Festival Report -- 1998 (MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas)


Now that I have that off my chest, I can go on to say that the '98 Fest was, overall, a positive experience, though not as memorable as last year's.

The main reason most fans hated the hotel is that the convention area was too far from our rooms. A long walk to the elevator; elevator down to the lobby; a second, much longer walk; then down an escalator, yet another long walk, and finally, up two levels on another escalator. Whew! At a normal pace, getting there took about twenty minutes. The distance made it impossible to zip back and forth between convention area and guest rooms to drop off purchases. Other problems: there was no separate Video Room; there were two Dealers' Rooms, but that was because they were both small; and a friend of mine who was taking pictures complained that the auditorium stage wasn't high enough.

For those who are wondering about the planned new DS, the situation at the time of the Fest was still as reported in the last Shadowgram. Talks are continuing; the focus seems to be on a TV series, but no interested network or networks can be named. Beyond that, it's premature to speculate. But I can't resist passing this on: some fans had heard a rumor that Dan Curtis wants to start with the Quentin storyline.

The most-anticipated Festival guest, David Selby, was forced to cancel. He was in eastern Canada, working in that syndicated series now called SOF: Special Ops Force. Unfortunately, he had to work both Saturday and Monday. He sent word that he regretted having to cancel; if the Fest had been in New York he would have come down on Sunday, but with no direct flights between Montreal and Vegas, he couldn't possibly fly out in the time available.

Louis Edmonds also had to cancel. He's been very frail since a bout with pneumonia last winter. He's at home on Long Island, and doing well--he could also have attended if the Fest had been in New York. But he decided he shouldn't risk the trip to Vegas. He sent us a videotaped message, even sang a little song for us. And they played a great video of his old cabaret act. Within the last couple years, Louis acted in two scenes of a film called Next Year in Jerusalem (he plays an old Jewish grandfather in a troubled family during Passover). He has said this will be his acting swan song. The film is going directly to video, and will also air on Cinemax next year.

About Festival locations--of course, if they had stuck with the rotation, it would have been L.A. this year anyway. New York is set for next year. But beyond that...they said they went with Vegas this year because they knew there were a lot of fans in Nevada who'd never been able to get to a Fest. And whenever they asked for a show of hands, there were a lot of first-time attendees. On the Fan Questionnaire, they let us vote on other cities as possible sites.

Getting back to who was and wasn't there--the only other cancellation was a person who hadn't been announced as a guest, Terry Crawford. She had made a late decision to come, then came down with the flu.

But we saw Nancy Barrett, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Karlen, Dennis Patrick, Roger Davis, Chris Pennock, Marie Wallace, Denise Nickerson, Diana Millay, James Storm, Donna Wandrey, and Paul Michael. Paul Michael brought longtime love Marion Ross (Happy Days) with him. I hadn't realized they were married, but he introduced her as his wife.

One major disappointment for me: there was no new fan fiction for sale at this Fest. Not even new issues of TWODS or ITOH. Dale Clark wasn't even there. (His professional work was at a critical point, where he couldn't leave. He raises butterflies, and they were due to come out of their cocoons that weekend.) Kathy Resch was there, but neither she nor Dale had been able to get any new fiction ready because of the pressure of their "real-life" work.

I did buy Kathryn Leigh Scott's Dark Shadows Movie Book, and a bizarre comic book by Chris Pennock, Fear and Loathing in Dark Shadows. That's the kind of thing that leaves you wondering, is any of it true? Much of it is clearly farfetched invention. (Chris has a bad trip and is carted off to Bellevue, and they send the stage manager on to play Jeb Hawkes because no one else knows the lines.) But is it basically true that Chris and Mike Stroka were stoned half the time, and Mike was Chris's supplier? Given my age bracket, I wouldn't be critical if that were true--but I wouldn't venture a guess. It doesn't help that I haven't read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or seen the film, so I don't know exactly what Chris was parodying.

One of the Fest highlights was Lara Parker's reading of part of the first chapter of her book, Angelique's Descent. It sounds great! The title is meant to tie in with a myth about the goddess Inanna visiting the Underworld after her sister's death. The main story deals with Angelique's youth, but it's told in a flashback within a story set circa 1971. Lara said her editor suggested that. It's being published by Harper Collins. The official release date is December, but it may be out by the end of October. After that, they hope to have DS novels at roughly six-month intervals.

Dennis Patrick is working on his memoirs, which should be available next year. He read us some great bits. Also, he feels very passionately about the troubles in Ireland, and delivered a poem he's written, lambasting the clerics on both sides. Very strong stuff, quite profane, yet it all scanned and rhymed perfectly. As I recall, it ended with "up your canonical asses." That was the one thing that had me not merely applauding, but screaming, "Bravo!"

Hard to believe Dennis is 80. He's slowing down physically, needs a bit of help. But oh, that rapier-sharp wit! As usual, he shot off the best one-liners. Unfortunately, I can't remember any of them.

And John Karlen was, as always, one of the most irreverent and delightful guests. I would have liked to see more of him and Dennis onstage together.

Sadly, the sweet Denise Nickerson has been having problems in her life. Her sister is near death, and Denise is caring for her. On top of that, she's going through a divorce. And she can't quit smoking, even though she knows that's what did her sister in. We felt so bad for her! It was only about three years ago that Denise came to her first Fest--the organizers had been unable to locate her for years--and then, she was a happy newlywed.

Diana Millay gave us some news about the privacy-craving David Henesy. He's been living in Central America for four years. She didn't have his permission to tell us what country. She said David is very successful in his field, restaurant management. He's married--to his third wife--and has a new baby. He also has two children by previous marriages, living in the States.

I was surprised at how handsome Jim Storm still is. He looks very good for his age. I had only seen him at one previous Fest--then he was performing country music, which I hate. He's gotten away from that now, and his son is into it.

Nancy Barrett's cabaret act seemed about the same as last year, with some bits added for relevance to Las Vegas and the theme of movies (more on that later). She had worn black last year, chose white this time. And much as I love her, I still think she sings off key. They angered the crowd by making us clear the auditorium before her performance, giving up seats we'd been hanging onto for hours. My friend and I had been in the third row.

Again this year, that was the only time we saw Nancy. (Though I understand she did sign autographs this year.) She was scheduled to be onstage with some other stars the day before, but canceled, supposedly because of an earache. Given all we've heard about her shyness, I suspect that may have been an excuse.

This entire Fest was tied to the theme of the DS movies, which didn't make me particularly happy. I think of the movies as a very minor adjunct to the TV series I loved. The organizers tried to make the actors onstage reminisce specifically about their movie memories. But they didn't succeed very well--the actors, bless them, rambled all over the place!

Probably because of this attempt to focus on the movies, they cut one of the features I've liked at recent Fests: recreating scenes from the show with the original actors.

And supposedly, it was because of the movie tie-in that they held the Fest at an MGM hotel. Hello? Did I miss something? You'd think DS had a long and happy relationship with MGM! Never mind that MGM butchered Night of Dark Shadows, destroyed the footage cut from both films, and made no serious attempt to save DS91 after NBC canceled it...

I was especially livid after reading, in Kathryn's new book, exactly what happened with NODS. When Dan Curtis showed MGM brass the print he and his editors had labored over for weeks, they told him they hated it--and gave him 24 hours to cut 25% of his film, or they'd do it themselves! Writer Sam Hall was reduced to tears.

Back to the Fest. The Collinsport Players were terrible. The pits. Beyond belief. They should be put out of their misery.

As usual on the Coast, there wasn't much in the Dealers' Room or the Display Room.

And also as usual on the Coast, the Costume Gala had only a few entrants, and most of it was deadly dull. But two "performances" redeemed it. One guy--who's legally blind--wasn't in costume, but gave a great performance of the Daniel-Gabriel scene in which Gabriel finally reveals he's able to walk, and deliberately scares his elderly father to death. He played both parts, jumping back and forth between the two chairs, and finally "died" on the floor in great style. That was cool. And another guy did a far-out Liza Minnelli impersonation--Liza Minnelli as DS fan!

I sat through both auctions, and was thoroughly bored. I don't know if they really are running out of interesting things to auction, or if it was just "me." One thing: people struck me as much more conservative in their bidding than usual, showing sales resistance and common sense. No one bid anything for a quite good drawing of Humbert Allen Astredo.

Last year's Banquet was the best ever, with Roger Davis emceeing and John Karlen spontaneously joining in. This year it was back to Dullsville. (Wonder if they had to pay Roger to emcee last year? Knowing Roger...) At least the food was good. But the "prizes" were really crummy. They actually handed one person a DS coaster!

On the whole, it was fun, and I'm sure the many first-time attendees were thrilled. But I'll leave you with a final, fitting image. Before the Banquet, everyone packs away the DS T-shirts and changes into something more dressy. When my friend and I got back to the convention area for the evening's festivities, we ran into an acquaintance from Winnipeg. She was in her stocking feet, shoes in her hand--those elegantly-shod tootsies hadn't been able to take the hike back from her room!