Episode 44: You Can Bank On It

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Today Elizabeth Stoddard’s banker John Harris drives down from Bangor to present her with financial documents for a trust fund she has set up for David. Cast for the role is Patrick McVey, who turns in what can only be described as the single least proficient performance of any actor ever to appear on Dark Shadows. An explanation for this is provided in the “background audio” section of the post on episode 43 as well as below in today’s post.

 

In the summer of 1966, there was a viral outbreak in the Dark Shadows studio, and Patrick McVey was among those infected. Lelarichia swifteria is a rare virus affecting mainly male middle-aged supporting actors on Dark Shadows. Symptoms of L. swifteria begin with confusion and unease followed by a sudden drop in confidence, soon progressing to reduced motor capacity affecting abilities for memory of lines as well as timing and steadiness of delivery.

 

In some cases, the afflicted sufferer may manage to sustain themselves for multiple appearances over several episode tapings, but in many cases L. swifteria proves fatal to an actor’s duration on Dark Shadows.

 

There is no known cure.

 

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Episode 41: The Day That Became Last Night

 

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Dark Shadows is known for its lack of overall continuity not only with regard to character and story arcs, but also inconsistencies with time references including even the age of a given character. As noted in the post for episode 39, Dark Shadows makes its first break with continuity when Dan Curtis decides on making a departure from the original series outline in bringing the Bill Malloy character front and center to force a resolution to the conflict between Burke Devlin and the Collins family, Roger in particular. The next break in continuity occurs here in episode 41 when allusions to time get convoluted; such minute detail can easily be overlooked when you make a change in the writing department, given that episode 41 is the first to not be written by original story creator and developer Art Wallace.

 

Perhaps the most fulfilling reward of following these early episodes is that you get to chart the evolution of Dark Shadows as it grows toward the iconic status of a cultural phenomenon. By the end of 1966, Dark Shadows would not only go from being described as a gothic romance to a horror soap, it would also rally from impending cancellation by achieving the heights of being number one in the ratings. Such a remarkable and relatively immediate transformation in identity also serves to highlight the brilliance of Dan Curtis, a man with a sudden dream vision for a TV show which would over its first few months come to thrive as a vehicle for spontaneous creative ingenuity, the likes of which had never before been presented in the context of daytime television drama.

 

Another joy of these early episodes is the performances of David Ford as Sam Evans. Though he didn’t originate the role, in just his first week on the show he manages to define it; therefore, one should recognize the hugely important contribution made to Dark Shadows by David Ford’s theatrical approach to acting as well as how rapidly and thoroughly he was able to grow into the role.

 

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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 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 25: People Management

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Victoria Winters is searching for her past. Having been raised in a foundling home in New York, she has taken a job hundreds of miles away in Collinsport, Maine, as a companion and governess to a nine-year-old boy only because of the anonymous letters that would arrive each month at the foundling home containing fifty dollars in cash for her care beginning when she was two years old. Because the postmark on the envelopes was from Bangor, only fifty miles away from Collinsport, now eighteen years later she thinks that by taking on this position she might find out something about her mysterious past, something more than the surname she was given because of the season of the year she was left on the front steps of the foundling home in a cardboard box, with only a ten-word note and a first name.

 

Two days after having stepped off the train in Collinsport, a letter sent special delivery has arrived from the foundling home detailing a visit they received from a private investigator wondering why she was hired to work for the Collins family and by whom.

 

No one wants to know the answers to these questions more than Victoria Winters herself, but to her dismay none of the people around her care to even discuss the matter. The only interest in her letter comes from someone who has no reason to be even remotely curious – the young boy she tutors.

 

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Episode 23: Doing a Little Digging

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To many Dark Shadows fans, the notion of the Collinsport police in general and the sheriff in particular is something of a joke, given how in later years of the show the town seems to be run by the vampires and assorted monsters and ghosts who predominate at any given time.

 

But the beginnings of Dark Shadows are a different matter, with its leanings toward more of a sense of realism. Here in the early days, police are competent and thorough; any criminal in their midst would have cause to worry, especially if the perpetrator in question is a nine-year-old boy who’s guilty of attempted murder.

 

Episode 23 is our introduction to Constable Jonas Carter, the only sworn officer of the law in the history of Dark Shadows who ever solved a crime.

 

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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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