Out of the shadows
A conversation with author and actress Kathryn Leigh Scott
By Christy Olsen Field
With the recent film adaptation of “Dark Shadows,” fans of the original 1960s gothic soap opera have come out of the woodwork to celebrate the cult classic. We recently sat down with Kathryn Leigh Scott, a star in the original TV series, to learn more about her experience with Dark Shadows, life in the entertainment industry and her work as an author.
Kathryn Leigh Scott grew up on a farm in Robbinsdale, Minn. Her grandparents, Ole and Martha Karlsgodt and her father Ole Kringstad, immigrated to Minnesota, but kept strong ties to Norway. Her mother, Hilda, was bilingual and both her parents promoted Norwegian heritage activities.
“After World War II ended, my family was on the Stavangerfjørd, the very first passenger ship back to Norway after the war. My father knew about the terrible trials his family endured during the war, and he longed to go back. Our family spent a year in Norway to be with our aunts, uncles and cousins. My first language was Norwegian, actually, and members of my family still speak it,” said Scott. “We made annual visits back to Norway for a long time, and because of his involvement with the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights – US Foundation my brother still makes frequent trips over there.”
For many years, Ole Kringstad wrote a column titled “Brev fra Amerika” (Letter from America), for “Fylket,” for his home town newspaper in Norway and Norwegian language newspapers in the U.S. This early exposure to writing helped to shape Scott’s career in writing and acting, and she was encouraged at a young age to pursue it.
“When I was in second grade, I wrote a play about George Washington. I gave most of the good lines to Martha, though, because I was playing her!” laughed Scott.
Her teacher was impressed with the work, and decided to have the second graders at the school put together a production of Scott’s play.
“I took it for granted at the time, but it was truly a special opportunity,” reflected Scott. “If you give a kid a break, they will run with it.”
Scott’s teachers nurtured and supported her creativity throughout her young life. After graduating from high school, Scott planned to become a drama teacher. She didn’t plan to pursue acting as a career until her own high school drama teacher, then teaching at the college level, told her that he saw potential in her as an actress, and encouraged her to give herself the chance to make it work.
Scott applied to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and was accepted to the two-year program on full scholarship. Her first big break came soon after graduating from the Academy, when she landed a TV role in “Dark Shadows,” which ran from 1966 – 1971. The show featured vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, time travel and more. Scott’s first role was Josette du Pres, and she went on to play three other different characters on the show: Maggie Evans, Lady Kitty Hampshire and Rachel Drummond.
“It was so much fun, and everything I learned at the Academy was put to use right away,” Scott said. “The actors really worked as a repertory company, each playing numerous roles. We drew from classic literature: Turn of the Screw, Picture of Dorian Grey, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter. The kids who were watching the show weren’t aware of the classic literature we were referencing, but they appreciated a good story.”
Though the series ran for only five years, “Dark Shadows” had more single episodes during its run (1,255) than almost any other science fiction / fantasy series.
When asked about what she thought of the latest film adaptation by director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (Scott and her former cast members had a cameo), “They made it their own – the TV show cannot be duplicated because it was done in a different time… Five decades of ‘Dark Shadows’ with the TV show and three feature films, this adaptation is now part of our ‘Dark Shadows’ legacy.”
Scott left the show in 1970 to live in France and England, and came back to the U.S. to do a film and TV pilots in Hollywood. It was here that her writing career took off.
In 1986, Scott combined her love of writing and business savvy to establish Pomegranate Press. In addition to publishing her own books about Dark Shadows and her time as a Playboy Bunny, Scott has published 60 titles by other non-fiction authors about aspects of the entertainment industry. Kathryn recently published Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood about five decades of the show.
Pomegranate Press’s latest release is “Coya Come Home” by Gretchen Urnes Beito, published to celebrate Congresswoman Coya Knutsen’s 100th birthday on Aug. 22, 2012. The book is an intimate biography of Coya Knutsen, the Minnesota farm wife who took on national politics, but had her career destroyed in 1958 by the publication of her husband’s letter demanding her to come home to be a full-time housewife. Her story was seen by many as a story of a farmer who wanted his wife home in the kitchen instead of Capitol Hill, but it illustrates the complex social attitudes of the era. U.S. Vice President and proud Norwegian-American Walter Mondale wrote the foreword for the book.
The Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights – US Foundation will receive all proceeds from the sale of “Coya Come Home” for their Youth Leadership fund, specifically to support women entering the field of public policy.
This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.