For Louis Edmonds, one of the great fan favorites of Dark Shadows, the job he landed in 1966 as Roger Collins was in fact originally intended as the swan song to an accomplished career which began ever since he first realized he wanted to be an actor back home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1939.
Today’s episode represents a slight departure from the Roger Collins we’ve seen thus far. As the main villain of the piece, besides having been guilty of the manslaughter charge that sent Burke Devlin to prison ten years earlier, he may well also be guilty of murder when Bill Malloy failed to show up at the meeting he called that night at Roger’s office with the intention of clearing Burke’s name while bringing in Sam Evans as leverage to prove that Roger had been guilty all along. Roger hasn’t actually provided anyone, the other characters involved or the viewer, with any reason to suspect otherwise.
Caught in the middle is newly hired Collinwood governess Victoria Winters. Through her association with Burke Devlin, both of whom arrived in Collinsport a week earlier on the same train from New York, Roger has been cultivating a burning animosity toward Vicki despite her earnest best efforts to get along with everyone on the great estate. So far only her employer Elizabeth Collins Stoddard has been mostly unwavering in her gracious efforts to make her feel welcome in such a strange and gloomy environment, but even this can be subject to change despite Vicki’s best intentions to the contrary.
Beginning today Louis Edmonds brings a new layer of depth to what has thus far proven a mostly intractable character, the signature cocktail charm that in later times on Dark Shadows would make his character portrayals on the show so entertaining rather than one-dimensional.
“I had aspirations to be an actor since I was a teenager, and I used to mimic the actors I saw [in movies] on my way home. I would copy everything, from the way they walked to how they talked. I walked home, trying to move like Bette Davis. I’m sure everyone looked at me and wondered, ‘What’s that boy up to?’ As far back as I can remember, I was always dancing on my toes and showing off like something out of Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Louis Edmonds, from the autobiography Big Lou (with Craig Hamrick), p. 9
By 1966, Louis Edmonds had been working on an 18-year acting career, which began in the theater but by 1950 would include a string of some of the best known TV series of the 1950s and early 1960s as well as television movie productions, finally branching off into cinematic motion pictures with a role in Come Spy with Me, released in 1967 but filmed just as he was picked for the role of Roger Collins on Dark Shadows.
With Andrea Dromm in Come Spy with Me.
It’s fair to say that Dark Shadows saved Louis Edmonds’ acting career, because just before receiving the casting call from Dan Curtis, he’d already decided to give up acting permanently once he encountered a lengthy stretch without any new job offers, even going so far as to discontinue his lease on the Manhattan apartment he used when working out of New York and from there envisioned a quiet, settled life out on Long Island living full-time at the home he nicknamed the Rookery.
“People think that once [you’ve been] on Broadway you’ve got it made,” Louis told celebrity interviewer Rex Reed. “That’s far from true. You exist out of pure stubbornness and learn not to step on anyone’s toes. Today’s office boy may be tomorrow’s casting director” (Big Lou, p. 39).
It seems to have troubled Louis that the threat of rejection could linger that late into such a successful acting career.
“Nobody wanted to hire me,” he said. “I had enough experience that it was embarrassing to go around and say, ‘Hey, give me a job,’ or even to audition, because what if I didn’t get the job? That’s even worse rejection” (Big Lou, p. 39)
As of September 1966, Dark Shadows having recently completed its initial thirteen-week cycle is in a fight for its ratings life, with the original storyline changed to add in the sudden, unexpected death of Bill Malloy with the hope of livening things up through a murder mystery. Already obvious to the viewer is Roger’s guilt in sending Burke Devlin to prison ten years earlier for the manslaughter charge he’s even admitted having been guilty of, at the time having bought the silence of the lone witness to the accident, Sam Evans. Given that the character of Roger Collins is virtually irredeemable in every possible way, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine him going to absolutely any means available to save his patrician hide.
Something else, however, has also changed about the approach to the story: Roger’s sudden shift in attitude toward Vicki Winters, which he accepts almost out of the blue at the urging of his niece Carolyn, right here in the first act of today’s episode, on the pretext of how just the night before during Burke’s latest visit she had helped him out of a rough spot by providing an alibi for Roger for the night Bill Malloy was killed.
Carolyn: You can be one of the most charming men in the world if you want to.
Roger: Well, I never thought about it that…
Roger: Maybe it would be a good idea to charm Miss Winters.
Roger’s about face seems out of character, particularly given the guidance provided by the series bible Shadows on the Wall.
“Roger’s pressure on Vicki is heightened. Playing on her unawareness, on her growing tension, he tries to get her to leave. Roger and David….almost seem to be working as a unit in their constant harassment of Vicki. They make the legends of the old house seem alive as they surround her with constant reference to the horrors that live with them” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 55).
The passage above does finally ring true with today’s episode. Roger the night before had once again put Vicki through the mill in forcing her to provide him with an alibi for the night Bill Malloy died by confirming to Burke that Roger had indeed, as far as she could recall, left the house when he said he did and therefore could not possibly be placed at the scene when Bill’s pocket watch had stopped after having fallen into the water.
Today it’s David’s turn to be a rough customer when he accuses Vicki of trying to cause trouble for Burke, who he names as his “only friend in the whole world”; as a result, the day’s lessons do not get off to a favorable start.
“You know what you’ve got? You’ve got a big mouth!…”
Then Roger shows up, and David’s tantrum passes at the very sight of the man he hates most in the world just standing there glaring down at him with that lifelong look of harsh disapproval.
With two acts remaining in today’s episode, Roger takes full control of the situation as well as the people involved by implementing his new agenda of deceptive charm, first with Vicki in Act III…
“Here you are in a strange place in a strange situation, and I haven’t done anything at all to make it easier for you…”
“Don’t tell me about it David, just don’t tell me about it.”
The sudden shift in Roger’s character as observed in this episode does depart somewhat from the series bible, in that the more casual but still cutting charm dampens the heightening of tension depicted in the original outline between Roger and those around him, particularly David and Vicki. Perhaps it was something observed from the control room by Dan Curtis back in episode 62, where he figured Dark Shadows might be at a loss if Louis Edmonds had to leave the show when his character was due to be killed off as first outlined before even the actor casting decisions were made.
Dan: Know what? I don’t think we should get rid of Louis Edmonds, I think we should keep him…
The teaser scene opens with Roger seen walking along the pier into the building used to represent the offices of the Collins cannery. Among the scenes filmed in Essex, Connecticut before the taping of the first episode back in June, this location footage features the Essex Island Marian and was first used in the same way to open episode 54.
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
As the middle of Act I gets underway in the Collinwood drawing room, the shadow play of camera equipment can be seen moving slightly toward more strategic positions; but there’s really no point in mentioning it given how in a studio this size with all the overhead lights such instances are inevitable. Best to just suspend disbelief and attribute such background movements to… ghosts.
In Act I, as David sits at the piano in the drawing room, the edge of the set is shown where the oak paneling stops.
Subsequently, the edge of the bare part of the wall itself is shown for a split second, exposing a bit of bare studio space beyond.
As one of the Dark Shadows props that would travel across many sets in the years ahead, the Smith Brothers portrait hangs on the wall in Roger’s office between the two far windows, first shown there in episode 45.
Following the location footage insert, as the camera does a slow pan from the clock on the wall and then down along Roger’s desk, the name plate for Roger Collins is shown at an odd angle, but which seems to have been arranged deliberately for the viewer to see.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
As part of his revised tactic toward Vicki, Roger in Act III Roger makes an offer to take her out for a lobster dinner, and Vicki says she’s been waiting to try some ever since she first arrived in Collinsport. However, back in episode 57 Vicki already had lobster rolls for lunch at the Collinsport Inn restaurant, and previously in episode 34 while agreeing to visit with Burke Devlin in his hotel room at the Collinsport Inn to review the report his private investigator Wilbur Strake had generated about her, Burke had offered her the choice of steak or lobster for dinner, and she chose steak instead.
By the time Act IV has begun, Roger has poured himself a drink as David enters the drawing room.
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 69: Avengers Uncorporated
— Marc Masse
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