It was an easy name to remember: Sam Hall.
I had seen it before. Even though all I talked about was movies, movies, movies, my grandmother purchased a book on play production for me. She bought it in Laramie, Wyoming. I know this because she inscribed it as such. That was a bizarre notation on a memento, and it was hopelessly square to me then. I cherish it now. It was of another age. A more serious age. An age when such things mattered.
That’s what Sam Hall wrote about. In the book (THE COMPLETE PLAY PRODUCTION HANDBOOK by Carl Allensworth), there’s a shot from a Yale University performance of THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO by Sam Hall. A serious looking play, with rear screen projections. There’s a butler present, but also a two guys sitting in what might as well be the Blue Whale. Shadows of DARK SHADOWS, including yet another Yale connection.
Because we know their faces and voices and think “wow, how did they memorize all of those lines,” it’s easy to see DARK SHADOWS as an actor’s show. This isn’t irrational.
The actors have good reason to feel well-worked by the show. Just as tough? Writing it. All of it. Every day. Even trading off with Gordon and being spotted by Ron and Violet, that’s still the most heroic feat behind DARK SHADOWS.
I’ve been very lucky to have interviewed a lot of the living DS cast members. They are the sharpest, most erudite ensemble I have ever encountered. There was a question that I was always intimidated about asking. Look, I know the show was a long time ago, and I don’t want to be “that guy” who asks a question of impossible minutiae. Thankfully, ever-lovin’ Chris “The Ultimate Being” Pennock answered it without me having to ask.
The question was, “Could you tell the difference between a Sam Hall script and a Gordon Russell script?”
Yes. The answer is yes. And again, yes.
Gordon Russell was the guy who brought the zippy dialogue and lighter character moments to the show. But Sam? Sam brought the intensity. He brought the gravitas. And if any show had gravitas, it was DARK SHADOWS.
Now, Carl “You Make Me Feel So” Jung was a nutjob who hated evidence like a Scotsman hates pants, but a broken archetype is resonant twice a day. By this, I think that humans have certain stories they want to tell and need to tell. If you stick with the same characters for long enough, much larger stories will evolve. As if evident to anyone who’s been within five links from this website knows, my passion has become decoding that story.
When I think of that story, it is a story with a twinkle in its eye. Yes. Of course. But it is a BIG story. Unapologetic. Bold. It was the size of its actors’ passions and worthy of the books and legends it translated to the 1960’s. It was punched out bang after bang after bang on a typewriter. It was brought to us by someone who made it important. There were no apologies. Was there an awareness of camp? Sure, but not enough to let it get in the way of its siamese twin: utter sincerity. Maybe that was the balancing act that Russell and Hall pulled off for so long.
Thank you, Mr. Hall, for taking it seriously. Or seriously enough. More than anyone, you gave us what we loved and love.