“You have to admit that you are the most unknown quantity in town.”
I haven’t written very much about the opening voiceovers that introduce the episodes. Mostly, that’s because they’re not very interesting at this point. They get a lot more fun later on, but here are some typical examples from mid-1967 episodes.
The warm night wind wails around the walls of Collinwood…
The night wind murmurs through the ancient trees surrounding Collinwood…
It is nighttime at Collinwood, and a balmy breeze blows in from the sea…
You see what I mean? Weather reports.
Once the show really gets rolling, they don’t have time for climate. Here’s the beginning of an intro from late 1969:
Not far from Collinwood, Chris Jennings and the man Julia Hoffman believes to be Quentin Collins have found the recluse, Charles Delaware Tate.
That’s right, you get four full names, and that’s just the first sentence! That’s an intro you can sink your teeth into.
Still, there are some charmingly loopy examples from this period, and I’m fond of today’s:
This is a time of suspicion, a time when trust has slipped away into the darkness, and doubts run high. There are those who find the finger of suspicion pointed at them. They react with a sudden fear of exposure.
It’s worth paying attention to the writing today, because this is the last episode written by Malcolm Marmorstein. He wrote 80 episodes of the show, starting in December 1966, months before Barnabas was even a gleam in the executive producer’s eye. And now, according to an interview on the Dark Shadows: The Beginning DVD set, Marmorstein was abruptly fired, without getting a clear reason why. They just didn’t invite him to the next story meeting.
As you might assume, I have some very deeply held opinions about Dark Shadows writers. For example, Ron Sproat loves locking up women and children — he kept Maggie incarcerated for months, and we’ll see another variant on that theme next week. Joe Caldwell does lovely little one-act plays like Maggie’s “Exit Strategy” episode and Julia’s introduction. And Sam Hall, as we’ll see in a few months, is a beautiful and perfect angel.
I never really had an opinion about Marmorstein before writing this blog — in fact, I didn’t really have an opinion about him when I started writing this sentence. But I’ve just looked back at the posts I’ve written about Marmorstein episodes, and an opinion has spontaneously developed.
Here’s a quick review of some Marmorstein highlights.
Episode 233: Carolyn and Vicki sit around in the dark, and talk about a thunderstorm.
Episode 267: Barnabas finds Liz about to commit suicide, and tells her that death is fascinating.
Episode 277: Vicki thinks that the universe revolves around the sun.
And then there’s episode 309, which is the one we’re stuck with today.
Today is one of those episodes where Vicki talks to Burke, and we’re supposed to just sit here and listen. A few days ago, Barnabas told Vicki that Burke has been investigating his past. Just as Barnabas planned, Vicki told Burke to stop spying on her friends, and so now we have to watch this aborted storyline sputter and die.
The scene kicks off with a full minute of sullen door acting, where the characters just move from one part of the set to another, opening and closing doors along the way. And then they start talking.
Vicki: I’m not sure I know what it is you have to apologize about.
Burke: Well, that was my feeling about it at first. But then I analyzed it, and I realized that I had said something offensive.
Which just… I mean… right? Whatever.
It gets worse.
Vicki: Then we’re right back where we were the other night.
Burke: No, we’re beyond that.
Vicki: Your tone is just the same.
Burke: I said I apologize.
Burke: No, genuinely.
Vicki: Does that mean that you no longer have any suspicions about Barnabas?
Burke: It means that I made too much out of practically nothing, and I’m sorry that I was so outspoken. It’s one of my faults, which I hope you’ll get used to.
So, as I was saying, we’re not exactly heartsick that Marmorstein is leaving the show. If it’s convenient, he could leave now; we could probably get through the rest of the episode without him.
Actually, that’s kind of what happens. Barnabas goes to Collinwood so that he can be apologized at, leaving Julia in the Old House to read.
And all of a sudden, Julia looks around, as if she’s startled. An eerie music cue starts up, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s attracting her attention; it’s the same eerie music that’s always playing in the background.
Julia looks around, and says, “Hello?”
Nothing continues to happen.
She puts the book down, and gets to her feet, calling, “Barnabas, is that you?”
It’s not him. It’s not anything. What is she responding to?
She paces around the room, and then calls up the stairs: “Who’s there? Who is it?”
It’s not anybody. Why does she think there’s someone upstairs?
Grasping a lapel, she walks back into the drawing room.
The incidental music stops. She walks to the center of the room, and suddenly brightens.
“Sarah?” she calls, to nothing in particular. “Sarah, is that you?”
It’s not her. Or maybe it is her. I don’t really know what’s going on.
The sequence just rambles, and never gets any more helpful. Julia ends up walking around in the woods. At that point, we can hear Sarah’s “London Bridge” theme played on a recorder, but it’s not clear whether Julia can hear that, or if it’s just more incidental music.
When Barnabas returns to the Old House at the end of the episode, Julia walks down the stairs, still in the same Sarah-hunting daze. There’s no explanation for what led her from the woods back to the second floor of the house, if anything.
So, overall, it’s a fitting epitaph to Malcolm Marmorstein’s undistinguished run on Dark Shadows. It’s slow and meandering, it doesn’t mean anything or lead anywhere, and it’s frankly one of the most baffling pieces of television we’ve seen so far.
After this, Marmorstein wrote some episodes of the 1968 prime-time soap Peyton Place, and in the early 70s he wrote a couple of unsuccessful comedy films for Elliott Gould. He also wrote the screenplay for a 1975 low-rent Mexican bisexual vampire movie called Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary.
Things picked up for him by the late 70s, when he started writing screenplays for Disney — the unloved Pete’s Dragon and Return from Witch Mountain. By the 80s, he was writing weird TV-movies about robots — one called Poochie in 1984, and another called Konrad in 1985.
In 1993, Marmorstein wrote and directed a movie called Love Bites, starring Adam Ant as a reluctant vampire with a familiar hairstyle. The vampire, Zachary Simms, rises from his grave for the first time in 200 years and finds love with Kendall, a young blonde whose house happens to be built over his crypt.
There’s a brief scene from the movie posted on YouTube, where Zachary tells Kendall that he can turn into a bat. It kind of looks like a home movie made by your parents in an odd mood. After this, Marmorstein retired from writing, and a grateful nation thanks him.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There’s a marvelous bit of Fridspeak in the teaser:
Barnabas: I want to know what it is you’re hiding.
Julia: But I’m not hiding anything.
Barnabas: I will not go for lies!
Someone in the studio coughs just before Burke enters Collinwood, and again a minute later.
Barnabas says to Burke, “Well, is there anything that I can clarify you that might help to improve our relationship?”
Behind the Scenes:
Here’s what Malcolm Marmorstein says in the DVD bonus features about being fired from Dark Shadows:
“I kept calling in and saying, when is the next story meeting, I’ll be there — and I wasn’t getting an answer. And then my agent said, ‘You’re off the show.’ I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Well, your scripts aren’t so good. They have to rewrite them.’
“I said, ‘That’s not true. I watch the show every day. My scripts go on verbatim. Hardly a word ever changed.’ So I kept calling Dan [Curtis], who wasn’t returning my calls. And the drift I got about what was happening was that [producer] Bob Costello told him that I was trying to get off the show, which wasn’t true. Cause we were all set to come back. So that was it. That’s what happened.”
Also, there’s an October 2012 article on movies.yahoo called “Barnabas Collins Is Dead (Thank You, Tim Burton) − But The Debate Over Who Created Him Is Alive!” which is basically just Marmorstein saying that he invented Barnabas, and everybody else calling him an idiot.
There’s so much good stuff in that article:
“I told Dan, ‘Absolutely, but we need different ground rules. No one in the town of Collinsport has heard of Dracula. They wouldn’t recognize Bela Lugosi. We have to pretend we’re doing a vampire for the very first time. Let’s get a young, blond guy, because our audiences are very young. They’ll fall in love with him.’”
“Joe Caldwell never contributed to the creation of Barnabas,” Marmorstein says. “And Ron wasn’t a creative person. He was a burnt-out Ivy Leaguer who never did more than soap opera.”
Caldwell and another writer on the show remember Marmorstein as a know-it-all who was more than a little possessive of Barnabas. “He could certainly be overfond of his ideas,” says Caldwell.
Sam Hall, who joined the Dark Shadows writing staff in November 1967 and whose late wife, Grayson Hall, played Dr. Julia Hoffman on the show, says, “Malcolm was interested in vampires and gave the others lectures on how vampires behave. The other writers thought he was a pain in the ass, trying to take over.”
“If the other writers said I was stubborn, maybe I was, because I was clinging to the truth and reality of the character,” Marmorstein replies. “If I built this thing up, and these guys come in and start throwing stupid ideas out, then naturally I’ll say no. Dan wanted more violence and that’s not what the show was about. It wasn’t blood and severed throats and slit guts.”
“I don’t think he contributed more than anyone else,” Dark Shadows producer Bob Costello says of Marmorstein. “He was part of a team and from that team came Barnabas. If he was as good as he seems to think he was, he wouldn’t have been fired.”
While Costello, Caldwell and Hall have been content to consign Dark Shadows to their past, Marmorstein felt compelled to offer his services when Burton decided to adapt the series into a feature. Marmorstein says he contacted producer David Kennedy via e-mail to no avail. (Kennedy declined to be interviewed, but said he had never met Marmorstein.)
Marmorstein says he also sought to set up a meeting with Depp and his sister and co-producer Christi Dembrowski. Depp, who Marmorstein explains is a good friend of his neighbor, initially seemed interested, but the sitdown never happened. (Dembrowski and Depp did not respond to requests for comment.)
“I thought they might be interested in some of the insights behind Barnabas, which they ignored totally,” Marmorstein says. “I was shocked to see, at the beginning of the movie, Barnabas killing seven or eight innocent people, who weren’t even trying to harm him. Barnabas would never do that. And I saw no reason whatsoever for the movie to be set in 1972. For nothing, I would have told them not to do that. It should have been set today.”
It’s awesome. I think he’s right about Joe Caldwell, though — Caldwell’s first script was episode 245, two months after Barnabas’ introduction. Here’s another article from March 2013 where Caldwell claims to have invented Barnabas. I apparently care very deeply about this issue.
— Danny Horn