Comforting familial specters, fear-inducing wraiths, corporal manifestations of a guilty conscience or, quite plainly, ghosts. They’ve been a staple of the soap opera genre for years and they’re usually employed as an excuse to bring back a beloved character after they have been summarily dispatched to the great hereafter. But were it not for a particularly peculiar daytime sudser – ABC’s Dark Shadows – these daytime phantasms may never have existed.
Dark Shadows – Like No Other
Upon its premiere on June 27, 1966, it quickly became clear that Dark Shadows was not a typical daily soap opera. The opening episodes followed an orphaned governess, Victoria Winters, to her first house of employment: a foreboding cliffside castle known as Collinwood.
There, Victoria made the acquaintance of her new employer (agoraphobe Elizabeth Collins Stoddard) and her charge (David Collins, a 10-year-old spook enthusiast). In its early days, Dark Shadows was a leisurely-paced homage to gothic literature, employing all of the tried and true trappings of the genre including disembodied cries, rattling chains, frightening prophecies, and family legends.
But the series was an unmitigated failure. Hoping to arrest the hemorrhaging ratings, Dan Curtis, the man responsible for bringing the show to air, decided to introduce something never before seen on a soap opera: overt horror. To that end, he insisted on the inclusion of a ghost.
With the mandate in place, the stage was set for the introduction of Dark Shadows’ first phantom. Luckily, the serial had set up the ghostly visitation months earlier when it told the tale of the late, long lamented Collins’ ancestor, Josette du Pres, who had married into the family but then had thrown herself onto the beach from the cliff’s highest point.
David had insisted to his minder that he had not only seen but spoken to Josette and he led Victoria to the dwelling place of his new friend: the crumbling provincial mansion that had served as the original Collinwood.
A Ghostly Visit
There, situated over the great room’s fireplace, was Josette’s portrait – a great piece of artwork commissioned to capture the Martinique native’s exotic beauty. After the intrepid duo was scared away by the mansion’s caretaker, the painting suddenly came to life and the specter of Josette emerged from within.
Now free of her confines, Josette glided outside the mansion and onto the structure’s porch where she conducted a solitary dance to a tune only she could hear. Today, the image remains just as melancholy, and frightening, as it did when first presented on September 30, 1966 – 53 years ago exactly!