Life on the Set
When I interviewed Louis Edmonds (pictured, left) in 1996, he described what his typical day had been like during the taping of Dark Shadows: "My pattern was so crazy. I would do Dark Shadows all day, then rehearse the following day's show, leave the studio, go do my bit at the gym -- the steam room, the pool, whatever -- then go upstairs [to the bar] and have three martinis, on probably a very empty stomach. Then I would go to [my lover] Bryce's and somehow get some kind of sustenance in me and then go to sleep. This would be 8 o'clock at night. I'd sleep like death and then because I hadn't learned my lines for the next day and because I was a responsible actor, I'd wake up at three in the morning, and it was just awful. I look at those shows now and I think, 'I didn't do bad, considering that I lived the way I did.'"
After leaving Dark Shadows,Nancy Barrett worked on other soap operas, including The Doctors and One Life to Live, but she said the relationship between the cast members of Dark Shadows was unique in her experience.
"I thought at the time it was very close," she said. "One of the reasons for that must have to do with how the show was produced as opposed to the way shows are produced today. The way it was done, we literally spent the entire day together," Nancy said. "It wasn't that you rehearsed and did your scene and then you were gone. As I recall, they were limited to five actors per show. That means that you're with a very limited number of people for very long periods of time. And also the scenes probably tended to be longer than they are today."
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Director Henry Kaplan (far right) runs a rehersal with Lara Parker, David Selby and Denise Nickerson.
Being constantly together made the cast of Dark Shadows like a family, for better or worse. "That sort of breeds a camaraderie or terrific enmity," Nancy said with a laugh. "The fact is, you're stuck with these people. There's nothing you can do about it. It's not like you go in and do your thing in an hour and just leave."
Really Spectacular Lapses -- The Bloopers
In her 1970 autobiography, The Bennett Playbill, Joan Bennett discussed her Dark Shadows experience. She coyly mentioned the occasional on-camera faux pas: "I found television an infinitely more spontaneous medium (than movies)," Joan wrote. "As our executive producer Dan Curtis says, altogether too cheerfully, 'We work the hell out of them! It's death in the afternoon and panic in the streets every day on the set. If somebody blows a line, that's too bad.' Although the show is taped ahead of time, it's a 'live' tape technique, there's no way of going back to correct mistakes and, occasionally, there's a really spectacular lapse."
In the 1970s, Joe Dante (later a successful horror movie director) was a reviewer for Castle of Frankenstein magazine. He wrote about his affection for Dark Shadows: "The budget apparently doesn't allow for re-taping, so every fluff, camera misdirection, visible crew-member and production error is left in, endowing the show with some of the excitement and human interest which made live TV so much fun back in the dear, dead Fifties. Nothing arouses audience empathy more than the sight of a harried actor groping for forgotten lines while trying to steal a discreet glimpse of the cue card. Despite the occasional mistakes, or maybe because of them, DS is highly enjoyable."
Dante was right. These "spectacular lapses" -- also known as "bloopers" -- are one element that makes watching Dark Shadows so much fun. Props fell apart, actors went up on their lines, Jonathan Frid had a habit of reading his co-stars' lines from the teleprompter, and sometimes a stagehand would even wander into a scene. But the show went on.
Kate Jackson (pictured left) described an on-set mishap to People magazine in 1991: "I had to say this long speech explaining why I was back from the dead," she said. "I was standing in an 1800s dress, with candles all around, and the back of the dress caught fire. I was already messing up the lines and all I could think was, "Why is David Henesy dancing around back there?' He kept me from having to scream, 'Aaaaaaah! My dress is on fire!'"
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Dark Shadows Online © 2003: Craig Hamrick.