1911)
Several servicemen on board Olympic paid to have a commemorative plaque gifted to the liner to be placed over the Grand Staircase, which read: “This tablet presented by the 59th Regiment United States Infantry commemorates the sinking of the German submarine U-103 by the Olympic on May 12th, 1918 in latitude 49 degrees 16 minutes north longitude 4 degrees 51 minutes west on the voyage from New York to Southampton with American troops.”
During World War I, Olympic carried approximately 201,000 troops while steaming some 184,000 miles, earning her the nickname of “Old Reliable” among her crew. In 1919, her captain during wartime, Bertram Fox Hayes, was knighted for “valuable services in connection with the transport of troops.”
(HMT Olympic in dazzle paint, aka Razzle Dazzle, during WWI)
Upon her return to passenger service in 1920, over the following decade Olympic proved one of the most popular liners on the transatlantic run, her lengthy and successful career marred by only one unfortunate incident at sea.
The clip above of Olympic arriving in New York in 1934 is not really as auspicious as it seems, given that only the day before the great liner was involved in a fatal collision off the coast of Massachusetts.
Around 11 am on May 15, some forty-two miles south of Nantucket Island and still two hundred miles from New York, while moving through a patchy fog at a reduced speed of sixteen knots and with Chief Radio Operator Frank Clark homing in on the radio signal of the Nantucket Lightship, which acted as a guide to shipping lanes by serving as a type of radio beacon lighthouse in marking the dangerous rocky shoals extending south and east from Nantucket Island, the tiny vessel was spotted directly in Olympic’s path less than two ship’s lengths away.
Unable to steer clear or stop in time, Olympic’s bow sliced the Nantucket Lightship clean in two, with the vessel sinking in just thirty seconds and sending four of her eleven crewmen to the bottom along with the wreckage.
(Nantucket Lightship LV 117, photographed on February 26, 1931)
Nantucket Lightship Captain George Braithwaite: “I was looking out when I saw the Olympic coming. I could see the helmsman on her, putting his helm to starboard. I waved frantically at him to put her to port. If he had, he would have missed us. He evidently did not see or misunderstood my signals. The next thing I knew she struck us.”
(First photo taken of the Nantucket Lightship rescue effort as a lifeboat with seven surviving crew from the LV 117 returns to Olympic. Photo by Ron Janard, International News Photos, Inc. Used with kind permission of Lighthouse Digest Magazine)
Nantucket Lightship Captain George Braithwaite: “The Olympic was not going fast, but was moving with great force, kind of up and down. The next thing I knew I was in the water. I can’t swim but I was trying.”
(As the lifeboat returns to Olympic during the Nantucket Lightship rescue effort, arrows show bodies of dead crew from the LV 117 who were lifted from the sea. Photo by Ron Janard. Used with kind permission of Lighthouse Digest)
Nantucket Lightship First Mate Clifton E. Mosher: “The minute she [the Olympic] hit us the boiler exploded and the inside [of the ship] was filled with steam. I don’t know how the firemen were lost, but I think they must have tried to reach a lifeboat and got swept under. I had enough time to get to my cabin, get a life belt, and come back on deck. Of course that takes no longer than it does to say it. We are usually ready. We are apt to get it at any time.”
(Olympic’s passengers look on as surviving crew from the Nantucket Lightship LV 117 are raised to the boat deck. Photo from the Doug Bingham collection, Lighthouse Digest archives. Used with permission)
Olympic passenger John De Freitas, who was out walking on the ship’s promenade deck when there was a sudden rush of crewmen going past him: “I saw men dying. I could see men on the lightship running around trying to get life preservers. They were shouting to each other and some were bleeding. I could see the spars of the Nantucket disappearing and quicker than I can tell you the lightship settled and was gone.”
(Front page of the Boston Daily Globe for Wednesday May 16. Lighthouse Digest archives. Used with permission)
John De Freitas, from his view on the Olympic while looking out over the railing: “I saw men start to swim. What surprised me was that they made a few strokes and seemed not to want to swim anymore. I learned later that the water chilled them so they could not swim. It was terrible.”
(Front page of the Boston Herald for Wednesday May 16. Lighthouse Digest archives. Used with permission)
(RMS Olympic arriving in New York Harbor on May 16, 1934. Lighthouse Digest archives. Used with permission)
John Binks, captain of the Olympic: “Sometimes the fog would shut down and we could see nothing. We could only rely on the radio beacon. I did not want to steer directly into it so I edged a bit to port. I heard the lightship fog signal on the starboard bow and changed my course to port to put the light vessel more on our starboard bow and make a greater allowance for safety. Then the lightship showed up and I saw it . . . when we were about stopped, we hit her. It was not our speed but the weight of the Olympic that sank the light vessel.”
(Flag on the stern of Olympic at half-staff on May 16. In the background is the liner SS Paris. Photo by Ron Janard. Used with kind permission of Lighthouse Digest)
At 4 am on May 15, just seven hours before being sunk by Olympic, the Nantucket Lightship had a close call with the SS Paris, when the 764-foot-long, 35,000-ton French liner had closed within just one hundred feet.
(Board of Inquiry convened to investigate the sinking of Nantucket Lightship by Olympic, May 17, 1934. Left to right: Frank Clark, Chief Radio Operator of the Olympic; Captain John Binks of the RMS Olympic; George W. Putnam, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses; Dickerson N. Hoover of the U.S. Bureau of Navigation; and Admiral J.P. Tawresey, Special Expert of the Emergency Fleet Corp. Photo by James W. Claflin. Used with kind permission of Lighthouse Digest)
After it was determined that Olympic had been at fault, the ship’s owners, the White Star Line, reimbursed the U.S. Lighthouse Service in the amount of $300,000 for the cost of building a new lightship (Nantucket Lightship LV 112).
(RMS Olympic photographed from Nantucket Lightship LV 117 while passing by in early January 1934)
Already in structural decline and with the merger of the Cunard Line with the White Star Line pending, Olympic was deemed too costly to continue operating at a profitable margin. Olympic was retired from passenger service in April 1935, to be replaced by the Queen Mary.
(RMS Olympic docked at Southampton in the early 1930s)
To provide a vivid impression of what a departure from New York on an ocean liner in 1929 would have been like for the characters in the Big Finish audio drama The Phantom Bride, the clip below of another popular ocean liner of the day, RMS Aquitania, from 1930 and also with sound as well as multiple camera angles, will put you right there in the moment.
(RMS Aquitania departing from Cunard Line’s Pier 54 in New York on June 28, 1930 for an eastbound run to Southampton, England)
(RMS Aquitania in the 1930s)
Wharf lights. In the Blue Whale, over the bar beside the cash register is a perfectly appropriate prop for a seaport town, a wharf light.
(Joe and Carolyn at the Blue Whale in episode 156)
This prop is frequently encountered on Peyton Place. As shown above, there’s one for a front door house light at the beach cottage where Dr. Michael Rossi first lives after arriving in town. They are also to be found along the waterfront.
(Norman and Rita walk along the wharf, with a wharf light in the foreground, episode 192)
Wolf’s head cane. One of the most iconic props from Dark Shadows is the wolf’s head cane of Barnabas Collins.
(Jonathan Frid in episode 221)
Speaking of Dark Shadows episode 221, in the opening scene, after Maggie has closed up the coffee shop at Collinsport Inn and is standing before the mirror in the lobby while putting on her coat, Kathryn Leigh Scott adjusts her collar straight up, the way Dorothy Malone would often do with her shirt collars on Peyton Place.
The teased up collar was a signature style of Dorothy Malone, as seen here in Peyton Place episode 4.
Dorothy Malone’s teased up collar is in occasional evidence in the above mentioned 1961 episode of Checkmate, as well as her Academy Award winning performance in the 1956 motion picture Written on the Wind.
(As Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind)
(Kathryn Leigh Scott, looking every bit as lovely as Dorothy Malone, in episode 221)
In 1965, George Macready made his debut on Peyton Place as the curmudgeonly but sage and lovable family patriarch Martin Peyton.
(George Macready in episode 159)
Though required to spend a great deal of his time in a wheelchair, he is able to get about on foot with the assistance of a twin set of canes.
(Martin Peyton with Hannah Cord [Ruth Warrick] in episode 151)
(Close-up of the design of the cane Martin Peyton grips with his right hand)
Now that we have the ingredients at hand, let’s review the recipe that went into the making of Dark Shadows. First, in a large mixing bowl pour in The Uninvited as a base. Add in generous helpings of The Unseen for additional texture. Round out the balance with a leftover script from Art Wallace’s Goodyear Television Playhouse days. Sprinkle in liberal dashes of Peyton Place for added body and flavor. Top it off with an occasional pinch of classic literature for seasoning. Stir, simmer, and serve. Bon episóde!
Special Edition Spotlight: Gail Russell
Although Gail Russell had no acting experience when at age 18 she signed on with Paramount Pictures for a long-term contract, it was her striking beauty that inspired Paramount to launch her career and even hired an acting coach to help her along at their expense. Before rising to the level of stardom with The Uninvited, there were two films the year before, her debut in Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour and a role in Lady in the Dark.
Throughout the forties and into 1950, Miss Russell appeared in multiple films each year. One of these is the 1948 film Night Has a Thousand Eyes, directed by John Farrow and co-starring Edward G. Robinson and John Lund.
(As Jean Courtland in Night Has a Thousand Eyes)
Played by Edward G. Robinson, John Triton was originally a psychic with a successful but fraudulent stage act. Life becomes unsettling when he begins having genuine visions, many of which involve impending disaster for those closest to him, like his fiancé Jenny (Virginia Bruce). Realizing that he must flee far away to a life of anonymity, he entrusts Jenny to the care of his best friend Whitney Courtland (Jerome Cowan), both of whom are part of his stage act.
Twenty years later he returns to warn their daughter Jean about her father’s plane flight, which Triton believes will crash unless he can get Jean to contact her father and have him cancel the flight immediately.
Having heard stories of Triton through her father, Jean is intrigued. Jean’s fiancé, however, Elliott Carson (John Lund), is skeptical.
Triton also has a warning for Jean about her own death, with the vision pinning it down to an exact day and hour, in the evening when the stars make it seem like the night has a thousand eyes.
There is something especially striking about Edward G. Robinson’s performance; at times, the way he gestures and speaks, it’s like a reminder of David Ford’s performance as Sam Evans on Dark Shadows, as if Edward G. Robinson might have been influential to Ford as an actor, which is something to explore further in future posts.
That same year, Gail Russell starred as Gilly Johnson in Moonrise, the story of Danny Hawkins (Dane Clark) whose father was hanged for murder before Danny was old enough to know him. All through childhood he is taunted for his father’s past and is frequently bullied and beaten by a boy named Jerry Sykes (Lloyd Bridges), who when they are young adults Danny kills one night in a violent brawl fueled by liquor and lingering resentment.
He has fallen in love with Gilly Johnson, a schoolteacher for the town, and must struggle with the secret he holds, which is especially trying given that Gilly and Jerry had been engaged to be married.
Danny nonetheless attempts to continue on as if nothing happened…
…which is difficult given the visions he is continually haunted by.
Worried the sheriff is on his trail, Danny panics and feels he must run away, even from himself.
For the Criterion edition, the print has been restored to crystal clarity, the cinematography is exquisite, and the story and performances are equally stunning, touching on key aspects of the human experience; love and loss, guilt and shame, and the road to redemption.
In the mid fifties, Gail Russell branched off into television work, beginning in 1956 with Stage 57 and continuing into the sixties with such series as The Rebel and Manhunt.
As Cassandra Bannister in Noblesse Oblige, an episode from the western series The Rebel (season 1, episode 19; aired February 14, 1960).
As Mrs. Clark in Matinee Mobster, an episode from the crime drama series Manhunt (season 1, episode 33; aired April 25, 1960), an episode in which a Dark Shadows cast member appears, Patrick McVey (as Ben Andrews, one of the regulars of the Manhunt series), who plays Elizabeth Stoddard’s banker John Harris in episode 44.
With her looks and talent, Gail Russell could have been huge in the medium of television, if only she hadn’t been so short-lived.
(Gail Russell as Stella Meredith in The Uninvited)
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 38: The Count of Monte Devlin
— Marc Masse
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8 thoughts on “Dark Shadows from the Beginning Special Edition: Origins of Dark Shadows: The Uninvited (1944) and The Unseen (1945)”
Great post, Priz! Lots of fascinating details. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to discovering your blog & reading this entry, several of the pics no longer show up.
re. “Ghosts on the Loose” from 1943 –
I’d believe in ghosts way sooner than I’d believe that Huntz Hall and Ava Gardner could be siblings!
Bette Davis was never more scary than in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which I think almost qualifies as a horror movie.
Bette Davis scared the crap out of me in The Nanny when I first saw it back in the late 60’s. Too bad Dan didn’t work Grayson into a Nanny type role like that – she could have been every bit as terrifying.
Bette Davis was the titular servant, treacle-sweet and kind, seemingly perfect and saddled with a monster (William Dix, playing the role quite effectively). Made by Seven Arts / Hammer Films, who could make thrillers without all the gore, it’s worth a watch – with a nice cup of tea.
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir TV series was an update on the 1947 movie, starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney. Again, recommended (by me, at least) for an autumn evening when the fog rolls in, sitting by a cheery fire. More romance than ghost story, but quite satisfying. (I’ve thought that Hollywood should revisit G&MM, using the ‘Titanic’ cast. Or might that be a trifle too precious?)
Wow, John E, I didn’t know about that movie The Nanny. I grew up loving the series The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. As I mentioned to Count Catofi, the work is far from complete. So please feel free to keep adding to it.
SO much info here!
And touching on many many things that I also have interest in.
Another film that might have had some influence on the character of David Collins is ‘The Nanny’, from 1965 – little Joey also has an abiding hatred of his Nanny, though in his case it turns out to be absolutely justified. Nanny’s mad as a March hare, and the dear old thing is doing her best to snuff the lad before someone starts believing his wild tales. Evidently Dan Curtis even tried to lift a bit of story from the film, where Joey fakes hanging himself. (Well, a good bit is a good bit…)
And as to Dorothy Malone; a mark of a good actress is that she can do comedy as well as drama. She gets one of my favorite moments in the first ‘Beach Party’ movie, which otherwise is a nearly complete waste of her talent – as Bob Cummings FINALLY figures out that she’s in love with him and they kiss, Frankie (who thinks Bob’s after Annette) busts in and is aghast. He makes a comment on Bob’s stamina, at which Dorothy grins drunkenly and says, “He takes vitamins.” (Dunno why, but her delivery just cracks me up!)
And sweet Gail Russell, so luminous in “The Uninvited”, one of the best ghost stories. She always had that innocence; must have been because she was so terrified by her celebrity. The tale I read was that she began drinking to calm her nerves on set, and needed more and more. So tragic, and brought more publicity (of the wrong kind).
A shame DS couldn’t have got some of “The Ghost And Mrs. Muir” into a storyline somehow. There must have been a Captain Collins somewhere in the family – Curtis might even have been able to talk KLS into staying with the show longer in the Lucy Muir role.
Well how about that?
Love Dorothy Malone. I’ve got the Criterion edition of Written on the Wind, but haven’t yet seen The Tarnished Angels.
Before Dark Shadows, Joan Bennett appeared in an episode of Burke’s Law, just a year before Burke Devlin was attempting to lay down the law for Elizabeth Stoddard.
Thanks for commenting, Count. As always, I appreciate your thoughtful contributions.
Thanks, Count. A lotta love went into this post, you have no idea…
I love the Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone series; no doubt, there are endless resources to discuss in terms of inspiration for Dark Shadows — the work is far from complete.
I am planning another special edition post further ahead on one of my favorite films, Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. I think I’ll fit it in at the close of the phoenix story, in between episodes 191 and 192. Carnival of Souls is a “between two worlds” type of story, and you can draw some parallels between the Mr. Linden character and James Hall’s intense and stunning portrayal of Willie Loomis, who of course would be joining the show a few episodes later.
There’s something striking about the make-up for the “zombie” people in Carnival of Souls. A few months before the movie started filming, there was on TV a supernatural anthology series call Way Out, hosted by Roald Dahl. There’s an episode called Dissolve to Black that has the exact same make-up style for the undead figures that Herk Harvey would be using for Carnival of Souls. The make-up in that episode of Way Out was done by Dick Smith, and Bob Cobert did the soundtrack.
These special edition posts are lots of fun; they give me the chance to be really expansive and free-form.
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