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 29: Mechanics Made Easy, Pt. 2

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“What are you supposed to be, a doorstop?”

 

If the ancient proverb about the truth setting one free is to be believed, then Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Stoddard has walled herself up in a fortress of mind so sheltered as to block out any and all illuminating rays of reason.

 

The very minute Vicki had come to her with the story that she’d found the missing brake valve from Roger’s car in a dresser drawer in David’s room while she’d been searching for a letter from the foundling home she thought he might have taken from her room, Mrs. Stoddard has continually turned her back on the probable truth – that her nephew may indeed be guilty of having committed an unspeakable act. Her first reaction was, “I… I don’t believe you.”

 

Carolyn, on the other hand, didn’t need much convincing, largely for two reasons. On an adventurous whim, she had gone into town that day to drop in and visit Burke Devlin in his hotel room. She had also insisted that at the end of the visit he drive her back to Collinwood, believing that if she could bring Burke and his mother and uncle Roger together they could work out their differences and the cloud of tension that had been hovering over Collinwood in recent days could be dispelled. Another motivation may have had something to with that despite her involvement and apparent engagement to Joe Haskell, Carolyn seems to be developing something of a crush on the mysterious Mr. Devlin. So, if it turns out that Burke may not be guilty of having tampered with the brakes on Roger’s car, then it means she will no longer have to be carrying the guilt of having made it possible in bringing him to Collinwood. That’s reason number one. Reason number two has to do with the fact that she thinks of her cousin David as a little monster anyway.

 

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Episode 24: Taking Risks

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Burke Devlin is one of the more intriguing characters of Dark Shadows beginnings. You never really know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. He gets on the right side of characters we like, especially Maggie and Sam Evans. On the other hand, despite appearances he seems insensitive with other characters we like, including Carolyn Stoddard, and derives amusement from antagonizing other characters we like, particularly Joe Haskell.

 

Still, you have to root for the underdog, and in terms of Burke Devlin that means Collinsport Inn vs. Collinwood mansion, Burke’s hotel room vs. the Collins family drawing room.

 

Episode 24 belongs to Burke Devlin, and is set exclusively on his “home” turf.

 

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Episode 22: Facts and Justice: The Perils of Mark Allen Concludes

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Not many realize it, but Dark Shadows very nearly imploded before it could even complete five weeks of its initial thirteen-week cycle.

 

Mark Allen, originator of the role of Sam Evans, a minor but essential character, has become a huge liability. He has made unwanted, inappropriate sexual advances during rehearsal toward two of the actresses. During the taping of episode 19, he assaulted child actor David Henesy in the dressing room area after catching the nine-year-old trying to write a nasty accusation on his dressing room door.

 

David Henesy has since walked off the show, and refuses to return until Mark Allen is off the show.

 

To the credit of Dan Curtis, series creator and executive producer, no one has complained directly to him about any of the actions said to have been perpetrated by Mark Allen. He has only heard of these allegations through an intermediary, his episode director Lela Swift. Technically it’s only hearsay, until one of the accusers makes a case to him directly and in person.

 

There are financial constraints to think of. Back in episode 16, Lela shamed George Mitchell (originator of the Matthew Morgan role) off the show and tried to do as much during the taping of episode 17 to Fred Stewart (who debuted as Collins family physician Dr. Reeves). Breaking contract with George Mitchell means that Dan has to pay Mitchell for an additional seven episodes guaranteed by his contract for the first thirteen weeks. If he breaks contract by firing Mark Allen, then he’ll have to pay for another ten episodes. Most likely, he would have to pay for these broken contracts out of his own pocket, since the limited weekly budget for daytime programming doesn’t cover such unforeseen expenses.

 

But David Henesy isn’t under contract. According to David Henesy from an interview given for the thirty-fifth anniversary of Dark Shadows, “…I had not even signed a contract at the time. After my reading, I was ‘booked’ [hired],…” (35th Anniversary Dark Shadows Memories, A Conversation with David Henesy, p. 84)

 

So Dan Curtis has to make a decision: fire Mark Allen to get David Henesy back, or keep Mark Allen on and risk losing Dark Shadows. You could always get another David Collins, but where on earth are you going to find another David Henesy?

 

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Episode 21: The Road Not Taken

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Dark Shadows was originally about the story of Victoria Winters, an orphan governess from New York City who accepts a job in a small town Down East where she will live in a large dark house by the sea and tutor a nine-year-old boy. She accepts the job because she hopes it may lead to information about her undiscovered past, in particular the anonymous monthly payments from Bangor that started arriving at the foundling home when she was just two years old.

 

As envisioned by story creator Art Wallace, who wrote the outline Shadows on the Wall that became the show’s series bible early on, the story of Victoria Winters was fully realized from the start, with a beginning, middle, and complete story resolution. But unforeseen circumstances along the way prevented the story from being told in full as originally planned. Other things got in the way; the murder of a Collins family friend and business associate, a couple of ghosts, a fire goddess from a spirit netherworld, a vampire, time travel, witchcraft, and on and on, until finally the actress playing the role said enough was enough.

 

Perhaps the biggest factor was the frequent turnover in the episode writing staff. Enough time went by and enough writers came and went that the original framework laid out for the story of Victoria Winters was simply forgotten, a beginning left dangling somewhere in the middle for more than two years of episodes. Below is an examination of the original story resolution, as outlined before Dark Shadows first went on the air.

 

The story of Victoria Winters is the road not taken.

 

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Episode 20: Out of His Mind: The Perils of Mark Allen Continues

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It is still only the second day since Victoria Winters arrived at Collinwood as the governess to nine-year-old David Collins, but a lot has happened in such a short span. Burke Devlin, who arrived in Collinsport on the same train as Vicki, has everyone at Collinwood on edge. Roger testified as a witness at Burke’s manslaughter trial ten years earlier and at the time Devlin made threats against the family, vowing to one day return and destroy them all. Just a short while after Burke is found by Vicki in the family garage standing by Roger’s car holding a wrench, Roger has a near fatal car accident driving down the hill from Collinwood into town. The viewer knows that it was David who tampered with the brakes on his father’s car, but Roger doesn’t know this and in fact no one suspects David, at least not yet. For the moment Roger thinks it was Burke, settling his old vendetta against the Collins family, and he is dragging Vicki into the middle of it, bringing her to Burke’s hotel room in the middle of the night as a witness who can back up that he was seen in the garage with just the sort of tool that could be used to remove the missing brake valve from his car. Roger is hell-bent on destroying Burke before Devlin gets another chance to destroy him. It’s an exciting episode with an explosive conflict erupting head to head.

 

There is also a volatile situation flaring up behind the scenes in the television studio, in a soap within a soap called The Perils of Mark Allen

 

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