Note: I've been able to find my Reviews of only five of the 11 Fests I've attended. Some were published in a small, now-defunct zine. I'm posting them here with a minimum of editing (obviously, issues such as contracts for DS novels have long since been resolved). Warning: I called things as I saw them, so there's a lot of carping about Festival features I disliked. I'm adding a newly-written chapter on random memories of other Fests.
Festival Report -- 1996 (Los Angeles)
Here are my observations of highlights and lowlights.
The crowd seemed very large, though I never heard an official estimate. I do know there were over 500 attendees at the Banquet. Ten people were seated at each table, and the highest table number was 51.
The only announced actors who didn't appear were John Karlen, Mitchell Ryan and Paul Michael. (I assume most fans knew Nancy Barrett had been forced to cancel.) John Karlen was ill that weekend, sent his regrets. Mitchell Ryan was an unexplained no-show, again. Festival organizers tried to reach him by phone and couldn't. I never heard an explanation of Paul Michael's absence.
We learn something new, it seems, at every Fest. This year, while a number of stars were onstage, someone asked Louis Edmonds whether he got along well with young David Henesy. He said he did...gave a bland, innocuous answer.
But at that point, Diana Millay spoke up--as though she felt she had to tell us something that had been covered up too long. She said David was a very unhappy child, the "victim" of a stereotypical "stage mother." He had never wanted to act! He did a "superb" job, and everyone got along well with him. But he was being forced to act against his will...and sadly, he has very bad memories of DS and that part of his life.
Diana said she finds it especially sad because of the contrast with her own childhood. She was also a child performer, but was never pressured to do anything she didn't want to do. Her mother was always asking her, "Are you sure you want to do this? Really sure?" Denise Nickerson and Sharon Smyth-Lenz have also said they were acting by choice, and were allowed to quit when they wanted to.
Diana, by the way, was selling a new book--celebrity recipes she's collected over the years. She said there was more to it than that, but I wasn't interested enough to buy a copy.
Lysette Anthony was the only attendee from the 1991 cast. To my surprise, she asked us to write to both Dan Curtis Productions and NBC, urging them to go ahead with those proposed TV movies. Marcy Robin had already said we shouldn't write now. I asked Marcy again, in light of what Lysette had said. Marcy still feels this would be a bad time to write, because the proposal is being considered by low-level people, and we wouldn't be able to address our letters to specific execs. She thinks letters written at a later stage of project development, to specific execs, will have more impact if we don't begin writing now.
Lara Parker clearly believes the planned DS novels are going to become a reality. She's resumed work on the novel she was writing (originally for comic-book publisher Innovation) about the background of Angelique. I received the impression she has a contract. She said these will be "the sort of paperbacks you buy in the supermarket, like Star Trek novels--about $1.25." (Guess she hasn't priced those Star Trek novels lately!) She read us a portion of what she stressed was merely the outline of her novel--and asked fans for ideas, good-humoredly adding that we wouldn't get any credit for them.
An interesting sidelight about Lara. Most of us associate her with strikingly blue eyes. But one fan asked her, "How come your eyes look blue in some episodes, green in others?" Lara said she couldn't imagine why that was, adding, "If you're really asking whether I ever wore tinted contacts to change my eye color, the answer is no." Then some one of the other actors onstage offered the opinion that Lara's eyes are actually hazel, and "hazel eyes pick up the color of the clothes you're wearing." Personally, I'm more inclined to believe her eyes are blue, and the variation was caused by poor color photography.
Marcy Robin told us (based on her not having been informed otherwise) that Jonathan Frid isn't retired. But Diana Millay, who had a long telephone chat with him recently, said he told her he is retired. Diana said he thinks of himself as old now. She always makes a joke of pretending to believe she really is a Phoenix. So she said, "Of course, I don't believe anyone's getting old until he reaches at least 300!"
Marcy and Diana agree Jonathan is in excellent health, and very happy in his new home in Canada. Diana said she called him one morning--he had just come in from watering his garden--and they talked for an hour. Then Jonathan said, "Say, this is your nickel! How about if I call you back this evening, and we talk for another hour?" So they did!
It's good to know Jonathan is well. On a less happy note...Louis Edmonds was at the Fest, but he seems very frail and feeble now. His biography was on sale. (I didn't buy that either.)
The high point of the weekend for me was seeing my idol, David Selby. He looks terrific! For some reason, I unconsciously expected him to sound like Quentin Collins. I was surprised that he still has a West Virginia drawl after all these years in L.A. But I loved it! I still wonder if it's completely natural, or if he has to work at keeping the accent when he's being "himself." I could understand his not wanting to lose touch with his roots. I'd never want to lose my regional accent.
David was late in arriving Saturday afternoon because he was stuck in traffic. When he got there, he told us it had been a very scary situation. He had known traffic was stalled because of a four-car pileup several miles ahead of him. I assume that was explained on the radio. But David was upset because he knew his daughter was somewhere up there ahead of him! He finally got within view of the pileup and could see her car wasn't in it.
He said he's been having some hectic experiences recently. Seems he hates flying, and he's had to do a lot of it. At one point he had to suffer through seven takeoffs and landings in one day, in all different kinds of planes. In Venezuela! He didn't explain why he was in Venezuela.
And just a day or two before the Fest, he had flown out from New York. He said he'd been in Copake to talk to some woman about dramatizing her life. ("I want to play her!") He clearly didn't want to give us any serious details about that.
Anyway, he had to fly out from New York, and was unhappy because he was in the tail section of the plane. He thinks that's more bumpy. The in-flight movie was White Squall--which he was in--and no one on the plane recognized him. Hardly the thing for an actor's ego! Finally, they encountered wind shear and had a very difficult landing. He said all the passengers clapped when the plane set down safely.
We didn't have a chance to ask David many questions, because he arrived so late. And he couldn't stay to sign many autographs. But I asked Marcy the next day if she knew any more about the play he's written (Lincoln and James). She said she had asked him about that, and he told her he was hoping to get some definite word on it--whether someone will produce it--by the end of that week.
On Saturday morning, Kathy Resch and Dale Clark moderated a session during which we could discuss storylines and offer our own ideas on some of those tricky plot problems. Not many fans seem to be interested in that sort of thing, but I loved it.
I also enjoyed the relatively new "Dark Shadows Onstage" feature, in which stars recreate scenes from the show, reading their original roles. Obviously, the choice of scenes is limited by the actors available. But the performances were good fun. Diana and Denise gave us a mother-daughter scene between Laura and Nora--a hoot, with "Nora" now a woman in her thirties. And Marie Wallace, Chris Pennock and Michael Stroka portrayed Megan, Jeb and Bruno in a scene. Megan managed to conceal from Jeb that she was a vampire's victim, being summoned again...and Bruno seemed to allay Jeb's suspicions of him. But after Jeb left, Bruno discovered Megan's secret, and gloated over his plan to send Jeb to "kill the werewolf" with no silver bullets in his gun. The actors had fun with it, repeatedly yapping at one another, "Stop stepping on my lines!" (Michael never speaks up loudly enough--but we all love him anyway, right?)
On the less successful side...this year's Costume Gala was dull. I suppose I've been spoiled by the highly inventive "performances" of previous years. This time around, participants were just "modeling" uninspired costumes.
"Tales of Terror"--read by Marie, Michael and Denise--fell flat, as usual. The stories weren't very scary; Michael was still mumbling; and we were getting a lot of noise from the hall and from people talking in the auditorium.
My friends and I didn't think the Collinsport Players' skits were very funny. We couldn't decide whether the Players are simply better in New York (where some different people participate), or are going downhill in general.
Finally, one of my friends insisted there was much less in the Dealers' Room than in previous years. I can't vouch for that. I usually know what I want (new fan fiction, etc.), and make just one quick pass through the room. But MPI had clearly put no effort at all into setting up their display. They didn't lay stacks of anything out on the table--if you wanted, say, a sweatshirt, they had to go and get it out of a box somewhere. They didn't even have the new "Dark Shadows Resurrected" tapes in their permanent boxes. They'd hand you the tape in a temporary white box, and the folded "permanent" box to go with it.
As for the "extras"...I didn't go on the trip to Greystone, so I can't comment on that. I didn't enjoy the Banquet, except for being with two good friends. It was so crowded I couldn't even see any of the stars. The food and video programming were only so-so. And I'm always bored by the ritual handing out of a "prize" to one person from each table! The larger the crowd, the longer it takes--not only because there are more tables, but because it takes each "winner" longer to thread his or her way through the maze and get to the podium. (In the years I've attended, I've only really enjoyed one Banquet...the year a star, Chris Pennock, was at my table.)
On the whole, though, the Fest was terrific. High points far outweighed low. It's a thrill to see the stars--Lara, Kathryn and Marie are still so gorgeous.
But...I wouldn't believe this if I hadn't heard it myself. There was actually a fan(?) who couldn't remember Lara's name, or even her character name, and addressed a question to her as "you in the green dress"!