“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).
[Harlem Nocturne, Duke Ellington]
They say that these early pre-Barnabas episodes of Dark Shadows move slowly, and in one sense this appears to be true. Here it is episode 69, the third to cover the seventh day after Victoria Winters and Burke Devlin arrived on the only eastbound train out of New York to even have made a station stop in Collinsport these past five years. In terms of actual story time, however, Burke is moving rather fast toward implementing plans to settle his vendetta with the Collinses of Collinsport. He’s made contact with anyone and everyone involved in that unsettled matter from long ago which drives him relentlessly forward to clear his name, as well as those who weren’t yet born at the time, even going so far as to make several unwanted visits to Collinwood most every day thus far over the past week.
Episode 67 saw Burke on the phone with one of his private banking contacts who is actively assisting him in gaining the leverage necessary to put the entire Collins business enterprises into jeopardy and likely total ruin, informing Mr. James Blair (John Baragrey from episode 42) that he could expect action and soon. Enter Carolyn Stoddard, once more with her eager knock at the door and those hungry-sad kitten eyes.
Today’s episode opens with a knock at the door to Burke’s room, bringing into the lion’s den yet another of these Collins-related persons about town, only this one could turn out to prove a reliable confidante given how they are both on the same page about what is at the moment to each the most important thing: resentment for the Collins family and everything it stands for, including how this could finally solve the question of who may have killed Bill Malloy.
Sarah Johnson was Bill Malloy’s housekeeper for a number of years, and in episode 67 she tearfully expressed in her interview with the sheriff a touch of resentment for the many varied Collins business interests, which as their fleet manager he looked after thoroughly and faithfully. She is here today in Burke’s hotel room because he called her to see if he could get any other information about the circumstances leading up to Malloy’s sudden death the night of the meeting in Roger’s office. Mrs. Johnson informs Burke that although his loyalty was with all things Collins businesswise and in particular Mrs. Elizabeth Stoddard, Bill never really liked her brother Roger, something which Burke latches onto with the idea that he should arrange to get her a job helping out in some way up at Collinwood.
The Sarah Johnson who appears in this episode is a shade different than shown in episode 67, in the sheriff’s office as though a grieving widow. That introduction was derived from Clarice Blackburn’s earlier role in the David Susskind production East Side, West Side which ran for one season from 1963 to 1964, having appeared in an episode called The Takers as Gert Keller during which the character does indeed become a grieving widow.
Today however she comes across as a bit more hardened, after having started off subdued. She is eagerly willing to align herself with Burke Devlin, though they have only just formally met, if it will help get to the truth of who was really responsible for the death of Bill Malloy, which as she indicated to the sheriff in episode 67 could be found by looking up at Collinwood.
Burke begins working on Mrs. Johnson by reminding her about the time that Bill died, based on the time when his watch had broken. Mrs. Johnson then infuses the moment with a personal recollection.
Mrs. Johnson: He loved that watch. It was given to him by his father.
Then with an about face, spurred on by another one of Burke’s prodding Collinwood reference, Mrs. Johnson shows a tougher demeanor not seen in her debut two episodes ago.
Mrs. Johnson: It seems a silly thing to cry over a broken watch, when the man himself is broken, killed, thrown into the sea to disappear.
Burke: But he didn’t disappear. He was washed ashore at midnight. At the base of Widow’s Hill. At Collinwood!
Mrs. Johnson: I think he was seeking out his murderer! I believe in signs and omens!…
Mrs. Johnson: …And I think the body of Bill Malloy was even then trying to point a finger of suspicion at his killer. He was searching for Roger Collins!
Today’s portrayal of Mrs. Johnson is derived more from her subsequent role as Louise Abagado in an episode of the lawyer show For the People, another early vehicle for Dark Shadows set designer Sy Tomashoff as an art director and starring William Shatner less than two years before he gets beamed up to eternal television fame as the captain of the Star Ship Enterprise. Mrs. Abagado is working class and street tough, having encountered trouble before from having allowed the numbers racket to operate out of her candy store.
“Mrs. Louise Abagado, you operate a candy store on Avenue D…”
“Who’ll take care of my daughter? She can’t take care of the store alone. She gonna end up on the street…”
Meanwhile Carolyn is also out and about in Collinsport, having commandeered the desk of her uncle Roger’s office for the purpose of stealing Joe away for lunch.
Here’s how Dark Shadows story creator Art Wallace introduces the character of Carolyn Stoddard in the series bible:
“The only daughter of Elizabeth Stoddard is now seventeen years old. An intense, attractive girl, Carolyn seems to devote her energies towards counteracting the gloom of the old house within which her mother had imprisoned herself. Armed with an air of independence, driven by the devils of rebellion, Carolyn’s romantic attachments have, for several years, been a source of distress for her mother and a constant fund of gossip for the housewives of Collinsport” (Shadows on the Wall, p. 16).
As if there weren’t enough to gossip about already about the big house atop Widow’s Hill, Carolyn’s behavior today will only add to the list. With Joe unable to get any of his coworkers to cover for him during an afternoon away from the office, and with higher-ups phoning directly into Roger’s office with something urgent and work related to attend to right away, look where Carolyn winds up during the busy Collinsport lunch hour…
…practically a split second after Burke had been floating the idea of having Mrs. Johnson installed at Collinwood, knowing that nobody should ever find out it was his idea, just that he should let it be known to someone from Collinwood that she needs a job to help take her mind off things…
…and with Mrs. Johnson there to hear for herself while kept out of sight in Burke’s kitchen.
And this is how Bill Malloy’s long-time housekeeper Mrs. Sarah Johnson came to be associated with the Collins family.
Today’s episode uses the same establishing shots for the opening as did episode 67, a sunlit daytime view of Collinwood’s back lawn…
…and the exterior of the Collinsport Inn.
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 commented on in episode 3, when Burke Devlin returned to Collinsport a week earlier on the same train from New York as Victoria Winters, he took three rooms on the top floor of the Collinsport Inn. Thus far we have only seen the main living area with a few incidental glances into the kitchen area.
Today we get a first glimpse from within Burke’s kitchen, which has a decidedly noirish element with the deep shadow intercut with the impression of daylight leaking in through drawn window blinds.
Early in Act IV, Burke calls Carolyn “Vicki” as he opens the door for her.
As Burke and Carolyn chat during Act IV, the camera angle momentarily picks up at left of screen the edge of the set for Burke’s hotel room.
As Carolyn storms out of Roger’s office once it becomes clear that Joe can’t get the afternoon off from work, the Smith Brothers portrait can be seen, which will eventually be traveled throughout Collinsport – in past, present, and even parallel time bands.
Food & Drink in Collinsport:
During Carolyn’s visit to his hotel room when she asks for a drink of water, Burke brought her a glass from the kitchen to keep her from finding out about Mrs. Johnson being there.
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 70: A Serial Thriller Is Born
— Marc Masse
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