Helene In Words
Dark Shadows 50th ANNIVERSARY Tribute of Love (and the jumpstart of my upcoming book)
A 50th Anniversary Tribute of Love
By Helene Galek
Who would have believed that I have gotten to the age where I am commemorating the 50th anniversary of anything?! Part of the baby boomers’ legacy is being the “eternal teenager.” (And, as a typical Pisces, I am publishing this anniversary tribute just under the wire!)
Thanks to fervent and loyal fans, as well as technology, Dark Shadows has not only lived on to thrive and bloom but has influenced so many of the modern television shows dealing with the supernatural. The influence of Dark Shadows can be observed in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight Saga, True Blood, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Stranger Things and Outlander. Indeed, Outlander showed a clip of a character watching Dark Shadows during one of the episodes that jumps "ahead" to 1968. And in the non-horror world, General Hospital had a vampire show up in Port Charles and one of the characters on Mad Men announced she had an audition for Dark Shadows!
I was a super enthusiastic fan who was thoroughly wrapped up in the show during those young teenage years and I had an entire crowd who were just as enamored of Dark Shadows as I was. There had been nothing like this on television before and all the passion, drama and supernatural powers were intoxicating to 13-year old girls who were too old for dolls but too young to date.
In the days before DVRs and cable, we did, indeed, need to run home after school every day to watch it and had to depend on our memories to re-tell the story if someone missed an episode. Each day required a plan of action as I had thirty minutes from the final school bell to my front door. I could always count on the additional five minute window of the opening teaser, crashing waves and first commercial break. I would tap my foot impatiently as I waited for the set to “warm up”. My friend Rose and I got dropped off early at school by our parents on their way to work and we began each morning with a re-cap of the episode the day before. The fact that the park across the street from our school featured a majestic Victorian mansion ignited our imaginations. Rose and I prided ourselves on being able to paraphrase an entire episode. I paid homage to the show in so many ways during those years; choosing the class ring in black onyx, hair done up in ringlets for my cousin’s bar mitzvah, adorning my walls with posters of Barnabas and company and even weaving heartfelt references about Dark Shadows into yearbook inscriptions. Already performing in plays and dreaming of an acting career in New York, I also harbored the fantasy of being one of the actors on the show and came up with a character as well as a complete backstory!
As an adult, I echoed that popular sentiment, “I loved that show!!!” but always kept the real depth of my feelings to myself. I never mentioned the Dark Shadows actors I met at the stage door after a Broadway show or the unbelievable stroke of luck meeting Jonathan Frid walking up West End Ave during those first years in New York City. I was never comfortable with being an adult fan… it seemed to be something that belonged to my adolescent years. And as an actor, I never wanted to have a “Nurse Betty” moment if I ever shared a stage or film set with any of the cast! So I would secretly order some of the books and catch the re-runs but that’s where it stopped.
During the late 90’s, I was grateful to have the good fortune to study acting with George DiCenzo, who was one of Dan Curtis’ associate producers. George was a master teacher with a loving and charismatic spirit who became a big influence in my life and career. I will always treasure this experience and marvel that the man who meant so much to me was part of the show that meant so much to me.
Since then, I had not thought about Dark Shadows at all. And then, a year ago, I stumbled upon all the YouTube wealth while looking up another 60’s memory. (Clearly, YouTube could tell what I liked.) I couldn't believe the explosion of videos that popped up! Everything from convention and interview tapings to tribute videos to the actual episodes themselves. I had not thought about the show for so long and now, all these presentations lay before me! I watched a few clips of recent interviews and felt like I was catching up with old friends.
I wondered what it would be like to revisit the show itself. Would it withstand time? I was almost afraid to see if age and experience would weaken and stain the memory.
Since it was almost midnight, I decided to pick one episode from the 1795 storyline which, as all fans know, was created when the audience wanted to know how Barnabas became a vampire. In a kindly, benevolent attitude, I thought, “Okay, this was always my favorite storyline, let’s see what it's like to watch it now" …. The next time I looked up at the clock, it was almost 3:00 am!!! I stared at the clock for a long moment, quite stunned as my mind tried to grasp that practically three hours had passed in what had seemed like a few minutes. What. Just. Happened?
I kept staring uncomprehendingly at the clock as if expecting a different answer. I felt like one of the characters on the show who “came to” after being in a trance with the only evidence coming from the hands of that imposing grandfather clock in the Collinwood foyer. How did this happen??!
Well, obviously, I just kept hitting the next episode and then the next, and the next… talk about unconscious binge watching! I’m not sure if one can feel embarrassed when one is alone but I found this whole experience quite unnerving! How is it that these episodes still kept me captivated even though I had seen them all before? How is it that I was still mesmerized by the story line and my favorite characters? Was it because I was in my bedroom in the house I grew up in? Was it because I found it a comforting escape during the caregiving visits? It was so fascinating to watch these episodes on an iPhone Plus, and be just as taken in as I was as a young teen. I amused myself by thinking, “I’ve been caught in a YouTube Dream Curse!”, which fans know was a continuing horror dream sequence created by Angelique, the witch.
I was astounded when I discovered that watching these episodes now, with an actor’s eye, made me respect the show even more! I clearly heard all the complex dialogue that had to be learned during that era of live television. I was impressed by the passion and commitment as well as the character nuances that I might have missed or not have appreciated before. I so admired the utter commitment of the actors to their characters as well as the importance of chemistry in the casting. And knowing that for several actors, this was their first big professional gig, I was in awe of the enormity of that idea. My mind easily filtered out the so-called bloopers. Even back then, I empathized deeply with these actors for whom every day was opening night.
And so, I began from the beginning to watch all the Dark Shadows episodes in order which included some storylines that I had missed the first time around. Admittedly, I was no longer running home from school to catch the show every day during those last two years. My days had filled up with theater, dating, social activism and planning my future; simply put, my own life became more interesting. However, if I found myself home on a rare afternoon, I would loyally turn on the show.
As befits the instant gratification age, I loved that I could now binge watch with no commercial breaks. I was so riveted by the 1840 storyline that I needed to chide myself to get back to work! Once again, Dark Shadows had me under its spell!
Unbelievable….I was hooked again!!! I still don’t get it. What was it about this show that still had the power to engage me and hook me right back in as it did almost 50 years ago??
So after racking my brain for an answer to this puzzling question, I realized I was over-thinking the whole thing. It was simply an incredibly captivating story that was told with the utmost passion and commitment. We were drawn into a world that was never before seen on daytime television. We passionately fell in love with or loved to hate all the people who inhabited Collinwood. And, like the crashing waves in the opening montage, we were swept up by the story that evoked such powerful emotions within us. And isn’t that the job of anyone who creates? To make the story compelling, provocative and to create characters that audiences will believe in, root for and have a stake in? ( no pun intended!)
To Dan Curtis and the entire cast and crew,
You have done all that……..beautifully.
You have created a legacy that will go on forever.
I salute you.
I congratulate you.
I thank you.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Dark Shadows!
A SUMMER DAY IN 2020
A SUMMER DAY IN 2020:
By Helene Galek
the physically sick
the emotionally weak
the revolutionary fists
the meditations, exclamations, recriminations, proclamations no work, some play, Zoom to the rescue.
Where is our right to life?
Where is our liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Did it fall into a bottomless abyss?
It’s floating..just out of our reach...
fragile wispy dandelions
rainbow fractured light
Gracefully ascending out of our reach.
Lushly leafed trees enveloping stone bridges
And the river is reassuringly ebbing and flowing.
The windows of our soul
questioning, smiling, narrowing,
John and Paul read the news today, oh boy.
It's a day in the life.
THESE BOOTS ARE STILL MADE FOR WALKIN'
By Helene Galek
“You're not 30..let's see your ID!”
“40? No way! Impossible!”
"I would NEVER take you for 50”!
"You DO NOT look 60 at all!”
“You CAN'T be 67!!”
These are a sample of the comments I would receive when revealing my age. They were all meant to be the highest level of compliment. And I, admittedly, was secretly tickled and flattered while I breezily gestured them away. But then, it hit me. We are not supposed to look like the age we are. Telling someone they look younger than their actual age is a surefire ego-booster in our modern society. Unless, of course, you are a child or a teenager, then it is a plain out and out insult. Somehow, I was always perceived to be younger than my years. When I entered adolescence, I so wanted to be confidently mature, even during those hippie years. When I showed up to observe a classroom in college as part of my Education requirement, I was often stopped in the hall and asked for my "pass" and had to loudly declare that I was here to teach.
When I came to New York City to pursue an acting career, I discovered that looking younger than my years without the benefit of being an actual ingenue, was extremely frustrating. I would hear over and over, "You'd be perfect for this role if only you were older." I knew I was that rare minority who wanted to look older so I could work. And I was continually told I would have to “grow into” my type. Another ironic footnote, is that no matter what age group I entered, I never looked it. My vanity was competing with my desire to get cast.
What is wrong with looking like the number you are? I surmised that a number has a different reference for every individual. But still, it began having a hollow ring as the proverbial closet door had opened up for, seemingly, everyone else. Ethnic and racial groups, the LGBTQ community, mentally and physically challenged, those on the spectrum and even the plus size were now raising their voices and proclaiming who they were. Truthfully, some of these doors were opening slowly or only opening a crack but there was evidence that progress was beginning to be made and voices were starting to be heard and listened to.
People always told me that I could lie about my age and get away with it. That sounds too much like “passing”; something all kinds of minorities were forced to do at some point in history to be accepted into the mainstream. It’s like living a lie and not being your authentic self. Would I gain more respect, rack up more points and have higher status if I erased a decade?
Not to mention, I would have to change my precious memories. It would mean I couldn't talk about the excitement of seeing the Beatles for the first time on national TV. I couldn't share the joy of celebrating the first Earth Day and being one of the first 18 year olds to vote. I loved when I grew up; perhaps I am a bit snobby about being a baby boomer but we came of age when all the rules were broken and society was shaken up. Mick Jagger might have had recent heart surgery but he is still planning to tour and yet, it was unthinkable at one time that a rock musician would be relevant after the age of 30.
It drives me crazy when I hear people peppering their conversation with cutesy, self-deprecating phrases such as "Back in the dinosaur age.." or “I was involved with that !$%# years ago” as they pretend to gargle the number of years. I would love to see the disappearance of that laughing excuse “Because I’m old” as to why a person can’t do something when it seems like others can. You can’t do it at first because it’s new to you. You were never taught how to. Period.
Ironically, the people who give me the most flak are the ones in my own age group. I have been chastised for wearing a bikini (ok, a modified one) and short skirts, as well as hair below my shoulders and hanging out with people who are much younger than I am. Incidentally, my younger friends and colleagues are my biggest cheerleaders! And I like to think I’m an inspiration to them. While one is never too old to learn, one is never too young to teach. See, I want to empower everyone. I also stick up for younger people who get dismissed simply because of their age; I was in that group too and I remember how that felt!
I started calling myself an age activist because I refuse to be put in a stereotyped box and hang my head apologetically for my years on this planet. And like an Avenger, I want to halt this kind of behavior that intelligent and experienced people think they have to do, especially if they notice the crowd is quite younger. Did it never occur to them that younger people are drawn to them because of the very qualities they seem ready to brush aside? Why would anyone want to downplay everything they have learned and experienced over the years? I once went to a film screening with a young woman in her 20’s. I asked her how she felt when someone older began their introduction with an obligatory self-deprecating phrase before they shared their specific knowledge. Did she find it funny? Would she find the speaker more palatable at that point? The young woman replied that hearing someone put themselves down actually made her somewhat uncomfortable. It never would have occurred to her to view the speaker in a different way if the age comment was never included.
I also don't appreciate articles telling people, or to be more specific, women, on how to age. One article talks about all the anti-aging secrets and how to keep youthful and the other one talks about embracing your wrinkles and gray hair. I want to scream out, "Stop telling women what to do!!!!!" We all age differently and have different aesthetics, creativity and preferences. Even five year olds look different in height and vary in ability; why can't we give the same leeway to the 50 and older set? Let's not perpetuate this age/knowledge/experience shaming and let’s stop putting a high value on one number and erasing value from another.
I’ve always observed the demonizing of intelligence and intellect is done either to disempower a person or group from the outside or by others in that group to distract from their own insecurities. At any rate, I don’t buy into it and refuse to fall into these traps that want to force me into belittling myself. I would start thinking something is wrong with me because of my refusal. That’s not to say that I didn't observe the physical changes that have happened so gradually including the fact that I finally needed reading glasses. But I have also witnessed the gifts, the confidence, the wisdom, the appreciation of life and my talents. I’ve been braver and have shrugged off the need to please everyone and those pesky “what if’s”. I’m more eager to jump into the deep end without getting warmed up in the shallow part.
There is a saying about aging; that many people do not have that privilege. Whenever I hear the sad news that a friend or colleague or even a much admired celebrity has passed away and never made it to my age, I am aware of that privilege and I feel grateful for my years. And that is what I celebrate.
It is time to reclaim your years.... without apology! While society's perception and its laws need to change, we need to transform our own self-perception and self-worth as well. So rip up those old, dusty cliches, turn up the amp in your voices and joyfully raise those fists. Put on those boots and keep walkin'...proudly.