“Life force? What does that mean?”
So it’s late 1968, and you’re, let’s say, fourteen. You started watching Dark Shadows on and off in the spring, and during the summer you became completely obsessed with it. You love the characters, you love the crazy stories, and you love that weird, intense connection you have with your friends when you talk about it.
You even know some kids who swear that they actually saw the episode when Barnabas shot Angelique through the heart — and with her dying breath, she turned herself into a bat and bit him on the neck.
But that’s the thing about afternoon TV in 1968 — it only happens once. They’ll run episodes of Bewitched or Gomer Pyle or The Carol Burnett Show a couple of times, but Dark Shadows is a paper-thin phantom that shimmers seductively for half an hour, and then disappears into the void, leaving a stunned audience of teenage thrill-seekers to rub their eyes and grope their way back into the daylight, talking about the wonders they’ve seen, and lording it over the unfortunate few who couldn’t get home in time to witness it for themselves.
You can’t catch Dark Shadows in your hands. It’s like the wind, or like a dream that you try to hold onto when you wake up. It’s like a ghost.
And then one day you get the chance to hold some precious fragments of the Dark Shadows life force, plus a stick of bubble gum.
They’re called Barnabas Wallet Photos, but everybody knows them as the Dark Shadows gum cards. Released in fall 1968 by the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation, this set was the first significant merchandise item that really captured the spirit of how the show felt.
We’ve talked before about Paperback Library’s Barnabas Collins spin-off novel, and the first issue of Gold Key’s Dark Shadows comic book, but the gum cards came out first, and they were the closest you could get to actually owning a piece of the show.
The 1968 set is known as the “red series” — 66 photos of the Dark Shadows cast, in black and white and deep pink, with the autograph of each character printed in the bottom right corner. For five cents, you get five random picture cards, and what the wrapper refers to as “1 slab bubble gum”.
The red series was so popular that it was followed in 1969 by three additional sets. The “green series” had 66 more pictures, almost all of them from the 1897 storyline, and it was mainly focused on Quentin. There was also a set of Quentin Postcards, and a set of Dark Shadows Giant Pinups, which had a picture of Quentin on the package.
For more information on Quentin, please see everything that happens on Dark Shadows from March 1969 on.
But here in 1968, Barnabas is the marquee attraction, and he gets the first third of the set all to himself. These are all publicity stills, most of them taken in the Collinwood foyer.
The Barnabas pictures all include some combination of the following elements: cane, ring, fangs, portrait, candles and grandfather clock.
Card #21, seen above left, has five of the six elements and is therefore the ultimate expression of the gum cards aesthetic. You get the sense that if they could have, they would have dragged the clock into the shot somehow.
One of the notable features of the gum cards is the retouching that was done to make the pictures more visually distinct. This creates some odd and sometimes amusing effects, but it’s not hard to understand the rationale behind it.
These were gloomy, black and white photographs of a guy with dark hair, wearing an all-black cloak, with a black ring and a dark silver cane. The photographs were shrunk down to three inches, and mass-reproduced on sheets of cardboard. I think what you have at that point is essentially a smudge.
So, looking above left at card #13, it’s obvious that without the bright gray lines painted around Barnabas’ cape and collar, he would pretty much blend right in with the wall. The kids paying five cents a pack for trading cards and bubble gum don’t have particularly high standards, but you can’t just give them a vaguely Barnabas-shaped splotch and then expect them to shell out for another pack.
That being said, there’s a point at which the pictures verge on the fictional. The retouchers made a special point of highlighting the eyes and fangs, and in a couple of cases it’s not totally clear what the picture looked like to begin with.
Card #27 is universally recognized as the silliest-looking of them all. It’s basically the equivalent of a shot of the Loch Ness Monster that turns out to be some branches and old tires in a pond.
The middle third of the set is mostly Barnabas with another character — kissing Vicki’s hand, scaring Carolyn as an old man, doing whatever the hell he’s doing with Liz.
Card #34, seen above, is the one most likely to make your mother worried about you.
There are eight cards with photos from episode 248, a particularly spicy early Barnabas episode involving the vampire hypnotizing Maggie, choking her, and then locking her in a coffin.
These are particularly striking images from a memorable episode, so they make perfect additions to the trading card set — except for card #49, which includes a mysterious white dude in a suit who does not appear on-camera.
I’m not sure who that guy is — some producer or crew member, I suppose — but I bet staring at card #49 led to a number of imaginative kids constructing their own false-memory-syndrome version of episode 248, where Maggie was freed from the coffin by whoever that is.
In the back third of the set, some other characters get a chance to shine, including some lovely pictures of Angelique. The picture used for card #39, showing Angelique aged to an old woman, was taken as a model for the super-aged portrait that Sam paints in episode 499.
Julia gets a few appropriately high-drama cards, including a couple shots from last week, when she was clutching a lamp and moaning for Tom Jennings.
It’s actually remarkable how up-to-the minute this set was. There are four cards with photos taken from last Thursday, episode 569 — cards #46 and 47 show Liz walking through the graveyard, and cards #51 and 52 have Nicholas Blair making spooky faces at Mrs. Johnson. That episode taped in late August, and the card set came out in the fall, so these must have been the most recent photos they could possibly get.
There are two pictures of Adam, and five of Nicholas, which shows how deeply invested the set is in capturing the current spirit of the show. The set doesn’t include any pictures of characters who aren’t on the show anymore — Burke, Sarah, Dr. Woodard and Dr. Lang are left out completely. There are just a couple exceptions, both from the 1795 cast — one card with Naomi and Nathan Forbes, and one showing Abigail’s corpse propped up against a tree.
There’s a nod to the past at the tail end of the set, with a few cards featuring 1966 promotional pics of Vicki, David and Collinwood, but they’re obviously an afterthought.
But the gum cards aren’t supposed to be a chronicle of the series’ rich history. They’re thrilling little slices of Now, direct from the television to your pocket.
Even now, all these years later, you can look at them, and still feel the power they must have held — these tiny little dog-eared totems, infused with the passion of the weird children who loved them.
Tomorrow: Crazy Talk.
The following is an article written by Alan James Gallant for the website Dark Shadows Journal. Since then, DSJ has become The Dark Shadows News Page, and Alan’s article isn’t live on the site anymore, so he suggested reposting it here. I’m happy to do that; it’s super detailed and obsessive, and I love it.
Barnabas Pink Cards 1968
The first series of Dark Shadows Trading Cards (measuring 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″) was issued in 1968, at the height of Dark Shadows merchandising. The set consisted of 66 different black-and-white publicity stills from the show’s storylines up until 1968.
Some of these shots were taken on the actual set at ABC Studio 16, while others were taken as generic portrait shots against blank drapes, probably a temporary set-up, located either on the set or possibly the rehearsal area. These photos are discernible from the studio floor shots by the absence of any background scenery. All these shots were probably taken during dress rehearsal or after taping, when full make-up and costumes were readily available. Color shots of some of the “portrait” card photo sessions survive and can be seen in some of the Pomegranate Press reference books and recent series calendars.
The shots were framed by a thin red (or pink) border, and the bottom edge of the border contained, from left to right, the number of the card, followed by the words “© 1968 DAN CURTIS PRODUCTIONS INC © PCGC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED PRTD IN U.S.A” in black letters. In the lower right hand corner of each “wallet photo”, as they were named at the time, was a facsimile autograph of the character depicted, with the “handwriting” presented in the same red color as the border. The backs of the cards could be assembled to form a likeness of Barnabas Collins, re-using the image from card 1 of the set.
This view featured the vampire’s face framed by his cane, his fangs bared, and a small bat flying in the glow of a murky moon to the left. Instead of the standard black-and-white, this puzzle-picture sported a sepia hue. A red autograph graced the lower left corner of the puzzle, the opposite of the right-cornered cards. In both of the Philadelphia Gum card sets, the incidence of perfectly centred cards is relatively low, but they are especially hard to come by in the pink set.
The cards were originally packaged in boxes of 24 packs, with each pack containing five random cards and one stick of bubble gum. The wrapper illustration featured a centre panel, the size of a card, with a photo of Barnabas Collins holding his cane and baring his fangs. He faced to the left, and was situated in the lower right of the panel. Above this graphic, in red liquid letters, was the word “BARNABAS”. Above that, in a solid field of what looks like dripping red blood, are white block letters which form the words “TV’ S COOL GHOUL,” by then one of ABC Merchandising’s preferred promotional taglines for the character.
To the vampire’s immediate right, a small, rather innocuous black bat flew above the red words “WALLET PHOTOS”. “AND BUBBLE GUM” followed below this, in simple black letters, as did the price,”5¢”. On either side of this center panel were the borders, which were wrapped around the cards and used to display ads and manufacturer information on the backs of unopened packs. The right border contained ads for hot pepper gum, fly spoon, trick black soap, and onion gum. The left border strip announced that Philly Gum was located in Havertown, PA, and reiterated Dan Curtis’ copyright. The photo of Barnabas can also be found in mirror-reverse on card 7.
The card boxes bore similar graphics to the packs, with the same photo on the top of the display box, to the right. The blood and bat motif was also present (with the phrase “TV’S COOL GHOUL” written across the bat in white letters), and below the bat, left centre, was the “BARNABAS” logo and brief description of product (“WALLET PHOTOS and BUBBLE GUM 5¢”)far left. The white-type words “STAR OF DARK SHADOWS. ABC-TV” were also present, in a field of red to the right. Below this was a Dan Curtis copyright. The front side of the box was primarily black, with a red-tone photo of Barnabas (pink card 1, mirror-reverse) in the left half of the panel. To the left of this, and above, the red phrase “TV’S COOL GHOUL” was positioned. The center left to center area had the bloody red “BARNABAS” logo in a wavy white box. Right and under the “BARNABAS” logo are the words “WALLET PHOTOS” in red, while far right is “. . .and BUBBLE GUM” in white letters. Lowest and farthest right is the “5¢” price, also in white.
Retailers who ordered these boxes received bonus advertising material in each box, in the form of an 11″ x 36″ Barnabas display poster (also showing the card 1 pose) with the words “We have it!”, along with a note saying: “Mr. Retailer: Kids love Barnabas! Put this poster on your window to create big sales quickly.” These items are extremely rare, as they were unavailable to the general public.
The Cards: A Description
The inaugural set of Dark Shadows gum cards depicts scenes from the 1967, 1795, and 1968 storylines, with emphasis on characters, rather than story. The first 23 cards depict Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins with the facsimile autograph “Barnabas” written in the lower right corner. These cards show Barnabas alone. The vampire’s autograph is also emblazoned on cards 24-36, though many of these cards show the vampire with the various heroines of the show. Card 24 shows “Old Barnabas” with a terrified Carolyn, a scene from episode 350 (taped on October 23 1967, and aired October 27 1967); 27and 33 reveal Barnabas with Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (publicity stills from late June 1967), Card 28 shows the foyer portrait; 30 and 31 depict Barnabas with Victoria Winters, and cards 29, 32, 34, 35 and 36 show the infamous mausoleum scene between Barnabas and Maggie Evans from episode 248 (taped May 25 1967, aired June 7 1967). Cards 30 and 31 depict Barnabas kissing Vicki’s hand, and she is wearing a sleeveless plaid dress, apparently taken during the production of episode 465 (taped April 3 1968, aired April 9 1968). The plaid dress is not used in the episode, and was presumably from Alexandra Moltke’s own wardrobe.
Cards 1 and 7 were taken from the 1967 ABC promo series in which Barnabas appears in front of a murky moon (which is red in the color versions) with a bat flying in front of it. Card 1 is the same as the puzzle found on the card backs, and 7 is a mirror-reverse of the photo on the wrapper and box. The 13 card, Barnabas on the great staircase, is from Episode 331 (taped September 21 1967, aired October 2 1967). Cards 6, 12 and 18, showing “old” Barnabas, are from Episode 350. Cards 3, 4, 10, 16, 23 and 25 are from a photo shoot done during Episode 532 (taped June 27 1968, aired July 10 1968). Cards 2,5, 8, 9, 11, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26 and 30 were also done on a single day, most probably Episode 465 (taped April 1 1968, aired April 5 1968), in which Barnabas and Vicki are involved in an auto accident. This was Frid’s last episode as a vampiric present day Barnabas for 1968.
The emphasis on cards 37-66 shifts from the famous vampire to the other characters of the show, particularly the women. Cards 37-39 show the 1795 Angelique, although she appears grossly aged in 39. The first two of these three were studio shots, probably taken around episode 400 (taped January 1 1968, aired January 5 1968). The third card, 39, was probably taken by the studio art department as a prop template for the 1968 sequence in which Sam Evans ages Angelique’s portrait, around May 1968.
Cards 40-42 show Julia Hoffman. Card 40 was probably taken on or around episode 462 (taped March 27 1968, aired April 2 1968), which was the first show in which Julia had short hair. The frock she is wearing is green with yellow trim, and can be found in other studio fan photos. The shots on cards 41 and 42 were probably taken during dress rehearsal for episode 569 (taped August 22 1968, aired August 29 1968), in which Julia stumbles into Collinwood, dazed after vampire Tom Jennings begins to summon her. This sequence continues with card 43, which shows a bewildered Roger Collins trying to deal with the entranced Julia (the card bears Roger’s autograph).
Cards 44 and 45 are existing stills of a slightly menacing Roger and his sister Elizabeth amidst cobwebs on the set for the Collinwood basement. A photo from this shoot was used for the July 30, 1967 New York Times article on the show entitled Out in Detergent Land: A Hard Day’s Fright. Card 44 bears Roger’s signature, while 45 bears that of “Elizabeth Stoddard” (sic). This shoot was conducted sometime during the taping of episodes 271-273 (taped, in order between June 23-25 1967; aired between July 8-12 1967). It was during this shoot that one of the only Dark Shadows cast photographs was taken, with the cast assembled on the Drawing Room set.
Cards 46 and 47 show Elizabeth in the woods-cemetery scene from episode 569. The following three cards are taken from episode 248, with Maggie terrorized by the evil, early Barnabas. In cards 48 and 49, Maggie is in the coffin in the mausoleum, while 50 shows her in Josette’s room with a desperate Willie trying to calm her, John Karlen’s only appearance on any of the gum cards.
Card 51 and 52 feature Nicholas Blair, but although they bear his signature, these cards also depict Mrs. Johnson in a scene from episode 569. Card 53 is of 1795’s Abigail Collins, Clarice Blackburn’s only solo card, taken against the “tree” where she was found dead by Daniel Collins. This was in episode 432 (taped February 14 1968, aired February 20 1968). In another 1795 scene, Naomi Collins is seen with Nathan Forbes (Joel Crothers only gum card appearance) on card 54; both were taken during the taping of episode 448 (taped March 7 1968, aired March 13 1968). This card bears her name. Adam comes next, on 55 and 56, with shots taken in an off-set photo shoot. The signature is an amusing crayon-like scrawl. 57-59 are solo portraits of Nicholas Blair; 57 probably originates from episode 569. The next two cards were shot off the set, with the usual neutral backdrop.
Card 60 shows David Collins in a location shot at Seaview Terrace in May 1966. Cards 61-64 feature the show’s early heroine, Victoria Winters; 61 is a 1966 exterior view at Seaview Terrace, while cards 62 and 63 were shot in 1968 on the foyer set during Episode 465, and 64 is another 1966 promo shot. Maggie Evans is found on 65, another 1968 foyer photo. The final card of the series, 66, features Victoria in the classic 1966 shot of her running in a trench coat, the mansion of Collinwood looming behind.
The Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation relied heavily on previously shot publicity stills for the first card series. However, according to company president Edward Fenimore (in an article by Jeff and Bob Marks which appears in The Wrapper issue 166), a photographer was sent to gather material for this as well as all other Dark Shadows products issued by the company.
Based on episode 569 having the highest frequency of cards from a single show rehearsal in 1968 (eight), and that this show bears the latest tape date in the set, August 22, 1968 seems to be the best guess for the date of the Philadelphia Gum shoot for this set. The cards for this shoot are 41-43, 46, 47, 51, 52 and 57.
The cards are somewhat unique for their ‘touch-ups’, the practice of adding grey lines of definition to most of the shots, though the results are mixed. Interestingly, all the off-studio photographs of Barnabas feature his ring on his left hand, rather than the more usual right.
— Alan James Gallant
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 3, as Nicholas is preparing to leave Maggie’s cottage, he walks toward the door with the painting, and then turns back to face her. The camera overshoots a little, and you can see the top of the set and the studio lights.
Behind the Scenes:
For some more information about the cards, Trading Card Hobbyist has a nice article putting the various trading card sets into the context of the history of the show.
Tomorrow: Crazy Talk.
— Danny Horn