“You will be what you were — that loathsome bird of the night!”
“Good evening, my fellow Americans,” quoth the monster, wiping the blood from his jaws with a discreet hanky. “I would like to address a word, if I may, to the young people of this nation.”
It’s Halloween 1969, and for once, Barnabas Collins isn’t haunting the great estate at Collinwood. Instead, Jonathan Frid has been invited to the White House, to appear at Tricia Nixon’s Halloween party for underprivileged children.
Now, technically, Barnabas isn’t really a Halloween-type character. Dark Shadows isn’t an annual special like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; it’s a year-round daily soap opera which hardly acknowledges the passage of time at all.
And Barnabas doesn’t jump out at people and say “Boo!” He has other concerns. In fact, at the moment, he’s a mortal man, more or less released from his curse of eternal night, and he’s attempting to seduce his cousin’s fiancee, who he believes is the reincarnation of a woman who killed herself while trying to get away from him. This is not your typical trick or treat type situation.
On the other hand, he’s also a vampire who’s teaming up with a werewolf and a witch to defeat an evil wizard who lives in a basement and turns people into skeletons, so that is a bit Monster Squad, now that I think of it.
But responsible adults in 1969 don’t really know what Dark Shadows is actually like, because it airs on daytime TV, and nobody has a VCR. At four in the afternoon, grown-ups are doing important grown-up things, like writing speeches, and suppressing reports, and sending in the National Guard.
Meanwhile, the housewives and college students and underprivileged children of America have all taken a solemn vow not to tell anybody what happens on Dark Shadows, because if people knew what was going on, they’d put a stop to it. The responsible grown-ups won’t get a chance to see what the show is actually about until House of Dark Shadows comes out next year. Six months after the movie comes out, the show is taken off the air, so I guess that code of silence was probably a good idea.
So here, in the bright light of day, Frid isn’t really playing the Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows, who makes terrible decisions and has nothing to smile about. This is the Barnabas Collins of Barnabas Collins In a Funny Vein, the groovy ghoul who makes withdrawals from the blood bank and checks out books from the die-brary.
So as day falls on the great estate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Jonathan Frid is on the scene, complete with cape, cane, ring and fangs. He was featured right at the start of the event, as the kids got off their buses and swarmed towards the entrance. The kids were middle-school age, and were participants in the Widening Horizons Program, a government project to introduce students to career opportunities in Washington DC.
This is how the Boston Herald described the scene:
“Tricia, the President’s 23-year-old daughter, greeted her 250 mostly Negro guests at the north portico wearing a mask and a floor-length purple and green gypsy gown with dangling gold earrings.”
I’m sure that the part about the “250 mostly Negro guests” didn’t sound so bad in 1969. At least, not to the mostly non-Negro Boston Herald subscribers.
Tricia was flanked by Frid and a couple of witches, and they passed out masks to the children. The kids got a choice of clown, pirate, wild animal and grinning blonde boy masks, which they did not wear.
Seriously, in all of the pictures of the event, there isn’t a single kid actually wearing one of the masks. This may have something to do with the fact that half of the masks show white-skinned people. Plus, it’s not really that Halloweeny to be in a group of 250 kids where 25% of them are wearing the exact same mask as you. Also, plastic Halloween masks are super uncomfortable to wear for more than about three minutes at a time. The main activities of the event involve eating things and looking at things, and Halloween masks are not conducive for either one.
The kids also got yellow plastic ponchos, with black Halloween silhouettes on the front, I guess to protect their clothes from the ice cream. It’s obvious from the pre-poncho pictures that these kids are dressed up in their Sunday best — obviously, because they’re going to visit the White House — so it’s kind of a shame that they won’t be let in until they all put on identical plastic uniforms, and pretend to be white people.
Once inside, the kids got orange-frosted Halloween cake, ice cream molds in witch and pumpkin shapes, and orange-colored punch. There were magicians, and a fortune teller with a crystal ball, and a marionette show by the Smithsonian Puppeteers. Oh, and TV’s Barnabas Collins. It sounds like a fun time for the young set, plus just being in the White House must have been exciting.
They sang “When the Saints Come Marching In,” and then John Neidecker, the deputy special assistant to the President, came by to tell them the story of Halloween. And as you know, there ain’t no party like a deputy special assistant to the President party, because a deputy special assistant to the President party don’t stop. Then everybody got a balloon.
So Jonathan Frid’s role at this shindig was to walk around with his props, and bare his fangs at people. He was great at it.
Back in May 1968, Frid went on a whirlwind ten-city promotional tour, which was one of the big turning points in the history of Dark Shadows, because it permanently established Barnabas as the undead embodiment of the show. Frid had kind of a rough time that week, because nobody quite knew who the target audience of the show was supposed to be — so at different stops along the way, he would talk to kids from a high school newspaper, then host Dialing for Dollars on the local ABC station, then get mobbed by screaming girls at a shopping mall, and wind up with an appearance on Bozo’s Big Top, trying to twirl a hula hoop. It was a dizzying experience.
But today’s assignment seems to suit him right down to the ground. Tricia looks kind of dazed in all the pictures, but Frid is super engaged with the kids. He’s actually talking to them — shaking hands, asking them questions, showing his teeth, and being the happy Halloween vampire that he never gets to be on the TV show. The man was good with the young set.
In The Dark Shadows Companion, Frid said:
“I had a marvelous time signing autographs and talking to everyone. It was exciting and fun for me as well as the kids. I’d been to a lot of places and met a lot of people, but this was a particular treat. It isn’t every day that a person is invited to the White House.”
This is true, and he was right to be excited and amazed by this gig. But the White House that we’re seeing here isn’t really what the Nixon presidency was like, any more than this Unca Barnabas routine is what Frid was usually doing with his afternoons.
Both Barnabas and the White House are being extra cuddly today, but there’s some real darkness in the shadows.
Just a few days later, on November 3rd, 1969, President Richard Nixon gave his televised “Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam”, which is typically referred to as the “silent majority” speech.
The speech was a response to the growing American disillusionment with the Vietnam War. America had been involved in the conflict between Soviet-backed North Vietnam and America-backed South Vietnam since the mid 1950s, and American ground forces were deployed there in early 1965. Americans were assured that progress was being made, but the Viet Cong sneak attacks known as the Tet Offensive in January 1968 had led to a growing fear in the US that the situation was hopeless.
So in November 1969, President Nixon took to the airwaves, to explain his plans. He said that when he assumed the presidency in January, he inherited a war in which 540,000 American soldiers were already in Vietnam, and he was urged to bring them home. But, he said, “I could only conclude that the precipitate withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster — not only for South Vietnam, but for the United States and for the cause of peace.”
His plan hinged on the idea of “Vietnamization”, in which the government and people of South Vietnam would take on an increasing role in fighting the war and establishing a new regime, as the United States gradually pulled out. I don’t recall anyone using the phrase “Iraqization” of the second Gulf War, but it’s the same general idea, and it faced a lot of the same challenges.
In the November 3rd address, Nixon said:
I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Vietnam without regard to the effects of that action. Or we can persist in our search for a just peace through a negotiated settlement if possible, or through continued Vietnamization if necessary — a plan in which we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom. I have chosen this second course.
It is not the easy way. It is the right way.
He acknowledged that there were demonstrations across America advocating for pulling out of the war.
One of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as President of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed the policy of this Nation to be dictated by the minority who hold that point of view, and who try to impose it on the Nation by mounting demonstrations in the street…
If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this Nation has no future as a free society.
So, essentially, anti-war protesters were imposing their views on America, while Unca Nixon was on the side of peace and reason.
And then there was the young people thing.
And now I would like to address a word, if I may, to the young people of this Nation who are particularly concerned, and I understand why they are concerned, about this war.
I respect your idealism. I share your concern for peace. I want peace as much as you do.
He talked about wanting to save the lives of the troops in Vietnam, and then this:
And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed into bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to the great challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life for all people on this earth.
So that’s the message for the unreasonable vocal minority: I want you to stop hating me, because then you can use that energy to support me. Does that work for you?
And so, tonight — to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support. I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed. If it does succeed, what the critics say now won’t matter. If it does not succeed, anything I say then won’t matter.
It did not succeed. And about ten days after the “silent majority” speech, the story of the March 1968 My Lai massacre broke, and we learned about what our soldiers had done, in the name of peace.
So that’s what’s going on inside, while underprivileged American children posed for photographs with TV’s Barnabas Collins. That big house on the great estate at Pennsylvania Avenue was filled with secrets, so much darker than anything they could possibly show on daytime television.
Meanwhile, Barnabas Collins has been making his own address to the young people of this nation, announcing the precipitate withdrawal of common sense from his television program. Dark Shadows has been drifting away from normal human reality for quite some time, and when the storyline returns to 1969 America in a few weeks, things get even more loopy and unreal.
When you look at Dark Shadows, a show that was at least partly marketed to middle schoolers, you have to ask: how did they get away with broadcasting all this murder and possession and Satan worship on daytime TV? Part of the answer is that real life was a lot scarier. The war was so horrifying that it made supernatural serial killer Barnabas Collins look like a happy Halloween spook.
Standing outside in the sun, the vampire bares his fangs with a benevolent smile, because everyone knows it’s just make-believe. The real monsters are inside.
Tomorrow: The Rape of Kitty Soames.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the end of Quentin and Pansy’s dance, a boom mic can be seen at the top of the frame.
Kitty asks “Petofi”, “Please — what will you call it — what will it cost you to do it?”
When he’s threatening Barnabas, Petofi says, “Hiding from the day, unable to speak, cringing at the darkness” — but he pronounces “cringing” as if it rhymed with “ringing”.
Some of the info and pictures in today’s post comes from The Collinsport Historical Society, which has more pics and news articles.
And if you want more presidential Halloween facts, The White House Historical Association has a page on Halloween at the White House. There’s also a transcript of a 1972 conversation between Nixon and Haldeman about Tricia’s idea of allowing trick-or-treaters to come to the White House.
Tomorrow: The Rape of Kitty Soames.
— Danny Horn