Barnabas’ Column #14: RIP, “DARK SHADOWS” Producer Robert Costello
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep……..”
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, read by Jonathan Frid on the Dark Shadows LP record album in 1969
DARK SHADOWS fans are mourning the May 30th passing of Robert Costello, who worked as a producer on the series during its first three years. Costello had a long and illustrious career in television, which began in the 1950s with Armstrong Circle Theater. Costello produced the anthology drama, working with Hollywood legends such as James Dean, Grace Kelly, Jack Lemmon, Paul Newman and Caroll O’Connor.
After his three year stint as producer of THE PATTY DUKE SHOW ended, Costello accepted a job on DARK SHADOWS. Starting with the show’s debut, Costello produced hundreds of episodes, and played a major role in establishing the look and tone that would eventually captivate millions. Reportedly it was Costello who made the decision to cast Jonathan Frid as the vampire Barnabas Collins, which changed the fortunes of a then failing show. Costello at the time had no idea how influential his work would become: TRUE BLOOD, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, along with other current and recent series have all acknowledged the influence of DS.
Costello left the wildly popular DARK SHADOWS after three years, in order to produce spooky soap STRANGE PARADISE. That series only lasted a year, but Costello wasn’t out of work for long. He won a Peabody Award for producing the acclaimed PBS mini-series THE ADDAMS CHRONICLES, in which a number of familiar DARK SHADOWS faces popped up, most notably Nancy Barrett, Addison Powell, Cavada Humphrey and Robert Gerringer.
Costello was awarded two Daytime Emmy Awards for his work on RYAN’S HOPE, which was produced in DARK SHADOWS’ former studio on West 53rd Street in New York City.
In his later years, Costello was a tenured professor at New York University’s Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. Costello, who was 93 years-old, is survived by Sybil Weinberger, his wife of 37 years. Weinberger served as the musical director on both DARK SHADOWS and RYAN’S HOPE.
Additionally, there were some very strong reactions to last month’s column, “Dark Shadows’ LGBT Connection.” The vast majority of the responses were overwhelmingly positive. A number of gay men said they were pleased to see DS fandom’s “open secret” discussed in a thoughtful, intelligent manor. The piece was shared at a Facebook chatroom called Dark Shadows: The First Year, where it got quite a number of views. Page moderator Denise Montgomery kindly posted the following: “Your columns in Fangoria are more the sort of articles I would expect to read in a serious literary journal because they are such thoughtful analysis of the various topics you examine in each article. All serious DS fans should read them.” It was a lovely comment. Reading it and seeing the Likes it got was particularly uplifting in light of the virulent comments I received elsewhere.
A small, but vocal group of DS fans who a friend of mine dubbed the “Dark Shadows police” accused me of “outing” the late Jonathan Frid. In fact, I did no such thing.
It’s worth noting that the HuffPo piece appeared in the Gay Voices section, and that both pieces were written by noted gay authors and journalists. Mr. Frid’s sexuality had also been discussed in Harry M. Benshoff’s book DARK SHADOWS: TV MILESTONES , published in 2011 and referenced in my piece. These simple facts didn’t stop some Facebookers at various boards to post: “How dare you! You have no proof! He can’t defend himself!” as though I had accused Mr. Frid, an actor I greatly admire, of a crime.
Some of the posts were downright malicious, including one claim that I was a “well known troublemaker” who’d been banned from various chatrooms for causing “so much trouble.” This poster, a total stranger to me, named the boards I’d been banned from: I in fact had never joined, or even heard, of any of them.
I was further subjected to snarky comments about how “creepy” I am, how I need to “take meds” because I’m so “unstable”. I’ll admit that these remarks were hurtful: I’m a child abuse survivor and I live with PTSD, something that I’ve long been open about. Because of my own condition, and because I have a close friend who’s blind, I’m particularly sensitive to disability issues. I would strongly urge people who make those kinds of remarks with such gleeful and reckless abandon to give a little thought to their actions and to think about those they are hurting. Others in DS fandom tell me that they have also been subjected to this kind of abuse, which has sometimes taken the form of sexist and anti-gay slurs.
I am without question a lifelong fan of all things DARK SHADOWS and classic horror. As I noted in a previous column, DARK SHADOWS launched my love of the horror genre. But I’m also a journalist by trade, and I in fact earn most of my living doing entertainment and news reporting for a variety of publications outside of the horror sphere. I take my work seriously. I report the truth. Nothing I write is meant to be hurtful, but I will not ignore facts.
I stand by Dark Shadows’ LGBT Connection because it’s a truthful assessment of why the series means so much to so many LGBT-identified people. I wrote it in conjunction with Pride month and I’m glad I did.
I would like to conclude this column by urging people to check out and join Denise Montgomery’s Facebook group Dark Shadows: The First Year, and the message board Dark Shadows Forums. Both are “safe spaces”, where you’ll find a tolerant and diverse group of people who engage in lively, intelligent discussions about DARK SHADOWS, its cast, and related topics.
Next month, I’ll chat with filmmaker Ansel Faraj about his latest film DOCTOR MABUSE: ETIOPOMAR. This sequel to last year’s Rondo-nominated DOCTOR MABUSE features four–count ’em–four Dark Shadows veterans in its cast.