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Barnabas’ Column #16: The Return of Sarah Collins

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The Ghost of Sarah Collins wasn’t on DARK SHADOWS for very long. It was barely a year, yet the sweet little girl with the sad eyes had quite an impact, both on the storyline and in the hearts of viewers. Sarah was the sister of Barnabas Collins. She had died in 1795, at around the age of ten, of a mysterious fever which was part of the curse that had turned her brother into a vampire. That curse had also killed other members of the Collins family.

In 1967, Sarah, who didn’t seem to be fully aware that she was a ghost, came back to warn the family about her brother, who was then passing himself off as his own great-great grandson. Her presence in the great house of Collinwood served as the catalyst for a séance which sent governess Victoria Winters back to the 18th Century where she witnessed the terrible and terrifying events which led to Barnabas’ curse. While there, Victoria and the audience got to meet the living Sarah Collins.

Sarah was played by an adorable young actress named Sharon Smyth. Though her tenure on DARK SHADOWS lasted under one year, the character’s influence on the storyline was everlasting. Besides DS, Smyth was also seen on the daytime drama SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, and in more commercials than she can remember. Some of those ads, such as one for Post Sugar Crisp, have turned up on YouTube, to the surprise of the actress and the delight of her still sizable fan base.

Today she’s known as Sharon Smyth Lentz, wife, mother and grandmother.

“I was on DARK SHADOWS from 1967-68,” Lentz tells Fango. “After my contract was up I did a few more television commercials and voice overs, and retired at 13 years old. My focus at the time was on school and hanging out with my friends back in Philadelphia.”

Though she had nothing to do with show business for over four decades, Lentz has been an active participant in DARK SHADOWS fandom, and has been one of the warmest and most accessible of the show’s cast members. She counts several fortunate DS fans (including this writer) as among her friends. “Through Facebook, I have been able to connect with quite a few of the original DARK SHADOWS fans, and many newer fans,” Lentz says. “I absolutely love connecting with these people, they have such an enthusiasm and knowledge about DARK SHADOWS. An added blessing has been making a lot of real life, close friendships that I would never have made were it not for DARK SHADOWS.”

One of those friends is filmmaker Barry Dodd (pictured top with Lentz), whose dark, spooky and award winning web series RAGGED ISLE was partially inspired by the classic series. Lentz has been a vocal supporter of Dodd’s, and the two became best buds. Lentz is now the star of Dodd’s upcoming short (20 minutes) chiller ON A COUNTRY ROAD.

“ON A COUNTRY ROAD is a loose adaptation of a 1950s radio play of the same title, itself a classic episode of the Thriller anthology series SUSPENSE,” Dodd tells Fango. “The film tells the story of a cab driver named David who agrees to pick up an unusual fare off the beaten path. Amid a raging storm and radio reports of an escaped homicidal maniac, David and his passenger (Lentz) break down on an infrequently traveled back road of Maine.”

SUSPENSE, Dodd tells Fango, was “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills,” broadcasting nearly 1,000 episodes during its twenty year run. SUSPENSE’s ON A COUNTRY ROAD starred Hollywood legend Cary Grant and was broadcast on November 16, 1950. “We want to recapture that magic in a short film,” Dodd said. “For our adaptation, we’ve updated the characters and the setting, but we’ve kept most of the story beats intact–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Still, we’ve thrown in a couple of twists of our own to keep you on your toes.”

ON A COUNTRY ROAD is one of several projects that Lentz has worked on recently, both in front of and behind the camera. Her long dormant career was revitalized through her friendships with DARK SHADOWS fans who were inspired by the show to pursue their own filmmaking dreams.

“Some of those relationships have helped to give me opportunities in the entertainment industry,” she said. “I have been involved in a few independent films on both sides of the camera, and I am having a great time with some amazingly creative and talented people, while learning a lot!”

“Most nights we had a fairly decent crew size of around 8-9 people,” Dodd reports. “Many more than I’m used to having with our last project RAGGED ISLE. The difficulties in the shoot weren’t due to budget but more about creatively working with the budget we had to solve the visual challenges the story entailed. We probably broke many rules of independent filmmaking all in this one film. We shot at night, in a car, in a rainstorm with no streetlamps (this is a lonely country road) and a dead car battery. It works well for radio, but when you actually have to capture that, it’s a heck of a thing. I think we pulled it off, though. I’m happy with the results.”

Lentz is also quite happy with her newly relaunched career. “I hope to continue and grow in the independent film industry, as well as voiceover and print work” she said. “In the meantime I am continuing to network and meet new people by attending pop culture, monster and fan based conventions. I am having a blast!”

ON A COUNTRY ROAD will premiere on October 17 on Damnationland, an annual showcase of Maine-made short horror films. It will also be submitted to film festivals.

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Grayson Hall & Sam Hall

As we went to press, Matthew Hall announced the death of his father, Sam Hall, at the age of 93.

Allison Samuel Hall was born in 1921. His long career as a television writer began in the late 1940s, when he wrote for anthology series such as Studio One and Armstrong Circle Theater, among others. Hall wrote hundreds of DARK SHADOWS episodes, seeing the series through its peak popularity years. Hall also co-wrote the MGM feature films HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971). He shared screen credit on the former with DS scribe Gordon Russell, and on the latter with series creator Dan Curtis.

Hall authored A DARKNESS AT BLAISDON, a 1969 pilot for a ghost-hunting TV series produced by Dan Curtis. The series never sold, but the pilot aired and is available on DVD as an extra with DEAD OF NIGHT (1977) a Dan Curtis made-for-TV movie. He ventured into classic horror when he penned a faithful, literate adaptation of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN (1973), another Dan Curtis TV production. Hall capped his career by working on Curtis’ 1991 DARK SHADOWS revival.

Sam Hall wrote for the daytime dramas THE BRIGHTER DAY, ONE LIFE TO LIVE and SANTA BARBARA, and contributed to the award winning PBS mini-series THE ADDAMS CHRONICLE (1976). Until her death in 1985, Hall was married to actress Grayson Hall, who played Dr. Julia Hoffman on DARK SHADOWS and Euphemia Ralston on ONE LIFE TO LIVE–Hall created the latter role for his wife.

The March 2015 edition of this column will be dedicated to Sam Hall, and will feature a look back at his FRANKENSTEIN and A DARKNESS AT BLAISDON. That column will commemorate Hall’s 94th birthday.

Rest well, Mr. Hall.

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About the author
David-Elijah Nahmod
David-Elijah Nahmod is an American-Israeli half breed who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv. Currently in San Francisco, his eclectic writing career includes a variety of horror mags, LGBT publications, and SF Weekly. He was thrilled and honored to be named Best Reviewer of 2012 at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. You can find him on Facebook (David-Elijah Nahmod, Author) and Twitter (@DavidElijahN)
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