Episode 756: I Know You Are But What Am I

“I’m sure that book has a name for whatever you are!”

Curtain rises on a dark cemetery, and dark deeds. Furtive grave-disturbers have unearthed a moldy coffin from its resting place, and found a secret journal hidden in the casket.

As they reach for the book, a bolt of lightning sears across the sky with an angry blast. The man looks worried, but the woman chides her companion. “It’s just a storm, that’s all!”

“Is it?” the man asks. “Is it just a storm?”

So that’s where we start today’s episode. That’s step one.

756 dark shadows dirk laura grave

It’s late in the story of the late Laura Collins, an undead fire enthusiast who’s planning to return to the hot place she came from, along with a couple of crispy children. Barnabas takes a dim view of this dumb scheme, and he’s taken steps to prevent the incineration.

Furious, Laura has sworn eternal revenge on Barnabas, and now she’s looking for a weakness. She’s convinced that the Barnabas she’s fighting is the same guy who lived in the late 18th century, and to prove it, she’s turned to the diary of Ben Stokes, Barnabas’ 1795 servant.

Ben wrote in his diary that he would take the secret of Barnabas Collins to his grave, so Laura — apparently not understanding the concept of a metaphor — decides that means he wrote down the secret in a different diary, and was buried holding that second diary.

So they dig up Ben’s coffin, and guess what? He really did mean that! But you can’t really blame him; metaphors were fairly new in 1795, and they hadn’t worked out all the kinks yet.

756 dark shadows barnabas laura grave

And then who should show up on this dark night but the bat man himself, interrupting these two jokers and their comic detections.

Barnabas:  Robbing a grave is a bizarre activity for a beautiful woman.

Laura (clearly robbing a grave):  I was not robbing a grave!

Barnabas:  Then what are you doing holding something that doesn’t belong to you?

(He snatches the diary out of her hands.)

Laura:  It doesn’t belong to you!

Barnabas:  But I want it!

Laura:  So do I!

So there you have it, another turn of the wheel in the endless battle between dark and light, played out as a game of keepaway.

756 dark shadows barnabas smile

The conversation that follows is straight from the schoolyard.

Laura:  You’re not human!

Barnabas:  Then what am I, Laura?

Laura:  I don’t know. But I’m sure that that book has a name for whatever you are!

756 dark shadows laura vow

Laura:  Barnabas, I came back to Collinwood for just one thing — to get my children! And at every turn, you’ve tried to stop me. But not anymore. Because I vow, here and now, that I shall destroy you!

Barnabas:  And I have taken a vow myself, Laura! You are the one who will be destroyed!

And then they just stand there for a while and say, I make two vows! Well, I make a vow times infinity! I make a super-secret double-dog unstoppable vow with kung fu grip! And so on.

756 dark shadows dirk laura story

But this is the way epic wars are decided, apparently — not through the battle of mighty armies or the inexorable workings of fate. They hinge on the interplay of human greed and passion and courage — the intimate struggles of one man against another. That’s what the truly great stories are really about.

This is not a truly great story, by the way. It’s just on the near side of mediocre, and it’s getting on my nerves like you wouldn’t believe. They’re trying to act like Laura is an urbane supervillain, and she’s not built for it. The character that they want her to be is a force of nature, who stands back and smirks, and allows her enemy to lash out and expose a weak spot. They want a gunslinger in heels. In other words, they want her to be Julia.

But she just isn’t, and they need to stop trying. Diana Millay doesn’t have the acting chops to pull this off, and it doesn’t help that her character motivation doesn’t work at all. What is she actually trying to even do? She keeps saying that she wants to take her children, which is fine, go ahead, but then she makes stupid vows about destroying Barnabas and Quentin, and why is she even antagonizing people? Just go have a quiet word with your children, burn them up if you have to, and then get out of our lives.

756 dark shadows laura end

This is almost the end of her acting career, by the way. There’s this, and then she has a cameo in Night of Dark Shadows. Then she’s on The Secret Storm for a year, and that about wraps it up for Diana Millay and the show business.

I’m going to be talking about Laura every day this week, and I already don’t feel like it, so instead of saying anything else about this episode, how about we look at her IMDb page and free associate for a while.

756 diana millay westerner

It’s mostly westerns, as it happens. In the early 60s, she must have been in every TV western on the dial, and that’s saying something. You don’t find a lot of westerns on TV anymore; it’s not a genre that resonates with anybody under retirement age. Every once in a while, we’ll have a new-fangled neo-western like Deadwood or Longmire, and everybody says oh, isn’t that interesting, maybe westerns will make a comeback, but they never do and they never will.

But y’all watched a lot of TV westerns in the early 1960s, and by a lot I mean more than you can possibly imagine.

Here is a list of TV westerns where Diana Millay did a guest role between 1960 and 1964: The Westerner. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Stagecoach West. Maverick. The Rifleman. Bonanza. Gunsmoke. Whispering Smith. (I’m not making any of these up.) Laramie. Wagon Train. Tales of Wells Fargo. Rawhide. The Travels of Jamie McPheeters. Redigo. The Virginian. Temple Houston, Frontier Lawyer. 

In The Westerner, Diana played a woman named Jeff in the pilot episode. The hero, amiable cowhand drifter Dave Blassingame, tracked down his old flame Jeff, who’s working in a saloon as a singer and prostitute. He tries to rescue her, except she doesn’t really want to be rescued. I forget how it all turns out.

756 maverick

You know, reading some of these plot summaries, I can kind of see how Diana turned out the way that she currently is.

Like this one from Maverick: “On his way to the bank to collect a gambling debt, Bart rescues a petulant young woman from a runaway horse.” You see? It’s only 1960, and she’s already being typecast as a runaway horse. Diana’s character is called Diana Dangerfield, which is marvelous, and she and Bart end up tracked by a bounty hunter who think they robbed a bank and killed the bank president. And maybe they did, you never know with these shows.

And this one, from The Rifleman: “With friend and neighbor Jacob Black on his death bed, Lucas sets out to fulfill his one dying wish, that he be reunited with his wife Elizabeth.” Well, Jacob shouldn’t get his hopes up. Elizabeth turns out to be guess who, Diana Millay, and she’s guess what, a hard-bitten singer in a saloon who has precisely no interest in reuniting with anybody.

So it’s no wonder she’s so comfortable playing a woman who dies and comes back again as the same person; she spent the 60s playing the same hard-bitten saloon girl over and over. When you’re looking for western petulance, you call Diana Millay.

756 diana rifleman

In The Virginian, Diana plays a ranch owner who hires Steve as a foreman. (Steve, as we all know, is a guy from The Virginian.) But she bought the ranch with stolen money, and when the guy she stole the money from comes looking for her, she tries to trick Steve into shooting him. When that doesn’t work, she shoots the guy and tells everyone it was Steve. It’s just one thing after another with this broad.

And how about this, from Bonanza: “Ben allows his old Army friend Major Cayley to use the Ponderosa as the site of his latest hot air balloon experiments. His goal is to develop an airship that can cross the ocean. He’ll finance that flight with money stolen from the Virginia City bank, which his henchmen will rob while the public is occupied with his big balloon show.”

I’m not sure what Diana did in that episode, besides being Major Cayley’s wife, but isn’t that a great idea for how to finance your balloon show?

Anyway, the point is that eventually Diana left all that behind and washed up on the shores of Collinsport, Maine, far away from the saloons and bank robberies and runaway horses, where she could put down roots and worship Egyptian fire gods. Then she burst into flames and retired from acting, and we all lived happily ever after.

Tomorrow: Drunk History.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Ben’s tombstone says that he died in 1816. We’ll find out later that he actually survived until 1840.

Dirk steps on Laura’s line:

Laura:  We came tonight to learn about Barnabas Collins. And we learned…

Dirk:  What do you mean?

Laura:  … a great deal.

Dirk:  I said, what do you mean?

It’s still 10:00 over at Trask’s place; it’s been 10:00 for at least a week. In one scene, Charity objects that Laura has dropped by so late, finally acknowledging that a permanent 10:00 schedule is not optimal for every situation.

Barnabas asks Nora, “Is there something about that fire, why you don’t want to go near it?”

Towards the end of act 3, when the scene shifts from Laura and Dirk at the cemetery to the front door of the Old House, you can see a studio light as the camera pans over to the new set.

Tomorrow: Drunk History.

756 diana millay miss emmy

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

41 thoughts on “Episode 756: I Know You Are But What Am I

  1. IIRC Diana’s Bonanza episode was directed by Robert Altman… and is surprisingly quite dull. Her Rifleman episode is much more fun. She sings… she falls off a horse (or her stunt double does) and her dying husband is played by horror/ sci-fi stalwart Morris Ankrum.

  2. Since Barnabas knew Laura from his youth, when she was married to his uncle Jeremiah, one can imagine that she did this before – and succeeded – with Jeremiah’s children.

    That bit of information would have been a convincing reason to explain Barnabas’ motivation – he’s avenging his lost cousins. But the show has too many other things to worry about right now to explore that story.

    1. Barnabas only mentioned 18th-Century Laura dying in that fire, not any children. Seems like an odd omission to me if there had been any. My impression is that there’s a time she has to go, whether she’s completed her mission or not (unless Ra feels like granting her an extension, as we see in 1897). Speaking only for myself, I got the impression Jeremiah wasn’t much into women. He and Joshua had that conversation about how he would probably never get married, and he seemed truly shocked to be attracted to Josette when it happened. Yes, I know she was engaged to his best friend at the time, but she was also an incredibly beautiful, shapely woman in figure-hugging Parisian gowns. I think a LOT of straight men would, at least initially, write off what he was experiencing as a natural but not necessarily harmful physical response. I could easily accept that Joshua arranged a marriage between a teenaged Jeremiah and Laura, but there wasn’t quite enough conjugal activity to result in offspring before her time came.

      Now, I know that fanwankery is just fanwankery, but my theory is that the Phoenix keeps coming back to the Collins family because she wants to complete a mission there before moving on. No children with Jeremiah, children with Edward saved at the last minute, child with Roger saved at the last minute. So, she’s probably apt to try again sometime in the 21st century. It will be harder, I think, because Laura Murdoch Collins lived in an age where people left more records of themselves behind. I mean, they were able to positively identify her burned body in Arizona.

      1. Barnabas explicitly mentioned, when they were down in that records room, that the Laura from his youth didn’t have children. But when they called up her ghost, she seemed to think otherwise – so it’s anyone’s guess, really.

  3. I couldn’t possibly prefer her to ANGELIQUE (which says a lot more about Angelique / Lara Parker than it does about Laura / Diana Milay), but I think she’s very underrated here.

    Nearly my only western show is KUNG FU. So it’s too bad she left acting so soon, or she might have shown up on it as well.

  4. I hope she wasn’t threatening to burn Rob, Chip & Ernie.
    Roger Davis went on to star in a western after DS – Alias Smith & Jones. I know you all know this – just making the point that westerns surely were en vogue back then.
    I guess you could call Dallas a sort of western – J.R. wore a cowboy hat.

  5. “Robbing a grave is a bizarre activity for a beautiful woman.”

    On the other hand, your average plain Jane is out there digging up corpses like they’re on clearance at Bloomindgale’s. Pick any hatchet-faced spinster at random off the street, and odds are even her three favorite hobbies are knitting, dressing up her ten cats, and disturbing the peace of the dearly departed through lawless exhumation. I guess it’s understandable; I mean, what else are these uggos going to do on a Saturday night, go out on dates or something?

    1. Considering what he is, I guess Barnabas could be forgiven for finding women in graveyards attractive. Almost as appealing as chicks down at the docks.

    2. Barnabas: Robbing a grave is a bizarre activity for a beautiful woman.

      Laura: I was not robbing a grave!

      Barnabas: And you’re not a beautiful woman. OOOOOH, you just got BARNABUSTED!

  6. I enjoyed her episode of Maverick. Yes, that was the “type” she tended to play, but probably more than half of the female guest stars on Maverick were that “type” as well, so it was a good casting call.

  7. I like Diana Millay — personal bias because she was friendly to the 24-year-old me. However, Laura doesn’t really work here and, unfortunately, she’s become a distraction from a far more more interesting plot (Quentin as the werewolf).

    Millay never was a good fit for the melodrama of post-Barnabas DARK SHADOWS.

    1. I, too, had a pleasant experience with Ms. Millay. At a DS convention several years ago, the autograph line at a group signing became terribly backed up – and she jumped up and just worked her way through the line, signing everyone’s program, determined to reach everyone. We had a nice conversation, too. I like her in 1897 because she takes on Angelique – and she’s the only woman in the show’s history with a clue and the power to threaten her.

      1. I may not be a comic book fan in the strictest sense (as opposed to being very sentimental about them), but it’s just like one of those confrontations between two well-matched Marvel characters, the kind you wait countless issues to see.

      2. Yes, Angelique needs a powerful adversary. When she’s around, her extensive powers and maniacal personality mean that she either drives the story to move so quickly that you can’t figure out what’s going on or who you’re supposed to care about (as in 1795), or she falls under the control of a less interesting villain and everything goes in circles (as in 1968.) With a sufficiently powerful adversary holding her back, it would have been possible to avoid both of these hazards.

  8. The way they keep adjusting the life dates for Ben Stokes–first we find in 1968 from Timothy Stokes that he died in 1830, now he is shown to have died in 1816, and eventually he will have lived to 1840–one could say that on Dark Shadows he dies more often than Angelique.

    But the 1816 death date here isn’t really a blooper–an inconsistency, yes, but understandable since this is a Violet Welles episode and she wasn’t there for the episode from a year before when the year of his death was said to have been 1830, and no one, let alone Dan Curtis, would have remembered a year later such a detail that was only mentioned once and for such a minor character.

    Did he really live to 1840? Only when a future storyline needs to be served with his presence at the Collinwood of that time. But for now, no.

  9. One of the photos Diana Millay sold at convention / Fest appearances was a two-shot from “Arrest and Trial” of William Shatner and herself. A few years after she signed a copy of it for me, I took that photo to a signing by William Shatner to get him to autograph it, too.

    There was a long autograph line waiting for Shatner and the event organizers made an announcement requesting fans on the line not distract Shatner or speak to him– as he was there for a limited time. (It was sort of like following the rules for the Soup Nazi line.) That was fine with me, as I had nothing i wanted to ask / tell him.

    But when Shatner saw Diana Millay’s autograph on the Arrest & Trial photo, he stopped the line to talk to me. He wanted to know if i’d been present when Diana signed the picture. He pumped me for information on Diana’s current activities and what she’d been doing in the decades since he’d worked with her.

    I was totally unprepared for this line of questioning and I assembled a semi-coherent answer for him. Eventually I could see his mind wandering, so I thanked him for signing the photo, grabbed it and got out of the way.

  10. Danny, the last picture on this post shows Diana Millay and what looks like a very young skinny Bob Newhart(?) holding a Golden Globe award together? What was that for? What was the context? Just curious. Hard to believe that Diana and Bob Newhart would get a Golden Globe for a 60’s TV western?

    1. Yeah, it’s a weird picture; I found it on a random image search with no context. Diana’s Wikipedia page says: “In 1962, she was chosen as “Miss Emmy” because of her extensive list of appearances on primetime TV shows.” And that’s everything I know. 🙂

      1. This image was also chosen as the “photo of the week” for the Dark Shadows News blog for September 3, 2012. The text below the photo reads:

        After a brief hiatus, Picture of the Week is back with a May 1962 shot of Diana Millay (Laura Collins) posing for Emmy Award publicity with Bob Newhart, in her official capacity as that year’s Miss Emmy.

        Chosen to represent the awards on behalf of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Television Academy, Diana was duly dispatched with a photographer to seek out a backstage scoop. “Being a methodical, if not a method actress, Diana researched the Emmy statuette in the process of its manufacture,” reported The Miami News, concluding that: “There’s no doubt that the creation of the five-pound ‘Golden Girl’ never had a prettier observer.”


  11. I’m kinda glad Laura will be around for the next week, just because it angers Danny, and that kicks the humour up a notch. 🙂 I never looked at the Laura story the way you do, and I don’t think I’ll ever look at it the same way again!! It sure does detract from other, more interesting stories.

    Just my head-canon, but I wrote a baby, Justin, as perishing in the blaze with the 1780s Laura. Barnabas, being a youth at the time, and with his father being the way he was, would not have likely heard of it. In parallel time, Laura was not a phoenix, and Justin grew up to somehow have control of Collinwood.

  12. I’m sure someone else has come up with this explanation of Laura before (I haven’t read any DS fan fiction or heard the new Big Finish story with her), but in my head the way I get round the change from 100 year cycle to targeting Collinses is that Laura Murdoch was happily immolating and taking a kid or two with her every 100 years until 1967, when her plans hit a snag for the first time. Languishing in her fiery realm, and determined to revenge herself on the Collinses, she makes contact with Ra (who she never mentioned in 1967) and swears eternal devotion if he’ll send her back in time to have a go with a previous generation of the family. So she marries Jeremiah, but, ironically, dies in a fire before she can have any children. Feeling charitable, Ra lets her have another go 100 years later with Edward. It all goes wrong and she’s destroyed forever, but her attempts this time managed to bring the very generation of Collinses she first tangled with into existence.

  13. Laura’s story was a lot better in 1967. This was just one more piece of furniture crammed into the house this go ’round.

  14. I happen to like westerns: Maverick; Have Gun, Will Travel; The Wild, Wild West; Longmire are all great TV shows

    The Searchers; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; Once Upon a Time in the West; Shane – all great, classic movies.

    You should give them a try…

    1. At a tender young age, Diana Millay also played on Father Knows Best as
      Nelda, the tutor for bud!

  15. I love how Dirk looks at Laura when she’s ordering him around, like a good sub who wants nothing more than another opportunity to please his Mistress. As for the death date of Ben Stokes, I think all this time travel is having a strange effect on this reality; it’s constantly in flux, and yet the clocks are all standing still. I know Vicki’s the one who is supposed to have ruined everything, but maybe it was really Barnabas who turned spacetime into a wedge of Swiss cheese using the I Ching wands, and that’s how Vicki wound up getting sucked into the past in the first place. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Laura’s supernatural existence as the Phoenix was his fault as well.

  16. Diana/Laura does not have a good grip on the mallet she’s planning on using to stake Barnabus. She’s gripping it too close to the whatever it’s called, thus allowing no what I believe is called “torque.” I wonder if they’ll repeat the scene tomorrow and she’ll have worked out the kinks with her “grippage.”

  17. Diana Millay is okay with me. As Laura, she combines an aloofness as a ethereal character with a vengeful, plotting mother. And in her original DS appearances, she helped save the show from cancellation by providing a blip of a rise in the ratings.

    I’m with Team Diana.

  18. I’ve always liked Diana too. She was super creepy in her 1967 incarnation. The story is moving so fast here in 1897 that I think poor Laura gets lost in the shuffle. Laura is cool and snarky, a viable match for Angelique.

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