Barnabas’ Column #5: Grayson in High Heels
Grayson Hall (1922-1985) remains one of DARK SHADOWS’ most beloved performers. Primarily a New York stage actress, the larger-than-life Hall knew how to project her onstage emotions to the back row of the theater. This ability served her well when she recited the series’ often theatrical dialogue. Fans adore episodes in which Hall’s over-the-top emoting was magnified to a fever pitch when played in close-up for the TV cameras.
“Oh, Barnabas, no, no, no, noooooooooo…….., it can’t be, it can’t!” she would scream. “Arghhhhhhhhh……..” Fans would laugh and applaud wildly when such scenes were screened at DARK SHADOWS Festivals. But Hall also won viewers’ hearts when it became clear that her character, Dr. Julia Hoffman, had fallen in love with Barnabas Collins while she struggled to cure him of his vampirism.
Joan Bennett, DS’ top billed star, had been a major movie star during the 1930s and 40s, yet it was Grayson, and not Joan, who was the lone Oscar nominee in the cast. In 1964, three years prior to Dr. Julia Hoffman’s arrival in Collinsport, Hall was cast in John Huston’s film of Tennessee Williams’ THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. Hall was walking in very tall grass indeed: her co-stars included superstars Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr, and Ava Gardner. Yet it was the then little known Hall who scored an Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her no-holds barred performance as Miss Fellows, a frustrated, middle aged spinster lesbian (who clearly had the hots for teen-aged nymph Sue Lyon) was unlike anything moviegoers at the time had seen. Hall had made history: it was the first nomination for an actor in a gay role.
Though not a lesbian, (she was married to Dark Shadows scribe Sam Hall), she knew how to convey the frustrations of same-sex attraction.
Two years prior to this groundbreaking role, Hall had co-starred in the sexploitation drama SATAN IN HIGH HEELS. The 1962 film was among many that were produced in the decade which preceded DEEP THROAT (1972) and the “Golden Age of Porn”. A titillating “adults only” drama that promised a lot more than it delivered, SATAN IN HIGH HEELS was more dirty-minded than actually dirty. It’s campy as hell, the type of film where you know stripper/singer Stacey Kane (Meg Myles) is a bad girl not only because she wears high heels, but because many of her scenes are accompanied by a smoky, jazzy score.
Stacey is hired to sing in the New York nightclub owned by the gritty Pepe (Hall), a tough talking lesbian who takes no prisoners.
“Louie’s girls are always female,” Hall’s Pepe tells her gay bartender.
It’s hard to imagine, in these days of explicit internet porn, what moviegoers must have thought of the campy, if tame. film. “I think audiences in the early 60s most certainly found SATAN to be pretty sexy,” said Robbie Robertson, who’s written a stage adaptation of the cult classic. SATAN IN HIGH HEELS: THE PLAY has already been seen in Columbia, South Carolina, where Robertson resides. On October 30, SATAN IN HIGH HEELS comes home to New York City, where the film was shot. Robertson’s comedic adaptation will open off-Broadway at Dixon Place.
“What I love about Satan is that it’s an accidental gem,” Robertson told Fango. “On an initial viewing, it appears like a typical low budget sexploitation film of that era, complete with exploitative camera angles, garish lighting, clumsy sex, plotting problems, and overall cheap production values. But on repeated viewings, I realized that the movie captured a unique moment in cinematic history. In many ways, movies like SATAN ushered in the sexual revolution that would soon influence mainstream cinema with more open attitudes about sexuality.” Robertson said that the performances in the film by Hall and Myles were “awesome.”
“It’s equally fascinating for both straight and gay audiences and has a little bit of something for everyone,” Robertson said. “That said, this being a comic adaptation, the show does have camp appeal. I think it plays to anyone with a sense of humor and an appreciation of early 60s cinema.”
The writer is a proud member of the Grayson Hall cult. “I am a huge fan of Grayson Hall. I watched DARK SHADOWS reruns as a kid and remember her so fondly as Dr. Julia Hoffman. I never knew Grayson was in SATAN until my first viewing. I was floored to see her play Pepe, a tough, lesbian nightclub manager. She was a fascinating performer, and it’s hard to watch anyone else on screen when she’s around. Her reactions are always so priceless!”
“Grayson Hall’s Pepe is a force to recon with,” said Virginia Baeta, who assumes the role in the New York stage production. “With stillness, poise and incredible focus, she is the perfect counter to the machinations of her new find. Grayson Hall could dominate a room with a single look: she had great acting chops, with enough weapons in her arsenal to manage scenes from delicate to the outrageous. And that voice: my God! I would kill for it!”
Baeta admits that she hasn’t yet seen the complete film of SATAN IN HIGH HEELS. “I will not watch it until after we complete our NYC run,” she says. “I saw a few clips and a trailer, and decided to hold off on watching the original. I’m a bit of a sponge, and I’m afraid that Grayson Hall’s choices will creep in unconsciously. Since I’m not recreating her performance, that’s a dangerous risk to take. I need to find Pepe on my own.”
The actress offered her own take on the continued appeal of films like SATAN IN HIGH HEELS. “I am drawn to films from these periods that seem like utterly different worlds, but in reality aren’t all that deep in our past. The late 50s/early 60s was especially magnetic because massive change was in the air. Actors, producers, directors were breaking free, but were still compressed in so many ways. You can see it in postures and hear it in dialogue. A strain and desire.”
At the moment, there are no immediate plans to take SATAN IN HIGH HEELS: THE PLAY, on the road, but Robertson is hopeful that it will happen. The original film is currently available on DVD via Something Weird Video and can be found at Amazon.
NEWS BRIEF: Ansel Faraj, the young filmmaker whose Fritz Lang-inspired DOCTOR MABUSE was featured in Fango #322, remains hard at work, having completed filming on the sequel, DOCTOR MABUSE: ETIOPOMAR. Original DARK SHADOWS stars Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, who starred in the first film, have reprised their roles and are joined by a fourth DS star: Christopher Pennock. In the Dreams Come True department, long time DS fan Douglas Eames appears as Pennock’s sidekick.
Continuing the Fritz Lang connections established in the first film, Dane Corrigan plays Rotwang, the mad scientist played by Rudolph Klein-Rogge in Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1927). Kate Avery will be seen as Maria, the sexy robot from Lang’s film.
“Rotwang and Maria as played by Dane Corrigan and Kate Avery are very different in DOCTOR MABUSE: ETIOPOMAR,” Faraj tells Fango. “They’re more in line with the dangerous and fantastical robots of Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER. They’re my own interpretations of their 1927 counterparts.”
Here’s the teaser trailer for Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar.
That’s DS’ Jerry Lacy and Kathryn Leigh Scott, followed by Dane Corrigan’s deliciously mad Rotwang!