Dark Shadows from the Beginning Special Edition: Origins of Dark Shadows: The Uninvited (1944) and The Unseen (1945)

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(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…

 

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Episode 37: One of Our Ghosts

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In the previous episode while encountering local artist Sam Evans at the Collinsport Inn, Victoria Winters was told by Mr. Evans, “Go back to your house on the hill, Miss Winters, go back to your ghosts and your goblins…”

 

In this episode, it seems that ghosts and goblins are precisely what she is returning to. In the great house of Collinwood during the post-midnight hours, the young governess will be drawn from her room on the second floor by the ghostly sound of a woman sobbing somewhere down below. Following the sound in the hope of tracing its origin, she will be led down to the basement and before a musty old wooden door sealed with a padlock. A moment later, she will come face to face with a real-life goblin.

 

In a subsequent post, we’ll explore the origins of what made Dark Shadows what it was; the deep shades of atmospheric gloom that lend Collinwood its haunting mystique, the family legends of ghosts that seemingly cannot rest, the disturbing disembodied sound of a woman sobbing in the night – even the way people close the double doors of a drawing room when they wish to speak with others in private.

 

As envisioned by Dan Curtis in a dream that woke him one night in 1965 with the spark of an idea for a TV show, the story of Victoria Winters recalls more the age of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, with the sidebar story of Burke Devlin echoing shades of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo; however, the full backstory that fills out Dark Shadows as realized by story creator Art Wallace is more reminiscent of the rise of the haunted house genre from American motion pictures in the mid-1940s, with two in particular, The Uninvited (1944) and The Unseen (1945), both co-starring Gail Russell, serving as the main influences for the gothic romance that came to television in 1966 as Dark Shadows. Following the post for episode 37, there will be a special edition post of Dark Shadows from the Beginning which will examine these earlier motion pictures in depth and point out how they can be described as the origins of Dark Shadows.

 

For now, let’s visit with the ghosts and goblins of Collinwood as faced by Victoria Winters on this, her third night as governess in the big house on the hill…

 

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Episode 36: The David Ford Effect

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The addition of David Ford as the new Sam Evans has had an immediate and energizing effect on fellow Dark Shadows cast members, most notably with Louis Edmonds’ performance as Roger Collins.

 

Fresh off the Hartford Stage in a year-long run as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, David Ford’s distinctly dramatic infusion of Tennessee Williams into his portrayal of Sam Evans has awakened a theatrical spirit in those among the cast who already had a strong background on the live stage.

 

Louis Edmonds for one got his start as a New York stage actor, working in regional theater and Off-Broadway before finally breaking through with a Broadway production of Candide in 1956. To work alongside an actor like David Ford must have been like going home, because he’s absolutely on fire in this episode, giving one of his best ever performances as Roger Collins, scene after scene.

 

Hereafter, when auditioning actors for new roles or as replacements for existing characters, the casting department will more and more be looking to New York City and regional theater for talent.

 

The arrival of David Ford represents a watershed moment on Dark Shadows, where fairly tame and ordinary melodrama has the potential to achieve the heights of high drama. This initial transformation will eventually pave the way for the casting of a certain Shakespearean actor in the role of a vampire.

 

But that’s months off still and, as yet, something unforeseen. One thing follows another, but only by chance – that’s the magic that made the run of the series one of a kind, and why Dark Shadows could only happen once.

 

For now, “the David Ford effect” is getting the production crew of Dark Shadows to rethink the show’s approach to acting and where they should be looking for the talent to add that extra spark and make scenes more riveting, with the actors themselves pulling out all the stops to move things up a notch by adding a more theatrical sense of drama to their performances beginning with today’s episode, making the pages of dialogue seem more alive and bringing to the character portrayals that one extra layer of fullness and depth.

 

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Episode 35: A Great Dramatic Reading

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“The character of Sam Evans will be played by David Ford.”

 

Dark Shadows is known mainly as a “vampire soap” to even those with only a passing knowledge or awareness of the original TV series that aired weekday afternoons between 1966 and 1971.

 

Before rocketing into the public lexicon as television’s first vampire series, there were five gradual transformations that took place without which the “Barnabas era” of Dark Shadows would not have been possible.

 

The most significant transformation is, of course, the arrival of Barnabas Collins in 1967. The precursor to Barnabas was the phoenix story, featuring a fiery goddess threatening to consume and destroy the lives of all those with whom she comes in contact. The phoenix was the first supernatural monster on Dark Shadows. Before this was the first appearance of a ghost in episode 70, which was preceded in episode 52 by a supernatural occurrence in the Collinwood drawing room where a book was opened as if by the hand of an invisible spirit. The first essential transformation occurs here in episode 35 with the acting department, as David Ford joins the cast in the role of Sam Evans, taking over for Mark Allen who last appeared in episode 22.

 

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Episode 34: A Ripple in the Whirlpool

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Today Victoria Winters is making her first visit to the Blue Whale, while enjoying her first alcoholic beverage since arriving in Collinsport – even though she’s underage.

 

The character of Victoria Winters, and the actress who plays her, is barely twenty. Burke Devlin, the man who bought her the drink, is over thirty.

 

Evidently, the bartender didn’t ask to see the young lady’s ID. In yesterday’s episode, he wouldn’t even shut down a drunk and hollering Joe Haskell.

 

This won’t be the last time on the show where older men will be plying drinks on young underage girls. In those days, you could get away with that kind of thing. Dark Shadows, during that unsupervised era of daytime television, manages to do just that.

 

Those were the days!

 

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Episode 32: What It Means to Be a Collins of Collinsport

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Everyone at Collinwood knows that it was nine-year-old David who deliberately caused his father’s car to run off the road. Even Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Stoddard, after initially grappling with a bout of extreme denial, has come to terms with the truth.

 

On this night, Sheriff Jonas Carter in his Collinsport office has also put the pieces together, and knows he must act to bring the matter to a proper conclusion.

 

But in a surprising twist, when the sheriff pays a visit to Collinwood to present the findings of his investigation, Elizabeth intervenes on David’s behalf, providing for those most closely involved, her brother Roger especially, a grim but resolute reminder of what it means to be a Collins of Collinsport.

 

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Episode 30: The Rain in Maine Falls Plainly All in Vain

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Nine-year-old David Collins is disrupting the lives of the adults around him in a way that could have far-reaching consequences for all those involved. Everyone has had to suffer to some extent for David’s act of desperation against his father.

 

Fearing exposure after his tutor Vicki Winters had found in his room the missing brake valve from Roger’s car, David has fled Collinwood to plant the evidence in the hotel room of the man who everyone except the governess suspects as having tampered with Roger’s brake system. Unable to gain access while the man is away, David is left with no choice but to meet with him face to face.

 

To David Collins thus far, Burke Devlin has represented only an image, a name his mother and father used to quarrel over so long ago, a symbol for what his father both hates and fears. But what David could not have foreseen was that in no time the image would become a man who would in turn become a trusted friend.

 

Unbeknown to David, Burke had seen the boy hiding the object under the sofa cushions. At the end of David’s visit, while calling downstairs to have his car brought around to the front of the hotel so that Burke could drive him back to Collinwood, David changes his mind about trying to pin the blame on Mr. Devlin, but is unable to retrieve the valve from where he hid it because Burke has already found it.

 

Alone with his guilt, shamed with regret, and paralyzed by fear, David’s outlook is as bleak as the drops of rain falling on the windshield as Burke Devlin guides the car onward through a storm which only seems to signal portents of the certain punishment awaiting his arrival home. But what he doesn’t realize is that he may soon receive the help he needs from an unexpected source, the very man he sought to frame for the crime of attempted murder.

 

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