Over 40 years ago, millions of kids ran home from school every day to catch the adventures of vampire Barnabas Collins and his family of werewolves, witches and other creatures.
Dark Shadows remains one of the most popular cult TV shows of all time. Barnabas & Company tells the tale of the marvelous actors and actresses who came together in a tiny studio in New York City to make magic. Through the performers’ own words, read about the paths that led them to the fictional haunted hamlet of Collinsport, Maine and beyond.
Learn about the show and the actors that inspired the 2012 Tim Burton-Johnny Depp major motion picture Dark Shadows. Included are updated chapters on Jonathan Frid, Kate Jackson, David Selby and interviews with Humbert Allen Astredo, Betsy Durkin, Robert Rodan, Jerry Lacy, Lara Parker, Denise Nickerson, Conard Fowkes, Addison Powell, Christopher Pennock and more!
In 1965, a young TV executive named Dan Curtis had a nightmare that changed his life—and altered the destinies of countless others. Curtis was an Emmy®-winning producer of CBS Golf Classics, and he was more than a little bored in that job. One night he dreamt of a mysterious young woman on a train. “I saw a girl with long, dark hair,” he later told 16 Magazine. “She was about 19, and she was on a train that stopped in the dark, isolated town. She got off the train and started walking and walking. Finally, she came to a huge, forbidding house. She turned and slowly walked up the long path towards the house. At the door, she lifted a huge brass knocker and gently tapped it three times. I heard a dog howl, and then—just as the door creaked open—I woke up!” The next morning at the breakfast table, the producer told his wife, Norma, about his eerie dream. She thought it sounded like a great plot for a new TV show. Soon Dan pitched it to ABC, and network officials agreed with Norma. Curtis hired Art Wallace to develop a story from the fragment he’d dreamed, the show’s original working structure entitled Shadows on the Wall. Robert Costello joined as Line Producer, Curtis’ title was Creator and Executive Producer, and Lela Swift, one of the few female directors in the industry, agreed to take the helm of the new soap opera. Robert Cobert composed atmospheric theme music, and Sy Tomashoff set out to design Collinwood, the dreary mansion where the action would take place. With his dream team in place, Curtis had to find the people who would populate the town of Collinsport. Alexandra Moltke, a 19-year-old actress with a handful of stage credits and an aristocratic lineage, was cast as Victoria Winters, the orphaned governess who finds herself working for the Collins family and searching for clues about her mysterious past. Movie star Joan Bennett was tapped to play Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, Victoria’s stern employer. Elizabeth’s arrogant, hard-drinking brother, Roger, was played by Louis Edmonds, a Louisiana native who had spent the previous twenty years acting on and Off-Broadway in New York. Stage actress Nancy Barrett was cast as Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn, and child actor David Henesy played Victoria’s charge, Roger’s son, David Collins. The first episode, beginning with Victoria on Curtis’ dreamed-about train, was taped June 13, 1966, and it aired two weeks later, on June 27. To enhance the Gothic tone, the show was introduced by Alexandra Moltke telling the audience, “My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning….” Variety reviewed the first installment of Dark Shadows in its June 29, 1966, issue: “Writer Art Wallace took so much time getting into his story that the first episode of this neo Gothic soaper added up to one big contemporary yawn.” The reviewer would have preferred to see more of legendary Joan Bennett and less of relative-unknown Alexandra Moltke, who “did okay in her ambiguous part.” Variety did praise producer Robert Costello and director Lela Swift for creating a dark and somber mood. But critics and fans were fairly unanimous: There wasn’t much happening on this new show. Ratings were bleak. Monsters and Witches in the Family Dark Shadows is best remembered as a supernatural thriller, filled with vampires, zombies, werewolves, and mad scientists. But in the beginning, the scariest thing on the screen was the tacky blonde wig Kathryn Leigh Scott was forced to don for her first few outings as waitress Maggie Evans. As Victoria poked around Collinwood’s dusty deserted west wing, trying to figure out if she was a long-lost Collins, there were occasional supernatural undertones. Young David Collins claimed to see ghosts all over the place, and in the 70th episode, which aired September 30, 1966, viewers saw a specter emerge from the portrait of long-dead Josette Collins, then dance around the grounds of the great estate. Dark Shadows was finally heading where no soap opera had strayed before. The ratings, though still anemic, were goosed a bit by the unusual story. In December, almost six months into the show’s run, Diana Millay was cast as Laura Collins, Roger’s wayward wife, who turned out to be a real monster. There was no more hinting about the supernatural—the writers showed Laura using magic to make trouble for her family members. The character’s evil deeds caused the ratings to climb a bit, but Diana was pregnant, so her stay on the show had to be short, and Laura was destroyed. Wanting to continue to ride the increasing ratings and advertising support, Curtis decided to go for broke when, in April 1967, a vampire named Barnabas Collins showed up at the front door of Collinwood and changed the face of daytime programming forever. Canadian stage actor Jonathan Frid was an unlikely choice as a soap opera leading man. He had almost no previous television experience, though he was a British and American-trained Shakespearean actor with a long list of stage credits. And while he was attractive in an offbeat way, the over forty actor didn’t have the typical “pretty boy” features of most soap stars. Actually, Dan Curtis didn’t plan for Barnabas to stick around long enough for any of that to matter. With any luck, the producer hoped, the presence of a vampire would draw some attention, and in a few weeks he could be staked so things could move on, as they would on a “normal” soap opera. In his wildest dreams, Dan had no idea just how much attention Barnabas would attract. 2012-Tim Burton-Johnny Depp Feature Film Remake Dan Curtis passed away in March 2006. Subsequently, his estate made a deal with Warner Brothers granting them motion picture rights for a Dark Shadows feature film to star Johnny Depp. Depp, a longtime fan of the show had nursed the idea of a DS reboot for some time. (In fact, Depp had been recommended by writer Sam Hall for the 1991 NBC nighttime reboot. Hall also recommended model Iman for Angelique.) Fans were ecstatic about Depp’s interest and further thrilled to hear that child hood fan director Tim Burton, was on-board. Filmed in England in early 2011, the film has a tentative May 2012 projected release date. Michelle Pfeiffer will portray Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and Oscar® nominees Jackie Earle Haley as Willie Loomis, and Helen Bonham-Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman. Rounding out the cast, relative unknown Bella Heathcoate will be Victoria Winters, Christopher Lee as Bill Malloy and Alice Cooper as himself. Whilst filming the feature, DS DVDs were played in the make up trailer in order to help the younger cast members capture the “strange vibe” of Dark Shadows. Burton and Depp have both admitted that capturing that intrinsic quality of Dark Shadows, earnestness, camp, hyper-reality and 1970s technical capabilities, which the fans love, will be a challenge. The Warner Brother’s Press release outlined the following storyline, In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. Two decades later Barnabas is the young master of Collinwood, “rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy…until he makes the mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard. Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. “Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The remnants of the Collins family have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets,” so troubled is the family that they employ a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman Four Original DS cast members are set to make a cameo appearance, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker and the original Barnabas himself, eighty-six-year-old Jonathan Frid .
Craig Hamrick wrote about television for <>TV Guide, Soap Opera Weekly and a variety of other publications, including his book Big Lou and the website www.darkshadowsonline.com.
R.J. Jamison is a writer in New York and wrote Grayson Hall: A Hard Act to Follow, published in 2006.