Recollections of Stu Woolley

"Here, take these baseball cards: the complete National League All-star set for 1958."

Stu Woolley, writer of "Double Darkness" and "I Love Lucard," has been extremely nice in offering to share his recollections about the series. "I Love Lucard," is, of course, one of the most daring, memorable, and successful episodes of D:tS, and, of all the series' many guest characters, none is so well-remembered as "Double Darkness"' horrid Nosferatu! Stu's episodes share a sensitive characterisation of the Max-Gustav relationship, rare glimpses into Lucard's vulnerabilities, and a very intriguing Max-Lucard dynamic. I can't quite imagine the series without either of his contributions.

You asked for some insider information on the series and my small part of it. I don't know how meaty this will be since I'm thinking back nearly 8 years—and not a single cell in my body remains unaltered. (Besides which, being only a contracted writer rather than a story editor, I was not technically an "insider")

Is memory that short? Perhaps. I remember a great wrap-party. How great? Well, it almost made me feel sorry I was married!

I remember also that the production had a very good feel about it in general. Not a love-in 100% of the time, that wouldn't be realistic. But I think there was a general sense that the series was a frolic—fun, inventive, a little different, and quite a challenge. Remember, it was being shot in Luxembourg on a not-very-lavish budget. There was pressure and stress, but unless I'm mythologizing it way out of proportion, I think everyone had the sense of doing something that was worth doing.

The credit goes mainly to the production quartet: Laurin, Davis, Bedard & Lalonde. That's where the inspiration and most of the vision originated. Likewise the quirkiness. I was glad to be a part of it. My ideas were given fair hearing in story conferences; much of my original scriptwork made it to screen in recognizable shape. Perhaps it's because LDB&L were writers themselves that they showed respect for the writers they hired. They were knowledgeable and clear on the franchise.

The other major asset was Lucard. Geordie had that down perfectly. The Tim Roth of TV. Lucard was "evolved": the gentleman-intellectual with a ruthless appetite for pure logic and rich O+! In ILL, he could be a Nazi and take a stake in the chest with high camp in the Teaser and give a coldly Nietzschean performance with snifter and vengeance in the Tag without a hint of comedy. Some might call that uneven writing or uneven performance; I think that diversity, that willingness to try the unexpected, the unconventional, was what made the series memorable and susceptible to exegesis.

It came as a great shock to me when the series folded. I'd just returned from Ireland and boom—kaputski! It was all about business and only about business—and therein lies one of the sad truths about TV Biz. Biz comes first. Creatively, I still believe the series was coherent and had places to go, avenues to explore. It was less a matter of having the series smothered in its crib that caught me off-guard but that it was impossible to revive the patient. In fact, if the Halmis still control the rights, I wonder why no one has sought to revive it for syndication using the same basic concept. Some details might change. Lucard may not be living in a castle in Europe (his bronchitis took him to, I dunno, Santa Fe!). And Gustav may have followed him to thwart his evil empire. If you've got Geordie and Bunny Behrens, you've got the basic components. It might not be possible to pull the kids back—since they're not kids anymore. A one-off "return to" might be fun, but the franchise would have to shift: new kids, new take. It's unlikely that the LDB&L version can be duplicated in spirit and ambience by others. However, might be worth a try—if the $$$ are in place. I've got about $1.50 to contribute. Nah, won't cut it.

Seriously, though, although my creative life is now committed to longform (screenplays), not episodic TV, I'd jump at the chance to open Lucard's coffin and yank the series back to life by the hair. If only creative merit or audience interest were enough...

Without going back to my original versions of DD & ILL, I can't accurately tell you what elements were wholly mine or partly mine and which were written exclusively by LDB&L. That's the TV process, as I'm sure you're aware. If a series works with hired writers, the story editors (i.e. the creative team) assigns basic concepts to specific writers. The story line is beat out collaboratively in a story conference, then the writer disappears for a few days, writes one, maybe two drafts—which are then polished, overhauled or mangled by the story editors. It's often very difficult to tease apart who wrote precisely what after post-production. As a result, everyone takes credit for the successful episodes and shares blame for the dogs. Some things work on paper but stubbornly resist execution in three dimensions.

DD was a confused and confusing story line. Yet I can't say that the ultra-negative response to it in the webpage crits is entirely warranted. Max's pre-teen crush is still kinda touching and goofy and real. I'm especially fond of Uncle Gustav's grandfatherly advice which I borrowed from Yiddish theatre. I also felt that giving Lucard an ancient nemesis was a good card to play; this gave Geordie an opportunity to be perplexed, furious, almost unhinged. I have no criticism of the manner in which Denis played Nosferatu; if it was flawed, the buck stops here.

ILL delivered the franchise and its flexibilities in enduring (and endearing) fashion. Credit the production team for this. What I wrote was superbly realized; no writer can take a bow for that. ILL's super-strong Teaser and Tag and the complex "love" story that links them help us all over overlook or forgive the fact that a novelist bent on exposing Lucard felt like—and was—a rather unpolished story device. Especially the idea that there was only a single copy of his ms. I really forced the envelope there, folks. But I think there's a message for all of us, whether writer, actor or viewer. People do not expect flawless perfection in their entertainment; they'll cut you a lot of slack with your failings if, simultaneously, you fire their imaginations and create something vivid, something that sticks. And in the case of ILL, the "Casablanca" send-up (or "steal", if you prefer) worked so well that when the downbeat coda wrapped up with homicide, an atmosphere of "importance" seemed to hang in the air. Something to chew on. Geordie did a tremendous job with this amorality play. I'll take the kudos for the "Casablanca" concept and devising the Teaser (Max's "novel"). My mother threw away my 1958 baseball card set when I was at summer camp in 1964. I had to bring it back to life someday! But I had written a different, softer Tag that dealt with Max's comic inability to accept that he's just a kid. It was a nice ending. But the creative team used the dark, homicidal close, which they wrote. All praise to them because it capped the episode in operatic fashion that somehow brought the episode—and the series—a cut above fluff.


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