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 10: Little Monster

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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.

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