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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
With Dark Shadows starting out on a fledgling network whose daytime lineup struggled to achieve competitive ratings even in the best of circumstances, one has to wonder what good it does for a show that’s only been on the air a few days to have the director actively sabotaging the entire supporting cast.
Dark Shadows director Lela Swift has had Mark Allen, who plays Sam Evans, in her sights since the third week of taping kicked off. That same week George Mitchell, who played Collins estate caretaker Matthew Morgan, had several mishaps during a scene while eating egg whites that came from a nearby greasy spoon. So the next time he was on, Lela took to complaining about him over the control room microphone and in the process cursing him with such an attack of nerves that he couldn’t perform. He was gone by the end of that day’s taping. Now Lela is gunning for lovable Fred Stewart, who makes his Dark Shadows debut as Dr. Reeves, but if she has her way it will be his swan song as well. Her complaints during the taping of this episode become so mean-spirited that she practically turns into a monster.
There can be only one solution to keep Dark Shadows from imploding even before it can complete its first thirteen-week cycle: Swiftenstein must be destroyed!
To close out his visit at Collinwood, Burke has asked Roger to drive into town to meet him at the Blue Whale to discuss a business matter. A short time later, Burke is found by Vicki in the garage standing next to Roger’s car with a wrench in his hand. Meanwhile David, who has been up in his room reading a magazine on do-it-yourself mechanics, takes from his dresser a small cylindrical metal object which he then attempts to stash in Vicki’s room, but flies into hysterics after she walks in and catches him in the act. Joe stops by to pick up Carolyn for a date. They are planning on a movie, but when Carolyn finds out from Vicki that Burke will be at the Blue Whale to meet Roger, she talks Joe into taking her there instead, which is where he started a fight just the night before over Carolyn’s eager interest in the other men there. To top it off, Dark Shadows is featuring its very first in a long line of dry thunderstorms.
It’s a Wednesday in 1966, and Burke Devlin has been hanging out in the drawing room at Collinwood since Monday. Fortunately, there’s plenty of brandy on hand to keep him hydrated while he chats with Liz and waits for Roger to show up, who’s been avoiding the drawing room since last Friday, ever since Carolyn brought Burke to Collinwood.
Months before becoming known as the vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows was a show about ghosts and goblins, or at least the frequent mention thereof. But on the Friday of the second week, the show produced a monster, one that proved especially unnerving because it was so real and true to life and therefore possible – a nine-year-old boy named David.
If there’s one aspect of Dark Shadows that comes across as comedy, it’s the notion of romance. Naturally, because this is Detergent Land Drama, one shouldn’t expect to begrudge the characters with any happiness in that area, at least not for the long term, but when it comes to even finding a suitable mate the folks at Collinwood, and anyone who chances to come into even remote contact with them, are positively doomed!