KATHRYN LEIGH SCOTT
Accepting the Next Challenge
Maggie Evans served up her first sandwich (rare roast beef) to Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) in the premiere episode of ABC’s gothic soap extravaganza, “Dark Shadows,” broadcast Monday, June, 27, 1966. Introduced as a wise-cracking waitress at the Collinsport Inn’s coffee shop, Maggie warned Vicky about the Collins family with these cryptic words: â€œThey’re kooks, every one of them.â€
Man. If only Vicky had listened, she’d have saved herself a world of trouble. Maggie Evans, of course, was played by young actress, Kathryn Leigh Scott, fresh-faced and wearing an atrocious short blonde wig. We came to know Maggie as the auburn-haired daughter of local artist Sam Evans, an alcoholic who spent his free time at the Blue Whale (Collinsport’s popular watering hole), quaffing beer and whiskey chasers.
A good girl with the proverbial heart of gold, Maggie loved her oftentimes confused father, was a devoted and caring girlfriend to Joe Haskell (Joel Crothers) and soon found herself the intended bride of resurrected vampire, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid).
Maggie’s kidnapping notwithstanding, DS aficionados single out the 1795 flashback as Dark Shadows’ greatest moment. From November 1967 until April 1968, viewers learned how Barnabas Collins became a vampire in post-Revolutionary War Maine. Sublimely written, brilliantly acted, it hit all the dramatic gongs.
1795 also introduced us to Kathryn Leigh Scott’s gorgeous Josette DuPres. An iconic romantic figure and doomed fiancÃ© of Barnabas Collins, Josette arrived from the exotic island Martinique and found herself inexplicably drawn into an illicit affair with Barnabas’ uncle, Jeremiah (Anthony George). They run off and are married, unaware that both are in the thrall of a spell orchestrated by Josette’s personal maid, Angelique (Lara Parker) — who has, shall we say, â€œdesignsâ€ of her own on Barnabas.
The Barnabas/Josette/Angelique dynamic fueled daytime television’s greatest and most tragic love story — recently encapsulated in The Vampire Curse, released by MPI on DVD. Throughout Dark Shadows’ five-year run, Kathryn essayed one more popular characterization: Lady Kitty Hampshire (1897 flashback), the true reincarnation of Josette. Today, she’s best remembered by Baby Boomers and newer fans for Maggie, Josette and MGM’s big screen adaptation, House of Dark Shadows (1970).
Kathryn Leigh Scott spread her creative wings after leaving DS (three months before cancellation) and now enjoys multi-leveled careers as a successful publishing entrepreneur/magnate, non-fiction writer, occasional actress, and now, novelist (Dark Passages, her first, an enthralling tale involving vampires, witchcraft, the Playboy club, and a soap not unlike “Dark Shadows,” takes place in 1963 NYC).
Despite the demands of a busy life, she still found time to chat with us. What was served up didn’t quite taste like roast beef–but it certainly hit the spot!
1. In your relatively short time on this planet, Kathryn, you’ve worn many hats. From a girl with big dreams to an actress to an executive and now a writer of fiction. I take it all stemmed from a solid childhood.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: Yes, that’s very true. My family gave me a wonderful sense of security and confidence, and I felt free to pursue my dreams, which always revolved around acting and writing. As a 15 year old, I worked on the school newspaper and got an assignment to interview poet Carl Sandburg, when he visited our town. The article earned me a state high school journalism award, so I dreamed of being a writer. But I also did school plays and won a state acting award that same year. Those accomplishments encouraged me to apply for college scholarships.
2. You settled on acting, though your career has come full circle with the publication of a fiction book.
KLS: As in any life, there have been a few disappointments along the way, but I always knew my life would include those twin careers, writing and acting.
3. I assume you were rejected — we all are!
KLS: Oh, wow, yes, I’ve had my work rejected, and you know what? I’ve never understood how anyone can avoid taking rejection personally. The work itself is so personal. Somehow, you have to be objective and just move on — accepting the next challenge, going for the next project.That kind of thing.
4. You’re Midwestern born and reared. Was childhood a good time?
KLS: Very magical, an idyllic existence. I grew up on a farm in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, with my two brothers. We all helped our parents — my father allowed me to drive the tractor when I was 12 — and they hired every kid in the neighborhood who wanted to earn extra money. There were hills for sledding, woods for tree forts, and each summer, we’d have a big corn roast for friends and neighbors. We even built a stage out of cabbage crates and put on plays!
5. Is that what made you realize: â€œhey, it’s fun to be an actress?â€ Those backyard plays?
KLS: They helped ignite the spark. When I was about seven, I wrote a play for my second-grade class about George Washington. I cast myself as â€˜Martha’ and a little boy I had a crush on as â€˜George.’ Martha had the bigger and better role (laughs)! Once I had a taste of being on stage in the little theatre of our elementary school, my path was clear: I wanted to be an actress.
6. You attended the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, so you were serious.
KLS: Before that, at age 16, I was accepted as a “Cherub” in Northwestern University’s summer program and spent a glorious summer with students who appreciated theatre as much as I did. A fabulous experience! I took one year of college before receiving a scholarship to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
7. Which then led you to “Dark Shadows”!
KLS: Yes! Toward the end of my senior year at AADA, I was cast in The Contrast, reputed to be the first legitimate American play. Worthington Miner directed it for the opening season of the new Eugene O’Neill Festival in Waterford, Connecticut. Worthington’s son, Peter, a producer with ABC and Dan Curtis Productions, attended a rehearsal and recommended me to Dan. He also had the unenviable task of telling his father I’d have to be replaced (laughs)!
8. When we met Maggie Evans, she was a snappy girl-next-door waitress — poor and honest, with a tough exterior.
KLS: Maggie started out as a “real person” — a typical ingÃ©nue on a soap opera of the time. Motherless and raised by an artist father in a seaside shanty at the wrong end of town, she wanted acceptance, more than anything. I liked the character immensely.
9. By the time she’d replaced Victoria as governess at the Collinwood mansion, Maggie was living a fantasy life in a multi-leveled fantasy world of vampires, witches, zombies and werewolves.
KLS: Yet, her personality remained rooted in reality. She was approachable and unaffected. Credit for that goes to our wonderful writers; they gave us great material.
10. Glad you brought up great material! The 1795 flashback sequence — and your portrayal of Josette DuPres — stand as “Dark Shadows”‘ finest hour. Die-hard fans consistently cite it as an example of near-flawless storytelling.
KLS: The heart and soul of “Dark Shadows” has always been romance, with horrific overtones. Everything just came together for the 1795 sequence; it epitomized what our show was all about in a truly beautiful way.
11. When a story-line began, say the 1897 flashback, were you given a general overview of how the plot would resolve itself?
KLS: In all honesty, we never had the foggiest idea where a story was going! The writers certainly didn’t share an overview with us, primarily because they were developing the plot on a day to day basis! Eventually, we would recognize elements of a classic story and delight in our retelling of it.
12. “Dark Shadows” is a cult show, no doubt about it. Are you surprised by that? After all, we’re not watching repeats of “The Edge of Night” 40 years after it exited the airwaves!
KLS: “Dark Shadows” was and is unique. We had a marvelous company of actors and, in Dan Curtis, a creator of genius and bravery unafraid to blaze new trails in daytime television.
13. Did you watch the episodes?
KLS: I’d catch them while waiting for our afternoon rehearsal to begin, and occasionally, I’ve watched scenes played at Dark Shadows Festivals. Well-trained actors learn to be objective about their performancesâ€¦ but I do admit to my share of cringing at those clips! Generally, I’m able to keep perspective and move on!
14. Like a lot of DS actors, there were long stretches between your appearances — Rachel Drummond to Lady Kitty Hampshire comes to mind — what did you do during those breaks?
KLS: I worked in off-off-Broadway productions, did summer stock and commercials. I also wrote, traveled, and pretty much lived a healthy, normal life among my friends.
15. House of Dark Shadows was a great interpretation of the show, with you cast as a combination of Victoria Winters and Maggie Evans. Any reflections?
KLS: I’ve only seen House of Dark Shadows twice: at the New York premiere in 1970 and on the Champs-Elysees, about six months later, for a screening of the French version. I loved filming the movie and thought it was quite a good script.
16. What’s your reaction to all those mini-skirt scenes?
KLS: Oh, Rod, I love mini-skirts! I’m not sure if I’ve ever stopped wearing them!
17. In 1970, you left “DS,” and the show lost one of its power players. Were you after greener pastures, acting wise?
KLS: My contract expired, and that’s why I left. I continued to stay on another six months so I could do the first of the MGM feature films for Dan. After that was done, I moved to France and married my fiancÃ©e, a Time magazine photographer who’d been posted to the Paris bureau. Once settled, I began to pick up work in French films and later — in London — I did stage, television, and film.
18. Do you receive any type of residual from “Dark Shadows”? What about products that bear/bore your likeness, like gum cards?
KLS: I do get residuals. We’ve published a book by Craig Hamrick called The Dark Shadows Collectibles, a Complete Guide to all Dark Shadows Memorabilia. And yes, I am on a fair number of gum cards, and Lord knows how many spin-off items from my guest-starring role on “Star Trek:The Next Generation”!
19. You’ve been whole-heartedly supportive of the DS fan movement. Isn’t it difficult to muster up enthusiasm about a project you completed a lifetime ago?
KLS: “Dark Shadows” keeps evolving in all our lives, and what is most interesting to me is what is happening to us now. I’ve published a number of books about the series and attended many of the Dark Shadows festivals. I am completely enthusiastic about my fellow cast members and the effect the show has had on its extensive audience.
20. Let’s look at your acting career away from “Shadows.” You did â€œVisitor from the Grave,â€ part of the Hammer House of Horror syndicated series — what was it like working for Hammer Studios, renowned for their Dracula films?
KLS: I never really made the connection until I’d finished shooting and met Christopher Lee at a drinks party. I had done another show for director Peter Sasdy — “The Saint,” with Ian Ogilvy — and even though Peter has quite a background in horror films, I don’t think he knew about “Dark Shadows.” Nor did anyone else at Hammer.
21. Was “Visitor” shot in an actual manor house?
KLS: We shot entirely on location, and I loved working in the ancient ancestral home that served as our “studio.”
22. You supported Lana Turner in Witches’ Brew, an updating of Bell, Book, and Candle. Anecdotes?
KLS: None that I care to recall! I did have fun working with Teri Garr, Richard Benjamin, and certainly, Lana. She was high maintenance and so thoroughly a product of the ’40s studio system. Lana knew precisely what was right for her; what take, what camera angle, and so forth. I found her to be warm and delightful, just a fascinating individual.
23. Speaking of anecdotes, your Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows inaugurated Pomegranate Press and also played a very large part in the show’s cult status.
KLS: My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows emerged from tributes I was asked to write for Joel Crothers and Grayson Hall, who’d died within months of one another. Once I began writing, I couldn’t stop — and soon realized that I had a book! I do have a good memory, but in this case, the prose just flowed from my pencil to the yellow legal tablet, and I rarely had occasion to pause or even cross out.
24. How did it do?
KLS: Scrapbook Memories sold very well and, as you said, essentially launched Pomegranate Press. I enjoyed publishing so much that I took on books by other authors, producing four new titles the following year.
25. What made you decide to expand your publishing horizons beyond My Scrapbook Memories?
KLS: Publishing and all that it involves intrigues me. I’m interested in both the business and creative side of it, and I do love dealing with authors. We’ve now published more than forty titles, most of them non-fiction entertainment subjects.
26. You’re not limited to just “Dark Shadows,” however.
KLS: No. Pomegranate has published several books on classic Hollywood and vintage television. Our books on “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Night Stalker,” “Rockford Files,” “The Fugitive,” and “Maverick” have been very well received by the public.
27. Are you still open for acting opportunities, or do you now consider yourself primarily a businessperson?
KLS: I am a writer, actress, and publisher. Let’s face it, I’ve always been an actress and always will be. I’m auditioning all the time!
28. Would you say you’re fulfilled as an individual, Kathryn? Have you reached a point in your life where everything clicks?
KLS: I’d say these last several years have been very fulfilling, rewarding time. All my aspirations and experiences in acting and writing have come together, now that I’m publishing and producing projects that I’ve personally initiated.
29. Sounds like you’re living a satisfying, rewarding life! I was wonderingâ€¦ do you have a personal philosophy?
KLS: My own philosophy springs from a realization that I regret only those things I didn’t do. I’m game to try anything! Life is not a dress rehearsal.
30. Kathryn Leigh-Scott in 2011 — has she embraced the new century?
KLS: I’ve totally embraced it, as well as all the new technology available to us! My entire Pomegranate backlist is available on every conceivable electronic device.There are so many new DS fans introduced to the show via DVDs and YouTube. At the DS festival, fully 2/3 were new Dark Shadows. I took that as a sign and called my distributors — I want my books made available through any means possible. My books are all on Kindle. The DS Companion is now a 3-CD set!
31. And you’re forging pathways as an author of fiction with Dark Passages. Exciting!
KLS: Very exciting! I wrote a book called The Bunny Years that covered my time as a Playboy Bunny in early ’60s New York City. When I turned in my bunny ears and joined a small company of actors on “Dark Shadows,” a whole new chapter opened up for me. With Dark Passages, I’ve satisfied my itch to write a novel about that special time, that world, combining elements of horror and fantasy to tell the story about a vampire, a witch, and unrequited love.
32. You drew on your own experiences as a young actress in New York?
KLS: Yes, I wrote Dark Passages was with an affectionate nod to both the New York Playboy Club, where I was a Bunny, and “Dark Shadows.”
33. This is fiction, not a memoir (grins), right?
KLS: I’m not a vampire, though I did play one on TV (laughs)! Every good story begins with what if? I took a time and place I remember well and asked myself, what if? I hope all my “Dark Shadows” and Bunny fans get a kick out of my wild imaginings.
34. Any more fiction in the offing?
KLS: I’ve completed my second and am already half-way done a third.
35. Whoa, prolific!
KLS: There are stories to be told, and I love writing fiction.
36. Dark Passages coincides with DS’ 45th anniversary, and everyone’s anticipating the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton big screen version of “Dark Shadows.”
KLS: When I did “21 Jump Street” in Vancouver decades ago, I walked into the make-up room, and the first thing I heard was, “Johnny’s such a ‘Dark Shadows’ fan”. Burton is, too! We’re all thrilled they’re doing it.
37. Depp, Burton and the entire marketing department at Warner Bros. have a built-in springboard. DS’ fan base is enormous.
KLS: And it seems to be getting bigger every year. When I was living in England, I came back to do a TV series and ran into Lara Parker. She said, you know, they’re having these DS conventions. You should come with me. Jonathan Frid, Humbert Astredo, and Joan Bennett are going to be there. This was in 1980. Jim Pierson took over a little bit later. There’s been a grassroots movement in fandom from the very start.
38. Doesn’t all of this leave you a bit amazed?
KLS: Amazed, yes, but I’m not surprised. By 1968, “Dark Shadows” was huge, and we saw it become a cult hit. I remember Lara sitting next to me at an early fest in NYC; we sat until 2 or 3 in the morning, and lines for autographs were out of the ballroom and down the stairs! When you’re an actor and land something good, you’ve absolutely no idea what kind of impact it’s going to have. None of this would be happening without the books, and all of us showing up at the yearly festivals.
39. Fans relate to you, obviously. It’s nostalgia – -but certainly not â€œold.â€
KLS: We’ve grown up with them. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish in fandom.
40. After “DS” was cancelled, did you think, well, onto the next thing?
KLS: Except for those involved in Night of Dark Shadows, we pretty much went our separate ways.
41. When you wrote Scrapbook Memories in 1985, was it a tough sell?
KLS: Not as tough as I’d originally thought. I was on “CBS Morning News,” “The Today Show,” every big show there was, and all I had to do was call and say, â€˜I’m Kathryn Scott,’ and they recognized me, and I’d be a guest. I can’t even tell you how many I’ve done. I had no publicist, just the recognizibility factor. My first book sold almost 40,000 copies, and it’s still selling. When it went out of print, I simply added new material and new photographs. That sold in soft cover and hardcover combined.
42. Lara and David Selby have become authors, so you started something!
KLS: David is writing fiction, both of them have written memoirs of a sort. Lara’s books are very adventurous, full of detail and written so beautifully. David uses the designer we suggested to him, so we’re all very much attuned with one another.
43. Your fans are legion, Kathryn. On their behalf, I wish you the best of luck in what’s to come. May you have continued success!
KLS: Likewise. I’ll always have a fond appreciation for what “Dark Shadows” has given me. It was a wonderful learning experience for a young actress, and to be in on the ground floor of such an unbelievable phenomenon is, well, unbelievable!
Interview conducted late winter 2011