This post has been a long time in the making. And when I discovered these photos of the legendary vampire, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) dancing with a group of black kids in full drag, I knew it was time. Richard Nixon must have said he wasn't going to be the only bloodsucker in the house when he allowed his daughter, Patricia, to throw a Halloween party at the White House for "underprivileged" inner city children that year. I would have given my eye teeth to have been at that party!
I never realized until relatively recently how much Dark Shadows, the original 1960's daytime series of "Gothic mystery and supernatural intrigue" played such a major part in my life. Like legions of other strange children, and adults alike, I rushed home from school just to be able to be home by 4:00 p.m. to catch the next afternoon murder, seance or grave desecration. To say that I was entralled by the tales of vampires, werewolves, witches, decapitated heads and hands, time travel and ghosts - especially ghosts, is an understatement.
Many was the time that I wished I was a member of the doomed Collins family, living out a tortured existence at the family estate of Collinwood, in Collinsport, Maine. I can't count the times that I left my grandparents and older family members speechless and aghast after "casting spells" with and sticking pins in my G.I. Joe "voodoo" doll. "That boy is something else" they'd say (and look side-eyed) after I failed to find my otherworldly counterpart living in black parallel time in the upstairs rooms of their homes. After all, young David Collins lived in such a house and experienced all that and more!
Like David, who was around my age, I had to have my own room, house robe, nehru jacket and my own crystal ball. I'm still waiting for that crystal ball! And oh, that witch-bitch named Angelique! Lara Parker's masterful turn as the venegeful witch, Angelique (right) is nothing short of iconic. I don't think my parent's knew exactly what was happening when I started trying to make my eyes bigger, hold my mouth like, talk like, laugh like and walk like a white woman named Angelique. "Couldn't you try to be more like Barnabas" my mother nervously intoned. Why, of course I could, mother! But that would come later.
When I grew up, the "Old House" that Barnabas lived in and especially the family estate of Collinwood, definitely influenced the archetecture and style of apartments that I chose to live in.
Now, sometimes to my partner's chagrin, our own home decor is inspired by some of the gothic elements of Collinwood's set decor . But I love it because I have finally gotten my hubby, who used to cover his ears when the show's eerie theme song came on, hooked on the series. It's now a part of our nightly ritual to watch at least one episode before bedtime. Sometimes, long, endless nights where thunder, lightening and storms never cease can be quite appealing.
I am an even bigger fan of the show today than I was yesterday. But no matter how many years pass, and how much of a fan I remain, the one thing I continue to wonder about was why there were no black folks on the show and what it would have been like if there had been just ONE?
Enter Ernest Baxter! No, he wasn't the spook who sat by the door but for a time, he worked as a stage manager for the show and he certainly looks "of color" to me! And being the fan that I am, I waited long and searched hard just to find one person of African descent attached to this show in some way or other. In the book, My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows by Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans, Josette Dupres Collins) she lists Syd Andrews, John Devoe, Murdock Pemberton and Edward Melton as the stage managers for the show. But in The Dark Shadows Almanac, Scott adds Ernest Baxter to the list!
This means that during the many storylines for the show, which were high-camp riffs on classic stories like Jane Eyre, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Rebecca and The Turn of the Screw, Baxter would have basically had the job of being responsible for ensuring that the director's artistic choices were realized in every actual performance. However, stage manager duties vary from production to production. My efforts to find Mr. Baxter were not successful.
For a show that thrived on the death (and sometimes resurrection) of its characters, Dark Shadows continues to give me life! I'm just glad to know how dark they were willing to go both in and out of the shadows and behind the scenes, as well.
ADDENDUM: JONATHAN FRID PASSED AWAY ON APRIL 13, 2012 of natural causes in Toronto, Canada. He was 87 years old.