Insomniacs’ Paradise (0r In the Wee Hours on KIRO)


Fans of the Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO Channel 7’s 1965 – 78 weekend horror show NIGHTMARE THEATRE have established that for a time in 1970 STRANGE PARADISE aired as a portion of their show.  But what has been less discussed is that the station aired not just a single weekly installment in that after-midnight timeslot, but an entire block of four to five episodes (effectively turning it into a full-length second feature after NIGHTMARE THEATRE‘s midnight movie.)  Here is how The Seattle Daily Times announced the new addition to the city’s late-night airwaves:


The thought of watching roughly a week’s worth of STRANGE PARADISE in a single sitting at two o’clock in the morning is delightfully mind-numbing; something akin to a fever dream.  Further adding to the surrealism was the fact that KIRO does not seem to have been overly concerned about the sequence in which the episodes were aired.  In early June, they announced the opening Maljardin storyline, but note these listings from just a few weeks later:


Some weeks beyond that, the announcements themselves developed an occasional surreal quality, randomly dispensing with the troublesome task of describing the episodes in favor of non-specific lurid imagery or ludicrous alliteration:


Sadly, NIGHTMARE THEATRE seems to have dropped their airings of STRANGE PARADISE after the summer of 1970.  But what a wonderful place Seattle’s airwaves must have been in the wee hours of Saturday morning for those dozen or so weeks.  You could nod off in front of your television in the middle of an Ed Wood movie and wake up in the cursed corridors of Desmond Hall.

The Conjure Doll – 2/4/17


Another Dracena Morg Sighting


Back on February 12, 2016, I published a piece called Who the Heck is Dracena Morg, discussing Centaur Distribution’s abortive attempt to repackage Strange Paradise in the mid 1980s.  The mysterious Ms. Morg — proposed hostess of this new presentation of the series — was a buxom witch in a form-fitting black dress, quite obviously inspired by another popular horror hostess from the late-night airwaves of the time.  Ultimately, Centaur’s effort to reboot the syndication package fizzled, and Dracena Morg was never retro-fitted into the Strange Paradise cast.  However, despite never having appeared on even a single television viewer’s screen, she did get the chance to meet the public as an ambassador for the series.  Check out the following excerpts from the January 20, 1986 edition of the newspaper The Arizona Republic:

                                CONVENTION REVEALS BOOM IN FIRST-RUN PROGRAMMING                              Only in TV, where an afterlife in syndication exists for most canceled network series, does the future stretch behind.  Many offerings on the massive showroom floor at the National Association of Television Program Executives convention are video flashbacks, dating as far back as network TV’s infancy  …  But, in recent years syndicators and stations have been paying greater attention to the present.  With the number of independent stations continuing to grow … and all needing to fill their broadcast days, an unprecedented boom in first-run programming has resulted  …  Each year, a new batch of programming hopefuls arrives at the convention.  By convention’s end, many have been scrapped for lack of interest.  Some shows, though, are so brazen or different as to draw stares.  Tops in the category this year, at least after one day’s search, has to be … Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.  In an effort to get a headlock on sales, a mock ring has been constructed for the GLOW grapplers to have at it.  In the “Haven’t I seen you before?” category is Dracena Morg, seen Saturday sipping a drink with Spiderman.  This Elvira-lookalike is the host of 195 half-hours of the gothic soap opera Strange Paradise.

So Centaur Distribution actually sent Dracena Morg out to at least one industry trade show to drum up interest in the re-packaged Strange Paradise.  Regardless of whether or not it was a good idea to re-invent the series as fodder for a Movie Macabre style send-up, it seems a shame that actress Claudia Day (the performer behind the Dracena Morg persona) invested such effort into promoting a project that would never be seen by an audience.  Today, all that remains of Dracena are a few stray promotional photos and the odd newspaper item.  Perhaps one day Claudia Day will surface, and give us the scoop on her brief tenure as the “strange lady” in the Desmond family crypt.

The Conjure Doll  –  9/29/16

Strange Marketing


All I can say is, who the heck was writing ad copy for St. Paul, Minnesota broadcaster KSTP back when they were among the first stations to carry Strange Paradise in 1969???  Check out this KSTP promotional piece from the September 15, 1969 issue of Broadcasting:


The “broad market” … in an ad about the station’s ability to attract the female demographic.  Really???  Broadcasting was a high-profile, nationally distributed trade magazine.  If this is the sort of promotion that marked the launch of Strange Paradise, it’s little wonder that the early ratings were disappointing.  What would Raxl or the Conjure Woman have said?

The Conjure Doll  –  8/30/16

Strange Paradise: The Lost Episodes – #45


We’re nearing the end of the cycle of “lost” episodes envisioned by Strange Paradise co-creator Ian Martin, left untold upon his abrupt dismissal as the series’ head writer.  But that is not to say there aren’t a few surprises left.  Today’s look at the abandoned version of Episode 45 comes from the November 14, 1969 edition of the Massachusetts newspaper The Fitchburg Sentinel:

EP45 Fitchburg Sentinel 11-14-69.jpg

And to refresh our memories, here’s a quick recap of Episode 45 as it was actually broadcast:

Episode 45:  Holly clings tenuously to life after her poisoning.  Despite Jean Paul’s urgings, Vangie refuses to endanger the others any further with another séance.  Raxl declares that the devil’s evil has infected everyone on Maljardin.  Jean Paul worries that he is losing his sanity, and that he is the true source of the danger on the island.  Jacques warns him that opening the cryonics capsule would be a mistake, while Raxl begs him to open it and release Erica to her eternal peace.

So Vangie was to have left Maljardin, bound to silence by Jacques’ threat of murder.  Given his repeated insistence in the broadcast episodes that no one should be allowed to leave, it’s hard to conceive what could convince him to allow Vangie to depart, regardless of his hold over her.  Or was Jacques again manipulating her (as he did in the unseen version of Episode 38)?  Given that Alison was one of three characters whom Jacques actively maneuvered onto the island (while insisting that no one else come there), it’s likely that he had specific plans for her.  In light of this, it is unlikely that he would kill her … at least, not before his schemes (whatever they were) came to fruition.  But Vangie wouldn’t have been aware of any of this, so putting Alison’s life her hands would have been an effective way for Jacques to silence her.

How many alternate turns would Strange Paradise‘s original plotline have taken?  Check back soon for the real story behind Dr. Menkin’s experiments and Erica’s death.

The Conjure Doll – 8/18/16

Erica Desmond … Before Tudi Wiggins


Before she was Meg Dale on Love of Life or Sara Kingsley on All My Children, Tudi Wiggins delighted Strange Paradise fans with her portrayal of Jean Paul Desmond’s lost love, the ill-fated Erica.  She turned in a performance that made the role unquestionably her own.  And yet, despite her absolute embodiment of the doomed Mrs. Desmond, she was not the first woman to play the part.  Let’s take a moment to consider the development of Erica Desmond before Tudi Wiggins.

Erica and Jean Paul

Colin Fox & Lara Cochrane

Long before Erica uttered her first lines on the series in Episode 52, she was seen as a corpse in Jean Paul’s arms way back in Episode 1.  It has long been established that the woman originating the role of Erica was no actress, but Strange Paradise production assistant Lara Cochrane.  Digging for the story behind this bit of trivia, research published on the website revealed that Ms. Cochrane was drafted on set at the last minute during the filming of the pilot, because she could fit into the costume and was light enough for Colin Fox to lift.  The sequence in which Fox carries her down the Great Chateau’s stairway and into the crypt  provides one of the most memorable images from the series’ premiere  episode.  But one has to wonder if Ms. Cochrane realized when she volunteered for her few fleeting seconds on screen that her image would be used so prominently in the promotion of the series.  The image of her cradled in Fox’s arms appeared in publicity photos and newspaper ads, as well as gracing both the front and back covers of Paperback Library’s first Strange Paradise novel.  For a non-speaking role, the part of Erica Desmond certainly afforded Lara Cochrane an unusual amount of exposure (albeit briefly).
Helena Independent 10-16-43

While Lara Cochrane is unquestionably the first person to portray Erica, it’s possible that the woman pictured at the right — actress Inge Adams — may have been a large part of the inspiration for the character.  Consider:  Ms. Adams was the wife of Strange Paradise co-creator Ian Martin (seen in the photo within the picture).  Like Erica, she was an actress by profession, and also like like the mistress of Maljardin she died at an early age (succumbing to illness in 1963 at the age of 42).  Though no one can claim to know what was going through Ian Martin’s mind as he wrote the scripts laying the groundwork for Strange Paradise‘s basic plot, it’s not hard to conceive he may have felt some familiarity with the story of a man who lost the love of his life to an untimely death.  We cannot say definitively that he was writing from his bereavement of a few years earlier (or thinking of his lost Inge) when he crafted the tale of the Desmonds’ shattered romance.  But there is certainly an argument to be made for the memory of Inge Adams as the seed from which Erica Desmond grew.

So while Tudi Wiggins brought Erica Desmond vividly to life for television viewers in 1969, she was not the only woman to have influenced the character.  Thankfully, she did find her way to the role in Episode 52, in time to bedevil the inhabitants of Maljardin — and to treat faithful viewers of Strange Paradise.

The Conjure Doll  –  8/3/16

Strange Paradise: the Lost Episodes – #44


We’re back, with another peek into the Strange Paradise writer’s room in search of clues to the series’ aborted storylines.  The text of today’s glimpse at the unproduced version of Episode 44 comes from the pages of the December 13, 1969 edition of the Canadian daily The Ottawa Journal:

EP44 recreation

By contrast, here is a synopsis of the episode that actually went out over the airwaves:

Episode 44:   Vangie believes that the black rabbit may harbor Erica’s soul, and begins a second séance in an attempt to establish contact with her spirit.  When she makes contact with the Beyond, an angry spirit manifests through Vangie, enraged and demanding release from confinement.  Elizabeth tells Holly that she no longer trusts Jean Paul, confessing genuine fear for their safety.  The angry entity disrupts the séance by possessing Holly, again demanding release.  In an effort to strengthen Holly, Dan gives her a glass of wine.  Upon consuming the drink, she clutches her throat and collapses.

Episode 44 was the last installment penned by series co-creator Ian Martin, but his teleplay that went before the cameras was obviously worlds away from the story he originally had in mind.  Both versions focused strongly on Holly, but otherwise went in entirely different directions.  The ad for the “lost” version of Episode 37 established that Holly believed the Temple of the Serpent could be used to vanquish Jacques Eloi des Mondes.  So in searching for the secret passage, she was actively seeking a solution to the problems mounting on Maljardin.  Instead, in the broadcast version of the episode she was once again a victim.

But what of the other “guests” on the cursed island?  Check back soon, and find out who was to have gotten away from the Garden of Evil.

The Conjure Doll  –  7/13/16

The Mystery of “Dorothy Daniels” on Maljardin


A misconception has existed for years among fans of gothic paperback novels — the idea that the byline Dorothy Daniels was simply a pseudonym for the prolific working writer Norman Daniels.  When Paperback Library released their trio of tie-in novels based on Strange Paradise, all three bore the name of Dorothy Daniels as author, but over the years multiple sources have gone on record stating that Dorothy was nothing but the pen name Norman used when he wrote in the romance genre.  However, Dorothy Daniels was a real person (the wife of Norman Daniels, in point of fact), and many dozens of gothic romances are copyrighted in her name.  So who did write Strange ParadiseIsland of Evil, and Raxl: Voodoo Priestess?

Dorothy & Norman DanielsDOROTHY and NORMAN DANIELS

In truth, the situation is confusing, and would probably never be satisfactorily resolved if not for an interview conducted in the early 1980s.  In the Fall of 1981, Paperback Quarterly published an article by Michael Barson titled “Norman Daniels: the Writer as Assembly Line,” which included an interview with the prolific Mr. Daniels.  In it, Barson made the following remark:

[T]he symbiotic relationship you and Mrs. Daniels have in writing gothics is amazing — some you write, some she writes, and some are collaborations.

To which Daniels responded:

My wife, Dorothy, and I have always worked together.  Sometimes I write the first draft; sometimes she does.  In reading over old books, we can’t tell who wrote what.

So the words of Norman Daniels himself strongly suggest that Paperback Library’s Strange Paradise novels were a collaborative effort between him and his wife.  But the interview does not explicitly mention the three novels in question, so we are still left with no definitive answer.  No answer, that is, until we consider the following post script to the Paperback Quarterly article:

Paperback Quarterly Fall 1981

So Michael Barson’s research confirms that both Norman and Dorothy Daniels are the authors of the Strange Paradise novels from Paperback Library.  Given that they chronicle the saga of a man who refuses to allow even death to take his beloved from him, it seems somehow fitting that their authorship belongs to a husband and wife writing team.

The Conjure Doll – 5/11/16