With a few celebrated exceptions, the Dark Shadows cast generally remains an obscure one to aficionados of cult television. Even in the age of multi-channel cable television, the majority of the show's actors remain shadowy figures outside of their familiar characters. Drawing on extensive new research, Barnabas & Company is a new reference book which uncovers a wealth of trivia, facts and figures for the entire Dark Shadows role-call.
Composed of a selection of career biographies, with additional trivia sections and a history of the show, the book has a gossipy, easygoing style that impresses, offering some important new observations on the Dark Shadows phenomenon along the way. For example, in the opening history of the show, the author comments on the intrusion of reality during the show's run, with some insightful comments from Nancy Barrett on the effect of the Vietnam War on the show's original fair tale qualities. It's a brief aside, but a valuable one that adds an extra dimension to the rose-tinted view of the studio days one usually hears.
Elsewhere, the book revels in the absurdities of show business, gleefully documenting a number of hilarious "what were they thinking?" productions with appropriately droll asides. If Denise Nickerson's Broadway lead in a musical production of Lolita doesn't sound bad enough, then Grayson Hall's hilarious turn as a lesbian nightclub promoter in sexploitation flick Satan in High Heels should raise a few smiles, in a role that even the actress agreed was best forgotten - she denied even appearing in the film at certain times in her career.
Where the book scores most highly is in its coverage of the actors' stage careers. Unlike most other cult shows, Dark Shadows drew its cast largely from the New York stage, and the detailed credit listings demonstrates the weight of formal training and experience that informed so many of the series' memorable performances. The New York theatre, preserved only in scarce reviews and Playbills, represents a crucial lost part of Dark Shadows' heritage, the value of which should not be underestimated. What emerges is a vivid picture of what a microcosm that world was for the show's actors, and the criss-crossing of career paths is dizzying. Many reviews and synopses are included, and though some are disappointingly brief, many succeed in bringing those lost performances back to life.
For too long Dark Shadows has been wrongly remembered for wobbly sets and wobblier acting. Craig Hamrick's indispensable new guide impressively redresses the balance, shedding new light on one of the most eclectic and accomplished casts ever assembled for a television show.