Mention Dark Shadows to kids today and they may picture in their heads Barnabas Collins, the campy, slightly-androgynous, vaguely familiar main character, as played by Johnny Depp. That’s if they caught that film amidst The Amazing Spiderman, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers or any of the other huge summer 2012 blockbusters.
Mention Dark Shadows to 40 and 50-year-olds, and they will likely reminisce about the original Barnabas, played by Jonathan Frid in the now-classic American gothic daytime soap opera, which ran from June 1966 until April 1971 and produced 1,225 episodes. In its peak, 20 million fans watched the show and couldn’t get enough.
With an undeniably faithful cult following, Dark Shadows has staked its place in the hearts of fans of American classic television.
It is reported, by the way, that Johnny Depp is such a huge fan of the original Dark Shadows that he “wanted to be Barnabas Collins” when he was younger. Other big-time stars, including Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Quentin Tarantino, have also been public about their admiration for the original show.
Two of its original stars Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker said they were thrilled to appear in cameo roles in this summer’s Tim Burton version of Dark Shadows. Scott, a former Playboy Bunny who founded her own publishing company, Pomegranate Press, and has written a memoir and five Dark Shadows companion books, played several roles on Dark Shadows, including Maggie Evans and Josette du Pres, a lover of Barnabas who commits suicide after realizing Barnabas is a vampire.
Parker, who has starred in numerous television and film roles and has written two Dark Shadows books, played Angelique, the villainous witch and nemesis of Barnabas. Parker’s first book, Dark Shadows: Angelique’s Descent, focused on Angelique’s early years living in Haiti and on her love affair with Barnabas. Fans of the original show may not know that Parker’s role as Angelique was originally introduced to explain how Barnabas became a vampire, but her character was so popular she became a main character.
“In my first appearance on the television show there were a few semi-love scenes in which I begged Barnabas, my love interest, not to abandon me,” said Parker. “He had seduced me in Martinique and led me astray while he became engaged to my mistress, Josette du Pres. I was a servant girl. That’s the way the show began for me, begging and pleading for him not to leave. So I wrote the novel of Angelique’s childhood and everything she experienced . . . how she came to America with Josette and felt that she was always going to be Barnabas’ true love. When he constantly rejected her, she cursed him and he became a vampire.”
Parker and Scott will be in town on Thursday, September 13 at 7:00 p.m. They will read, discuss and sign their respective books, Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch and Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood at Barnes & Noble in Buckhead.
David Magazine: Kathryn, what inspired you to write “Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood?”
Kathryn: It’s really five decades of Dark Shadows. It begins with the original series and all of the other incantations. In 1970 we did a feature film that Jonathan Frid and I starred in called House of Dark Shadows. The following year Lara Parker and David Selby did another film called Night of Dark Shadows. Both of these films are going to be coming out on Blue Ray DVD in a few months. Readers should enjoy this book because it talks quite a bit about the two films, the 1991 NBC primetime series, the failed pilot episode, the original CD dramas that we do, and the new movie in which Lara, David, Jonathan Frid and I have cameos. It really does cover everything from the original series to the present. There are elements of memoir in it, but it’s a companion to Dark Shadows. It’s everything fans might want to know behind the scenes.
David Magazine: What else are you both working on?
Kathryn: I’ve written so many articles and edited works and done so much non-fiction that I’m enjoying writing some fiction now. I’ve got another book called Down and Out in Beverly Heels coming out in March 2013. It’s going to be part of a mystery series. I’m already working on the second book. At this stage in my life it’s fun to try something new.
Lara: The first book I wrote, Angelique’s Descent, was out of print until recently. Luckily, when the Johnny Depp movie came out my publisher decided to reprint a new edition of it. There has been a renewed interest in it, which never would have happened without Johnny Depp and Tim Burton and all of their carrying on. I also just published my new book, Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch. I thought it would be interesting to write about the Salem Witch Trials, which were horribly unfair and immoral, and what it would be like if there really was a real witch. Of course, she would have been the first incarnation of Angelique. So I imagined my character had lived several lives and that her first appearance was in Salem. After I wrote the first book, I thought I didn’t know what I was doing. So I decided to go back to school and get my Master’s in creative fiction. The whole time I was working on my degree, which was two and a half years, I was also working on The Salem Branch and getting some wonderful feedback. I was happily supported by some very good writers.
The third book, which is due out early next year, is called Wolf Moon Rising. I like going back in time to periods Dark Shadows didn’t cover. In this one I go back to the 1920s, which is the Prohibition Era. Angelique does appear in this book in some form, but the main character is Quentin, a werewolf. The trick in writing these books is to keep the fans interested in terms of familiarity and recognition so they see the characters that they loved but in a different setting and pushed forward and to come up with something completely original that excites me. I try to keep the tone of the show and all the character voices and mannerisms and descriptions of their attitudes, but to come up with something that is uniquely original . . . If I deviate too much the fans become uncomfortable, and if I don’t deviate enough it’s just rehashing the same old things that they already saw. My books have been published in France, Spain, Brazil, Hungary, and in England, which is just fabulous and amazing to be able to open u your own book and not be able to read a word of it in that language. It was a number one book in France and Russia. My books are also going on audio. It’s just wonderful. The books are kind of re-launched.
David Magazine: What are some of your most memorable moments working on Dark Shadows?
Kathryn: One of the most memorable moments for me was the first day I worked with Jonathan Frid. He came onto the show with the big ring and the cape and the cane and the hairdo, and we all sort of went around thinking, ‘Oh God, what are we in for?’ But he is really the reason our show became so successful. The very first scene I did with him is my favorite. I was playing Maggie Evans, the waitress, and he arrives as a stranger in town, and I’m about to close up, but I open the door and let him in. There is this lovely scene that unfolds. They make a fresh pot of coffee and these two people come together. Maggie is very much an outsider, a gal from the wrong side of the tracks who is lonely and motherless and looking for her knight in shining armor, and little does she know that he is a vampire from another century. Dan Curtis, our director, saw a spark of romance there that he could develop, and Maggie Evans become Josette du Pres and they were the star-crossed lovers. Another memorable moment was when I came to the studio one day and they were dressing this clothes dummy in tattered lace, and they were filming it. I asked what they were doing, and they said they were filming the ghost of Josette, who jumps off Widow’s Hill. They asked how I would like to stand in for the dummy, and I did. They dressed me up, and it was so effective that when they got ready to cast Josette that I became her. Everyone told Dan Curtis that he couldn’t have the same actress playing two roles on the same show, and he said, ‘Yes, I can.’ That was one of the magical moments about the show. Dan said, ‘Yes, I can’ to many things.
David Magazine: What has surprised you most about Dark Shadows fans?
Kathryn: That there is such a broad base. We have fans of every sort of description. I think we have maybe four generations of fans now. They like dressing up in the costumes, but they love how we have really become a family as well as the quality of the stories we told. I also think the fact that we came on at 4:00 in the afternoon, at cookies and milk time, and various generations of kids have found the show and a form of escapism. No matter what happened at school or on the playground or bus, they could come home and escape.
Lara: Their loyalty and incredible sweetness. We have a Dark Shadows convention every year, and we never have an uncomfortable moment. There’s a symbiosis of generosity and mutual respect that I’ve grown to expect from the same fans who come back every year. I look forward to seeing them. They come from all over the country, from England . . . and they have become increasingly more devoted. When we first started doing the conventions, I thought I would not be doing it very long. It was sort of a duty. Now it has truly become a pleasure. Inevitably they say the most wonderful things, like ‘You got me through the most terrible time in my life,’ or ‘You inspired me.’
David Magazine: Why do you think gay fans connect with the show so much?
Kathryn: For the same reason everybody else does. I don’t think there is anything different. It’s the same things that appeal. It’s escapism. It’s also role playing, which also appeals to everybody. There is an outsider quality to the story. A lot of people also identify with Maggie as an outsider.
Lara: I hate to talk in generalizations. I don’t think of our fans as gay or not. I think of them much more as individuals. Some of them are certainly gay. I think part of the appeal is that Dark Shadows is so theatrical. I started in theater when I was a little girl and always worked in the theater. I was always surrounded by people who had chosen to live their lives in theater who were also gay. I never thought of it as being unique. For a lot of individuals, and this is not just true of gays, a lot of people who were going through difficulties could relate to Angelique.
Dark Shadows was an escape into another world. Someone was saying to me that when you become a fan of a show you feel as if that show was written just for you. It seems to reflect your aspirations, dreams, and neuroses. It seems to reverberate with your own personality. Many people have told me they saw things in Angelique that I never put there. The fact that these characters were larger-than-life, supernatural, and lived in this fantasy world of ghosts and witches and werewolves, it was an escape. I think there’s a strong sensitivity among gay people that helps them embrace theater and artistic creativity.
David Magazine: Do you participate in signings and appearances at big events like Dragon Con?
Kathryn: You know, I have never been invited to that. I think somebody suggested me for it, but I don’t know what happened. I would love to have done it.
David Magazine: Do fans recognize you?
Kathryn: It happens very often, but mostly because of my voice. I could be standing in the post office talking and someone will turn around and say, ‘My God, you’re Maggie Evans.’
Lara: Yes. My character, Angelique, predates Joan Collins. She was one of the first strong, bitchy women on television. She was a heroine to a lot of people. People weren’t used to seeing that.
David Magazine: Gay rights and mainstream gay characters have changed quite a bit since Dark Shadows first aired. How did the show’s producers and creators handle gay themes and undertones back then?
Kathryn: It wasn’t ever addressed because everyone across the board was attracted to Barnabas. It’s true. There was something very masculine about hi, but there was that slight androgynous quality. He never played it campy. Jonathan never discussed his sexuality publicly one way or another. To be perfectly honest, we didn’t have to deal with anything like this because there was nothing to deal with. We obviously had a couple of actors on the show who were gay, certainly one woman who was, but it never came up. I’m thinking of my relationship with Jonathan. It didn’t exist because there was nothing there to make it exist.
David Magazine: What did you think of the recent film version with Johnny Depp?
Kathryn: I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I am so steeped in Dark Shadows. I can’t help but make comments about what I would love to have seen. I think they tried to tell too much story. Also, they missed the outsider quality of the story by revealing Barnabas as a vampire too early in the story. The very significant relationship between Willie and Barnabas was also missing. Also, it was very clear in the television series who Maggie Evans was and that she becomes Josette, but in this movie it was screwed up with Victoria Winters, then Maggie, then Maggie off to an insane asylum. It was too much story.
Lara: My feelings were very positive about it from the beginning. I never expected it to get scripted and produced. It was just incomprehensible to me. For someone of Tim Burton’s station and talents to decide to do our TV show, which was so long ago and unpretentious in its time . . . first there were rumors, and that’s all I thought it was. When they finally got a start date and a script, it was years after they first planned it. I had just sort of given up. I was just thrilled and stayed in a state of disbelief for many months, even after they started filming the movie. We’d see photographs of the set, and I would just be deliriously happy. There were a lot of problems in the fan base, but what they don’t understand is, how can you tell the same story again? They built the entire town of Collinwood, with water. Then we got the phone call that we were invited to fly to England to do a cameo. It was just a dream come true. It was a thrill from the very first moment. Everyone was having a wonderful time. They were thrilled to meet us. Helena Bonham Carter sat and talked with us for an hour. She said they were playing tapes of the show in the make-up room and we’re all hooked. I saw the movie and thought it was very entertaining and beautifully made with a great amount of perfection and recognition of the artistry of our show. I think they tried to tell a lot of the original story and hit a lot of the major points. They tried to include maybe a few too many characters. The tone is completely different. Our show was completely serious. All of our actors were theater actors and very aware of believability. Johnny Depp likes to put an edge on his characters. It’s letting the audience in on the joke. It was a great tribute.
David Magazine: Was Johnny Depp a good Barnabas?
Kathryn: I adore Johnny Depp, and it was a pleasure meeting him and Tim Burton. There was a very telling moment at the festival. When they showed some outtakes from the new DVD. All these actors were asked to talk about what they thought Dark Shadows was about. Nobody really knew! I think that says a lot.
Lara: I thought he was wonderful. He made Barnabas sympathetic, but he did it in a different way because he was a fish out of water, which was something we never did. We never acknowledged that it was 1972 down the street from Collinwood. I thought that was brilliant. Audiences always love it.
David Magazine: Lara, What did you think of Angelique in the movie?
Lara: Ava Green came out and talked to me for a while when we visited the set. To see this gorgeous, sexy girl cast in the role, I was just shaking my head. I couldn’t believe it. I really do think she is dynamite. She didn’t say to me, ‘Do you have any advice?’ I kind of wish she had, but she did say that playing the part of Angelique is a gift and it’s multi-layered, which I thought was a good sign. She looked absolutely stunning.
David Magazine: What do you think of today’s vampire dramas such as Twilight and True Blood? Why are they so popular?
Kathryn: It’s the idea of immortality. It’s that yearning to be bitten and become a part of family and eternal life. That also goes into the new Dark Shadows movie. We didn’t go into that as much in the television series.
Lara: I’ve watched a lot of True Blood, but I’ve never really gotten into it. It seems to me that the characters are not very sympathetic. There’s a difference between terror and horror. Horror is blood and eyeballs falling out of the face, and terror takes places in the imagination. It’s the footsteps down the hall or rustle under the bed or scratching at the window. It’s what you imagine that makes the hair stands up on your arm. I think there was a lot of terror on Dark Shadows. Just putting a lot of teeth in front of people and having them bite each other and having sex at the same time is disturbingly distancing for me. I don’t get involved. I think Twilight comes a lot closer. It really tapped into the sociological context of today’s young people.
David Magazine: Do you like horror shows and movies, and do you have a favorite vampire character or film?
Kathryn: No, I am really not into horror films. I did love Ed Wood. I thought he was wonderful in that!
Lara: I love horror movies! I did my Master’s thesis on horror. I think you need horror in horror movies, but you need both horror and terror. As for favorites, I think Silence of the Lambs is really scary. I also think The Exorcist is scary because in that movie the Devil has no limitations. I also think The Blair Witch Project is very successful. I was terrified watching that movie.
Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott will be in town on Thursday, September 13 at 7:00 p.m. They will read, discuss and sign their respective books, Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch and Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood at Barnes & Noble in Buckhead, 2900 Peachtree Rd NE.