Martin Oaks, Henry James and Dracula

Posted on January 18, 2018 by Martin Oaks under Community
Leave a comment

As we mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Martin Oaks Cemetery in Lewisville, Texas (about 15 miles south of Denton, Texas, 10 miles west of Plano, Texas) is a quaint, historic graveyard.  Several media companies have wanted to use it for filming locations, but our feeling has been that such activity would disturb the natural tranquility of the setting.

Dracula Playbill

In the course of owning Martin Oaks, we have often been asked about ghost sightings — none is the answer.  But that has led us to blogging about some of our favorite supernatural stories.

Taking up from where we left off yesterday, let us now turn to Henry James, author of a number of masterpieces like “The Portrait of a Lady,” and “The Ambassadors,” among others.

Few know that James was also the master of ghost stories — he wrote seven or eight of them by our count.  The two which best represent his ability to create psychological suspense, imaginative and compelling drama are The Ghostly Rental and The Turn of the Screw.  The latter is the most well-known — it features two ghosts whose presence is overwhelmingly menacing.  It was later filmed as “The Innocents;” it featured a tight, well-crafted screenplay by Truman Capote.

When it comes to a blockbuster gothic work, Dracula stands alone.  Since it publication in 1897, Bram Stoker’s uber classic has penetrated world culture as few works of fiction ever have.  The names Dracula, Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing and Renfield rank with Atticus Finch, Yossarian and Holden Caufield in the fiction hall of fame. For a cool $27,000, you can hope to obtain a signed first edition of the Stoker novel.

Based on a real life 15th century character (Vlad the Impaler), Dracula has morphed into films, plays, operas, countless novels, the list is endless.  Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee owe much of their livelihood to Stoker’s creation. Nosferatu is still the subject of German film studies. Even Leslie Nielsen had an opportunity to leave his own distinctive stamp on the subject.

Aside from the films, our own personal favorite Dracula was presented on Broadway in the late 1970’s.  Staged at the Martin Beck Theater, this production featured our favorite Broadway set ever — done by the macabre illustrator Edward Gorey.  It was all done in black-and-white!

Gorey’s Victorian, slightly off center vision makes certain each scene contains one red item (a red rose, wine or a ruby jewel).  Bats and skulls were liberally employed.

The design of the sets proved to be so popular that once the play became established (it had a run of 925 performances), merchandise of every manner started to sell, including Edward Gorey inspired Dracula wallpaper.

In addition to all the ingredients that make a hit Broadway show — a collaborative effort for certain– the choice of the star was central.  Frank Langella was absolutely indispensable in this production.

Frank Langella

Initially, it was said that Langella was somewhat reluctant to take on the role (he had played it before, without much success).  He was not interested in any type of parody or camp show.  This Dracula had to be true to Stoker’s vision: horror, yes, but style, elegance and romance as well.

The seductive side, which was lost in some previous interpretations, was of paramount importance — there was even a love scene. It worked spectacularly on stage — a film version ultimately failed, a classic example of how some material works in live theater but lacks power on film.

Our favorite moment in the show was a trick which, if anything, has grown more mysterious with the passing of 30 years.  At one point, Langella wraps himself in his magnificent cape and disappears. We have seen David Copperfield and a number of “Magic Castle” magicians, but this trick still ranks as our favorite — he didn’t appear to go through a drop in the stage, nor fold into the background, Langella just disappeared.  If you know how the trick worked, please don’t tell us, we like to let the puzzle remain unsolved.

More on these subjects to come in a future blog.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *