David Selby made an unusual and unforgettable impression without even uttering a line on his first television appearance in 1968. The show, Dark Shadows, a gothic soap opera featuring vampires, witches and ghosts, became an afternoon phenomenon for kids (and adults) to run home from school to watch. A new malevolent ghost named Quentin Collins was haunting the halls of Collinwood and possessing the estate’s children in a plot inspired by Henry James’ 1898 horror novella, The Turn of the Screw. For weeks the writers had been setting viewers up for the sudden appearance of Quentin’s ghost. David Selby, doused in eerie light, stood silently with his soon to be iconic sideburns and his jaw clenched tight in a cruel smirk. Viewers at home got first sight of a brand-new television anti-hero, and the beginning of David Selby’s television and film career.
For over five decades David Selby has entertained audiences on television, film and stage. He’s written multiple books, including memoirs, fiction, and poetry, and he also had a song in the Billboard Top 100. He has been praised for his work as a dramatic actor, and he has donned the walls of teenage fans as a popular pin-up and screen idol. At the peak of its popularity when he joined the cast of Dark Shadows, David was hired as a “second” leading man to relieve star Jonathan Frid from the pressure of carrying a five day a week serial on his shoulders. Quentin Collins quickly became one of the most popular characters on the show. The role would make Selby a popular actor with both fans and casting directors and lead him to roles in films and television throughout the 1970s after Dark Shadows wrapped.
In 1982 lightning struck twice when David joined the second season of Falcon Crest as new series’ antagonist Richard Channing in the hit nighttime drama. Much like in Dark Shadows, David quickly became one of the central characters of the show, and Richard Channing went from villain to anti-hero due to his immense popularity with the audience.
Over the years David continued making appearances in all areas of media and has maintained a favorite of Dark Shadows’ devout fan base. As a Dark Shadows fan myself, David Selby is one of my very favorite actors. With Falcon Crest currently streaming on Amazon Prime, for the first time I have been able to see him in the role of Richard Channing and have discovered how equally compelling and complex of a character he is. It was a very exciting and significant opportunity for me to meet with David Selby to discuss his characters, career, and current projects.
Sam Tweedle: Mr. Selby, we’ve been watching Falcon Crest every night before for the last number of weeks since it began streaming on Amazon Prime, and it’s our first time going down this journey. There have been a couple nights where we’ve stayed up until two in the morning watching, and then go to work the next day like complete zombies due to sleep deprivation. It is such a juicy show. It’s interesting because I first became a fan of your work watching you as Quentin Collins, and Richard Channing is a similarly compelling and complex character. Both Richard Channing and Quentin Collins are true anti-heroes in the sense that they start off as villains, but you made them three dimensional and easy to love. I find that no matter what both characters do, I’m always rooting for them.
David Selby: That’s very kind of you to say. I appreciate you saying that.
Sam: How are you able to create these characters that are brooding and dark, but so multi-dimensional?
David: Well, in both instances, I was surrounded by talented people. That meant a lot to me. On Dark Shadows there was Joan Bennett, and then on Falcon Crest there was Jane Wyman. Both were strong individuals, and wonderful people, and became wonderful friends and supporters of mine, as did so many other great people I got to work with. I think that was a great help to me. Then there were people who made great suggestions to me. There was dear Grayson Hall. I always looked up to Grayson because I could depend upon her for a suggestion here and there. Jonathan Frid and I got along so well, as I did with so many people on Dark Shadows. In fact, a few months ago the Dark Shadows cast got back together and did a little nice production of A Christmas Carol.
Sam: Yes. I watched it live on YouTube. You were wonderful as Scrooge, and it was so nice to see Dark Shadow actors you don’t often get to see so often, like David Henesey and Alexandra Moltke Isles.
David: Well, it was working with people like that who supported me in creating a character like Quentin. Another person who was also very important to me was Earl Hamner. I met him when I did an episode of The Waltons. Earl worked for Lorimar and was the producer on Falcon Crest. I was doing another show when he asked me to join the cast of Falcon Crest, called Flamingo Road.
Sam: I know that you were doing a lot of stage work prior to joining the cast of Dark Shadows. When did you begin acting, and what made you decide to make it a career?
David: I was going to school in West Virginia, which is where I was raised. In my first year of university, I went to the counsellor, who helped me sign up for classes. I wasn’t sure what to take, but he just sat and looked at me and said, “You look like you could be an actor. Why don’t you give it a shot?” So, I took an acting class. He was the teacher, and I enjoyed it. I asked him, “How do you go about being an actor?” He said, “Well, you go to New York for ten years and you stay there and then you’ll either become an actor, or not.” So, I made the trip to New York, but I didn’t even last a week. I got lost in Central Park and had a few other little side stories. I went back to West Virginia, and got a job at a theatre, and I did that for a time. I met a couple of other good people, and, fortunately for me, I met the lady who became my wife. After performing at a couple of other theatres, we went to New York together, and that was the beginning.
Sam: I’ve talked to a number of actors from Dark Shadows, including Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Jerry Lacy. All of them started on the show prior to you, either before it became a hit, or when it was climbing its way to being a phenomena. But you joined the cast right at the peak of its popularity. Did you know what you were signing up for at the time?
David: Absolutely not. I had never seen the show.
Sam: You were a stage actor who hadn’t done television or film yet. How did you find out about the role?
David: I went down to this agency on Sixth Avenue in New York, and I hadn’t signed up with them yet. They hadn’t asked me to sign, but I was recommended to them by somebody I had worked with. I went over and talked to the agents, and one of them suggested I go and meet a lady named Marian Doherty. She was a casting director, and a lovely woman who became very noted in New York for her work in showbusiness. She’s the one that took me by the hand, put me in a cab, paid the cab fare, and went with me to Dan Curtis’ office. Dan, as you know, was the creator of Dark Shadows. I did a short scene with an acting classmate of mine named Wynn Handman, who was quite special. Then Dan invited me over to the studio to look at me on camera and, lo and behold, I got the job. Dan said, “You won’t be talking for the first few episodes you’re on.” I think it was about a couple of months before Quentin ever spoke.
Sam: That’s right, but you make a big impression when you first come on the screen. The writers were building your character up for months, and you finally appear before David Henesey and Denise Nickerson, and you are glowing in ghostly colors. It’s pretty scary and one of the most memorable moments on the show. I know that they made you work fast on Dark Shadows. What was the turn around like?
David: We’d get the script the day before. We’d go in at eight o’clock the next morning and sit around the table and read the script. Then we’d blocked out the scene with the director. Then we would go downstairs to the studio and shoot it. We filmed it with three cameras in those days, so it was very difficult. You had to finish by a certain time in the day, otherwise you lost your camera to the news department on the West Coast. Another thing that was very important on that show was the music. Robert Cobert composed all the music and wrote Quentin’s Theme. He even wrote some words for a song that Nancy Barrett and I recorded.
Sam: Of course. I Want to Dance With You.
David: That’s right.
Sam: In Dark Shadows there were so many wonderful actors, and the fans know them all by name, and we love all the characters. Despite fan favorites, within months of his first appearance, Quentin became the most recognizable character on the show after Barnabas Collins. What do you think was the reason your character became so popular?
David: Well, good writing for one thing and I had the music. But there was a wonderful lady that I had met in New York named Gloria Stavers who ran a couple of magazines. 16 Magazine was the main one. She came to the Dark Shadows set to take photos of all the actors, but she came up to my apartment right at the beginning, and she even brought me outfits that she could photograph me in. She really pushed me as an actor, and Quentin as a character, in her columns. 16 Magazine was special.
Sam: Are you surprised that the fan base for Dark Shadows is still holding on so devotedly, and have spawned new generations of fans, all these years later?
David: I feel so blessed to have people who have been with the show from the beginning. For whatever reason, good fortune was on my side, and I have enjoyed the relationships with the Dark Shadows fans over all these years. It’s quite extraordinary. It really is.
Sam: I want to return to Falcon Crest, because I’m so excited to be able to finally see this series. The character Richard Channing is such a great character. He’s dangerous, he’s devious and he’s probably a little evil, but I recognize that most of his motivations come from a place of hurt. He strikes out instead of being vulnerable. As a result, you can’t hate him. I’m always rooting for him. I want him to win. I just love watching all the Hollywood icons who appear on the show. Mel Ferrer and Cliff Robinson are on it, and anytime Lana Turner shows up you know you’re in for a hell of a rocky ride. I’ve worked through shows like Dallas and Knott’s Landing, but they didn’t have the same Hollywood stars appearing on them. That seems special to Falcon Crest. What was it like to work with all these Hollywood icons on the small screen?
David: It was quite special. Of course, there were also Jane Wyman, and Kim Novak. Susan Sullivan and I have just finished a couple of things. There was Lorenzo Lamas. Lorenzo and I just traded emails recently and we’re going to try and get together. A dear friend of mine, who just passed, was Abby Dalton. Abby was wonderful in the show. It reached a point where sometimes I would get asked by the producers, “Is there anybody you’d like to work with?” I’d say this person or that person, and a lot of times they would be invited to join the show. We were very lucky that way,
Sam: A role that you’ve created on stage over the years has been Abraham Lincoln. I saw some incredible photos of you in the role, and I know you reopened the Ford Theatre playing him. He’s someone that goes against your stereotype, which is fantastic. When did you start performing Lincoln?
David: I had gone out to Illinois, where Lincoln was raised, in 1965 and I met a lovely man there named Chris Moe. He was the in charge of the theater department and was the one that first asked me to play Lincoln. We went to another outdoor theater in New Salem State Park where they’ve reconstructed the village where Lincoln lived. I did a play there about young Abe Lincoln, and then did a couple of more down at the university. Afterwards I kept my interest in Lincoln and several years later I was asked to come to Ford’s Theater in Washington DC, and we did a new play about Lincoln called Heavens Are Hung in Black. It was very well received, and I went back to Ford’s Theater a couple of times to continue my work on Lincoln.
Sam: I’ve been to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, and I found it incredibly moving, especially when looking at many of his actual possessions.
David: We did the same thing. I visited the museum, and Lincoln’s home. If you ever get a chance, go out to Petersburg, Illinois. It’s a few miles from Springfield. Go to New Salem State Park. When I was there that first season, we stayed with a wonderful lady, Ella Grossbowl was her name, and there were people in the town who had stories about Lincoln, and a couple of people actually knew Lincoln, so that was quite special.
Sam: What are you working on these days?
David: I just finished doing something called Smart Phone Theater. Susan Sullivan and I did a little thing called The Share. It was Susan’s idea, and it’s by a lovely man named Asaad Kelada who is the head of Smart Phone Theater. We’ve done a couple of things for Asaad now, and it’s a virtual way of being able to perform during the pandemic. I’m also finishing another book that I’ve been working on.
Sam: How many books have you written?
David: I can’t remember. It’s my seventh or eighth.
Sam: You’ve worked in multiple genres. Is this biographical? Fiction? Poetry?
David: The one I’m doing now is mostly fiction, but I’ve had a little bit of a block.
Sam: As a writer, I know what that can be like.
David: Oh, good. I’m glad that’s something that all writers share. I also have a new film script I’ve got to re-read sometime in the next couple of days. Somebody wants me to play Lucifer.
Sam: That’s a perfect role for you.
David: And there’s another film that was written by a good friend of mine, but we’ll see. So, these are things going on for which I’m fortunate.
Sam: You’ve done stage, television, and film. Which of the three do you prefer?
David: It doesn’t matter. What I prefer is the story. It all starts with what you get to say, and the words you’re working with.
Sam: Well sir, as a fan of your work, I want you to know that what you do with those words, and the life you put into your characters, go far beyond just lines on a script. You create real living souls out of these imaginary characters, and you make them so human and alive and loved by us fans. They become a part of our life and our thoughts.
David: Sam, what you just said is very important to me because, and I don’t say this lightly, I took each and every episode I ever did, be it Falcon Crest or Dark Shadows, and even Flamingo Bay or whatever I was on at the moment and put everything into them.
David Selby is a deeply intelligent and charismatic man, much like the characters he played. Through our correspondence and conversation, I found him to be very distinguished gentleman who was generous with his time. Both series featuring David Selby as two of television’s most beloved anti-heroes in all his dark and brooding glory are currently streaming on different services – Dark Shadows is on Tubi and Falcon Crest is on Amazon Prime. Both are timeless dramas that continue to excite fans old and new. Follow him on Facebook and visit his website at davidselby.com.