Fans will never forget Kathryn Leigh Scott's run as four different characters on cult-horror soap opera DARK SHADOWS during the show's run from 1966-1971 (Maggie Evans, Josette du Pres, Lady Kitty Hampshire and Rachel Drummond). The beloved actress will be appearing in the upcoming Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie version of the cult soap as well. Aside from her acting career, and years as a Playboy Bunny, she's also written a number of nonfiction books and had huge success with her publishing company, Pomegranate Press.
Earlier this week, she released "Dark Passages," a new fiction novel telling the coming of age story of a young actress and Playboy Bunny in 1960s New York, who happens to be a real vampire starring in the popular show DARK PASSAGES.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV recently spoke with Ms. Scott about her career, the new book and much more.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In looking at your career, it's amazing how much you've accomplished over the years.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: I never feel that way. Does anybody? I think it's human nature to always look at things undone, the things you still hope to accomplish.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tell us about your journey from Minnesota to New York.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: I grew up on a farm in Robbinsdale, Minnestoa, which was a great place to grow up. Maybe I've romanticized what those early years were like, but if anything, it fuels my imagination. I find I draw on it all the time. We had a wonderful little woods at the bottom of a meadow and and there was an old cottage made out of stone that was in ruins. We always imagined a terrible witch lived there. We had apple trees and all kinds of raspberries, and we grew cabbage and corn. In the winter we could sled down the hill and my father always created a nice rink for us. It was an idyllic time to grow up and a wonderful place. But aside from all that, I feel I sort of catapulted out of Robbinsdale [laughs]. I couldn't wait to spread my wings and had wanderlust like you wouldn't believe.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did your family feel about that? Had anyone ever been in the entertainment business before?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: No. although my parents were wonderful dancers and they belonged to a Norwegian folk dancing group. They were also known to do these skits, primarily in Norwegian for Norwegian groups, and actually wrote a little book with those skits in them. They were always interested in performing arts and were great readers. My father wrote a humor column for some Norwegian newspapers. So when I said that I wanted to be an actress, having done all kinds of high school plays, I don't think they were surprised. And I don't think they minded, they were terribly supportive. They knew I would have to do it on my own because we just didn't have the resources. When I set out they must have had some trepidation, but I was ready for it and I think they sensed that.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You had a lot of success quickly.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: Did I? I suppose I was pretty lucky because I got a scholarship at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and I worked as a Playboy Bunny to support myself. Some of those women that I met then are some of my closest friends, as well as friends from the Academy. It was while I was working as a Playboy Bunny that I started auditioning for DARK SHADOWS. I got the part within a year of graduating from school. The greatest luck was getting DARK SHADOWS. It was an afternoon soap, it was brand new, no one knew what to make of it. It was such an oddball show compared to the other soaps.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We cover all kinds of shows from primetime to daytime and soaps on the web, and there's never been anything like it. Maybe that kind of originality and being so different makes it still a phenomenon today.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: It does. I always thought Gene Roddenberry who did STAR TREK and Dan Curtis who did DARK SHADOWS were geniuses, with STAR TREK going ahead in time and DARK SHADOWS going back in time to tell these universal parables and great classic stories. Most of the soaps just told stories about divorce and infidelity and we told stories based on "The Picture of Dorian Grey," "The Turn of the Screw," Hester Prynne in "The Scarlett Letter," and "Jane Eyre." But it was also the chemistry among the actors, and the uniqueness of having actors playing several different characters in different time periods. Dan Curtis gave the audience a great deal of credit.
And to his credit, he attracted an audience that tended to be better educated. When the Six-Day War (June 1967) came along and the show was off the air for several days, we got so many letters begging Dan to find a way to rerun those shows that were missed in most parts of the country. That's when we discovered that nurses were taking their breaks to watch the show, college kids and professors watched, and high school teachers who watched in the teacher's lounge as school broke. This was before Tivo and tape so unless you earmarked that half hour you were going to miss it.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The footage for a lot of daytime soaps from that time no longer exists. Those may not have had the cult following of DARK SHADOWS 40 years later, but it's still very sad the people involved didn't have enough foresight to keep them. The DARK SHADOWS episodes still hold up over time.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: In doing research for another project I discovered a lot of the Johnny Carson TONIGHT SHOW episodes were erased to save money. They erased those kinescopes to save money. If Dan Curtis could have filmed these he would have been over the moon. But at the time we did them live on they were sent out on kinescope, and those kinescopes were rarely returned. They were big and heavy and there was no place to store them. It's a miracle only one episode got lost and was restored. It just so happened that somebody had an audio recording and somebody else had a kinescope that was in pieces and they put it back together. Those bulky cans of kinescope were mailed to stations around the country.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The technology has changed so much. I can't even imagine five years from now where we'll be.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: I know! And then things moved much more slowly too. When we started we were always live and were never able to stop tape. There was no editing because it was be too expensive. I remember one time it had to be done and I saw the difficult process they used. The first year we shot the show in black and white as color didn't exist.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I love hearing stories from live TV. Did anything funny happen when you were doing the show live?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: Oh, every day. There was never a day that we didn't have something goofy happen. I remember opening the door for my boyfriend on the show and as I closed it, the window sash fell to the ground. And the number of times you would try to close a door and it would swing open again. Or you couldn't open a door. Doors were among the biggest problems [laughs]. If you had to light a candle you would really have your fingers crossed because there was always a draft. You would light and light and light and the thing wouldn't stay lit. If a prop got misplaced during dress rehearsal, getting props reset was hard.
There were endless things because we used special effects. The kind of effects we used was a bat made out of paper dangling on fish line off a fishing pole kind of jiggled by the prop man in front of a blue screen. I don't know how many times I walked through corridors with pots of dry ice creating billows of mist calling "Willy, Willy, save me."
Probably the most iconic blooper of the whole show was the time the beauty shot at the end of the episode happened to be the foyer of the Collinwood set. Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) used to use the room back there as a quick change room, we all did. As the credits were rolling, you see Jonathan emerging with his day clothes in hangers over his shoulder and you can see him all of sudden go "Whoops!" It was so funny and happened all the time.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You played a lot of emotional scenes. Did you ever go home from shooting on some days emotionally tired and drained?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: First of all, I was a kid. Maybe some of the veteran actors did, but I always left feeling rejuvenated. It was really pretty special. A lot of people say "if I'd only known it at the time" but I knew it was special.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: There were a couple of movies made after the show ended, but did anyone foresee the kind of staying power DARK SHADOWS has had over the past four decades?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: That's maybe a two-fold question. For the very nature of the fact it was live and it went out on kinescope we would beg Dan, "Please let us redo that, can we come in on a Sunday and do it?" He would say, "No, what's the point? You'll see it once and no one will ever see it again." Which of course is not true. It's 45 years later and we're still seeing those episodes. If I ever missed seeing an episode it never occurred to me I'd have a chance to see it again.
It wasn't until a couple of years later, after I had been working in England, I came back to do a television series and ran into Lara Parker (Angélique Bouchard). She said they were having these "Dark Shadows Festivals" and I knew nothing about it. They were very small affairs--20 or 30 people or sometimes as many as 100. But many of the actors were there, maybe 8, 9, 10 actors from the show. I went with her once and it was great fun. From that little beginning, it just blossomed.
Oddly enough, I left the show and went to Paris after I did that first film. Five or six months later I got a residual check for DARK SHADOWS which I thought was really odd. They collected those kinescopes and it immediately went on the air in reruns. I think that's one reason why those shows didn't get erased because it so quickly went into reruns.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I was curious if the actors actually received any of the benefits of the show's success over time.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: We did. One day during the afternoon rehearsal these documents were passed around and we were supposed to sign and relinquish our rights to royalties. I believe the money was going to some charity. Several actors including Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard) signed them. I believe Louis Edmonds (Roger Collins) may have signed one as well, maybe Thayer David (Professor T. Elliot Stokes). I wasn't there. I didn't sign the document. Sadly, and cruelly, some of us get royalties and some don't.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Aside from your acting success, at some point you formed a publishing company and began putting out books.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: And that happened because someone asked me to write an article about Joel Crothers (Joe Haskell), who I was really close to, and Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman), who had just died within months of each other [in 1985]. I started writing the magazine article and it appeared in print and it made me so angry because Lara's name was spelled wrong, my name was spelled wrong. The article was how I had written it but the headline and everything accompanying it was wrong. I was so irritated, but I had kept writing, and it occurred to me to publish it as a book.
So I started my little company with a $10 DBA (Doing Business As) and got an art director to hold back his bill until I had some money coming in. I sold the book to two different book clubs and that paid for my print run. You could do those things in those days. My boyfriend when I was on DARK SHADOWS happened to be a Time-Life photographer. He had taken a lot of pictures at the studio and those pictures had never been printed. So all of those color and black and white sections of the book were photogrpahs fans had never seen. The first book sold 32,500 copies. I put all that income back into the company and the following year I published four books, none of which I had written. And with that I launched Pomegranate Press.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: All of these books were non-fiction?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: Yes. All of them. Pomegranate Press only does non-fiction entertainment. I've packaged many other books for other publishing companies that have nothing to do with entertainment and I never published fiction. I've written so many books that were non-fiction about DARK SHADOWS, but in this one case, I really had the itch to write about that time and world and do a fictional account. The fans know what really happened so I decided to write a paranormal romance, which is what "Dark Passages" is.
It's a coming of age story about a young actress named Meg Harrison who goes to the big city with dreams of becoming an actress. She does work as a Playboy Bunny and gets a job on an afternoon soap that has vampires. But the twist is, she herself is a vampire. Like Jonathan Frid created a role as sort of a reluctant vampire, I've done the same. Meg Harrison is a young girl who wants to live in a world of mortals, and does, and harnesses her gifts while denying herself the use of them because she wants to make it as an actress on her own.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So how much of this is based on your own experiences?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: Oh, it's all based on my own experiences. But having said that, it's anything but a memior because there's not anything that happens in the book that happened to me in real life. The afternoon soap, the Playboy angle, is all merely the setting. It's not the story, plot or characters.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you nervous to put this out, as a fictional story versus the non-fiction books?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: No! Lara Parker has read it and she loved it. Jonathan Frid told me I could put on the cover that he loved the book and it brought him back to the DARK SHADOWS set. So far my colleagues have embraced it. And I introduced it at Comic Con and the fans who read it have too. If anyone wants to order the book you can go to www.kathrynleighscott.com. Or you can order it from Amazon.com. Send me a receipt and I will send you a signed book cover.
If you like the book, there are a lot of websites where readers can add their reviews at Amazon or Facebook or wherever. I would really appreciate that.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Will you be doing book signings?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: On August 7th, I was at a book store called Diesel in the Brentwood Shopping Center for a publication party. On August 17th, I will be in New York for a booking signing and reading at at Barnes & Noble on 86th and Lexington. There are a lot of DARK SHADOWS fans in the New York/New Jersey area and I'm hoping lots of them turn up for this.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I will be there!
Kathryn Leigh Scott: I'm delighted. Please bring a coterie of friends [laughs].
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I've always been fascinated with the '60s, but I think with MAD MEN and other TV shows, they are making a comeback in pop culture as well.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: I think so too. It's no secret Lara Parker, David Selby (Quentin Collins), Jonathan Frid and I flew to London last month and filmed cameos in Dark Shadows, the Warner Brothers film with Johnny Depp. So we were on the set of Dark Shadows working with Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp, and directed by Tim Burton.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Our readers and viewers were really happy to hear that. Anyone who is a fan of something from the past is always worried a remake won't be true to the original, so everyone was happy to hear you were involved.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: And they treated us terribly well. It was really fun.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: DARK SHADOWS is one of those shows that has never gone out of style. But I think this movie could lead to another television version.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: I think they'll be many more Dark Shadows movies if this one is a hit. It will be like Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean if this one is a hit. And they might spin it off into another TV series, you never know.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We talked a little bit about your time as a Playboy Bunny. NBC has a new show coming out this fall called THE PLAYBOY CLUB.
Kathryn Leigh Scott: They do. And the people responsible for the television series have acquired the rights to my book, "The Bunny Years," for potential use in upcoming episodes of the show. Simon & Schuster Gallery is bringing out a trade paper reprint of "The Bunny Years" in September, I think September 19.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: If you could go back to 1966 when you first started out on DARK SHADOWS, knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Kathryn Leigh Scott: Oh, gosh, don't act. You start doing a show like that and what happens is you start chewing the scenery. I think my work was better the first year on the show. But I can't think of much I would do differently, not at that age. I loved every minute of it and I think I took full advantage of it.
Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. Aside from co-hosting WE LOVE SOAPS TV, he has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas, SCRIPTS & SCRUPLES and ROCKLAND COUNTY. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series IMAGINARY BITCHES and EMPIRE. He has consulted on numerous indie soaps and is currently an associate producer on THE BAY and executive producer on the upcoming indie short May Mercy Lie.