Festival Report -- 1997 (Marriott Marquis Hotel, New York)

Arguably the best Festival ever, but hard to describe.

First, a delightful personal experience. On my way to the Fest, I went to catch a train at the Rensselaer Amtrak station. That's directly across the Hudson River from Albany, 150 miles north of New York. I sat down in the waiting area. And before I even got settled, I heard someone directly opposite me mention "Josette's music box"! Naturally, I had to say, "Uh, excuse me...are you by any chance going to the Dark Shadows Festival?" The woman I'd heard speaking actually wasn't, but the two men with her were, and they were as blown away as I was by this chance meeting. They were changing trains in Rensselaer--they'd come from much farther upstate.

On to the Fest! It's a good thing I'd had to travel over a hundred miles to get there. Because almost at the outset, I had an experience that so infuriated me that if I'd lived across town, I would have picked up my marbles and gone home.

A crowd of us were standing outside the auditorium, waiting for the doors to open. I was alone, hadn't tracked down my pals yet. This young guy wearing a volunteer badge said to me, "Do you want to go in?" The question seemed so inane that I asked him to repeat it. Then I said, "Of course I want to go in. Why do you think we're all standing here?" He said, "I mean, do you want to go in now?" I said, "Huh?" Turned out the a**h*** was assigned to let the "elderly and disabled" in early! I'm not sure what I said, but he was lucky I didn't belt him.

I'm in my fifties. I'm tall, I was wearing perfectly normal clothes (pants and a DS T-shirt), and my hair is mostly brown. I did not look like a "little old lady"!

Just thinking about this makes my blood boil. I never did complain to anyone (though of course, everyone near me at the time heard me swearing like a trooper). But I think, before the next Fest, I'll write to the organizers about the incident and ask them to teach their wet-behind-the-ears kid volunteers some manners.

The way they're supposed to handle that particular assignment is to ask, loudly, for any elderly or disabled people to come forward so they can be seated early. (Similar to boarding a plane. Come forward if you need assistance.) So even if someone's ninety, she doesn't have to identify herself as elderly if she doesn't want to.

I thought that experience would ruin the Festival for me. Fortunately, it didn't.

The crowd was enormous (I heard a figure of 2000), undoubtedly because of David Selby's play. Yet it wasn't just a one-day bulge in attendance. There were, if I remember correctly, at least 800 people at the Banquet.

I'll try to share my impressions of the play, Lincoln and James. It's about a black man who works as a janitor at the Lincoln Memorial. The statue of Lincoln comes to life (which may or may not be interpreted as "all in his head"), and they have an extended conversation. Two acts' worth of conversation. It was suggested by a real incident a few years back, when James (I forget his last name), the longtime janitor at the Memorial, collapsed and died on the job. There was a big stir about employees like him not having adequate insurance or death benefits.

The play (it was a reading, the actors had scripts) was a constant barrage of rapid-fire dialogue--some of it humorous, some deadly serious. It brought in and tied together the Civil War, the Vietnam War (James was a veteran), and racism. At one point James was taking Lincoln to task, accusing him of being a racist. Then there were Fourth of July fireworks going off in the background (impressive FX), and the noise of the explosions was taking James back to Vietnam.

In the end, I believe he did collapse and die. To be honest, there was so much to digest that a lot of it went over my head. I'm sure some other fans must have had the same reaction. But it was clearly idealistic and well-intentioned, and we all love and admire David, so we applauded like mad. I was hoping there'd be a way to purchase the text or an audio recording of the play, so I could get to understand it better. But nothing like that has been mentioned.

David gave a fine performance, and so did John Wesley as James. (Amusingly, David was the one who fluffed a few lines!) There was also a "Musician," Allen Collins, who provided accompaniment to the dialogue--like a musical score for a film or TV episode. Collins, like Wesley, is black. They're both extremely handsome!

After the play, the three guys came onstage for a question and answer session about it. It took quite a while for David to come out, because he had a lot of costume changing to do; but the others held down the fort. The most interesting points: Wesley and Collins were very impressed that David, who's neither black nor a Vietnam veteran, was able to capture those experiences so well. And someone asked an intriguing question--whether they knew what the family of the real James thought about all this. They didn't know, and they were very anxious to find out when they took the play to Washington.

The second most anticipated event at this Fest was the appearance of Nancy Barrett. Her first Fest ever! Louis Edmonds told us the reason she had never come, and had to be coaxed this time, was that she's extremely shy. She had only performed her cabaret act for much smaller groups, like hospital patients, and she was very nervous.

She came onstage dressed in black (pants and top), beautiful as ever, blond hair a trifle above her shoulders but thick and lustrous as ever. We went wild at just the sight of her! And her first number brought the house down. It was a song written especially for the occasion--about DS, and her happiness at being back with us, with the refrain, "It's just as if we never said goodbye." Yes!

I forget what other songs she sang, but there were quite a few. We let her know we still love her madly. Truthfully, I thought she was a trifle off-key in her upper register. But the lower register was great, and it was a thrill to see and hear her. I didn't stick around for that day's autograph session, but I heard she didn't stay to sign autographs--again, because she's so shy.

A related thought. Picture-taking (except by the Fest's official photographer) is banned during formal "performances" like David's and Nancy's. And one of my friends told me she'd heard a rumor that the real reason Jonathan Frid stopped coming to these events is that fans were ignoring the rules and filming his performances.

Another Festival highlight was Kathryn Leigh Scott's reading aloud some sections of a diary she had recently found, that she kept during the filming of House of Dark Shadows. She kept asking us, "Are you really interested in this?" We were eating it up!

It was so funny. She was reminding us how very young she was at the time, and apologizing for the, um, grumpiness of actors... For example, she had noted that she could hardly believe Dan Curtis had shelled out the money to have the cast driven to the set in limos one day. And then, the sarcastic follow-up: She should have known. He only did it because he needed the stupid limos for a funeral scene!

In the diary, she was griping incessantly about Roger Davis (who always seemed to have a knack for rubbing his colleagues the wrong way). And brimming with girlish delight at getting to spend time with her "two favorite actors," Jonathan Frid and "Johnny" Karlen. One of my pals said she suspected Kathryn might actually have had a crush on Karlen at the time.

It sounds like Karlen hasn't changed a bit--except for his girth! He was as wacky then as he is now, and already a major-league drinker. Kathryn described him, well in his cups, getting up to entertain cast and crew with an impromptu performance during the filming of House. First, in character as Willie, he did a monologue about how Barnabas made all this mess, blood all over the place, and he was the one who had to clean it up. When that was well received, his encore was a hilarious impression of Mussolini. (Hey, Kathryn said it was good. How either of them knew anything about Mussolini is a mystery to me!)

If she ever edits and publishes that diary, I'd advise everyone to buy it.

My biggest regret at the Fest was that I missed almost all of Lara Parker's presentation on the planned DS novels. There's so much going on that you have to skip some things in order to eat; and the program is usually running behind schedule, so you have to guess how far behind it will be at a given time. I guessed wrong. I intended to skip Diana Millay (I don't care much for her, sense a phoniness in her). But I missed almost all of Lara's time onstage as well. What I did catch...the editor was on with her, and someone had asked if unknown writers have a chance to be considered to write future novels. The editor said, possibly, but Lara will be given preference if she wants to write another one. Whereupon Lara said, "That's the first I've heard that!"

Another story involving Lara...her teenage daughter, Caitlin Hawkins, was in one of the Collinsport Players' comedy skits this year. The skit wasn't very good (the Players are definitely going downhill), and I regret to say Caitlin wasn't very good in it. It was called, "Bye, bye, Vicki," and was meant to spoof several different actresses' having played Vicki in original DS. If that sounds like a weak idea for a skit, it was. Caitlin's problem was that no one had told her she should speak much more loudly than usual, to project her voice. But she was pretty, we gave her a big hand, and Lara beamed with pride.

As skits go, what I recall as the funniest was a spoof of the 1991 DS that I saw at one of my first Fests. Remember how Angelique, in the duel scene, casts a spell that causes the ball from Barnabas's gun to appear in her hand? Here, she called out, "Barnabas, I have your ball!" And Barnabas clutched frantically at his groin. Also, remember how Natalie sniffs that her Josette has more delicate features than Vicki? Here, immediately after she said that, Josette came out--played by a hulking, 6-foot guy in drag. Watching the zombie Jeremiah try to lift this "Josette" was priceless!

Back to 1997. I had been disappointed in the Costume Gala at the '96 Fest, but this one was terrific. Probably a record number of participants, great costumes, great mini-performances. One of the best (reprising, I admit, his act from a previous year) was a guy who plays banjo(?) and sings a nutty "tribute" to Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It has a great beat, and he gets the whole crowd singing, at the top of our lungs, the repeated refrain: "Boris, Boris is the chorus...Bela, helluva guy..." (Okay, maybe you had to be there!)

The Banquet, usually a dud, was sensational at this Fest. To begin with, the organizers had gotten Roger Davis to emcee it. He was very funny. Then, to liven things up still more, John Karlen wandered into the midst of the proceedings. Everyone else was more or less presentably dressed. Karlen, bless him, was wearing shorts. At the height of the zaniness he began saying he wanted to kiss Roger on the mouth. Asking Roger, "Are you afraid to discover what you really are?" And appealing to the audience, "Should I kiss him?" We were all shrieking, "Kiss him!" Finally, he did--on the cheek. But a minute later, Roger suddenly grabbed him, and kissed him right on the mouth! Then Karlen was screaming, "I was only kidding! I want you to know I had my mouth closed!" We were practically in hysterics.

So...on balance, I'm glad I didn't have a hissy fit and go home. Vegas, anyone?