Reader Alan Louis has written in to share some childhood photos of him and friends staging their very own Dark Shadows play, back during the show's original run. These images are a charming illustration of the way Dark Shadows captured the imagination of its first generation of viewers. Alan takes up the story:
"My father was a Marine and my family moved often throughout my childhood. It was in 1968 when I first began watching Dark Shadows. My father was serving in Vietnam, while my family and I lived with my grandmother in San Jose. That's when I began running home after school with friends to watch the show at 3.30pm. It was that summer that ABC-TV moved the series back to its original 4.00pm airing, which made it much easier on us when school began again in the fall.
I was only seven years old, but over the next year I became an avid viewer and a regular reader of 16 Magazine. I remember eagerly walking with my grandmother to the local grocery store for the latest issue, which always had the best pictures and stories. There were full-page photos I'd tape to my closet door, along with the pin-up posters of Barnabas and Quentin from gum packs and, of course, the great Dark Shadows soundtrack album.
In December 1969, my father was transferred to Japan, and our family went with him for the next two years. I soon met other kids who loved Dark Shadows, and as a very young writer, my first works were a couple of short Dark Shadows plays. I wrote them out in longhand, and my father actually took them to his office on the base, where a secretary typed them out on coloured tissue paper, using carbon sheets between. We ended up with six smudgy copies, and each player got their own uniquely-coloured script.
I cast myself as Barnabas, my friend Carl as Quentin, and my first boyhood crush, Tracy, as Josette. Other neighbour kids eagerly filled out our small players group, but this left almost no one for an audience. My mother, a few other neighbours and their kids did come by, to see just what we were up to in the dirt alley that ran behind our house. We hung big blankets on the clothes line and used a large piece of plywood for the 'stage'. A sheet was added as a floor covering after I took a bad fall during rehearsals in my slick dress shoes, slipping on ketchup we used for blood.
Though actual details are lost to memory, I do recall the stories making very little sense! They were just a great excuse for us to play out our young fantasies – memories of a TV show we were no longer able to watch, as Dark Shadows wasn't broadcast in Japan. We had little opportunity to get news on our fave show, though occasionally, one of us got hold of a 16 Magazine, sent by someone on the mainland, and we'd all share the news, passing it around to see what was up.
My friends' families were transferred away at various times over the next two years; such is the nature of military life. It was my friend Tracy who wrote to me from her new Honolulu home in the spring of 1971, relaying the terrible news that Dark Shadows had been cancelled while I was still living in Japan. I kept the letter for many years, but it was lost over time, along with the scripts, the posters and the original magazines. Only these few images of that survive, which I found among other old family photos.
Today, like so many other fans, watching the old shows brings back a wealth of vivid memories – not just of the strange world of Collinwood, but of a magical time in our my life, filled with wonder and mystery, where anything first seemed possible. I eventually went on to work briefly as an actor, then as a writer and producer in film and television. My work in production also led to an interview with Tim Burton once upon a time, and I eagerly look forward to whatever his vision of Dark Shadows may be."
Rehearsal: Stagehand, Carl as Quentin and Alan as Barnabas
Barnabas and Josette, as played by Alan and Tracy