BARNABAS’ COLUMN #4: Lara Parker Rising
“This book is dedicated to my larger family, the Dark Shadows fans, who, with their undying devotion, keep the flame burning.”
-Lara Parker, dedication inside her new novel, DARK SHADOWS: WOLF MOON RISING
DARK SHADOWS fans love Angelique, and they love Lara Parker, the actress who played her in more than 250 episodes.
Though originally presented as a villain, Angelique won viewers’ hearts when Parker’s brilliant performance made it clear the character’s evil deeds were the result of a broken heart. When she was first seen on Dark Shadows in Autumn,1967, the witchcraft she practiced was very much in keeping with the voodoo traditions of Martinique, the Caribbean island from where she came. As the show’s various storylines progressed, viewers learned more about Angelique. She had lived many lives. In the 1690s, she was known as Miranda, and was part of an evil coven run by the warlock Judah Zachary; this is where her powers truly began. Martinique was only a part of her story.
In one of DARK SHADOWS’ most delicious interludes, Angelique was briefly turned into a vampire. The clever plot twist had her feasting upon the blood of Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) who himself had once been a vampire due to Angelique’s curse (it was Barnabas who had broken her heart). Barnabas escaped Angelique’s curse. Or did he?
DARK SHADOWS’ popularity was soaring when Lara Parker joined the cast in 1967. It was soon to become one of the most talked about series in the history of daytime TV.
“I thought I had arrived,” Parker recalled. “I had an apartment in New York, a charge account at Saks, and a part on a TV show.” She also had a fan club, and a personal invitation from Johnny Carson to appear on The Tonight Show.
But unlike witches and vampires, TV shows aren’t immortal. When DARK SHADOWS ended its network run in 1971, Parker headed to Hollywood, certain that movie stardom was imminent.
“I worked a lot, made some nice money, bought a house, but I never became a star,” she said.
Around 1990, the phone stopped ringing. Undaunted, Parker went back to school and became an English and creative writing teacher. Throughout her teaching career in the Los Angeles public school system and at Santa Monica City College, DARK SHADOWS remained a part of her life. She was a fixture at the annual DARK SHADOWS Festivals in New York and Los Angeles. Her appearances at Festival podiums often drew standing ovations, and lines for her autograph were long. The fans continued to adore her.
“Lara is a witch, I’m convinced of it,” said filmmaker/monster kid/DARK SHADOWS fan Ansel Faraj, who cast the actress/author in his recent supernatural/noir film DOCTOR MABUSE. Faraj wanted to work with Parker specifically because he had loved her role on DARK SHADOWS. “She does cast a spell over you, be it through her writing, her teaching, her acting, or even just one on one,” Faraj said. She knows how to captivate you, and I know I’ve learned so much from her. She taught me a lot about writing, and I’m so fortunate to have her as one of my teachers.”
August 2013 saw the publication of DARK SHADOWS: WOLF MOON RISING, Parker’s third DARK SHADOWS novel. Like her previous works, ANGELIQUE’S DESCENT and THE SALEM BRANCH, the book (published by horror specialists Tor) offers fans more insight and backstory into the life of her iconic character, as well as new stories which take readers beyond the final episode of DARK SHADOWS.
Quentin Collins, the TV show’s resident werewolf, is a big part of WOLF MOON RISING. Part of the book takes readers on a journey back to the great house of Collinwood during the 1920s, where Quentin meets young flapper girl Elizabeth Collins (later known as family matriarch Mrs. Stoddard on the TV series). The story reveals many shocking twists in the lives of Quentin, Elizabeth, Barnabas, Dr. Julia Hoffman, Angelique, and other beloved denizens of Collinwood.
It was a sweet, somewhat shy Lara Parker who appeared at San Francisco’s Borderlands Books for a reading and signing on Friday, August 23. A crowd of about fifty sat mesmerized as Parker explained her writing process, which included doing extensive historical research on the various time periods her stories are set in. As many of her immortal characters have lived in more than a few centuries, Parker’s supernatural tales have incorporated real life horrors such as the slave trade and the KKK. This makes her books stand out in marked contrast to DARK SHADOWS’ TV storylines, which rarely if ever acknowledged the horrors that so often plague the world in which we live. This gave the author an opportunity to expose man’s inhumanity to man for the evil that it is, while never losing sight of what her readers wanted: a good old fashioned spook tale, with romance thrown in.
Naturally the audience asked her what she thought of Tim Burton’s recent movie, which starred superstar Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins and featured Bond girl Eva Green as Angelique. Reactions to the quasi-serious, quasi-comic film were decidedly mixed, with many fans feeling that professed DS fans Burton/Depp failed to show proper respect to a franchise which has always taken itself seriously and treated it’s horrific characters with respect. Parker’s reaction to the film was positive.
“It was a big budgeted film from a major studio, with major stars,” she told the crowd. “What a tribute that is to the work we did forty years ago.”
Lara’s very appearance at Borderlands Books stands as a tribute to the enduring popularity of DARK SHADOWS, as well as to her own status as one of the show’s icons.
“As a pre-fixed rule, we don’t carry books that are media tie-ins,” Borderlands owner Alan Beatts told FANGORIA. “We specifically made an exception for Lara Parker because I thought this was important. DARK SHADOWS was the first episodic supernatural TV show. It set the stage for many of the things which came later, like NIGHT STALKER and BUFFY. You can’t understand where you are if you don’t know where you’ve been.”
Beatts thought that Parker’s Borderlands appearance went quite well. “I was very pleased with the turnout for the event,” he said. “A good number of people came, and more importantly, they were all very engaged and had a great time. Lara was very nice and a pleasure to work with.”
Beatts’ sentiments were echoed by actor Douglas Eames, who recently completed his role in the sequel to DOCTOR MABUSE, in which Parker reprises the spooky role she played in the first film. “Getting to work with Lara on the DOCTOR MABUSE sequel this past summer was great fun,” Eames said. “She has a wonderful, down-to-earth way that makes you feel right at home with her, on the set or at one of her many public appearances. She seems to genuinely connect with her fans, one of which is me!”
Many fans are surprised to realize that Parker is 75 years old. She has the appearance, the demeanor, and the energy of a woman decades younger. And she’s not slowing down. As her book tour draws to a close, she’s preparing to join her DS co-stars Kathryn Leigh Scott and Marie Wallace on a DARK SHADOWS Halloween cruise. Then, as she announced at Borderlands, she sits down to write her fourth DARK SHADOWS novel. Who knows what will follow after that?
Perhaps Lara Parker really is a witch. An immortal…
DARK SHADOWS: WOLF MOON RISING is now available in bookstores and at Amazon. Her previous DARK SHADOWS novels remain in print.