Megan & Maggie: Mad Men & Dark Shadows

You did not specify a price in the shortcode

“Mad Men,” the hit drama set in New York City in the ’60s, just finished its sixth season, and this year brought major changes to Megan Draper’s character as she pursued acting full time. Kathryn noticed some similarities between the fictitious character and her own experiences during the same time period and setting, and reflects upon them below.

Megan Draper, in an episode fatefully titled “Dark Shadows,” pokes fun at another actress who is auditioning for a role on a soap featuring vampire Barnabas Collins — the show I happened to be in from its first episode in June, 1966. Megan’s trajectory as a young actress launching a career in New York seemed to mirror mine — that is, until we bumped up against Episode 9 in Season Five of “Mad Men” in which she described “Dark Shadows” as a “piece of crap.” I am admittedly prejudiced, and more than a little defensive, about the cult Gothic series that “every kid ran home from school to watch” — but 47 years later, I am also still collecting residuals on the 1,225 episodes!

I realize Megan’s character has been constructed with a larger dramatic purpose in mind, over which she has no control, so I can hardly blame her for a path not pursued. But Megan subsequently takes a role on another soap, in which she plays two characters, and seemingly worries constantly about being fired.

“Dark Shadows” was also my very first job on television and I ended up playing four characters during the four-year run of the show. Unlike Megan, I was not terribly concerned about being dropped from the series because no matter what role I played, I was always the main squeeze of Barnabas Collins, arguably the template for all modern-day vampires. Our love scenes involved fangs, bats, bites and a good deal of fake blood, all of it presaging Twilight, “True Blood” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” “Dark Shadows” actors were never concerned about being killed off because we inevitably came back as another character in another time period.

For whatever reason, show creator Matthew Weiner chose to place Megan on a troubled soap that she feels will stymie her career. But “Dark Shadows” was the launching pad for many of us who were regulars on the series, including Kate Jackson; appearing in guest roles were Susan Sullivan, Donna McKechnie and Marsha Mason. If Megan had got a role on our show, she may also have had a crack at starring in an MGM feature film based on the series. In 1970, I starred with Jonathan Frid, Joan Bennett and Grayson Hall in House of Dark Shadows, which was a critical and box office success that helped save the studio from bankruptcy that year.

Megan would also have had a chance to develop her acting chops doing period drama on stories drawn from classic literature: Jane Eyre, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Wuthering Heights, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Turn of the Screw, among others. While other soaps were largely domestic dramas where characters gossiped over coffee, Dark Shadows actors were doing stories involving the paranormal and time travel in what was virtually a classic anthology series.

We had our own repertory company of actors, all of us playing multiple roles, working with wonderful, innovative directors — including, Lela Swift, an award-winning woman director in the pioneering days of “live” television. What other soaps featured original orchestral music? Bob Cobert composed the evocative theme music for “Dark Shadows,” with a number of his compositions appearing on the Billboard charts. For its time, the period-accurate sets designed by Sy Tomashoff far outshone anything one could see on the other soaps of the day, all of it crammed into tiny ABC Studio 16 on West 53rd Street. What a great opportunity for young actors to hone their skills, working with wonderful veteran actors in a show that afforded so many challenges playing completely different characters with different accents in different centuries. Aside from that, the show was great fun!

Dan Curtis created a classic with “Dark Shadows” and secured his legacy with “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.” Thanks to Dan, “Dark Shadows” lives on, attracting new generations of viewers to the series on DVD. It’s still fun — and Megan Draper could have joined us for the ride!

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  • Sandy Broadhurst

    I saw that on Mad Men! Love to hear Dark Shadows mentioned on T.V. and in books. I am reading “The Vampire Shrink” by Lynda Hilburn. In the book there is a line, “He has such interesting, old fashioned speech patterns. I feel as if I’ve fallen into a time warp. Or into one of my old roommate’s taped episodes of Dark Shadows.”

    June 29, 2013
  • Tamara Haty

    I have been a commercial model and actress for 14 years and absolutely adore Dark Shadows, I find the writing, acting and subject content to be fantastic. I would have killed to have had the opportunity to be a part of it myself (I own many DVD collections) I am so happy to see you write this article to express your feelings about how you felt about the Mad Men episode, and being so proud to have been a part of the show. You bring so much enjoyment to so many with you portrayal of your several fantastic characters so wonderfully portrayed! Thank you!

    June 30, 2013
  • Such great memories you have. Too bad Megan’s writers aren’t giving her as much fun as the Dark Shadows writers gave you. I’m sure there were actresses who thought condescendingly of DS back then, but where are they now? Probably wishing they had been a part of it. Though many actors got their start in a lot of different soaps, the only soap still being watched after 47 years (and will continue to be for a long time) is Dark Shadows. How wonderful it must be to have been such a big part of it as you were!

    June 30, 2013
  • Jim Paine

    Great response, Kathryn! Yes, Dark Shadows was great fun–not just for the actors but also, of course, for the audience. Thanks to DVD, the series is still great fun to watch, over and over again. It’s like a comfy pair of slippers! Oh…how many soap opera actors will still be collecting residuals forty years later? You’re the elite of the entertainment world, Kathryn!

    June 30, 2013
  • Mark Burgess

    Bully for you, Kathryn! An actor must do her lines, but apparently those lines were written by some writer who has a bias against D.S. (if you read *between* the lines). Oy vey….
    Though I’ve seen my share of D.S. many, many times, I must admit to never having seen an episode of “Man Men.” So there. We’ll see how THAT show fares some 4 decades from now! And yes, I was one of THOSE kids who ran home from school in order to get the “crap” scared out of me!

    June 30, 2013
  • Barbara Cochran

    Dark Shadows was my favorite show as a young stay at home Mother. I would get my house cleaned, my baby fed and napping and sit down in front of the TV with a Glass of Iced tea to watch it each afternoon. Everyone knew not to call me on the phone during that time and somehow my baby girl would sleep all through it. It was my time just for myself for a few minutes while I went on a Fantasy Ride with Barnabas, Maggie, Carolyn, Willie, Mrs. Stoddard, Roger and all of the other Characters. I Loved the show and I still do. Thank you, Kathryn, for sharing your experiences with us.

    June 30, 2013
  • Anne Hearn

    Dear Kathryn,
    Perhaps Megan does not have the talent that all of you did. Talk about a bath of fire for all the new actors, you included!! It was like having a summer repertory company at the writers’ disposal and yall made great use of every scene!! I doubt Megan would have lasted very long on DS — she does love to whine about things!! Excellent reflection and comparison!! Long live Dark Shadows!!

    June 30, 2013
  • Charles Peters

    Once again, Kathryn, what a great comment on what DS was really about. As “one of those kids”, I am also a bit defensive about some of the comments. I also love when someone recognizes the DS Theme as my ringtone on my cell…( hope I don’t have to pay Cobert now). I’ve not watched MadMen, but, Megan seems a bit of the whinny sort—too bad she *didn’t* get hired.. I have the feeling that Dan, Lela & Costello would have invited her to a real “Widows Hill” away from the studio and all given a strong push.
    I think the writers of MM may be a bit young to remember the ’60′s and have only the stories and rumors to go on. I have a hard time imagining attending a ‘Mad Men Festival’ 40 yrs from now! I doubt that the actors on that program will even remember it. All those decades ago when I sat and watched DS on our newly purchased 19″ RCA color TV, I had no expectation of ever seeing it again. That initially made the show more precious. The stories kept us coming back everyday. I never noticed a “blooper” till years later when the tapes came out…I was focused on the action, because I had one chance follow the plot. Thanks to all of you who acted on Dark Shadows for giving us great stories, written by superb writers and a crew that somehow put it all together as best as they could every day. BTW, I’m glad to hear that you are still getting residuals! Lucky to get hired on the right soap! We all still love you all

    June 30, 2013
  • Kathryn, this is a wonderful post. You have set Dark Shadows within its context perfectly. And I have recently begun watching the series all over again. I doubt the soaps I used to watch with my mother back in those days would bear such repeated watchings!

    July 02, 2013
  • Great come back Kathryn. I recently judged a photo competition & selected the winning entry citing Dark Shadows as a reason for selecting it. It is a photo of a beach where the sea is reflecting a stormy sky & looks ethereal.

    July 03, 2013
  • Lily Knol

    I love this piece. You are entirely correct, and the writer of Mad Men should have done more research on the “daytime dramas” of the period. I loved every episode of Dark Shadows 47 years ago and I still watch it today, having recently acquired the limited edition boxed set of the entire series. Suffice it to say, I have yet to watch even one episode of Mad Men.

    July 03, 2013
  • Melissa

    From what we’ve been shown of Megan’s acting “talent,” she wouldn’t have lasted a month on a series of Dark Shadows’ caliber! She might have been able to play one of the girls Barnabas bites and pushes off the dock, but definitely not a regular!

    July 03, 2013
  • David

    Actually, Kathryn, you played FIVE characters on Dark Shadows: Maggie Evans, Josette, Rachel Drummond, Kitty Soames, and Maggie Collins!

    July 03, 2013
  • Great article!

    July 16, 2013

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