Witch Hunt: Searching for Dark Shadows

 by David Story


"You will beg more than forgiveness before I am finished with you." --Angelique Collins


Dark Shadows' Lara Parker (Anglieque) is a great-great-granddaughter of southern statesman L.Q.C. Lamar. Born Mary Lamar Ricky and raised in Tennessee, she tried her luck early on in New York when she auditioned for the ABC daytime Gothic serial Dark Shadows. At the audition, Parker zapped the lens with her luminous eyes. The rest is history, especially for the legions of Dark Shadows' fans who are set to embrace Tim Burton's new Dark Shadows feature film (2012), starring Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins.


Today Parker teaches at Santa Monica College in L.A. Having written two novels, Angelique's Descent and Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch, she is busy recording a new series of Dark Shadows audio narratives from Big Finish, including The Death Mask, The Carrion Queen, and The Crimson Pearl. Having just returned late this summer from a three-day jaunt to London, where she and other Dark Shadows alums filmed cameos for the Burton film, Parker took time off from her busy schedule to talk to me about the character of the witch Angelique, her career and co-stars, the pending DVD release of the restored film Night of Dark Shadows, and her recent reunion with Jonathan Frid, the original vampire Barnabas Collins.


DS: In the mid-1960s, you were a housewife and mom living in rural Wisconsin. After you put a spell on the camera at your Dark Shadows audition, your family joined you in the Big Apple. Tell our readers about that time.


LP: Because I'd not been doing what I wanted, the thought of waking up to do the dishes, clean the house, and cook wasn't enough. In New York I was in a conflicting environment. I was not a well-established woman of substance, but a working woman, struggling with two kids, who had a difficult life. I hadn't been a debutante. We'd had no great house and not a lot of money. I knew girls who attended Miss Hutchinson's School for Girls in Memphis and who were debutantes. I was proud to not be one. I've never been able to be a successful southern lady.




DS: Why did the witch Angelique appeal to so many people, and do you believe viewers related as much to Lysette Anthony's prime-time Angelique in 1991 as they did to your interpretation of the character?


LP: Women identified with both our portrayals of Angelique because the character had the courage to do what many of them couldn't do yet, what many of them would have liked to have done, and the courage combined with the power to do it. The truth is Angelique got away with what other women could only fantasize about. She was smarter than anyone else. She became impatient with the rest of the world.


DS: Eva Green, cast as the new Angelique in the Burton film, has described the Angelique she'll be playing for Burton as a very different spirit than the character your originated in the 1960s. To  quote Green: "I haven't seen the TV series, but from what I've seen on the Internet, it's very different. My character is this sexy witch, very powerful in town, she's very cool." Your thoughts on Green's comments and Anthony's interpretation of the character for NBC in the early 1990s?


LP: By comparison, my Angelique's intelligence was an intelligence of cynicism. It wasn't a spiritual intelligence but was more one of street smarts in that she realized that everyone is greedy and out to get what they could, but she was better at it than any of them, though suffered in ways that made her more determined. She learned from her suffering to be more vicious. As for Lynette Anthony, she did a good job but could have been stronger. My Angelique was ruthless. She really had no choice. Lysette played her as if Angelique "chose" to be mean. But, Angelique didn't "choose" to be mean. She simply was. Lysette chose to make Angelique more rational, as if she chose to be mean because she was hurt. On the other hand, maybe I just had the knack for playing the bad side.


DS:  It's been said at one of the Dark Shadows fan festivals that organizer Jim Pierson set up videos of you and Anthony playing the same scene. How did that play out?


LP: If my scene was one that was particularly good, I'd turn to Lysette and say, "Match that!" or "eat your heart out!" Lysette would laugh, and Jim played her scene, and she said, "You, match that!" We were saying the same lines but completely differently. We've had a fun sort of rivalry. Lysette is delightful, exquisitely lovely, and very bright.




DS: Well, filmgoers will see next year if Eva Green can "match that," as well. Let's talk about how you became involved with the fan festivals, since the events have kept Dark Shadows alive all these years.


LP: I resisted the festivals a lot in the beginning. I felt I would be trying to take advantage of something. In my mind, it was over and would have been like Sally Field in Soapdish going to the mall to be recognized. Now it's just one of those things I do, and though tiring, it's just like going to see your family once a year. People like Jim Pierson make it worthwhile. As I said before, Jim gave Lysette and me a hour on a featured program. He showed the clips I told you about and asked us questions. It was fun seeing scenes I'd learned back then just the night before and rehearsed maybe three times. And then he played Lysette's rendition of the same scene that was shot on film and edited and, I might add, dynamic by comparison. It was all just for laughs because today's production values are far superior, and Lysette got to do wonderful things. Back then we just got to stand on the mark and say the words!




DS: You've said that the festivals have also been a time to reconnect with some of your former costars. Tell our readers about some of them. Let's start with the show's original ingénue, Alexandra Molkte Isles, who created the role of Victoria Winters. Though it remains to be seen how Bella Heathcote will fare as Miss Winters, in 1991 Joanna Going was not as distant in her portrayal of Victoria as was Isles back on daytime.


LP: I thought the character of Victoria Winters should not have been as aloof as she was. Alexandra did have this distance as you said, this cool and ravishing distance. When she wanted to leave the show she stopped combing her hair and wearing make-up and still she photograph beautifully. She didn't need to do anything, and yes, she was a socialite. She came from money. The show was "beneath" her. Even from the beginning, she wanted more. By the time I came on the show, she did not want to be there. She wanted off the show more than anything and finally got off by marrying and getting pregnant. She really didn't want to be an actress. She'd thought she wanted to be an actress, but being an actress didn't do for her the things that it does for most people who want to act.


DS: But, in your estimation, could she act?


LP: Alexandra was indeed a very real actress. Even not bringing a lot of energy worked for her because her character was supposed to be reactive. She was the show's protagonist, the one it was all happening to. She was the audience's eyes. We saw it all though her eyes. She was the bridge that carried us into the show. But her lack of energy, which really drove the directors mad, really worked for her because it seemed so real. Since Alexandra was so placid, so rational, the rest of us seemed larger than life! She did her best work at that point in the series, but off-screen Alexandra moped around like someone who had to be there and didn't want to be there. I always sort of wanted to be her friend but was slightly intimated by her wealth and social standing. Then she went off to have a quite interesting experience that was stranger than fiction. [Parker alludes to the fact it was Isle's testimony that helped convict her former lover Klaus von Bulow during his first trial.]




DS: Your on-screen nemesis Maggie Evans / Josette Collins (and sometimes real-life nemesis, as one hears rumors in the case of most long-term friendships) was portrayed by the lovely and talented Kathryn Leigh Scott, the rights to whose The Bunny Years: The Inside Story of the Playboy Clubs and the Women Who Worked as Bunnies have recently been bought by NBC's The Playboy Club. Kathryn Scott recently and appeared in VH1's When Ruled the World in the  episode "When Playboy Ruled The World." I know you and Kathryn have re-teamed for some of the Big Finish audios, such as "Final Judgment," and you once said you had a box of pictures of yourself, too (though not in a Bunny suit!), so give us the scoop on your lasting friendship with Miss Scott.

LP: (Laughing) How could I resent someone who has done what I could have done if I'd wanted to write a vanity book and use my pictures? Kathryn has prodigious energy, so I couldn't feel 'sour grapes' that her books are all pictures of her. I thought some of her previous books were overly narcissistic publications, but, damn it, she pulled it off. As I a writer I admire that. She is smart, and she is, and will remain, one of my best friends. She is a gifted actress and single-handedly created the character of Josette. Kathryn is the one who made Josette innocent and radiant and incredibly vulnerable, whereas Kathryn herself was not any of those things, and I thought my friend did a very good job.




DS: Michelle Pfeiffer, an esteemed actress and renowned beauty, has taken over the role of Collins matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, as did the late screen veteran Jean Simmons in 1991. But the role was created by the legendary Joan Bennett, who was truly one of a kind, one of the last of the old-time Hollywood stars. She was last given star billing in 1950/51's Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend opposite Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Tell us about your experiences with the formidable Miss Bennett.


LP: Joan Bennett was our resident star. She was really used to being pampered, but there is not pampering on a soap opera, though they did give her own dressing room and some beautiful clothes to wear. But she had to go through the same rigorous schedule as the rest of us. It was very hard to do a half-hour show with only three rehearsals. It was hard on Joan. She was often shaky during taping. She was scared, and I was amazed that, with all her experience, I was calmer than she. I think it all gave her a kind of one-dimension. She played one mood always: stiff and uptight. It was difficult situation for someone with her background. And yet she was a great lady, and she brought to the show major Hollywood stardom and elegance and a kind of radiance that only real movie stars have: never an unkind word, a genuine interest in others, a real lady-like consideration and sense of being well-bred. She knew the way to conduct herself in the workplace. Everyone adored Joan, and I myself was very fond of her.




DS: You have some experience with real-life matriarchs in you own family, do you not? Tell us about Ann Heiskell Rickey.


LP: My mother, Ann Heiskell Rickey, was a strong liberal when it wasn't fashionable. She knew the Al Gore family and belonged to the Tennessee State Democratic Executive Committee and worked on the campaign of Congressman Estes Kefauver in 1948. She was a delegate at two Democratic National Conventions: Chicago in 1952 and in San Francisco in 1988, which I attended with her. My mother worked for desegregation and ran unsuccessfully for the State House of Representatives on the "Green Light Ticket," which challenged "Boss" Crump. She wrote for the Memphis Press-Scimitar a series of verses satirizing different officials in Crump's corrupt political "Machine."


DS: What was it like to be associated with the legacy of  L.Q.C. Lamar, who's featured in John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage?


LP: As I learned from my mother, there's in large southern families the tendency to extol the greatness of those who should be respected. Because of the street in Memphis named "Lamar Street," it was painful carrying a name I didn't like very much. I wanted to be a "Judy" or "Connie," but I saw my mother carrying on the higher traditions of our family -- truth, for one -- and for her that meant segregation was wrong.


DS: You share with your mother an appreciation of the arts and writing -- she wrote Bugs and Critters I Have Known. You've become as prolific with your writing, if not more so, than your friend Kathryn Scott. Tell us how your family inspired your love of the arts and your desire to write.


LP: I left the South and thought I'd left behind the tradition for reverence of family and history. There's a tendency in the South be elitist, so I fled that superficiality, but my mother was a member of the Film, Tape, and Music Commission and worked on a project on Beale Street's history. Interested in the blues, she wrote a two-hour documentary on Memphis music. She recorded a lot of musicians through her company Reel to Reel and appreciated the blues. I, too, took up writing -- horror genre -- and though my mother called "genre" writing  "one of those things you try to avoid," I do continue to write. Now I realize unintentionally I've carried on some of  my mother's  family's positive values: the traditions of writing, teaching and sharing great ideas.


DS: Enlightening! Just as Kathryn Scott is none of those things that exemplified her character of Barnabas's first love Josette, Lara Parker seems to be none of t hose things associated with the witch Angelique. Will you come back next time and talk with us about working with David Selby and Kate Jackson (in her film debut) on the 1971 feature film Night of Dark Shadows, about your recent visit to the Tim Burton's set at Pinewood Studios in London, and of course about working with Jonathan Frid, the original vampire Barnabas Collins?


LP: I will!


To be continued  . . .


Copyright © 29 Oct 2011 We Like Media.
You may email David M. Story.