Cohort Classic: 1961 Comet – Dark Shadows

Posted to the Cohort by Chris Irber

We all have our unique proclivities in life, those things we enjoy that make little to no sense to others.  Anyone reading this has likely experienced this phenomenon since you are at a website which celebrates and takes deep dives into all the facets of transportation which have improved the lives of many.  Sadly, an unfortunate percentage of the population fails to see the importance of these monumental developments, often acting as if they are the opposite.

So, for a variation of this, let me merge this terrific (and important) black Comet with popular culture, something (I find to be) of lesser importance.  For this essay I’ve got pop-culture from a half-century ago on my brain, which is perhaps an entirely different matter, but it seems to pair well with this Comet.

Recently I saw mention somewhere of the 1960s era television serial Dark Shadows.  Curious about the show and its premise, I poked around some and found the bulk of the series streaming free on tubi.

For those unfamiliar, Dark Shadows was a daytime drama which ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971.  It has been classified as being both gothic and horror.  Set in the fictional seaside town of Collinsport, Maine, the show is about the Collins family and their various trials and tribulations…but with an undebatable and distinct twist.

Going to the first available episode, I figured I would invest twenty minutes to see what it was all about.  Okay, I admit it; when the Willie Loomis character went to the cemetery to rob a grave for the jewels rumored to be inside, I was intrigued.  Grave robbing isn’t typical soap opera fodder.

When Willie unchained and opened the coffin he found in the Collins’ family crypt, with the hand coming out and clamping onto his neck, I was bitten.  As was Willie.

Dark Shadows is highly entertaining television.  With having now viewed several dozen episodes, the show is everything a person could want – there is history, there is melodrama, the story lines are exceedingly atypical, and some of it is hilarious.  And to think the show was almost on ABC’s chopping block the day Willie went to the cemetery.

Oddly, my wife finds the show annoying.  Every episode I’ve seen so far begins with a female voice saying “My name is Victoria Winters…” along with a vague, high-level overview of that episode.  The actress’s voice drives my wife crazy.

She hasn’t said if the eerie and infectious theme song grates on her nerves; my wife is typically a reasonably patient woman.  There’s no point in dwelling on whatever conversations occur when I watch my new favorite show.

The point at which I began watching Dark Shadows was at a pivotal point in its story trajectory; think of it in automotive terms as being like 1959 and 1960, as those two years were highly pivotal in the automotive world due to the sudden proliferation of smaller cars.  The storyline of the show at my initial viewing soon introduced a new character by the name of Barnabas Collins, a supposedly long lost cousin from England.  It was in 1960 Ford introduced the Comet, a perhaps more internationally sized member of the Ford family.

Both Barnabas and Comet were quickly accepted into the family fold.  Barnabas was given the “old house” for his dwelling while Comet sold approximately 116,000 examples in introductory 1960 along with an additional 183,000 during our featured year of 1961.  The Comet was much more popular than any full-sized Mercury was in either of those years.

Yet both Barnabas and Comet kept significant secrets hidden from those around them.  Careful and attentive observers in Collinsport could have put the pieces together about great numbers of livestock being physically complete yet drained of blood beginning soon after Barnabas’s arrival.  All the clues kept their steady drip-drip-drip for all to see.

Some stealthy observations about the Comet would reflect three distinct and mildly contained secrets.  The first is the Comet having neither a Ford nor Mercury nameplate in those early years.  It was almost like the amnesiac person coming to town, not knowing where or to whom they belonged.

The other things to be discovered were Comets having an “E” embossed ever so inconspicuously on the tail lights, a scarlet letter of sorts, something meant to signify “Edsel”.  The timing should have been suspect to the attentive – Comet entered the automotive atmosphere trailing the Edsel.

Is it me or do the Comet’s tail lights seem somewhat fang-like, providing yet another parallel as it sits in dark shadows?

One of the techniques about Dark Shadows, a tool used heavily on soap operas of both day and night varieties, is how conversations between characters are conducted.  One person will suddenly turn away from whom they are talking, pointing themselves in the general direction of the camera or facing out a window while still continuing the conversation.  The second person will inevitably stand offset from, yet behind, the first, with the second character generally looking at the back of the first character’s head.

It allows for a character’s face to portray what they are thinking without it being apparent to the others in the room.  It works to great dramatic effect.

It works well for automobiles, also.

There is little doubt Ford’s decision to cancel the Edsel carried its own set of dramas around Dearborn.  After the profound investment dedicated to Edsel, the decision to cancel it after only two model years must have prompted some very dramatic and adversarial conversations within the hallowed halls of Ford Motor Company.

It makes one wonder how often Robert McNamara looked out the window during these conversations or, at a minimum, what thoughts he was processing.  Was he eager to watch Edsel die?  Was he sacrificing Edsel for what he really wanted, the Falcon and related Comet?  Was he going rogue against the Ford family?  Or was McNamara simply Hank The Duece’s automotive henchman?  Was the Edsel and Comet saga all part of some other clandestine effort McNamara was unable to achieve before going to Washington?

One thing is certain.  Like the lady’s man in any soap opera, the Falcon / Comet did a great job of sprinkling its DNA around Ford, ensuring an abundance of long-lived successors.

The history and trajectory of the Falcon and Comet platform truly has all the elements of a good soap opera.

One of the atypical story-telling tools used in Dark Shadows was time travel and parallel universes.  While I have not ventured to that point in the series, it certainly appears to be a creative way to tell a story.

This Comet hails from Minnesota as the license plates betray any secretiveness.  Minnesota is many things but a haven for keeping cars free from corrosion it is not.  While this Comet has likely been elevated to the grand level of being fair-weather driver, seeing a 1961 Comet parked on the street has got to be a novel sighting.

Among the comments of any given article here, there is sporadic mention of a longing to travel back in time to purchase some car for safekeeping and future enjoyment.  It’s a good thought.

From the mood of these pictures, appearing as if we’ve time traveled back to the Summer of 1967, this Comet is yearning to break free of the darkness.  Or, perhaps, this Comet has just arrived from a parallel universe.  At any rate, it has avoided being placed in any type of grave.

Sometimes life can imitate art.