A touch of Grayson

"Shock it to me!" Dark Shadows Tribute pays tribute to Grayson Hall
The pleasures of Grayson Hall

SHOCKING PROFILE When I informed John Epperson, aka Lypsinka, that there was a biography of Grayson Hall, he said, "Of Grayson Hall?! God." Then I told him the title of the book, by R. J. Jamison: A Hard Act to Follow (iUniverse, 224 pages, $18.95). "A hard actress to follow," Epperson observed.

Epperson and I had reached the subject of Hall through a discussion of the thespian skills of Joan Bennett, whose plum-flavored line readings took on an extra coating of irony in Dario Argento's 1977 Suspiria. The leap from Suspiria to a different sort of horror classic, the soap opera and movie series Dark Shadows, where Bennett and Hall were part of the cast, was natural — even if the actresses are two of the most artifice-laden in TV and film history.

Hall is entwined with her Dark Shadows character, Dr. Julia Hoffman. Yet she also garnered an Oscar nomination for her performance as Ava Gardner's nemesis in John Huston's 1964 The Night of the Iguana. (According to Jamison, though she wasn't in the movie, Elizabeth Taylor was on set, sporting flowers made out of human hair.) Huston gave Hall the role because of a likeness to Katharine Hepburn, but there was also a bit of Kay Thompson to her onscreen presence, a characteristic photographer William Klein must have noted when he had her caricature his former boss Diana Vreeland in the fashion satire Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966).

Hall — real name: Shirley Grossman — is a camp and cult icon. "In death as in life," Jamison writes in A Hard Act to Follow, "she remains adored by a mixture of gay men, drag queens, and Dark Shadows enthusiasts." Hall's arched brows and piercingly intelligent eyes were the standout features of a one-of-a-kind visage. Her mannerisms and cigarette-smoky voice telegraphed a complicated — dare I say neurotic — intelligence.

As Jamison's book makes clear, Hall's genius stroke in Dark Shadows was deciding to play her scientist character as if Hoffman was secretly in love with vampire Barnabas Collins, a facet that wasn't explicated in the script. This week's Shock It to Me! Film Festival spotlights Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis' movie offshoots of the one-of-a-kind gothic soap opera, 1970's House of Dark Shadows and 1971's Night of Dark Shadows. In Night, Hall adds another Dark Shadows role to her turns as Hoffman and the gypsy fortune teller Magda Rakosi with housekeeper Carlotta Drake. Whatever the part, Grayson Hall made an impression.


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