"Roger Collins had zero sense of humor, so it was doubly hard to listen to him pontificating, knowing that Louis' devilish wit was simmering just beneath the surface."
Dark Shadows Characters:
Roger Collins, Edward Collins, Daniel Collins, Joshua Collins, Brutus Collins, Amadeus Collins
Appeared in: 322 episodes
First episode: #1, June 27, 1966
Last episode: #1245, April 2, 1971 (the final episode)
Born: Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Sept 24, 1923
Died: March 3, 2001, of respiratory failure
As teenaged Louis Edmonds sat in a darkened movie theater in his hometown of Baton Rouge in the 1930s, flickering images of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and Joel McCrea transported him away from the tiny home he shared with his parents, brother and sister. The youngster dreamed of joining the stars on the screen.
"I had aspirations to be an actor since I was a teenager, and I used to mimic the actors I saw (in movies) on the way home," he once told a newspaper reporter. "I would copy everything from the way they walked to how they talked.
"I walked home, trying to move like Bette Davis," he said years later with a laugh. "I'm sure everyone looked at me and wondered, 'What's that boy up to?'"
As an acolyte in a local Episcopal church, Louis fell in love with the ornate garments he got a chance to wear and with being the center of attention. Years later he told a newspaper reporter, "The ceremony of the church was very appealing to me. Everything was translatable into theater. The congregation was the audience, and I held a great, brass crucifix, and I led the choir in. We wore costumes. Everything was theatrical."
When Louis was about 10 years old, he performed for the first time on stage. In a talent show at the Paramount Theater, he and a young girl sang a duet of "The Isle of Capri." When they finished, Louis' partner didn't have enough stage sense to leave before the applause died down. Louis, who already understood the importance of timing, let the little girl know it. "I kicked her in the butt," he said. "That got her off the stage."
After serving in World War II and attending Louisianna State University and the Carnegie Intitute of Technology, Louis moved to New York City in 1948. One of his first roles had a familiar setting: He co-starred in a production of Life In Louisianna with Alice Ghostley.
Louis worked extensively on stage and in the new medium of television. Among his early TV appearances was a role in the Studio One production of Taming of the Shrew, starring Charlton Heston and Lisa Kirk. (Louis played Grumio.) He appeared on stage in revivals of such classics as The Way of The World (with Thayer David, 1953) and The Cherry Orchard (1955). Louis made his Broadway debut in the musical Candide in 1956. Other Broadway appearances included Maybe Tuesday (1957) and A Passage to India (1962). Also in '62, he made his soap opera debut, starring briefly as Rick Hampton on Young Doctor Malone.
Even after a busy stage and TV career through the 1950s and '60s, in 1966, Louis hit a dry spell. He'd been cast in a movie (Come Spy With Me with Troy Donahue), but stage work was becoming difficult to find, so he decided to leave New York City.
"I planned [to leave New York City and] really start my life," he told me 30 years later. "My Long Island home would be the center of my life. I would sing in the choir every Sunday. I would shop in the local shops and have nothing to do with New York City. Of course, the moment I made that decision, I got a call from Dan Curtis."
Curtis cast him as Roger Collins, brother of Joan Bennett's character. He and the movie star went head-to-head in their first scene, culminating with Roger grasping a wine glass with such intensity it burst in his hands. The drama increased from there.
In 1995, Alexandra Moltke also fondly recalled working with Louis.
"The thing that impressed me about him was the way he could be lots of fun, and then suddenly switch to being a total professional," she said. "He would be saying something incredibly droll-or naughty-one minute, and then a cue would be given and he would slip into character, leaving Nancy Barrett and I very much out of character and trying not to laugh at whatever witticism he had just uttered.
"Roger Collins had zero sense of humor, so it was doubly hard to listen to him pontificating, knowing that Louis' devilish wit was simmering just beneath the surface," she continued.
Alexandra was impressed by Louis' acting style.
"Louis was really a character actor, and I always admired the grace with which he could slip into his role and be consistent despite the inconsistencies that resulted from having three script writers," she said. "He was also very steady during the terrors of taping. He could read the Teleprompter beautifully, and I felt that if the set fell down or everyone forgot their lines, Louis would somehow save the day."
Louis reprised the role of Roger in the film House of Dark Shadows, but after the show's 1971 cancellation his career slowed considerably. He spent most of the rest of the '70s battling depression and working regional theater.
In 1979, Louis joined the cast of the ABC soap All My Children playing a con man targeting rich divorcee Phoebe Tyler (played by Ruth Warrick, best known as one of the stars of the film classic Citizen Kane). Louis' Langely Wallingford was soon redeemed by love, however, and the role, which was originally intended to be short-term, was extended into the longest of his career.
TV legend Carol Burnett briefly joined the cast of All My Children to play Langley's daughter, Verla Grubb in the 1980s. She returned to the show for a few episodes in 1995, which turned out to be Louis' last appearances on the show. He had undergone surgery for throat cancer a few years earlier, and never fully recovered his strength and stamina.
Aside from a small role in the 1997 direct-to-video movie Next Year Jerusalem, Louis retired to his Setauket, Long Island home (dubbed The Rookery), which was where his health took a downturn in March 2001. He was rushed to the Stonybrook, N.Y., hospital, where he quickly succumbed to respiratory failure.
|Career Highlights |
DAYTIME TV: All My Children (Langley Wallingford, 1979-1995), Search for Tomorrow (Carl, 1979), One Life to Live (cameo: travel agent), Young Dr. Malone (Rick Hampton, 1962), Good Morning America (promoting Dark Shadows Festival, 1987).
PRIMETIME TV: The Adams Chronicles (miniseries), Dead of Night (Commodore Nicholas Blaise, 1969 pilot), I Spy (2 episodes; 1950s syndicated series -- not Bill Cosby/Robert Culp series of the same name), Hallmark Hall of Fame: Victoria Regina (Prince Ernest, 1961), Mr. Broadway (1964), Robert Montgomery Presents (1957), Goodyear Theater (1955), Kraft Television Theater (1951), Studio One.
TV FILM: Your Money or Your Wife (Fair, 1972).
TV COMMERCIALS: (all voice-overs): Welch's Grape Jam, Honda, Wella Balsam, 2-Star Ham, Albertsons, Capri, Gold Medal Flour.
SCREEN: Next Year In Jerusalem (direct-to-video, 1998), House of Dark Shadows (Roger Collins, 1970), Come Spy With Me (1967),The Fifth Arm of the Swastika, The Exterminator.
STAGE: The Interview (Very Famous Man, 1980, NYC), Quadrille (1978-79, with Nancy Barrett), The Tempest (1977-78, Rochester, MN), Dearest Enemy (1977), Billy Budd (Captain Quidd, 1976-77, St. Louis), The Little Foxes (1975-76, Cincinnati), The Rapists (Schimke, 1972-73), Fire (Stanley, 1968-69, NY), Cyrano de Bergerac (Cyrano, 1967-68, Ohio), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1963), The Winter's Tale (1963), The Importance of Being Earnest (Algernon Moncrieff , 1962-63), The Decameron (1961), Ernest in Love (1960), The Killer (1960), Asmodee (1958), , The Duchess of Malfi (1957), Taming of the Shrew (1957), Queen After Death (1956), The Cherry Orchard (1955), The Tempest (1955), The Way of the World (1954), Henry IV, Saint Joan, Anthony and Cleopatra.
BROADWAY: Otherwise Engaged (1978), Fire! (1969), A Passage to India (Ronny Heaslop, 1961-62), Maybe Tuesday (1958), Candide (Maximilian, 1956-57).