Dark Shadows: Come See How The Vampires Do It…

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Anyone of a certain age (old!) remembers running home after school to catch the ghoul-filled 4 o’clock ABC show, Dark Shadows. Originally conceived as a suspense drama starring ‘30’ s and 40’s beauty siren Joan Bennett, the sudser was floundering in the ratings until executive producer Dan Curtis decided to go for broke and add a supernatural element. Jonathan Frid was cast as Barnabas Collins, a reluctant bloodsucker, and suddenly Curtis had the hottest show in daytime. The show spawned a fanatical following (myself included) and became a merchandiser’s dream. There were Dark Shadows cards, games, dolls, LP’s, books, a comic strip, fangs and endless magazine coverage especially ones geared to the teen market like 16, Tiger Beat and Flip. Later the show added David Selby as Quentin Collins, a werewolf, and it found itself with another teen heartthrob. (Frid, a middle-aged Shakespearean actor who had once shared a stage with Katharine Hepburn, was the most unlikely of sex symbols, but housewives couldn’t get enough of him).

Also quite popular on the show and my personal favorite was Lara Parker as Angelique, the witch who was spurned by Barnabas and who cast the spell on him that made him a vampire. Parker went on to star in a few films (Save The Tiger, Race With The Devil) did a lot of episodic TV, and now writes Dark Shadows books.

I met Lara Parker at the tender age of 14, and she could not have been nicer. I was one of the many young teens who hung outside the Dark Shadows Studios on West 53rd St. in NYC. I would take a bus from center city Philadelphia to New York (I think it was $7 round trip) and patiently wait for the actors to come out after a long day of filming. Dark Shadows was taped live, and there was no stopping for re-takes. If a mistake was made (and boy were there) they just kept going. Scenery falling, camera men on camera themselves, and  Joan Bennett forever fumbling her lines. It all stayed in.

Anyway, one time I was waiting outside for a glimpse of some star wattage and Lara Parker emerged. She was immediately surrounded by the young crowd. I was too shy to approach her, but I didn’t have to worry. A loud mouthed girl named Laura from Jersey City I had met there, yelled “You have to look at this guy’s scrapbook of you”. Parker came over to me, saw my scrapbook and took my hand and brought me inside the studio lobby. Once there, she proceeded to peruse every page, while exclaiming “I can’t believe anyone would do this for me”. She then inscribed it (see below).

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I also got to meet Frid, Bennett, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Marie Wallace, Humbert Allen Astredo, Denise Nickerson, Nancy Barrett, and Grayson Hall. They all were very gracious. Hall was a hoot. The Academy Award nominee (The Night Of The Iguana) was quite the grand dame. She seemed larger than life, gesturing regally with her cigarette. And what amazed me was when the autograph signing and conversations were done they all simply walked up 53rd St. and disappeared into the crowd. Just like normal people.

Luckily, the two films of the TV series, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows are on DVD. House of Dark Shadows had a great tagline “Come see how the vampires do it”. And remember, this was way before Twilight or HBO’s True Blood pumped up the sexual aspects of vampirism.

The show ran from 1966–1971 and has been in syndication on and off for years and has found whole new generations of fans. All the episodes of Dark Shadows are available on DVD from MPI Home Video.

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