By: Lynn Peril
April 3, 2021

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite TV shows of the Sixties (in our periodization: 1964–1973).


DARK SHADOWS | 1966–1971

Dark Shadows debuted in 1966 as a run-of-the-mill soap opera with gothic overtones, centered around a sinister New England mansion called Collinwood and the family who lived there. Despite the presence of former Hollywood star Joan Bennett playing the family matriarch, ratings were mediocre.

That all changed in April 1967, when, as the New York Times reported, “poor Willie — the handyman at Collinwood — discovered a secret room in the family mausoleum. In the room, a coffin bound with chains. Next thing you know, nosy Willie opened the thing and out shot this… hand!” Goodbye, Willie, and hello, Barnabas Collins, the elegant, conflicted vampire portrayed by former Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid. Ratings took off, the Times noted, “like a rocket-powered bat out of, well, Collinwood.”

At the peak of the frenzy, the cast received some 6,000 fan letters a week. The majority of these were addressed to Frid, many from female viewers enticed by the erotic spectacle of Barnabas’s fangs as they pierced a victim’s throat. But because the show aired at a prime after-school hour, the ratings were fueled by high-school and college students, an untraditional audience for a soap opera, many of whom tuned in for the campy, convoluted storylines.

In his mid-40s, Frid was an unlikely teen idol, but there he was, nestled between the Cowsills and Bobby Sherman in the pages of magazines like Tiger Beat, 16, and FAVE! (exclamation point in title).

One Dark Shadows tie-in was aimed at still younger fans. According to its box, the Barnabas Collins Game (essentially a three-dimensional version of hangman, in which players pulled glow-in-the-dark bones from a cardboard coffin in a race to become the first to build a complete skeleton) was suitable for players aged 6 to 14. A Galveston newspaper’s roundup of children’s letters to Santa in December 1970, included 8-year-old Cynthia W.’s list, which began: “1. Easy Bake Oven. 2. Game Barnabas Collins.”

Cynthia was clearly a girl after my own heart. I too was part of the Dark Shadows’s tweenie fandom, and proudly wore the fangs that came with the Barnabas Collins Game. At age nine, the show’s campy erotica flew right over my head, but I tuned in for the adventures of Barnabas, Quentin (a sexy werewolf with his own memorable theme song), and Angelique (a witch once married to Barnabas).

Dark Shadows even provided the basis for my first attempt at zine writing, a project undertaken with my parents’ best friends’ daughters, all older than me by four or more years. I don’t know whose idea it was, but our parents were visiting and we were bored, so we decided to write a newspaper about the goings on at Collinwood. I remember sitting around the table in their knotty pine kitchenette using pencil on lined binder paper, drawing vertical lines to indicate columns. The girls had always been kind to me, but I remember their happy surprise that I too was a fan. That evening, as we worked on our paper, I had my first inkling of what it could mean to bond with others over pop culture.

The newspaper is long gone, but for Christmas that year, the girls gave me a boxed set of Dark Shadows novels. I think the adults were a little confused, but I was thrilled. The gift remains one of the best I’ve ever received — and it’s still on my shelf.


FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Lynn Peril on DARK SHADOWS (1966–1971) | Mark Kingwell on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964–1968) | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on I DREAM OF JEANNIE (1965–1970) | Luc Sante on SECRET AGENT/DANGER MAN (1964–1968 seasons) | Erin M. Routson on THE PATTY DUKE SHOW (1963–1966 run) | Gordon Dahlquist on HAWAII FIVE-O (1968–1973 seasons) | Annie Nocenti on GET SMART (1965–1970) | Sara Driver on THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964–1966) | Carlo Rotella on MANNIX (1967–1973 seasons) | Adam McGovern on JULIA (1968–1971) | Mimi Lipson on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (1970–1973 seasons) | Josh Glenn on BATMAN (1966–1968) | Tom Nealon on HOGAN’S HEROES (1965–1971) | Miranda Mellis on THE ODD COUPLE (1970–1973 seasons) | Peggy Nelson on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1964–1967) | Susan Roe on THE BRADY BUNCH (1969–1973 seasons) | Michael Grasso on UFO (1970–1973) | Richard McKenna on DOOMWATCH (1970–1972) | Adrienne Crew on BEWITCHED (1964–1972) | Michael Lewy on STAR TREK (1966–1969) | Greg Rowland on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (1970–1973 seasons) | David Smay on THE MONKEES (1966–1968) | Vijay Parthasarathy on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1964–1966 seasons) | Carl Wilson on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (1967–1973 seasons) | Jessamyn West on EMERGENCY! (1972–1973 seasons).