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Dark Shadows (1966)
Wonderful, Original, Iconic
Back in 1966 most daytime soaps were dreary, predictable dramas about illegitimate babies and amnesia. But when Dan Curtis conceived of Dark Shadows as a Gothic romance he introduced something entirely new and different. Early episodes revolved around Victoria Winters, a young woman in search of her own identity. As an infant she'd been dumped on the steps of a New York foundling home, and now 20-something years later she still didn't know who her parents were. Could she be a long-lost relative of the strange, reclusive Collins family of Maine? That was the big question that DS explored but never fully answered. But Victoria's quest led her to accept a job as governess to a neurotic little boy, David Collins, and to live at the mysterious, 40-room family mansion. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard---played by screen legend Joan Bennett---bore an uncanny resemblance to Vicki and might even have been her actual bio mother. But by 1967 producer Dan Curtis had steered the show in a wholly new, i.e. supernatural direction!
To boost sagging ratings he introduced David's mother, Laura Collins, an immortal phoenix who, since the days of the pharaohs, had been dying by fire every century or so, only to rise each time from her own ashes. And then there was the ghost of Josette Collins, beautiful but tragic bride who fell to her death (in 1796) from the cliff known as Widow's Hill. And finally there was Barnabas Collins, played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid. Barnabas was meant to be a short-term villain but Frid soon became too popular to be "staked." So he evolved into the reluctant, guilt-ridden vampire/hero. Dr. Julia Hoffman---the Van Helsing character originally brought in to destroy him---ended up falling in love with Barnabas instead. For the rest of the show, she tried continually to cure him through "weird science," often with very bizarre results!
Before long, Dark Shadows featured a flashback to the year 1795 to show how Barnabas had become "the thing" he was. Victoria Winters was the time traveler, our bridge to the past, and while there she met the 18th-century Collins family. Seems that back in the beginning, Barnabas was caught in a love triangle between his sweet fiancée Josette and his discarded and diabolical mistress, Angelique. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Angelique certainly proved that old truism. When she couldn't have Barnabas' love she cursed him instead. He was bitten by a vampire bat, after which he "died" and the next night rose as one of the living dead. Josette ended up a suicide, and Barnabas strangled the witchy Angelique with his own hands. But Angelique refused to stay dead and kept returning for as long as Dark Shadows was on the air. Beautiful but vengeful, she tormented Barnabas over the centuries. She interfered whenever he met a new Josette lookalike, always causing pain and suffering to her rival. Lara Parker, a young but more-than-competent actress, played Angelique with great panache and the ratings were never higher than when she appeared on screen.
By 1968 DS had become the most popular show on daytime. It featured wonderful character actors, many of whom played multiple roles. Grayson Hall was especially memorable but my own favorite will always be Thayer David ("Matt Morgan," "Ben Stokes," "Prof.Stokes," "Sandor" and "Count Petofi.") And then once again the show gave us another flashback, this time to the year 1897. Now the action centered around a brand-new character, Quentin Collins. Quentin was portrayed by the tall, handsome, blue-eyed David Selby, who became a big hit with the fans. Quentin was a ne'er-do-well, a cad and a womanizer. He had a mad wife locked away in the attic, an affair with the wife's maid, and a brief fling with Angelique herself! He also had a sharp wit, the writers giving him hilarious lines to deliver. Predictably he became cursed as Barnabas had been, but in Quentin's case it was with the curse of lycanthropy (werewolf-ism).
Dark Shadows should have lasted forever but sadly, it didn't. After the 1897 adventure the writing declined. Perhaps Dan Curtis ran out of ideas, or perhaps his staff did. Who knows? Subsequent story lines---the Leviathans, Parallel Time, the 1840 Flashback---never measured up to previous successes. In 1971 ABC pulled the plug on America's first Gothic Horror Soap, to the dismay of its fans. But DS still lives on in our memory and on DVD, in collectible memorabilia from the 60's and in the various novels based on this iconic show. There have also been two DS movies and a short-lived 1991 revival show, as well as a soon-to-be-released movie starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas. Dark Shadows is like Barnabas Collins...one of the true immortals!
The Forsyte Saga (1967)
A Timeless Masterpiece
This classic mini-series looks as good today as it did when it first premiered in 1967. I rate it a 10 out of 10 because of (1)cogent, witty scripts that follow Galsworthy's original storyline and (2) the fine acting and perfect casting choices that were made. The Forsytes are depicted as a rich, bourgeois English family from the late 1800's to 1926. They have a hereditary tenacity that, in the end, both makes and breaks them. Epitome of the family ideal is Soames, "the man of property," who treats his beautiful wife Irene as a possession. Irene, however, hates him and pines to be free of the cage that is her marriage. Ultimately this mismatched pair divorce, but not before their rupture has split the Forsytes right down the middle in a multi-generational family feud. And then, 20 years later, Soames' daughter Fleur and Irene's son Jon meet and fall in love---with tragic consequences. Fleur, a true Forsyte, is stubborn and tenacious in her obsession with Jon, even after he and she have married other people. And ironically, in the end Soames will be redeemed by his unselfish devotion to the daughter that is, at heart, so much like himself...
What more can I say about this series? It's a masterpiece. Eric Porter, as Soames, brings this complex character to life and despite Soames's essentially un-lovable nature, makes him both pitiable and endearing. Irene, portrayed by Nyree Dawn Porter, is beautiful but remote as in the books. Nyree does a good job with Irene, certainly not an easy role to play, and viewers may well be conflicted as to which side to take in the ongoing Soames vs.Irene Conflict. (Myself, I rooted for poor Soames all the way!) Susan Hampshire, then a very young actress, is a sensation as Fleur, the spoiled little Daddy's girl. And Nicholas Pennell is also wonderful as Michael Mont, her long-suffering husband.
I would recommend this version of The Forsyte Saga to anyone who hasn't seen it. It's far, far superior to the recent Masterpiece Theater remake, which falls woefully short. The modern remake is plagued with miscast actors, bad scripts and a general disrespect for the books on which it's supposed to be based. The remake tries to change, i.e. rewrite much of what John Galsworthy, a Nobel Prize-winning author, scripted! Bad idea. Whereas the 1967 mini-series hits a home run by faithfully following Galsworthy's original, brilliantly plotted storyline. This earlier version is a real winner and is still remembered fondly after 44 years!
All My Children (1970)
My Forty Years in Pine Valley
I've been watching All My Children since Day One, and the show has a very different feel today than it did back in 1970. Originally it was a multi-generational, multi-layered story about people in the mythical small town of Pine Valley, PA. Created by Agnes Nixon,it dealt with real-life social issues: drug abuse, racism, rape,domestic violence,prostitution, even homelessness. The characters came from different backgrounds and diverse ethnicities. There were the rich, upper-class Tyler and English families, along with the middle-class Martins, and further down on the social scale, the working-class Benny Sago and Mrs. Valentine. It also had social outcast Donna Beck, a runaway teen prostitute, and her outrageous pimp Billy Clyde Tuggle! But the most popular character, a break-out character really, was Susan Lucci's Erica Kane.
From the start Erica stole the show. She debuted in 1970 as a teenager from a broken home. She started out with a Daddy complex and a great big chip on her shoulder. Good writing soon transformed her into something more human,and as the decades passed we learned more about her troubled history. Turns out she'd been raped at age 14 by a pedophile friend of her father's, apparently with Dad's foreknowledge and consent! Ever since that event Erica has had emotional issues. Despite her worldly success she's still struggling, 40 years later, to like herself. No amount of male attention is ever enough, hence her long string of discarded husbands and lovers. She's a fascinating, complex character and, according to Lucci herself, great fun to play. Lucci portrays Erica with a light comedic touch, which is why the fans continue to love her.
Looking back, I remember the 1980's and 1990's as AMC's Glory Years. Inspired writing, along with a superb cast of actors, guaranteed that. During this period the show introduced two new families: the Cortlandts and the Chandlers. These were rich, powerful clans with bigger-than-life patriarchs---Palmer Cortlandt and Adam Chandler---continually at each other's throats.Palmer was a cold-blooded tycoon who lived in a Gothic mansion with his "Princess in the Tower" daughter Nina. Similarly, Adam wielded power from the Chandler Mansion and soon emerged as the villain we loved to hate. Adam's manipulations drove away all of his wives---over the decades he had several, including Erica and the redoubtable Brooke English---and even his own children. Today Adam's son and heir, JR, is a recovering alcoholic with deep-seated problems that he's likely to "hand down" to the next generation of Chandlers. Stay tuned.
Another memorable character was, and is, Tad Martin. An abandoned child, he was adopted by the Martin family nearly 40 years ago. Later he "grew up" into the adult Tad that we know today. Young Tad was a womanizer and a cad, yet likable because of his wit and charm. After numerous escapades he found true love with sweet Dixie Cooney, and the fans applauded. Other popular pairings kept viewers riveted. Cliff and Nina...Greg and Jenny...Angie and Jessie...Natalie and Trevor. Angie and Jesse achieved special distinction in being the first official black Super Couple ever seen on daytime. They, along with Tad, are still on the show, and we're glad to have 'em.
But all good things must come to an end. Once Disney bought AMC, this once-glorious show went into a downward tailspin. New people were running it now, people who apparently knew nothing about soaps. The writing regime changed every year or so, with character history violated or simply ignored. The scribes gave us short-term "shock and awe" story lines that made no sense. One of the worst was Erica's hitherto unknown son, an aborted fetus kept alive by a mad scientist...Yeah, right. And then the horrendous tale of Tad, our beloved Tad, burying a man alive and literally getting away with murder! Not to mention the travesty of Dixie's death by poisoned pancakes. After Head Writer Megan McTavish killed off Dixie, for no apparent reason, there was a general outcry from the viewers. AMC was in bad trouble, and all because of the writing.
Yet even in recent years the show has had its redeeming features. The Kane family, for one. Erica's two daughters have been skillfully woven into the Pine Valley tapestry. Kendall (the child of rape) appeared on Mom's doorstep with an initially bad attitude but has since evolved into a charming if somewhat wacky heroine. Bianca, the younger child, "came out" as a lesbian back in 2000 in one of the best scenes I've ever seen on daytime. The hard-won but close sisterly bond between "Binks" and Kendall, and their coming to terms with their celebrity Mom, has been masterly storytelling.
Notwithstanding All My Children is currently on life support, like so many other soaps. Why? The main problem, I suspect, lies in its dearth of good old-fashioned romance. The only Super Couple left seems to be "Zendall"---Kendall and Zach---and with Zach's portrayer, Thorsten Kaye, about to leave the show, even that will soon be gone. But please, no more "Rylee" (Greenlee and Ryan)! "Rylee" is an uninspired pairing that the fans in overwhelming numbers hate, yet the Disney suits have been kicking that dead horse for years. When the chemistry ain't there, folks, it just ain't there. Greenlee, a delightful bitch, had a great romance years ago with Leo Dupres---another break-out character, played by actor Josh Duhamel---but with Ryan she fizzles. I'd rather see her reunited with her dastardly hubby, David Hayward, who we all know isn't really dead...Stay tuned!