The Death of Barnabas Collins, September 11, 1969

Written By: Greg Howell - Jun• 25•16

100_1219By the fall of 1969, ABC’s gothic romance and horror show Dark Shadows had crossed over from being just a daytime television show to a genuine cultural phenomenon. The recently released series soundtrack and massive hit single, Quentin’s Theme, had been released to great fanfare. Toys, books, comics, and board games were in high demand and selling in stores across the nation. The series was reaching a ratings high of 18,000,000 viewers. College students across the nation gathered in dormitories and lobbies for their daily dose of vampires, witches, gypsies, and time travel. Kids rushed home from school to catch the latest spooky episode. Even movie studios were in talks with Dan Curtis for a big screen adaptation of the show. Jonathan Frid, the nervous, reluctant vampire and star of the show, had just received an invitation to the White House for a Halloween bash hosted by Tricia Nixon. The series had crossed the threshold into popular culture as very few television shows had, much less a daytime soap opera.

The summer of 1969 saw the storyline again back in time, in the year 1897. The costumes and sets were lavish, and the Dark Shadows crew used the growing budget dynamically. Television had never before witnessed such an ambitious show on daytime televsion. Producing a new episode each day, live-on-tape, the cast and crew literally had 30 minutes to perform an episode.  No stopping, no retakes for the beautiful and talented cast – their New York theatrical backgrounds proved essential.

The star players were Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins), David Selby (Quentin Collins) and Lara Parker (Angelique). These were creator Dan Curtis’ “big guns” as he called them, as they were the only series cast members whom always played the same character. Frid’s Barnabas was the show’s superstar since 1967, and the audience had grown to love this nervous vampire with a helpful, caring heart – despite his true, dark nature.

On September 11, 1969, as viewers watched the 1897 story unfold, suddenly, out of nowhere, Barnabas Collins was destroyed with a stake through his heart! The ABC studios received outraged mail and angry phone calls. Over the next 4 weeks, the writers taunted and teased the audience. Was he dead, destroyed, gone forever? Dark Shadows had a history of killing major characters throughout its run, so no one really knew.

When Barnabas did return in October, Dark Shadows garnered record viewers. Dark Shadows continued for the next year and a half, and produced its best, most polished work, exploring themes of parallel time, time travel into the future (1995), and even a H. P. Lovecraft inspired storyline from “The Dunwich Horror” (Weird Tales, April, 1929).

Darks Shadows influence is unparalleled in daytime programming. Stephen King and Anne Rice have stated the show’s direct influence on their work. The concept of endearing monsters involved in human classic tales of love, death, and the struggle with inner demons all started with Dan Curtis’ Dark Shadows, and writers Sam Hall and Gordon Russell’s complex characters. The show is second only to Star Trek when it comes to a remarkable afterlife and resurgence.  The show has been reborn and rerun until today, on the Sci-Fi Network, a reinvented prime time show, and most recently on Netflix and Hulu, since all 1225 episodes are now digital and sold on DVD.  Even to this date, Dark Shadows is the only daytime television show ever available on DVD.  It is also the largest catalog of episodes sold on DVD for ANY American television show. There are yearly Dark Shadows festivals attended by thousands, and of course, the latest resurgence from the 2012 movie starring Johnny Depp. Without Dark Shadows, later shows such as The Vampire Diaries, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Supernatural, Charmed, True Blood, The Night Stalker, Dante’s Cove, and many others would never have been made, as the concept of vampires with good intentions, high intellect, and human emotions, and dark witches attempting to do good for humanity, was a concept never explored.  As Shadows scribe Sam Hall said, “we didn’t know we were creating a new concept, we needed to write interesting continuing characters on daily TV.”

 

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