Back in 1988, the FOX affiliate, WAXA, in Greenville, SC started showing repeats of the 1960s gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows.” At the time, FOX only offered weekend programming (“The Tracey Ullman Show” and “Married… with Children”), so WAXA relied on a roster of syndicated shows during the week.
My mother was thrilled to see “Dark Shadows” again. Growing up in the 1960s, she’d been one of the first wave of fans. She switched on Channel 40 every day at 7:30 p.m., right after dinner (sometimes during, sometimes before — she sort of ran her own schedule in that department). Although our interests didn’t always intersect, I was quickly hooked after seeing Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) arrive at the family mansion, Collinwood, “from England” and introduce himself in the politest way possible. I wanted to be just like him — well, except for the drinking blood part.
Christmas break from school that year began on Friday, December 16. That evening’s “DS” episode was a culmination of a storyline in which scoundrel Jason McGuire’s (Dennis Patrick) plans to blackmail family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) backfires. Ordered to leave town and desperate for money, McGuire sneaks into Barnabas Collins’s house in order to steal a fortune in jewels. It doesn’t end well for him.
The episodes airing the week before Christmas were notable for their initial attempts at humanizing the vampire, as he sets his sights on Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) and throws a costume party at his home in which his guests will dress in 18th century clothing. One of my mother’s favorite Barnabas Collins lines comes when his servant Willie Loomis (John Karlen) insists that the Collinses would never agree to wear period costumes. “How fortunate for me,” he retorts, “that you are merely my servant and not my adviser!” My mother would often quote that line if I demanded to do something she knew was folly: “How fortunate for me that you are merely my son and not my adviser!”
WAXA went bankrupt and then off the air entirely in 1989, so I had to rely on taped VHS copies for my “DS” fix until the Sci-Fi Channel premiered in 1992 and started showing the series again. However, the association the costume party episodes had with Christmas remained with me and I’d watch them each year around this time.
My mother died on December 16, 2008 and my annual trip to Barnabas Collins’s costume party was as comforting for me then as it is now.