Having missed my regular Wednesday dine and dish session last week, I was more than a little excited to get back to Michael’s today. Perhaps that’s because I was meeting one of my all-time favorite people, actress and author Kathryn Leigh Scott, for a long overdue catch-up session. It’s been a few years since we last ‘Lunched.’ To a generation of fans who ran home from school a few (ahem) decades ago to watch Dark Shadows, Kathryn will forever be Maggie Evans, the ill-fated love of daytime television’s first vampire, Barnabas Collins. Next Monday marks the 5oth (!) anniversary of the show’s first (live) broadcast on WABC. “It’s also the 50th anniversary of the launch of my acting career,” said the absolutely ageless Kathryn, who will be heading up to Westchester this weekend to celebrate with the show’s faithful fans (yours truly among them) at the annual Dark Shadows Festival in Tarrytown, N.Y. The three-day event starts Friday and includes trips to Lyndhurst and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, locations in the cult-favorites House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows movies as well as panel discussions and lunch with many of the series stars. More on all this later.
Prolific Kathryn, who has somehow managed to write an impressive array of fiction and non-fiction books including The Bunny Years, a 25-year history of Playboy Clubs told through the women (including Kathryn and Gloria Steinem) who worked as Bunnies, which was optioned by Disney for a feature film and acquired by Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer. Her three novels are all terrifically fun page-turners: Jinxed, Down and Out in Beverly Heels and Dark Passages, a sly take on her years on Dark Shadows with a female protagonist who must conceal the fact that she is a vampire while working as an actress on a gothic soap opera. Kathryn launched her own imprint, Pomegranate Press, Ltd. to publish books about the entertainment industry as well as biographies, textbooks and illustrated books. Nine of her books have chronicled the behind-the-scenes stories of Dark Shadows, most recently in Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood, which coincided with the release of Tim Burton’s reboot feature film starring Johnny Depp in 2012. The film didn’t exactly score with the critics (including this one) but was a “financial success,” noted Kathryn. “I don’t think people know that.” If you ask me, Return to Collinwood, which had some great anecdotes about the series’ stars experiences while (David Selby, Lara Parker and the late Jonathan Frid) appearing in the film, might have had a little something to do with that.
Today we got together to talk about Kathryn’s latest and most deeply personal book, Last Dance at the Savoy, published last month by Cumberland Press. In it, Kathryn tells the story of how she and her husband, Geoff Miller, the founding editor of Los Angeles Magazine, dealt with his battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a neurological disease for which there is no cure. Geoff died from PSP in April 2011. When I told Kathryn I hadn’t heard of the disease prior to her telling me about it, she wasn’t surprised. “So little is known about this prime of life disease but it affects some 20,000 Americans every year — a similar number to those battling Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).”
“When Geoff was first diagnosed I wanted someone to take my hand and walk me through everything that I knew was ahead,” she explained between bites of salad Nicoise. “But there was nothing out there.” Kathryn kept a journal on her laptop on the advice of Geoff’s doctor’s to track his reaction to “off label” medications and the progression of the disease. She had no intention of writing about her husband’s illness and its life-changing consequences. After his death, Kathryn found keeping busy with acting (traveling to London to film cameos with the original cast for the Tim Burton movie) and her writing (her novel Dark Passages was about to be published) helped. “I needed that distraction. I felt very raw at the time.”
A year later, while rereading the diary she’d kept, Kathryn discovered she had chronicled the couples’ emotional journey as well as their medical odyssey. She knew writing such a deeply personal memoir would be like nothing else she’s ever done. “Getting the tone just right was very, very difficult,” she told me. “It was our own story and I wanted to tell that story, but I also wanted to write the book to tell other people you are not alone.” In order to go back to those very difficult days, she immersed herself in everything that brought everything back. “I wrote in Geoff’s den at his desk which looked out at the garden — his view. I was very much in his world.”
The book, which was published on the fifth anniversary of Geoff’s death, is deeply moving, filled with gut-wrenching moments where Kathryn writes unflinchingly not only about Geoff’s physical and mental deterioration as his disease progressed, but her own pain at seeing the man she loved slip away. The narrative is interspersed with Kathryn’s journal entries and the book includes a resource guide on PSP (a percentage of the proceeds will benefit the CurePSP Foundation — Kathryn is a volunteer national spokesperson). The reference to the significance of the title left this reader very teary. “When I held him in my arms it was as if we were back dancing at the Savoy,” she told me referencing the final pages of the book where Kathryn says goodbye to her longtime love. When I told her that I could see the book becoming a feature film, Kathryn said she hadn’t thought of that but since its publication, “A lot of people have been saying the same thing.” It certainly would be the role of a lifetime.
Speaking of acting, Kathryn is busier than ever these days with gigs that have included a recurring role on the ABC comedy The Goldbergs as George Segal’s girlfriend, Miriam. “I love working with him,” she told me. “He is at the top of his game. I hope they ask me back.” She also had a guest spot of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. “When I did Dark Shadows 50 years ago, special effects were so primitive, we had paper bats floating around. When I was on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD the prop man put these colored dots on my face and I asked, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Special effects.’ Then when I saw the show, my face crumbled on television. I loved it!”
Perhaps her good friend Julian Fellowes, who is currently at work on his latest project, The Gilded Age, might want to consider Kathryn for a role in his upcoming series. “That would be a dream for me! Downton Abbey was appointment television for me. I never missed it and I love old New York,” said she. “I’d love that!” You’re welcome, Lord Fellowes.
By the time coffee arrived, the conversation turned back to Dark Shadows, as Kathryn was about to head off to get ready for the opening day of the festival. “Dark Shadows was a huge catalyst in my life,” she said. “It gave me my first acting job and my first book with the launch of Pomegranate Press.” It also continues to be very much part of her present. At the festival she will be auctioning off items from her own personal collection of Dark Shadows memorabilia including her first and last show script, as well as one of the yellow cotton waitress uniforms she wore as Maggie Evans in the earliest days of the show. “Apron and saddle shoes included!” The proceeds will go to fund PSP research. There will also be another auction of show memorabilia conducted by the producers to benefit Lyndhurst, a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
As is the case whenever I’ve spent time with Kathryn, I marveled at her relentlessly upbeat attitude and energetic spirit. How does she do it? “I have no hobbies!” she told me laughingly. “My motto is: If not now, when? I almost never put off tomorrow what could be done today.” Good advice indeed.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1.The New York Post’s Keith Kelly, Jon Friedman and Peter Costiglio
2. Agent Ed Victor
3. Andrew Stein
4. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman
5. Herb Siegel
6. Legendary songbird Judy Collins
7. Fashionistas Fern Mallis, Jaqui Lividini and FIT president Joyce Brown
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and Ron Mwangaguhunga. On our way out, Kathryn and I stopped by the table to say hello to the dynamic duo. While Ron and I bemoaned yet another surreal day filled with the rantings of Donald Trump and discussed the merits of Game of Thrones, David and Kathryn caught up after not having seen each other for a very long time. “I used to get Christmas cards from you!” exclaimed David when I reintroduced them. And fittingly, David told Kathryn that it was Geoff, during his tenure at Los Angles magazine, that gave David “my first writing break.” See, I told you, all roads lead to Michael’s.
9. Ed Adler
12. James Hester
14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew
15. Tom Florio
16. Star Jones, Dr. Holly Phillips and another gal we didn’t recognize with a bedazzled iPhone
17. Jack Myers and his wife Rhonda
18. Cliff Sobel and Ambassador William vanden Heuvel
20. Robert Zimmerman (who I am ‘Lunching’ with next week) and Politico’s Annie Karni
21. Designer Dennis Basso and Quest’s Chris Meigher
23. Jonathan Estreich
25. Tom Goodman
27. Kathryn Leigh Scott and yours truly
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.