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New 'Shadows' Casts Reflection of Old Show

January 13, 1991|SUSAN KING | Times Staff Writer

"My journey is a beginning . . . a journey to link my past with my future . . . "

With those haunting words began "Dark Shadows," the one-time daytime phenomenon created and produced by Dan Curtis, also known for his Emmy-winning miniseries "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance."

The Gothic romance chronicled the mysterious happenings that occur after the arrival at an isolated Maine estate of orphaned governess Victoria Winters and long-lost relative Barnabas Collins, who just happens to be a 200-year-old vampire.

"Dark Shadows" aired from 1966 to 1971 on ABC and spawned two feature films, several novels, cookbooks, a comic strip, bubble gum cards and music albums. "Dark Shadows" mania is still alive. The series is seen in syndication, though not in Southern California, and MPI Home Video has released numerous episodes of the series on videotape. Every year thousands of fans flock to "Dark Shadows" conventions.

Twenty-four years after its debut, "Dark Shadows" is ready for prime-time. NBC unveils a new version with a four-hour miniseries Sunday and Monday. The regular series begins Friday.

Curtis is returning to be executive producer of the new series; he directed the first five hours. British actor Ben Cross of "Chariots of Fire" is the charming, tormented Barnabas. Jean Simmons plays Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, matriarch of the Collinwood estate, and Joanna Going is Victoria Winters.

"A number of people over the years have wanted to bring it back and I was never interested in doing it," Curtis said. "NBC wanted to do it very badly. So after I finished 'War and Remembrance,' I suspected if we did the grown-up version of it, it could perhaps offer an interesting bit of entertainment. I just decided to do it."

Curtis knew he couldn't bring back the surviving members of the original cast, which featured Jonathan Frid as Barnabas, after so many years.

"These (characters) couldn't be older," said Curtis. "I also was not interested in coming up with a new approach to the show. By the time we finished the show there wasn't an idea left in my head, and I don't think I have gotten a heck of a lot smarter since then. One of the reasons I brought it back was because I had the basic material to draw from."

Though the plot is the same as the original, the scripts are all new. "What we found going back to the basic material was that it was pathetic," Curtis said. "It was fine in those days, but it certainly wouldn't work today. It's miserably difficult work to structure this stuff. The plot is complicated. It's a killer."

"Dark Shadows" fans may have forgotten how cheesy the original series was--it was telecast live, complete with goofs, gaffes and rather crude special effects. "If they go back and look at it today they would laugh," Curtis said.

The sophisticated, lavish new show will reflect the way fans probably remember the original. "This is a child's memory of it," Curtis said.

Like the original series, "Dark Shadows" will weave back and forth in time from the present day to 1790. Everyone, except for Cross, will be playing double roles.

Veteran actress Jean Simmons, who plays Elizabeth, Barnabas' cousin in the present and mother in 1790, was a big fan of the original series. "It's great fun to do the series," she said. "I don't see the rushes, but I can see through the camera and they are getting wonderful strange shots.

"The thing that is getting to us is that every shot we do, inside or out, they have to fill the room with smoke. It's a wonderful effect but we are breaking out in rashes and people are having trouble with their contact lenses."

Barnabas gives the darkly handsome Cross a role he can sink his teeth into. Cross had been looking to do an American TV series for the past few years. Though he had not seen the original, he jumped at the chance to play the charismatic vampire.

"It sounded very interesting," Cross said. "It has turned out to be one of the most challenging roles I have ever done. I was fortunate enough to be offered the role."

But Cross wasn't thrilled about having to sign a five-year-contract. "I have never signed a contract in my life for longer than a year," he said. "But I am the kind of person who must try everything once in order to have an opinion. Whether the show is a bomb or not, I can guarantee you, I won't be doing it longer than five years. But I look upon this series, hit or miss, as an opportunity to raise both my profile in front of the public and in front of the employers in the town."

Curtis really doesn't know why audiences are enraptured with "Dark Shadows."

"It's a fantasy and in many ways we added some wonderful poignant moments," he said. "It has a very enchanting quality."

Simmons, though, knows exactly why she's a fan: "People are always fascinated with black magic or voodoo or vampires. "Of course, I absolutely adored Barnabas."

The NBC miniseries "Dark Shadows" airs Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. The series will begin Friday at 9 p.m.

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