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Retro : 'Dark' Victory : THE VAMPIRE SOAP CONTINUES TO THRIVE AMONG THE LIVING. WHAT IS IT ABOUT BARNABAS AND HIS COLLINWOOD KIN?

December 17, 1995|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly 25 years after "Dark Shadows" left the airwaves, ABC's gothic daytime soap opera has more fans than ever before. Teen-agers who got hooked on the show's haunting theme songs and time-warped plot lines are still watching it today--more than a few with their own kids.

According to Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played Maggie Evans and Josette duPres on the deliciously fun series, there are between 25,000 and 26,000 hard-core fans in the United States alone.

'These are the people who want to know everything about 'Dark Shadows,' " says Scott, who appeared on the series for its entire run. "They want to be keep up-to-date on everything."

"Dark Shadows," created by Dan Curtis of "The Winds of War" fame, was the first and only gothic-horror daytime drama. The series, which debuted June 27, 1966, originally focused on a young woman named Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke), who was the governess of a 10-year-old boy in the small fishing village of Collinsport, Maine. Victoria was employed by the wealthy Collins family, whose mysterious mansion, Collinwood, overlooked the ocean. Veteran film star Joan Bennett played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the family matriarch.

The series, though, struggled in the ratings. But that all changed in April, 1967, when Curtis added the character of Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), a wonderfully sympathetic and charismatic 175-year-old vampire. Other supernatural elements and characters drew viewers, including a witch named Angelique (Lara Parker) and a ghost named Quentin (David Selby). The series also bounced back and forth in time from the present day to the 18th century, so cast members were called upon to play several roles.

Two feature films were spun from the series: "House of Dark Shadows" and "Night of Dark Shadows." (Curtis also resurrected "Dark Shadows" as an NBC prime-time series in 1991, starring Ben Cross. The results were anemic.)

The original series boasted a cast of hundreds, including John Karlen, Kate Jackson, Dennis Patrick and Roger Davis. Numerous up-and-comers such as Susan Sullivan, Marsha Mason and even Harvey Keitel did guest shots.

"Dark Shadows' " afterlife is due to the explosion in cable channels--it's currently on the Sci-Fi Channel--and its myriad fan clubs. The series also is available on MPI Home Video.

"Most of the people who come to the festivals are in their 20s and 30s," Scott says, adding that a mammoth 30th-anniversary fest will take place in June in Los Angeles. "What's really amazing is there are a lot of teen-agers who show up. So there are a lot of people who weren't even born when the show went off the air."

For the past 11 years, Scott has run her own publishing company, Pomegranate Press Ltd. Three of the company's 40 published books deal with "Dark Shadows." Scott wrote "My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows," the "Dark Shadows Companion" and edited "The Dark Shadows Almanac" ($25 hardcover; $18 softcover) with series archivist Jim Pierson. "Almanac," which was published in August, includes a forward by Selby. Parker (Angelique) has written a salute to the loyal fans.

Scott believes "Dark Shadows" has the same appealing ingredients as another '60s cult series--"Star Trek."

"The inane shows that are on now don't really tell the same kind of stories that 'Star Trek' and 'Dark Shadows' did," Scott explains. "The fact that Gene Roddenberry and Curtis drew on stories that were sort of universal parables--Roddenberry going ahead in time and 'Dark Shadows' going back in time and borrowing from some of the great storytellers like Herman Melville and Henry James."

Of course, Frid's full-blooded turn as Barnabas had a lot to do with the show's success. "I am not a science-fiction fan or a horror fan, but I think we had the best vampire," Scott says, laughing. "I think it's because he did bring so much compassion to the role."

Fans also love the series' bloopers. "Dark Shadows" was shot live on kinescope--mistakes and all. Scott says it was too expensive to re-shoot and edit out mistakes. And there were plenty.

Scott erupts into laughter when she recalls the time her character Jacqueline "was wearing 18th-century dress and walking through a graveyard in ringlets and muff and flowing velvet cape with a fur trim in search of my long-lost love Barnabas Collins. My cape brushed over one of these 'heavy' tombstones. Of course, it was made out of Styrofoam."

Then there was the time when actor Louis Edmonds forgot he had one more scene to shoot. "He came upstairs to the dressing rooms," Scott recalls. "I was walking upstairs behind him and I said, 'Louis, don't you have another scene?' He had already taken off his pants and his shoes. He was standing there in his stocking feet with his shirt. They raced him down the stairs and put him in front of the mantel and gave him a brandy glass and went in close on his head and shoulders. He was literally standing there without any pants on, playing the scene with Joan Bennett."

"Dark Shadows" airs weekdays at 8 and 8:30 a.m. on Sci-Fi Channel.

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