“I’m sure that you can recognize the difference between a cellar with a coffin, and a cellar without a coffin.”
In 1948, James Thurber wrote a five-part series of articles for The New Yorker called “Soapland”, an in-depth look at the world of radio soap operas. One of the many strange things that he learned was that some listeners apparently had a hard time understanding that the shows were fictional. When a popular heroine on Just Plain Bill was going to have her first child, listeners sent hundreds of baby gifts to their local network stations, and when the child died, the stations received stacks of sympathy cards.
That stereotype of the half-deranged soap audience lasted for a long time, and every Dark Shadows-era interview with Jonathan Frid would include at least one paragraph on the weird mail Frid received from female fans, begging for a bite.
But from what I’ve seen, soap opera fans are exactly the opposite of that stereotype. There are currently two weekly magazines on newsstands that are exclusively devoted to documenting the behind-the-scenes mechanics of daytime television production, where producers and head writers are expected to explain and justify every single storyline and casting decision. Following a daily soap opera is like getting a graduate degree in Open-Ended Serialized Narrative in Theory and Practice.
This means that we’re constantly analyzing the soaps we enjoy, measuring the current state of the show against what we’d like it to be. We’re an audience of active backseat drivers. When a favorite character dies, we don’t send sympathy cards — we write letters and emails and furious tweets, actively campaigning to bring the dead back to life.
It’s not just that we don’t believe the characters are real. We barely believe that the show is real.
Of the many outcries that are cried out each week in the soap press, the most heartfelt are always about characters that we’re supposed to like and we just don’t. The indelicate phrase used approximately once per letter column is that a new character or unpopular couple is being “shoved down our throats”.
We’re fiercely loyal to the characters and actors that we like, and equally tough on newcomers and recasts. And if the internet had existed in October 1967, then #nuBurkeFail would be trending this week.
I mean, look at these clowns. Yesterday, Dr. Woodard and nuBurke insisted on searching the Old House basement, to find the coffin that David claimed was hidden there. It didn’t go that well.
Now they’re coming back to Collinwood to report total mission failure. And are they taking this opportunity to reflect on the way they’ve conducted themselves?
Burke: You have to admit that Barnabas acted awfully strangely about letting us down there.
Woodard: I’ve always thought that Barnabas’ behavior was a little strange.
Okay, looks like they’re not.
But as always, in our time of greatest need, here comes Roger to the rescue. He advances on the abashed pair, eyebrows at the ready.
He asks for a report, and Woodard confesses that they didn’t find a coffin in the Old House basement.
Roger: Well, I trust you gentlemen at least enjoyed your walk. It is a nice evening for that.
Burke: Is that all you have to say?
Roger: Well, what do you want me to say? You’re very quick to point out how odd and eccentric my cousin is. I think I would have reacted exactly as he did. The idea of two hysterical grown men tramping through a cellar looking for an empty coffin is macabre.
I love Roger; he’s phenomenal in moments like this.
Burke: Roger, I don’t think that asking for Barnabas’ cooperation is an imposition. After all, he is the boy’s cousin.
Roger: Yes, and I’m the boy’s father, and I tell you, I wouldn’t cooperate. David is a very dramatic little boy.
Woodard: Well, Roger, I am a physician, and I think I know the difference between a frightened person and a mentally disturbed person.
Roger: Of course you do, Doctor, and I’m sure that you can recognize the difference between a cellar with a coffin, and a cellar without a coffin.
I’m going to keep quoting, because he just gets more fantastic.
Woodard: I don’t think you realize how serious David’s condition may be.
Roger: David has no condition! He’s like every other young boy. And because he’s a Collins, everyone is anxious to put a label on him, to find strangeness where none exists.
Woodard: Look, Collins or not, that is a very frightened little boy.
Roger: And every other little boy in the world is frightened. It’s part of growing up.
He indicates a portrait.
Roger: I was a child in this house. I was terrified of the darkness in the corners, and frightened to walk along the corridors by myself. I used to think that all the people in these Collins portraits… all those dead people… stared at me wherever I went. Looked at me with piercing eyes — hated me! Well, I outgrew it and so will David.
Burke and Woodard go upstairs to talk to David, and Roger walks into the drawing room, lost in thought. Then he looks up, and catches the eye of one of his ancestors. He even takes a little step towards it, as if he’s challenging the portrait to start something. Then he turns away, his brow furrowed.
That’s a lovely character moment, and it opens up an interesting backstory for Roger as a young boy. We know from later storylines that the late 1960s wasn’t the only period of paranormal activity at Collinwood. What kind of childhood memories are surfacing for Roger in the current crisis? And what do you suppose happened to Elizabeth and Roger’s parents?
But at least now Roger can be happy that the Scooby gang’s investigation is over, so imagine how he feels when they all come stomping downstairs again, heading out to find the secret room in the Collins mausoleum.
Burke still has that same condescending, maddening tone which makes him so disliked on all sides.
Roger: Barnabas is a member of this family, and as such is entitled to a certain amount of respect. I think it’s shocking that a cousin of mine is insulted, and defamed, and accused of… I don’t even know what to call it!
Burke: We’re not accusing Barnabas of anything. We just want to give David the benefit of the doubt.
Roger: You seriously think that there’s some deep, dark secret in that mausoleum?
Burke: No. We just want to take a look.
Roger wraps things up with another wry line.
Roger: Well, if you don’t think you’re making fools of yourselves, then go on out and look for your terrible shadows in the night.
See? He’s a dream. We’re blessed to have him.
Then we have to follow the guys out to the mausoleum, where somebody has sealed up the secret room, and disabled the latch that opens the panel. David pulls on the ring, and nothing happens. This is the second episode in a row that ends with Burke and Woodard not learning anything.
So I just don’t know what I’m going to do with these two. There’s going to have to be some changes made around here very soon, and this time I mean it.
Tomorrow: The Shadow He Casts.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Burke talks to Woodard about Barnabas: “I don’t like him. Nothing about him. He’s the kind of guy that makes you want to prove himself wrong.”
When Roger walks over to the portrait in the foyer, a boom mic can be seen in the shot very briefly, near the top left side of the screen.
Woodard tells David, “There isn’t any third coffin in the — any fourth coffin in the mausoleum, David.”
The “Soapland” articles that I mentioned at the top today are collected in James Thurber’s The Beast in Me and Other Animals. It’s a fantastic critical history of the earliest soap operas, and it’s both informative and very funny. Anybody who’s interested in soap operas as a genre should read it; I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Tomorrow: The Shadow He Casts.
Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967
— Danny Horn
22 thoughts on “Episode 334: All Those Dead People”
As the editor of one of the aforementioned magazines, I have to say that as usual, your analysis is dead on. I think so fans of the past were much more likely to believe their stories were “real” Because, in all honesty, they weren’t as… I hesitate to Use the word educated, but perhaps informed? And for exactly the reasons that you talk about here. I’m leaving on vacation, but when I return, I really look forward to reaching out to you and having you come onto our podcast. Your take on not only this show but the genre we both love will make for a fascinating conversation. I can’t wait!
That sounds great, I’m looking forward to it too!
I stumbled onto your blog today (via the blogroll at collinsport.net) and I love it. I’ll spread the word and I’ll be checking back daily. Please be sure to let us know when and where that podcast episode posts.
That’s awesome, thanks! I’m really glad you like it, and I hope your username doesn’t mean that you’re a huge Burke fan. Cause, y’know. I liked the drunk one.
Haha! Not to worry, I also prefer the drunk one.
Would have loved to see a time travel storyline of Roger and Liz as children, growing up in Collinwood. Too bad the show didn’t continue longer than it did.
I’d like to hear more about Roger and Liz’s childhood too. There was a line from Roger back in episode 88ish (during the time when Vicky was seeing ghosts after being locked in a room and left to starve by David!).
He said to Liz, “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen strange things in this house, because I know better!”
Nice catch about Liz being reminded of earlier hauntings. I also recall that after David locked Vicki in the closed-off wing of the house, Roger found her by entering the other wing through a secret door in the drawing room. Aha! Roger knows secrets about Collinwood that Liz and David obviously don’t. A couple of hundred episodes later, and I am wondering whether that secret door will ever be revealed again.
Yes, I agree. I would have liked to have seen that, too.
So was there actually a trunk? A completely empty cellar seems to me as suspicious as one with a coffin where Team Monster says he saw a trunk he mistook for a coffin.
Love the hashtags!! I can only imagine the lashing that we’d give Peter Sturgeon!!
OK, the mausoleum is driving me crazy. Anyone looking at the whole thing from the outside would have to see it’s twice as long as the nonsecret interior you can easily access through the iron gate.
Perhaps there is a secret room, perhaps there’s not. But any fool could see if there’s not, then there’s at least 10 feet of solid rock in the back half of the structure. And that would be more strange than a secret room.
Anyone walking around the outside of the structure would realize something is physically amiss. ARGH!
The secret room may be built into the side of a hill. The original idea for is was to hide guns during the Revolutionary War.
Yeah, that would be my assumption.
NuBurke is definitely the least likable character on the show. He makes anyone who he opposes (Barnabas/ Roger) instantly more likable because of his personality. As for Anthony George, he looks like what a muppet named Burke Devlin would look like.
Btw, where is Liz during all this. I get they wanted to limit the on screen actors to 5, but I think she would have added more to the story than Vicki’s moronic statements.
Right. Vicki fan here again to agree that Vicki is a complete and ineffectual idiot in this episode. All she does is make sure that David wears something warm when two lunatic “adults” take him out for a midnight stroll through the cemetery. She is so infuriating in her conviction that the obviously creepy Barnabas is not, well, creepy.
I have been counting actors in the credits, and it seems to be six as often as it is five, and that doesn’t count the occasional non-credited sheriff’s deputy with lines.
And where is Carolyn? I miss her.
This episode is simply the gift that keeps on giving……I just about lost it when good old reliable Doctor Dave Woodard stumbled across the line, “There simply isn’t a third, or, maybe a fourth coffin in the mausoleum.” Just how many coffins are there in the mausoleum? Sounds like the start of a vaudeville set-up piece if ever there was one.
And what up with Roger? Whipping through those lines with a relish and abandon as if he can’t get through them fast enough! Dripping with sarcasm he even starts gesticulating wildly at the paintings! One thing about Roger: you can always count on him finding the OPERATIVE word in his lines. He is a director’s actor, to be sure. He always knows what part of the line to emphasize, what part to move on, and delivers them with a relish that even a vampire would envy.
And what a heavy week this has been for David! Man, he’s been carrying the show almost single-handed. I marvel that young David Henesy had so much material thrown at him. I highly doubt there was any other soap where a child actor was given so much plot line and was working steadily 4-5 days a week. Has he ever commented on what it was like for him to be such a pivotal focus of the show?
And who knew–BAM–right out of nowhere David drops the big reveal about the secret room in the mausoleum. That is major plot dish that I didn’t see coming and is a refreshing reach back to David’s arc of a month ago. He even tells Burke and the Doc about “I had to hide in the coffin when Willie and Barnabas” came in. I don’t think we ever thought we’d hear that confession out of him to the adults.
Meanwhile, Roger is throwing back the liquor to ease his temper with the Scooby gang. He really is a pip, isn’t he? Rocking those plaid sport coats and not suffering fools gladly. What a refreshing injection he is on these episodes where he has to bring the heat. But then, out of nowhere, the speech about David being on “the high wire and…..falling and plunging out of our grasp forever.” Really? That’s a bit draconian, don’t you think?
And the line of Doc Woodard’s in the mausoleum: “Are you sure it isn’t one of your flutes, David?” Because, after all, everyone has a massive flute collection lying around.
Danny–absolutely love the early radio soap overview. I have read that Thurber piece but has many years since I first came across it. I am going to make that my bedtime reading tonight.
I wonder if they revealed where Barnabas hid the coffin before they asked to check out David story about seeing a coffin in the basement
Roger is the Frasier Crane of 1966 and Burke is the Will Truman; even if you were watching it all play out for the first time, you could tell he’d never end up marrying Vicki.
Poor David! I really feel for him. He knows he’s in danger and he’s dancing as fast as he can trying to stave off doom, but the adults in his life–the people who are supposed to be protecting him–won’t believe him. I guess it’s true what they say: A pre-pubescent boy is no match for a 200 year old vampire.
Seriously, no one notices that the mausoleum is larger on the outside than the inside? I mean, even Sherlock Holmes knew the Norwood Builder was hiding inside a secret compartment in his own house, simply by pacing off the floor! These people aren’t very bright. I’m getting kinda sick of nuBurke and Woodson. And poor David constantly being gas-lighted by everyone who are supposed to be protecting him. Good grief!