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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Me and my Shadows

A few years ago, a friend and I were spending a weekend on the Washington coast. We popped into a diner for a couple of burgers, and I happened to notice our young server’s name tag, which read, “Angelique.”

“That’s a very pretty name,” I said to her.

She rolled her eyes and replied with a bit of annoyance, “My parents named after a character in some old TV show.”

On hearing this, my heart experienced a bittersweet mixture of joy and depression. Joy, because I not only knew immediately which old TV show it was and had in fact once considered naming a child of my own after one or two of the characters. Depression, because it immediately hit home that I was old enough to be this young woman’s father.

More recently, I attended a high school reunion. The comments I got most from people there (who looked strangely old) whom I hadn’t seen in a decade or two were things like: “Remember how you used to talk about Dark Shadows all the time?” or “Remember how you used to come over to my house to watch Dark Shadows?” Someone even reminded me of how, during the summer when I was working and couldn’t be home to watch it in the afternoon, I had my poor mother tape each day’s episode for me. To my younger readers, that may sound like no big deal, but this television series was originally broadcast from 1966 to 1971. This was not only before TiVo and other digital recorders, it was well before video cassette recorders! I couldn’t record the video portion of the program, but I hooked up a reel-to-reel tape recorder to the television and then instructed my mother to flip the on switch as the program was beginning. This was no casual task for her. She has always had a deep aversion to movies or television programs in the horror genre, and even the mere hearing of Dark Shadows’s theme music would nearly send her into hysteria. So, she had to flip the on switch and then immediately run to the farthest corner of the house and wait for the program as over, when it would be safe to venture back to the living room and turn the tape recorder off.

To this day, I will sometimes watch an old episode of the series—which the Sci-Fi Channel is so kind to broadcast to new generations—and be confused about action which I vaguely remember but looks completely new to me. Then it will dawn on me that this must be an episode that I listened to on my poor man’s VCR but didn’t actually see.

And I was by no means alone in my youthful devotion to this strange TV soap opera, which was part gothic novel, part horror movie, and part camp sci-fi flick. There were plenty of others (none in my hometown, however, that I knew of anyway) who also rushed home after school every day to watch the continuing adventures of a young governess, a lovelorn vampire, and a large family, living in a big house in Maine, with more secrets than you can shake a pentagram at. Indeed, when people talked of the Collinses having a skeleton in their closet, they were frequently speaking literally.

Why bring up this old series now? There are a couple of reasons, but the main one is by way of correcting on oversight I recently made. A couple of weeks ago I endeavored to list and remember everyone I could think of, who had any connection at all to movies, who passed away during the year 2001. It is a testimony to the obscurity of the Dark Shadows phenomenon that the passing of one of its main actors failed to be mentioned in any list of prominent people, celebrities or even actors that I saw at year’s end—even my own list. And I am one of the show’s biggest fans. But that’s okay because it gives me a chance to talk about him and the series more at length.

Louis Edmonds appeared in a few movies that you have forgotten or, more likely, never heard of (Come Spy with Me, The Exterminator, Next Year in Jerusalem), but most of his work was in daytime television. He was in the 1958 series Young Dr. Malone, and his work on All My Children spanned a decade and a half. But he will be remembered by me and many others for the half-decade he spent as a lead on Dark Shadows. He mainly played the snobbish, petulant younger brother of the matriarch of the aristocratic Collins family, Roger Collins. But, like most of the other actors on the series, he played several other parts because of the writers’ penchant for hopping into different time periods and parallel realities. He also played the vampire Barnabas Collins’s father, Joshua, as well as several other members of the Collins family throughout their turbulent and spooky history. He also played Roger in the big screen spin-off of the series, House of Dark Shadows.

Some of the comments I read on UseNet after his passing last March described him as “prissy” and “effeminate.” In hindsight, I suppose he was. But, as a young kid, I just thought that this was how wealthy people behaved. He was great for sipping brandy (at every opportunity) with attitude, as he lashed somebody else with his acid tongue. And for staring down his nose at virtually anyone else who made the mistake of wandering into Collinwood’s oak drawing room. More than any other actor on the series, he really seemed to be his character. Most of the others appeared to be doing well just to remember their lines. With Edmonds joining several other Dark Shadows colleagues (the best known were Joan Bennett and Grayson Hall) in thespian heaven, a golden era slips further away.

Is there more to say about Dark Shadows? You bet. Now that I have finally found a pretext for discussing this beloved series of mine in this space, I’m hardly going to stop with just one column. You have been warned.

And what about that above mentioned flirtation with naming my child after a Dark Shadows character? I used to horrify my mother by suggesting that, if I ever had a son, I would name him Barnabas Quentin, after two of the more popular characters. Of course, by the time I actually got around to having a child, I had completely forgotten that old threat. So, it turns out that the fact that my daughter has the same name as one of the main Dark Shadows characters is entirely a coincidence.

-S.L., 31 January 2002

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