“I tried to get it off my finger, but I can’t!”
In a way, Quentin’s having a tough week. He’s scheduled to marry a psychotic sorceress in a week’s time, the girl that he was planning to elope with went and eloped without him, his enchanted portrait was pinched from his bedroom, and now a wicked wizard is casting some kind of mysterious hoodoo on him that will almost certainly lead to ruin, desolation and despair, in that order.
But in another and much more important way, Quentin is having the time of his life. He’s currently in a streak of 14 straight episodes, and over the next six weeks, he appears on 26 days out of 30. He’s booked solid from Monday to Friday, and now they’re even sending him out on weekend excursions to wave at people.
So Selby’s in Baltimore on his day off, riding around in a car as the Grand Marshal of the town’s I Am an American Day Parade.
I Am an American Day, as everyone knows, began as a 1939 publicity stunt for Gray Gordon and his Tic-Toc Rhythm, who recorded a song called “I Am an American”. The anthem goes like this:
On the street, in the home,
In a crowd or alone,
Shout wherever you may be.
I am an American!
I am, from the heart of me.
Rich or poor, young and old,
Let this message be told!
Shout wherever you may be.
I am an American!
I’m proud of my liberty.
This incitement to shout things when you’re alone at home continues for three and a half minutes, at which point you’re either going to shout it or you’re not, and there’s nothing more that Gray Gordon and his Tic-Toc Rhythm can say to change your mind. He and it have done all that they could.
It’s a terrible song, but Gray Gordon’s publicity agent was a real go-getter, and he went and got a day of the 1939 New York World’s Fair designated as “I Am an American Day”. The idea was picked up by a New York newspaper, and then syndicated around the country. And in 1940, Congress officially named the third Sunday in May “I Am an American Day”. People really didn’t have a lot to occupy their time in 1940, what with the world situation being so calm and all.
Eventually, this made-up holiday was moved to September 17th to commemorate the signing of the US Constitution, and the event was renamed either “Constitution Day” or “Citizenship Day”, except for the places where it was still called “I Am an American Day”, like in Baltimore for instance.
And in 1969, the citizens of Baltimore — as represented by a public relations guy from the local ABC affiliate — decided that their preferred method of shouting wherever they may be was to do it in the company of TV’s cool ghoul, Jonathan Frid, as he drives around in a convertible and waves his cane at people.
But J. Frid was on vacation this month, knocking ’em dead in Dial M for Murder at the Little Theater on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois, so ABC sent young David Selby instead. And here he is, driving around Baltimore, being an American.
Selby discusses this experience in his 2010 memoir, My Shadowed Past, a stream-of-consciousness account that drifts from one idea to the next, forward and back along the corridors of time. When a guy writes his memoirs at age 69 without the assistance of an editor, things can get a little jumbled, and the David Selby that we meet in My Shadowed Past is a dreamy type, carried along by the tide of history.
“They took me to Baltimore and put me in a convertible,” he writes. “Quentin drew an estimated quarter million people or more. There were so many people around the reviewing stand that I had to be taken away.” Then he talks about the Mets winning the World Series, and how everybody was feeling about Vietnam.
Then it’s back to Baltimore.
I wondered, as is my wont, “What if nobody had showed up at the parade?” Fortunately people did. It was weird, crazy. What was I doing sitting high in a convertible waving to everyone, like the Queen. Everyone was hollering, “Quentin, Quentin.” It brought back the time in college when I was doing Mr. Roberts and the girl hollered, “There’s Ensign Pulver.” Wasn’t that what I wanted?
So this is the strange double life of David Selby — a popular television star of six months and counting, being adored by hundreds of thousands of Baltimore’s Americans, girls screeching for him in the time-honored tradition of the Great Swooning, and he’s sitting there thinking about the Mets, and the War, and that girl in college.
If I had any doubt about the popularity of Dark Shadows, it was erased forever on that bright sunshiny day in Baltimore when those thousands of people showed up. This was all getting tricky. None of them knew who I was, but they all knew Quentin. For their money, I was Quentin. I had worn my movie star brown suede coat. I thought it made me look a little rugged. I had to live up to 16 Magazine. One fan got it right when she complained to 16 Magazine that it was giving me too much space. “Selby is like an overgrown weed.”
It’s these unheralded transitions that makes My Shadowed Past such an engrossing read. You really never know where he’s going to go, from one sentence to the next.
But that’s true, about 16 Magazine. He first appeared on the cover in July 1969, riding a tandem bicycle with a couple Cowsills and an enormous green teddy bear that’s carrying Denise Nickerson. Pretty soon, he was a regular feature, appearing on every cover from October ’69 to March ’70.
This is what fame looks like in 1969, a green rocket ship labeled MARS OR BUST! You get on the rocket, and you wave at people, and you wonder when it’s going to be over.
He’s also on sale for ten cents a pack, at the drug store. We talked a couple months ago about the Quentin-heavy Dark Shadows trading cards, which the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation marketed to an eager public of American gum-chewers.
And now the Corporation is putting out another Dark Shadows set, featuring guess who. It’s a set of 12 postcards, sold in packs of three, with the following irresistible offer: “3 Full Color Photos suitable for framing of DAVID SELBY as Quentin, Star of Dark Shadows TV Show”!
They do manage to get the Dark Shadows logo in there somewhere, but the big print is reserved for DAVID SELBY, who has somehow transcended the show that he only joined about six months ago.
So you can see why he appears a bit dazed, why his current experience of the world is “They took me to Baltimore and put me in a convertible.” A photographer shows up at the set one day, sent by the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation, and he poses for some pictures, and all of a sudden he’s suitable for framing.
The postcards are really quite lovely — especially card #8, which I bought at a Dark Shadows Festival when I was in high school. It’s my favorite picture of Quentin, and it’s probably in my top ten favorite pictures of anything. There’s something about the angle of the shot, and the windows, and the look on his face, that makes you want to go to Baltimore and holler, “Quentin, Quentin.”
But there’s quite a range, in the set. You also get spiteful Quentin…
and pensive Quentin…
and “do whatever the Chewing Gum photographer asks you to do” Quentin.
But the point is, Quentin is now a sought-after commodity. On newsstands, on drug store shelves, and now, in captivity on a convertible in Baltimore. This is the flavor of the month.
“It was in Baltimore, sitting on top of that convertible,” he writes, “surrounded by what seemed like that whole city’s police force that I began to get a glimmer about the actor’s relationship with his audience.”
This is yet another reason to fall in love with David Selby. The character that he plays is an arrogant seducer, a trickster who knows exactly how gorgeous and special he is. But David Selby really doesn’t feel that special. He likes working, he likes being on Dark Shadows, and to some extent, the attention is flattering, and sometimes touching. But this isn’t what he’s doing it for. He doesn’t want to be a Beatle, any more than Jonathan Frid does. He doesn’t revel in this.
And right there, if you’d like one, is the entire explanation for why David Selby never became a big star. He’s so good as Quentin, so appealing and gorgeous and full of life, that anybody watching Dark Shadows would assume that he went on to a celebrated TV or movie career. Obviously, once the show ended, he took his movie star brown suede coat, and became a movie star.
Except it didn’t happen. He starred in Up the Sandbox and The Super Cops, and then he was on an episode of The Waltons, and an episode of Police Woman, and an episode of Kojak. And finally, after ten years of one job after another, he got into nighttime soaps with Flamingo Road and then Falcon Crest, which is now the other reason why people have ever heard of him.
You could think of that as a disappointment — he could have been bigger than that, surely — but I kind of think that’s how he wanted things to go. He’s having his taste of Beatles fame, on this sunny day in Baltimore, and it’s making him uncomfortable.
Here’s a picture from later in the day, once he’s out of the car and up on the reviewing stand. 16 Magazine is taking his picture again, next to Miss Constitution and Miss I Am an American, who are different people for some reason. The brown suede coat is who knows where at this point.
He’s grinning, and his shirt is open, and it looks like Quentin may have located a decanter of brandy.
Because this is Quentin, I think. David Selby is not at the parade anymore; he’s having an out-of-body experience, which is nothing new for a guy who’s played a ghost and a zombie. His shirt’s still open in this photo — ripped open, I’d imagine, by some excitable teen — and he’s got the exact same smile on his face, because he’s posed for enough photos that now his face is just stuck this way.
At a certain point, the reviewing stand just got mobbed. Later, he told a reporter, “I got knocked to the floor, and somebody fell on top of me to protect me until the police could clear the people away. I don’t mind saying I was really scared.” And then he never did anything like this, ever again.
“After the parade,” he writes, “I made my way back to New York and our two-room apartment and reality. I told my wife about what I was feeling. She always had a firmer grip on the world I was in, but out of, at the same time. Long walks in Central Park were helpful. My angst had been held in check, but I felt like I was in some sort of frantic limbo.
“Some time afterwards, I had to get my dissertation in order to send out to my advisor at Southern Illinois. I was driving myself to finish it. I spread the few hundred pages all over the floor of our living room, and while I wasn’t paying attention, my young son proceeded to wad up several pages. After shaking my head, and giving my son a lecture, which my wife laughed at, then gave me a small talking to, I realized how ridiculous I was being. My wife had been teasing me about coming back down to earth after the Baltimore parade.”
So here he is — our angel, our superstar — brought back to earth, which he loves, and where he belongs.
Tomorrow: The Ring.
I got the gorgeous Quentin postcard pics from Alan James Gallant, who wrote the pieces about the red and green gum cards published under my posts “Trade Secrets” and “A Giant Evil Force“. Alan also sent me this fantastic analysis of the Quentin Postcards, which I’m very happy to post here. In this piece, he also mentions the Giant Pin-Up posters, which I’ll cover in a later post.
This brief analysis of the postcards is a supposition based on the appearance of the character of Quentin Collins in the card set, and the direct relationship of that to the time frame during which these photograph may have been taken.
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything unique enough about these shots to separate them from a thousand others taken during the entire 1897 storyline. A closer look reveals that Quentin’s sideburns are no longer the fake ones from the earliest episodes. There was a gradual change from appliance to natural hair that was implemented over a period of perhaps several weeks, but is noticeable in the week preceding episode #809 (aired 7/31/69, taped 7/24/69), the show in which Charity Trask discovers Quentin unconscious in the woods with one of his victims, Tessie Kincaid. This is the show that seems to be the first in which David Selby switched entirely to his own sideburns, and no longer relied on augmentation.
This being so close in time to the Giant Pin-Up photo shoot (which happened a scant week before), I make the supposition that the Philly Gum Company wanted to follow up the release of their posters with the distribution of the postcards at near the same time. This would offer the buying public a choice of items, probably targeting the younger female market for the exclusively Quentin-based postcards. The pin-ups would cover the general population of youngsters with a broader choice of favorite characters from which to choose, combining with the recently released green card set to thoroughly blanket the market.
The above supposition of time frame is somewhat supported by postcard #6, which depicts Quentin in a wooded environment wearing his inverness cloak. This combination of environment and costume was not as common as Quentin’s wearing of his cloak indoors! In the period of episodes directly following #809, Quentin wore his inverness with a great deal of frequency, even more so than he had before.
The immediate episodes in which he wore the inverness following #809 were: #’s 812, 814, 815, 816, 817, 819, 823/24, and 825. This follows the story arc that begins with Tim Shaw’s return to Collinwood with the hand of Count Petofi, through Petofi’s regaining the hand, his kidnapping of Barnabas, and ending with the arrival of King Johnny and the Gypsies. This covers the dates 7/28/69 to 8/14/69. Within this time frame, four episodes (#’s 814, 819, 823/24, and 825) have scenery that qualify as “woods.” Among these, the one that best matches postcard #6 is episode #825 (taped 8/14/69, aired 8/22/69). It contains the only “woods” set composition with both simulated coniferous and deciduous “trees.” They are also in proper arrangement to match postcard #6.
In The Wrapper (a card collector’s bulletin run by Les Davis, also on the web at thewrappermagazine.com) issue #166 article by Bob and Jeff Marks, they mention that Philly Gum Corp. supplied a photographer to take shots for the two card sets, as well as the pin ups and these postcards. Dan Curtis Productions augmented these Philly shoots with photos of their own to a greater or lesser degree. In the case of the postcards, it appears the Philly photographer got all twelve of these shots on the same day, and most of them on the same set (the Collinwood set)! Selby’s hair appears as unchanging as his costume (although his hair was frequently similar throughout this storyline), leading to the conclusion that these cards might be the result of one shoot. If this were so, episode # 825 would be the best fit for the time of the shoot.
At any rate, this set certainly qualifies as among the higher quality DS items available at the time of the show. The sharp, vivid color photos are a superior effort on the part of Philly Gum, in particular. There are no flawed, touched-up prints here, and the ability of the potential buyer to view the top card must have been a plus as well. That sort of concession by a card company today would be unthinkable!
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Quentin tells Petofi, “You two each know each other very well!”
When Petofi shows Quentin the portrait, he holds it at slightly the wrong angle, and a shadow falls over the face. Quentin says, “Look at that face,” but we can’t.
When Quentin can see again, he tells Petofi, “Nothing ever like that’s happened to me.”
The door to the back room in the mill is clearly the I Ching door that they’ve used in all the seances; you can see six horizontal marks where the I Ching wands would be. This is especially noticeable when Petofi tells Aristede and Beth, “Soon, I will go into that room.”
Tomorrow: The Ring.
— Danny Horn