Bill Malloy it turns out represented different things to various folks around Collinsport. Despite his unrequited feelings for Mrs. Elizabeth Stoddard, Bill Malloy was nevertheless during her long hermitage in Collinwood a trusted friend and business associate let alone her one regular weekly contact with the outside world, not counting the woman she hired from town to clean once a week; after which the woman’s young son, Joe Haskell, would drive up the hill to pick her up while finding a few minutes here and there to chat with the employer’s daughter Carolyn. Her father having walked out six months before she was born, Bill Malloy had become to Carolyn through the reliable presence of his weekly business meetings something of a surrogate father, even dubbing her “Princess” out of affection. Today we learn that Bill Malloy was also a surrogate husband of a sort – to his housekeeper.
Thus far we have only heard of a “Mrs. Johnson” who Sheriff Patterson says told him about a phone call Mr. Malloy received the night he was killed, first mentioned with Dana Elcar’s introduction in episode 54. With today’s episode we get to know the housekeeper’s first name through the Dark Shadows screen debut of Clarice Blackburn, here making her second Dark Shadows “appearance”; yes, it’s true – the screen debut of Clarice Blackburn on Dark Shadows was in fact her second episode working on the show. You’ve heard of parallel time; this is a case of parallel casting.
“Clarice Blackburn was first utilized as a sobbing woman in episode #37, more than a month before her first appearance as Mrs. Johnson. The vengeful, conniving Mrs. Johnson, first seen in episode #67, is a far cry from the loyal family servant of later years. But she was intended to be even worse initially. The original idea was to make her a sinister, insane character who would menace Vicki” (Dark Shadows: The First Year, by Nina Johnson and O. Crock [summary writers], Blue Whale Books, 2006, p. 13).
Contrary to what is written above in Dark Shadows: The First Year, the onscreen introduction of the Mrs. Johnson character here in episode 67 is really more embittered and grieving, despite pointing an accusing finger at the Collins family up on the hill while being interviewed by the sheriff about the mysterious phone call Bill Malloy received the night he died. It will be episode 69 where the “vengeful, conniving” traits of the character become more apparent as she teams up with Burke Devlin to be planted in Collinwood ostensibly as a housekeeper but actually a spy who reports back to Devlin on whatever may be said about Malloy’s death as well as anything that might be overheard regarding Roger’s likely role in sending Burke to prison years ago, all in exchange for a secret weekly paycheck.
In these first two episodes we are shown two different sides to the character of Mrs. Johnson, both of which come from earlier character portrayals in other television productions. Episode 69 shows the more hardened and vindictive version of the character which comes from her role as Mrs. Abagado in the short-lived lawyer program For The People starring William Shatner just before taking on the role of Captain Kirk on Star Trek. The version of Mrs. Johnson we see today in episode 67 is based on an even earlier role as Gert Keller in the critically acclaimed but greatly overlooked groundbreaking series East Side, West Side, in a 1964 episode called The Givers. Perhaps the biggest surprise to those not familiar with the series would be its leading actor, featuring George C. Scott as a… social worker.
A pre-Patton George C. Scott as Neil Brock in the East Side, West Side episode The Givers.
It should be noted that both of these earlier productions had Dark Shadows scenic designer Sy Tomashoff as the “art director”; in the East Side, West Side episode The Givers, the cast list even featured Bert Convy, the original early choice for casting as Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows. Tomashoff held the same production role in For the People. Both of these series are notable for a good many cast member crossovers with Dark Shadows, often several in a single given episode; and because Sy Tomashoff worked so closely with executive producer Dan Curtis on Dark Shadows, it is likely that he played a significant part in a number of the key casting decisions in the early days of Dark Shadows.
Especially curious as noted in the introduction to today’s post is how Mrs. Johnson comes across as the grieving widow, indicating that she may have been more than just a housekeeper to Bill Malloy even if Malloy himself was never aware of this. If you see her as Gert Keller in the East Side, West Side episode, she seems to be reprising this earlier role, perhaps only to lend to the passing of Bill Malloy a bit of emotional depth, since he was often gruff in demeanor and had never married, though in episode 43 he did confide to Joe Haskell in a conversation at the Blue Whale that he had the chance as a young man for romance and marriage but waited too long so that another man eventually took his intended place. The series bible revealed the object of his requited love to have been none other than Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. From her character portrayal in The Givers, shown at the funeral of her husband, she may well have kept that very mourner’s outfit and used it for her screen debut on Dark Shadows.
An even more striking parallel between the portrayals of Gert Keller and Sarah Johnson are the similarities in character dialogue between the speech patterns and emotional tone, as shown below in the audio comparison. Note how in each instance, vocal delivery of dialogue as provided by the actress shows a similar shift between the emotional extremes of tearful despair and bitter resentment at the injustice of each character’s passing, first over Arthur Keller in East Side, West Side with an almost identical pattern and tone evident today on Dark Shadows over Bill Malloy.
In East Side, West Side, Art Keller is a business man struggling with elusive opportunities due to a past bankruptcy situation. Despite the best efforts of Neil Brock and his resources and contacts, Keller winds up ending his life soon after Brock drops by with the news that despite the availability of a possible deal for work in connection with a local congressional office, he had to intervene on Keller’s behalf because of the shady nature of the congressman’s methods of operation.
Dan Frazer as Art Keller, along with Mary Munday as Vivian Andrews (Hildy Powell from the Ring-A-Ding Girl episode of The Twilight Zone).
“Thank you for coming to the service, Mr. Brock…”
Two years later on Dark Shadows, Gert Keller is transplanted from East Side, West Side to make her debut as Bill Malloy’s bereaved housekeeper, Sarah Johnson.
“You said that Bill received a phone call around ten-thirty. Do you have any idea who that was from?”
For episode 69 as part 2 of our look at what Clarice Blackburn brings to her Dark Shadows portrayal of Sarah Johnson from previous television roles, we’ll discover that Mrs. Johnson is really “for the people” when it comes to seeking justice in the name of those closest to her who have been wronged, except that her methods in doing so place her with the wrong people when it comes to looking after the best interests of others, including her own.
There are generally two bloopers associated with today’s episode. Toward the end of Act II, as Sarah Johnson during her interview in the sheriff’s office breaks down in tears over Bill Malloy, Sheriff Patterson goes to the water cooler to get her some water but there are no cups, and Dana Elcar saves the moment with a smooth recovery. In Act IV at the Collinsport Inn restaurant as Sam sits at one of the tables discussing with Maggie the letter he had her lock away in the hotel safe claiming it actually contains his will made out specifically to her, David Ford does one of his sweeping, theatrical hand gestures knocking over one of the salt and pepper shakers, but deftly flips it back upright without a hitch.
These examples seem more true to life and tend not to detract from the show, if you have talent in the cast like Dana Elcar and David Ford – just a couple of the many such instances to come.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
As the opening scene kicks off following location footage of the exterior of the Collinsport Inn, Maggie is at the counter filling glass sugar containers as Carolyn walks in looking for Burke.
At the sound of Burke’s name, considering what he’s put her father through in the last week, she says that despite not wanting to see him she might just want to put “a touch of rat poison” in his coffee. Burke then enters the restaurant and sits down at the table with what looks like a ham and cheese sandwich, most likely with mayonnaise and butter – the way he ordered one in episode 24. Carolyn is seated with him asking what he was doing at Collinwood the night before, and Burke answers almost sarcastically, “Having a little late tea.” Carolyn asks, “Can’t you forget about food?,” and Burke replies, “I’m hungry.”
After finishing with breakfast, Burke rises from his table to pay the check as Maggie comes over to the table asking if Burke wants a refill on his coffee. Burke replies, “No thanks, I’m surprised I survived the last cup.” Maggie replies, “I was fresh out of arsenic.”
Griswold Inn in Essex, Connecticut, the “site” of the Collinsport Inn.
Joan Bennett’s 1970 autobiography (original front cover).
The Bennetts: An Acting Family, the 2004 biography.
The Louis Edmonds biography, Big Lou.
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.
Coming next: Episode 68: The Most Charming Man in the World
— Marc Masse
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