Today Elizabeth Stoddard’s banker John Harris drives down from Bangor to present her with financial documents for a trust fund she has set up for David. Cast for the role is Patrick McVey, who turns in what can only be described as the single least proficient performance of any actor ever to appear on Dark Shadows. An explanation for this is provided in the “background audio” section of the post on episode 43 as well as below in today’s post.
In the summer of 1966, there was a viral outbreak in the Dark Shadows studio, and Patrick McVey was among those infected. Lelarichia swifteria is a rare virus affecting mainly male middle-aged supporting actors on Dark Shadows. Symptoms of L. swifteria begin with confusion and unease followed by a sudden drop in confidence, soon progressing to reduced motor capacity affecting abilities for memory of lines as well as timing and steadiness of delivery.
In some cases, the afflicted sufferer may manage to sustain themselves for multiple appearances over several episode tapings, but in many cases L. swifteria proves fatal to an actor’s duration on Dark Shadows.
There is no known cure.
As shown in the opening GIF for this post, actor Patrick McVey in his scenes as John Harris consults the teleprompter on at least twenty-two separate occasions, and probably even more during moments when he’s off camera, nine of these in his initial drawing room scene with Joan Bennett and several times gazing fixedly toward the camera while reading entire lines from the teleprompter.
Before reviewing in somewhat painful detail how Patrick McVey’s performance just falls right through the floorboards of the Collinwood drawing room set, it’s worth mentioning how improbable the John Harris character seems in relation to his client, at least in terms of the many additional services he’s willing to provide at no extra cost.
As they sit down for tea Mr. Harris throws out the first bullet point of what appears to be his more personal agenda for the meeting.
Harris: Elizabeth, we’ve known each other a long time. When you called, I couldn’t help thinking that you had more problems than you admitted.
Elizabeth: All I wanted was your advice on setting up a trust fund for my nephew.
Harris: Well, I have the papers right here. Is there something else I can do for you too, Elizabeth?
Well, let’s see… She’s already made the tea herself and does the cooking, so kitchen duties are out. She has a caretaker to shoulder the physical chores for the estate grounds, so he won’t be trimming the hedges or pruning the shrubs anytime soon.
Harris then turns the conversation to the subject of Bill Malloy and the running of the business, mentioning that Bill is no Ned Calder. From there Harris engages in a bit of prying, wondering why the fact that she’s still technically married to Paul Stoddard should stand in the way of her freedom, even going so far as to suggest what personal decisions may represent the best way forward.
Harris: You need Ned back at the helm before your whole fleet sinks.
Elizabeth: That’s not going to happen.
Harris: Well, I was just speaking allegorically. Ned’s ideal for the handling of the fleet, it’s been his whole life. What you need is someone to handle the Collins business. It happens that perhaps what you really need, is someone to handle your life.
Banking executives really wore a lot of hats in those days; personal assistant, business consultant, relationship councilor… All kidding aside, it’s what Mr. Harris is implying that seems to fly in the face of what we know about the Elizabeth Stoddard character thus far, which is reinforced when in that very scene she gets a phone call from Ned Calder who turns down her offer of returning to manage the business because she again refuses him on the grounds of marriage. Afterward she slumps down on the sofa, admitting to Harris, “Alright, I need him.”
That she would suddenly seem dependent on a man for a sense of personal and professional security doesn’t sound like the Elizabeth Stoddard as written by Art Wallace over the first forty or so episodes. Let’s revisit the character outline as first drawn up by Art Wallace:
“…Long having accepted the fact that Elizabeth would be the only child, Joseph foresaw the day that he would die and the family business would go to her. Even when she was in her late teens, he would consult with her on every phase of the business and was delighted to see how much she enjoyed it. She had strength, decisiveness, and every attribute he wanted in his child….except that she was a girl.” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 11)
Then came the birth of Roger and the death of her mother Carolyn as a result, which disrupted her father’s ability to function:
“…Elizabeth found more and more of the decisions of the business falling to her.
“Three years later, Joseph died. Elizabeth’s time was now fully occupied with managing the fishing fleet, and helping to raise a brother twenty years younger than herself. There was no time for a life of her own, and the years passed.” (Shadows on the Wall, pp. 11-12)
She found herself disillusioned by marriage when the opportunity finally arrived:
“…At last Elizabeth felt she could gradually retire from the business and live the life she had missed for so long. But she soon discovered that Paul’s charm did not come fully equipped with a sense of responsibility.” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 12)
Over the many years since Paul Stoddard disappeared, she has relied on her strength of character to weather the changes wrought by time:
“Elizabeth is still a proud woman, as protective of the Collins name as were her ancestors. She is generally taciturn…but one can occasionally catch a glimpse of the warmth under the shell that has hardened through the eighteen years of virtual isolation. She is still the good businesswoman she always was, and Bill Malloy…now much older…still pays his weekly visits to the top of Widow’s Hill to consult on business matters.” (Shadows on the Wall, pp. 14-15)
On the one hand you have Art Wallace writing the character of Elizabeth with strength and decisiveness, and now here in his first week of episodes newcomer Francis Swann is making her seem vulnerable and even needy. It is also Francis Swann who will be the first writer to corrupt the initially smart and assertive character of Victoria Winters into more of a victim, as someone a bit fragile and timid, even before 1966 is over. Never underestimate the significance of the writer’s role in the making of Dark Shadows.
Now for the above-mentioned performance of Patrick McVey in the role of John Harris, as it spirals downward under the toxic influence of L. swifteria.
If an actor is accustomed to the more relaxed production schedule of prime time television projects, the transition to the frenetic pacing of a daytime show like Dark Shadows can prove challenging. From what’s been said, actors were just handed their scripts and were expected to learn all their lines in less than a day. You’d start out with a dry rehearsal in the afternoon the day before taping, and you’d have to have everything down for when the episode would be taped, most always in a single take as though live and without stopping, the following afternoon. Actors might have had just enough time to learn their lines, but not necessarily enough to live them. This would likely be less difficult for the regular players, who over time would have developed a deep sense of who their characters were supposed to be, but was undoubtedly very daunting for an actor coming in fresh to originate a new character. Add to this a calculated campaign of attrition perpetrated by your lady director, and you have a recipe for disaster in the making.
Patrick McVey does alright at the outset as Harris and Elizabeth make pleasant small talk while she leads the way into the drawing room. It’s soon after sitting down for tea that McVey’s performance begins faltering; initially it’s the timing of his dialogue that begins to seem a little off, too many long pauses:
Harris: …Malloy hasn’t been able to take his place, has he Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: Well, I never intended that he should. I thought that Roger would – [tick, tock, tick, tock]
Harris: If you thought that Roger could run the business… then that was wishful thinking.
McVey’s delivery soon devolves into a whole series of awkward ellipses, and it isn’t long before he begins mangling his words. When he says the line, “He’s no more of a businessman than I am a fisherman,” he says “businessman” as “bid-nessman”; when he says the line, “Why should he deny your freedom?,” it’s brought forth in so stilted a manner as to make it almost impossible to tell what was said, as if it were something like, “Why should’t deny your freedom?” Then the teleprompter glancing and gazing begins, during which it looks like the makeup department has dabbed his forehead with glycerin; but it’s real sweat. He’s bombing, and he knows it.
Worse still, he’s bombing right in front of Joan Bennett. Both Patrick McVey and Joan Bennett were born in the same year. Just one look at any photograph from the height of her film stardom would be enough to understand why any man of his generation would have had a huge thing for Joan Bennett; and now to finally be appearing in the same scene with her, he has had to deal with the humiliation of having insulting things about him said through the control room microphone by a lady director who immediately decided she couldn’t stand the mere sight of him, things which could be heard constantly all over the television studio including by Miss Bennett herself.
This latest case of L. swifteria is showing rapid deterioration, but at least the suffering of the patient would not be drawn out too long. By the end of his scenes for the day, the disease has advanced to its end stages; Harris can’t decide whether James Blair is working “for” or “with” Burke Devlin, and in two of his last three lines Patrick McVey is having difficulty with even one-syllable words as his performance just barely limps to the finish line.
When an actor has arrived at the Dark Shadows studio expecting to be working on what is thought to be just another job in the television industry but who is instead afflicted by a sudden and debilitating attack of L. swifteria, the prognosis is often dire whereas over time the L. swifteria strain can only grow stronger. You can bank on it!
Frank Schofield by contrast is on fire as Bill Malloy finally resolves to journey up the hill to Collinwood and present to Elizabeth his case against Roger.
Elizabeth: John Harris is down here from Bangor. Can’t it wait?
Bill: No, it can’t. I’ve got to say what’s on my mind.
Bill: Well, I guess you know why Burke Devlin came back to Collinsport, don’t you?
Elizabeth: Yes, he came back hoping to stir up a lot of trouble. And I think he succeeded.
Bill: Well that wasn’t the only reason he came back. He came back here to prove he wasn’t guilty, that he wasn’t the one who should’ve gone to prison.
Elizabeth: Bill, if Burke wasn’t driving the car when it hit that man, then Roger was…
Elizabeth: …Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
Bill: I think you suspected it all the time.
Elizabeth: No, I didn’t.
Bill: And you wouldn’t admit it even to yourself.
Elizabeth: That’s not true. Do you think I’d allow an innocent man to take my brother’s place in prison?
Bill: Do you want me to answer that?
Elizabeth: Burke had a perfectly fair trial. The jury chose to find him guilty. I choose to accept that verdict. Is that quite clear?
Bill: What if there happened to be evidence that was not introduced at that trial?
Elizabeth: And for that you want me to sacrifice my brother? You don’t know me very well.
Bill: Do you want everything to go down the drain to save that precious brother of yours?
Elizabeth: He is my brother.
Bill: Look, I tell you it’s the only thing to do! Now if you won’t give me your approval, then I’m sorry. For the first time, since I worked for you I’m gonna do something against your wishes. Now good day!
Malloy has had so much on his mind of late that he’s forgotten something very important: David is still at Collinwood. Bill was there in the sheriff’s office back in episode 32, just the night before in story time, when the sheriff revealed the findings of his investigation, that in all likelihood it was David who caused Roger’s car to run off the road and not Burke Devlin.
In a calmer, more rational state of mind Bill might be asking himself why David hadn’t been taken away, or at least why everyone at Collinwood wasn’t continually preoccupied with the damning implications of the sheriff’s findings, especially since the sheriff himself had mentioned to Bill that he was left with no alternative but to resolve the matter even though it meant doing something he didn’t want to. During the above exchange regarding what should be done about Roger, Elizabeth told him straight out, “You don’t know me very well.”
It has already been shown in episode 32 that family loyalty is first with her, and she will do anything to protect a family member even if it means lying to the sheriff about attempted murder. Of course Bill wasn’t present, so he didn’t get the memo on that one. Elizabeth also strongly hinted to Bill that she would do the same for her brother.
So it’s true, after all these years Bill Malloy doesn’t really know Elizabeth Collins Stoddard all that well, and doesn’t really understand what it means to be a Collins of Collinsport; this is something he may have to find out the hard way.
Dark Shadows extras:
The Blue Whale has the same two extras as in yesterday’s episode: Larry Swanson…
…and Tim Gordon.
The series: The Dan and Lela Show; the main players: director Lela Swift, executive producer Dan Curtis; the setting: television studio control room; main prop: the control room microphone; opening scene: teaser…
Lela: Dan, why did you break up the extras? You have one of them seated with his back to the camera.
Dan: Lela, I can do whatever I want with the extras. I can hang ‘em from the rafters if I want to.
Lela: What sort of an answer is that?
Dan: It’s the sort of answer you get for your complaining.
Lela: Dan, I wasn’t complaining. I’m just wondering why you’re not presenting the extras the way they should be presented.
Dan: Lela, that’s what I decided, and I want you to just leave it at that.
Lela: But Dan, these are actors who are looking for work. How can they find work if no one can see them?
Dan: Lela, who cares about the extras? Patrick McVey is looking for work, and you’re trying to take that away from him. Now I want you to stop complaining about him.
Lela: What does Patrick McVey have to do with the extras?
Dan: You just pointed out about actors looking for work. I want you to learn something from that.
Lela: But Patrick McVey isn’t an extra, he’s supposed to be an actor on a soap opera, and an actor on a soap opera shouldn’t look like Patrick McVey.
Dan: Lela, we’ll save it for the opening theme…
Lela: Dan, I still don’t like the thought of working with Patrick McVey. He isn’t right for a soap opera.
Dan: Lela, Patrick McVey is a fine actor, and I want you to treat him with the respect that he deserves.
Lela: But Dan…
[Act I begins]
Dan: Now Lela, I’m warning you about your complaining. Just let him do his scenes.
Lela: Dan, I’m telling you, Patrick McVey shouldn’t be on a soap opera.
Dan: Lela, I’m not going to say it again. I want you to just behave.
Lela: Alright, I’ll behave. But Dan, Patrick McVey shouldn’t be on a soap opera.
Dan: Oh, for Christ sakes!
[As Carolyn gets up to leave, the Blue Whale extra at the bar is walking past]
Dan: Hey, who is that extra walking past?
Lela: That’s Tim Gordon.
Dan: Tim Gordon? I think I’ll keep him around. He’s a really nice looking man. That’s what we need on Dark Shadows…
[Act I, scene change to Collinwood drawing room]
Lela: So Dan, you say that Tim Gordon is the sort of actor Dark Shadows needs, and yet you hire Patrick McVey.
Dan: Lela, I was just joking around with you. I want you to know how you sound when you talk about actors on a soap opera.
Lela: But Dan, I’m not joking. Patrick McVey doesn’t have the right look for a soap opera.
[knock at front door, arrival of John Harris]
Dan: Lela I’m warning you, I want you to behave yourself.
[later in Act I, a pause in dialogue as Elizabeth goes to answer the phone]
Lela: Dan, I told you Patrick McVey would be terrible!
Dan: Oh, for Christ sakes, Lela!
Lela: He’s messing up every single one of his lines…
[Act IV, final scene, Blue Whale set, Bill Malloy takes change from the bartender and heads over to the pay phone at the back wall]
Dan: Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself, Lela.
Lela: Dan, Patrick McVey is the worst actor you ever hired!
Dan: All thanks to you, sabotaging his performance!
Lela: I told you he wouldn’t be right for Dark Shadows.
Dan: Oh, for Christ sakes, Lela! I’m going to give you a piece of my mind over the closing theme… Poor Patrick McVey, my golfing buddy. How am I going to face him again at the club?
Lela: Why did you have to hire one of your golfing buddies?
Dan: Alright, Lela, pay attention. If you ever do something like this again, I swear I’ll fire you!
Lela: Dan, it isn’t my fault. Why did you have to hire a golfing buddy to be on Dark Shadows?
Bob Lloyd [ABC announcer]: Stay tuned for Where the Action Is, next on ABC.
Dan: Lela, I can hire whoever I want to, to be on my show! I can also fire whoever I want to. That means you, Lela! I will if I have to, so don’t keep pushing me.
Bob Lloyd: Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis production.
Lela: But Dan, you don’t know the first thing about soap operas…
Until next time, this has been The Dan and Lela Show.
Though the telephone number for Collinwood has been visible for some time in close-ups of the dial pad, here in episode 44 it is spoken for the first time as Elizabeth attempts to get in touch with Ned Calder: “This is Collinsport 4099.”
The number for the customer pay phone at the Blue Whale is Collinsport 7022.
As Bill Malloy discusses with Elizabeth the accident that sent Burke Devlin to prison, once again writer Francis Swann is the first to have the name spoken of a character created by Art Wallace. The name Laura Collins was mentioned for the first time in episode 43 when at the Blue Whale Malloy suggests to Sam that his being tormented over a disturbed conscience began at the time that Burke Devlin and Laura and Roger Collins were in a car that killed someone. Wallace had the chance to mention Laura by name back in episode 13, during the drawing room discussion between Burke and Roger, but chose instead for the characters to respectively refer to her as “your wife” and “she.”
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
For some reason, the Collinwood foyer and drawing room seem to invite boom mic shadows. Perhaps it’s the dimensions of the set, the angle of the lighting, or a combination of the two. Either way, throughout the scenes there, the presence of boom mic shadows is like the frequent flutter of shade trees.
In Act I, as Elizabeth gets on the phone to ask the operator to check on her call to Ned Calder, while the camera position is being adjusted the shot goes slightly out of focus.
In Act II, in the foyer as Carolyn begins removing her coat the top part of a camera attachment momentarily swings into view at the upper left edge of frame.
During the Act III foyer conversation between Elizabeth and Bill Malloy, Joan Bennett says, “You think I’m – you’re – you’re more capable of deciding than I am?”
In Act III, Carolyn mentions that Burke Devlin seems to travel with his own banker and confirms for Mr. Harris the name of Burke’s associate as James Blair. But when introduced by Burke at the Bangor Pine Hotel in episode 42, Carolyn had known him only as “Mr.” Blair.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
At the Blue Whale, Bill Malloy is drinking whiskey and water on the rocks in a tall glass. He asks if Carolyn would like anything, but she declines.
As Carolyn is leaving to return home, Bill has ordered another drink.
At Collinwood, Elizabeth has prepared tea for her meeting with John Harris.
Dark Shadows Cast Member Spotlight: Patrick McVey
Patrick McVey was the sort who might have represented banking firms in real life. He only became interested in acting after taking undergraduate and law degrees from Indiana University and then practicing as an attorney. Starting out in small theater productions, he eventually made his way to the Pasadena Community Playhouse. In the early 1940s he began appearing in films, and as a member of The Actors Studio soon branched off into the burgeoning medium of television by 1950.
Of all the many actors to appear on Dark Shadows, Patrick McVey holds the distinction of being the only one to have been directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
(Patrick McVey as Sergeant Flamm in North by Northwest, 1959)
Patrick McVey was also known for such films as Party Girl, a 1958 crime drama noir starring Cyd Charisse in which he appeared in the role of Detective O’Malley.
Below are some highlights from his long and distinguished career in television.
Patrick McVey (as the Homicide Lieutenant Comstock) with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in The Fifth Stair, an episode from the crime drama series 77 Sunset Strip (season 1, episode 22; aired March 6, 1959).
No line flubs in the above project; matter of fact, a very smooth performance throughout. Good actor!
Patrick McVey was a frequent presence in the many TV westerns of the time, including two episodes from season 2 of Maverick…
(as Sheriff Morrison Pyne in The Jail at Junction Flats, episode 8; aired November 9, 1958)
(and as Roy Stafford in Brasada Spur, episode 22; aired February 22, 1959)
…Wanted: Dead or Alive (Bounty for a Bride; season 1, episode 31; aired April 4, 1959)…
(as Damon Albright)
…Black Saddle (Client: Nelson; season 1, episode 16; aired May 2, 1959)…
(as Tom Nelson)
…Bonanza (Enter Mark Twain; season 1, episode 5; aired October 10, 1959)…
(as Bill Raleigh)
…and The Rifleman (The Quiet Fear; season 4, episode 17; aired January 22, 1962).
One of Patrick McVey’s big regular jobs in television was as newspaperman Ben Andrews in the crime drama series Manhunt, appearing in seventy-eight episodes between 1959 and 1961.
Guest starring in one of the Manhunt episodes was actress Gail Russell. Miss Russell was the star of two motion pictures that had a profound influence on Dark Shadows. When creating the backdrop for Dark Shadows, The Uninvited (1944) was what Art Wallace drew upon for the show’s signature atmospheric quality. The 1945 follow-up, The Unseen, was also significant in the development of Dark Shadows; Gail Russell’s character, the governess Elizabeth Howard, served as the basis for the character of Victoria Winters.
(Patrick McVey with Gail Russell in the Manhunt episode The Matinee Mobster, 1961)
As Captain Metcalf in Lucy and Viv Are Volunteer Firemen, an episode from The Lucy Show (season 1, episode 16; aired January 14, 1963).
As the Sheriff in Never Stop Running, an episode from The Fugitive (season 1, episode 27; aired March 31, 1964).
Patrick McVey (Police Lieutenant) with Darren McGavin in A Matter of Murder, from the anthology series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (season 2, episode 23; aired April 3, 1964). Telly Savalas was in this episode as well.
An interesting Dark Shadows footnote: Patrick McVey and Clarice Blackburn were both in the same episode of the TV series For The People (To Prosecute All Crimes; debut episode, aired January 31, 1965), which starred Captain Kirk before he became Captain Kirk.
After Dark Shadows, Patrick McVey would go on to work in such productions as Hogan’s Goat, an episode from the Great Performances TV series, among a cast that included Faye Dunaway, Rue McClanahan, and Philip Bosco.
(As John “Jack” Haggerty in Hogan’s Goat, 1971)
By 1972 he was once again working on the same soap opera as Nancy Barrett, as Dr. Hansen in The Doctors.
Patrick McVey was married to Courteen Landis, a television actress who later became a Broadway performer, so he did alright.
(Courteen Landis as Marion Foster in Phantom at the Wedding, a 1954 episode of Mr. and Mrs. North)
Signs of the Times:
As noted above, Patrick McVey in 1959 appeared on the TV series 77 Sunset Strip. That year the theme song, as co-written by Don Ralke, spent a few weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
77 Sunset Strip theme:
Nineteen fifty-nine was an ace year for music. Guitar distortion pioneer Link Wray along with his group The Wraymen had a hit with Raw-Hide, the follow-up to his 1958 instrumental The Rumble.
Link Wray in the 1960s
As instrumentals go, 1959 is noted for its variety of genres that made it onto the Billboard singles chart, even jazz numbers such as Like Young, a collaboration between André Previn and David Rose.
The Enchanted Sea was so enchanting, it appeared on the Billboard singles chart twice. Here’s the one by the Islanders.
The Enchanted Sea:
Nocturnal Scene, by Australian artist James Ashton (1859-1935)
Nineteen fifty-nine was a good year for reviving old standards from the 1930s, like the jazz standard I Only Have Eyes For You as done by the Flamingos…
I Only Have Eyes For You:
…and the old show tune Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; recorded in 1958, this cover by the Platters was peaking on the charts the following year.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes:
You’ve gotta love those old show tunes, especially the covers…
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 45: Ace in the Hole
— Marc Masse
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