Other Festival Memories -- Years Unknown in Most Cases

I do know some memories--not all good--are from the first Fest I attended, in 1991. It was the second of two Fests that year, held at the Vista Hotel in New York. (The earlier one had been in L.A., and was attended by more of the DS91 cast.) The Vista was located at the World Trade Center; later, it had to be closed for years after the 1993 bombing. New York Fests moved to the Marriott Marquis, which fans liked much better. But as everyone knows, the WTC hotel reopened as a Marriott, and a Fest was held there three weeks before it was destroyed.

In 1991, I arrived before the actual opening of the Fest. I settled down for a solitary dinner in a very gloomy, depressing hotel restaurant. A man and woman were at the next table; the woman's back was to me, and she may have screened me from the man's view. They were talking so loudly that I couldn't help hearing everything they said.

It became clear they were among the top convention staff. I later learned the man--who said nothing out of the way--was Jim Pierson. I won't name the woman, except to say it wasn't Marcy Robin or Kathy Resch (they're both lovely people). She was insufferable! In addition to going on and on about her own importance, she talked venomously about an actress we all love. Sneeringly called her "stupid" because it hadn't occurred to her that this woman might have made her hotel reservation under the actress's then-new marriage name.

Personally, I can't imagine anything more stupid than a convention staffer's talking like that without checking to see whether other hotel guests were within earshot. The actress could have been sitting where I was.

I also can't imagine a worse introduction to the Fests than I had as a first-time attendee.

But the only way it could go was up. I remember that for the Costume Gala, a fan friend of mine was dressed as Naomi Collins. She looked great. But what a costume! She could barely get through doors with the voluminous skirt. Worse: her idea of a privileged 18th-century lady, who'd never had to do a tap of work, involved long false fingernails. Once she had them on she was helpless. Couldn't zip up her own costume, couldn't even open those doors. For me, helping her, it was a hoot. But if I'd been trapped in the costume, I probably would have passed out.

I didn't enjoy that first Banquet at all. I was among strangers--which would have been fine, except that we were so tightly packed around the table we could hardly move, and I didn't seem to have anything in common with them. I remember the group discussing movies. Almost everyone at the table agreed--apparently in dead earnest--that their all-time favorite film was Godzilla!

On to random memories from other Fests...

I recall a year in which one of the fans in the autograph line was a young aspiring actress. She was probably still in her teens, and had as beautiful a face as I've ever seen. But she was putting on an outrageous display of her...other assets. What passed for a dress left almost nothing to the imagination. It was totally inappropriate. And what other fans found truly appalling was that her mother was with her, encouraging her. I still remember her leaning over a seated Jonathan Frid--a perfect gentleman, old enough to be her grandfather--with her boobs falling out of her dress, practically in his face.

Another year, I recall, there was a young woman in extreme "Goth" getup. She looked--and admitted she felt--out of place. She had thought a Dark Shadows event would attract the sort of people who believe they really are vampires! And she found a bunch of nice family types in T-shirts and jeans. (One of the things I've always liked about the Fests is that they attract fans of all ages--and both sexes, in roughly equal numbers.)

A final thought on the subject of attire: I only took a costume once, to an L.A. Fest that coincided with Halloween. Since we were going to be indoors--and L.A. surely isn't frigid in October, anyway--I had a flimsy witch costume. I'd forgotten about air conditioning! I darn near froze to death.

Encounters with other fans...I was standing in line at one Fest, and began chatting with a young woman who had her two little boys with her. With the children playing just out of earshot, she told me her husband--the boys' father--had loved DS and dreamed of attending that Fest with them. He had died the month before. But she was still there with the kids, because she knew he would have wanted it.

During one of the New York Fests, I went on the day trip to location sites at which DS had filmed. We had lunch in a historic restaurant, where I was seated at a table with about eight other people. All strangers, but this group was a congenial one.

One very likable guy--probably in his early thirties--came up with an idea for a game. Could we guess his occupation? He'd give clues in the form of yes-no answers to questions about what it involved.

But as people asked questions, his occupation seemed to involve a little of everything. Some teaching--but he wasn't primarily a teacher. Some p.r. work--but he wasn't primarily a p.r. man. It went on and on. And he finally had to tell us. With a big grin, he revealed that he was...a Catholic priest!

Fascinating: he said DS seems to have a lot of appeal for priests. He'd run into several others at that Fest. All or almost all had, like him, shed their Roman collars so they could mix easily. But priests, he said, are good at spotting other priests.

I remember another fan, a middle-aged woman, telling me at one Fest that she'd seen a ghost in real life. I wish I could recall the details. I believe she had gone into a historic house, seen a man she first took to be a living person, and then somehow realized he had to be a ghost.

Side trips...I went to the Tarrytown estate where Night of Dark Shadows was filmed, and thought that site was vastly overrated as a tourist attraction. I still can't understand what non-DS fans see in it. The only point of interest for me was the revelation that filmmakers had used clever camera angles to make its rooms look larger than they are.

I also went to Greystone; it was pouring rain, and we were thoroughly soaked. Not worth going back, since visitors can't enter the building anyway.

Last and in most cases best, memories involving the cast...Louis Edmonds addressed Lara as "Lamar," and then we got the explanation. That actually is her first name. She's named for a male ancestor. I forget whether "Lamar" was his first or last name, but he was a person of historical importance, a political "hero" featured in President Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.

I mentioned in one of my Reviews that Diana Millay strikes me as a phony. Here's the one specific I can point to as evidence of that. At some Fest, she trotted out what I know is an oft-repeated story (I forget whether I've read that it's apocryphal) of the late Telly Savalas's encounter with a ghost. Half the population of the U.S. must have heard or read that tale, a variant of the classic "phantom hitchhiker." But Diana had the gall to present it as something her "friend" Savalas had told her, that she couldn't have learned otherwise.

Dennis Patrick and John Karlen used to be a hilarious duo, carrying on a running joke about Jason McGuire's having had a sexual interest in Willie. To pull it off, the men must have been close friends. They'd find actual lines from the show that could, if someone chose, be given a sexual context. They had us rolling in the aisles!

The irrepressible Dennis also composed this limerick about Willie:

Poor little Willie Loomis,
We all know what his doom is.
He'll be caught by the balls
When Barnabas calls
And asks what the way to his room is.

An unedifying but amusing memory: at one Fest, we heard that the autograph line (which I had skipped) took forever because John Karlen was drunk! He was a very friendly drunk, who held up the line by chatting with everyone. He reportedly hadn't planned to stay over in the hotel that night, but was persuaded to because he was in no condition to drive.

A quirky memory: someone asked Denise Nickerson what part of her work in DS was hardest for her. She said it was playing Nora. Fans were taken aback. How could that be? Wasn't Nora a smaller and less demanding role than Amy?

Then she explained. Just before she began playing Nora, she'd had cosmetic surgery to make her ears lie closer to her head. They weren't completely healed--and when her role required her to wear a 19th-century style wig, she was in pain the whole time!

In closing, a very nice memory. Chris Pennock was at my table at one Banquet. He had his wife and an adorable toddler daughter with him. We were in L.A., and Chris had mentioned living several hours' drive away. Someone asked him if he planned to make that long drive after the Banquet, with a sleepy child. He said no. He and Lisa Richards had remained close friends all those years, and his family would be spending the night at her place!

If we never see the DS cast again after 2003, that's how I want to remember them: as decent, down-to-earth people who formed enduring friendships--just as we fans did--thanks to the show we, and they, loved.