Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


GRAYSON HALL: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW. R. J. Jamison. iUniverse [self-publishing company]; 2006.

This is an interesting biography of stage, screen and television actress Grayson Hall, who was nominated for a supporting Oscar for The Night of the Iguana, but who will always be best-known for playing Dr. Julia Hoffman on the afternoon Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. The book looks into her early days before she reinvented herself as "Grayson Hall," her two marriages, her complicated relationship with her father, and the many people she knew and worked with in New York City. Jamison looks at the film that Hall denied she ever made, wherein she played a madame, Satan in High Heels, as well as the low-budget End of the Road, not to mention the two theatrical features based on Dark Shadows. Her stage work was eclectic and controversial: La Ronde, Genet's The Balcony, and even a couple of musicals. She was doing previews of The Madwoman of Chaillot when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember watching Dark Shadows and wondering in how many different ways Hall could intone the phrase "I don't know" which she seemed required to say many times in every episode. Never conventionally attractive -- one might even say she possessed sublime ugliness --  Hall nevertheless proves quite glamorous in some youthful shots in the photo section. Jamison does a good job exploring the life and work of Hall, and suggests that back in the day she was almost some kind of gay icon.

Verdict: For Dark Shadows fans and theater enthusiasts. ***.


angelman66 said...

I am a huge fan of the original Dark Shadows, and the hypnotically compelling speaking voice of Grayson Hall as Dr. Hoffman. I laughed out loud at your comment about the number of times she would be forced to say, "I don't know" at all of the mysterious medical maladies at Collinwood. "What could be causing this excessive loss of blood, Dr. Hoffman?" Answer (after a pregnant pause, with intensely furrowed brow): "I don't know." I look forward to reading this biography; her coworkers adored and revered her as a hip and "cool" member of the older generation, in a time when no one trusted anyone over 30...according to Kathryn Leigh Scott's Dark Shadows memoirs.

William said...

You captured it, all right -- the "I don't know" business with the furrowed brow and all, I mean. I have DVDs of every episode of the show but after watching half or so of the first before-Barnabas season just never found the time to get back into it -- of course things really kicked into gear when Barnabas joined the show. Someday I have to find out on just which discs there's the Adam and Eve storyline, which I remember enjoying, but don't ask me which season, which month, which disc, or anything else. I also have the remake with Barbara Steele and Jean Simmons on DVD and maybe one of these days I'll get around to that.

angelman66 said...

Oh, yes, I also love the early 90s remake--Ben Cross is a brilliant Barnabas, Barbara Steele is well-cast in the Julia Hoffman role, and you'll also see a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as David Collins! I remember the series was cancelled before it ended because of the start of the first Iraq War; it was permanently preempted by the primetime nightly overage of the war. Did not get to see the series in its entirety until I caught the whole thing recently on

William said...

It's definitely on my list to watch again. Ben Cross was a fine actor and I remember him saying in an interview that the show was his last shot at becoming really famous, although he's had a successful career nevertheless. Gordon-Levitt has certainly turned into a fine actor. And I've always been a big Barbara Steele fan. I remember being disappointed when the 90's show was canceled.