"Carolyn for a Day" Diana Walker
Dark Shadows Role: Carolyn Stoddard
Number of episodes: one -- aired Sept. 11, 1968
Born: June 28, 1942
Movie: The Man in the Glass Booth (Doretta, 1975)
TV: As The World Turns (Dr. Susan Burke, 1967); Where The Heart Is (Mary Hathway, original cast; entire series run: 1969 to '73)
Broadway: Mame (Gloria Upson, 1966; with Angela Landsbury, Bea Arthur, and Jane Connell); Play It Again, Sam (Sharon Lake, 1969; with Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Jerry Lacy)
Visit to Collinwood: It's difficult to imagine anyone besides Nancy Barrett playing Carolyn Stoddard, but for just one day another actress did step into the blonde trouble-maker's pumps (and, of course, donned one of Collinwood's trademark sleeveless mini-dresses).
Carolyn For a Day
Diana Walker holds the distinction of being the only actor to step in as a temporary recast for a major DS character. Today it's not that rare for an actor to take over a popular character while the usual portrayer is off the show, for something like maternity leave or to appear in a Broadway play. But on Dark Shadows, only a couple of core characters were permanently recast (Willie Loomis and Vicki Winters pop to mind), and none were taken over temporarily besides Carolyn, while Nancy Barrett was briefly ill in September 1968.
When I was doing my primary research for Barnabas & Company, I couldn't find much information about Diana. But in 2005, as Nancy Barrett and I worked together to develop her new website, I discovered that Nancy and Diana's paths had crossed again, in print. In a soap opera magazine Nancy's mom had saved many years earlier, there was a photo of Diana on the cover, and an article inside, immediately in front of an article about Nancy.
It was the November 1971 issued of Daytime TV, which hit news stands a few months after DS left the air. At that point, Nancy had moved on to a much different soap: The Doctors, on NBC. There she played Cathy Riker, a manipulative, scheming nurse. The article about Nancy was provocatively titled "I Need Someone to be Very Close To."
Diana Walker, then starring in the soap Where the Heart Is, was profiled in "Women Have Become More Exciting." (Nearly all the article titles in this issue were odd quotes like that. A profile of Days of Our Lives' Susan Flannery was called, "I Love Being Kind to People." Really?! Stop the presses!! :) )
According to the article, Diana had led a privileged childhood, as the daughter of a wealthy New York City executive. But when she decided to become an actress, she struggled through a few lean years. "I had to live on $45 a week," she said. "Of course I could have asked my parents for help, but I didn't. My father is a tough man, who'd say to me, 'Do it yourself.'"
The interview took place in Diana's apartment, a walk-up in midtown Manhattan, just a few blocks from her birthplace. The interviewer said Diana (who'd studied art history at Sarah Lawrence College) had decorated it herself, with a mixture of "mod" furniture and antiques, plus bright colors and mobile sculpture.
Diana said she was the product of exclusive boarding schools and many trips to Europe, and that at one time she'd planned to become an art critic. But, like a lot of performers she fell in love with acting as a child, when she appeared in a school play. Years later (in 1966), she made her Broadway debut in the original cast of Mame, starring Angela Landsbury and Bea Arthur. Prior to her stint on DS, she also appeared briefly on As the World Turns.
The Daytime TV writer was a bit vague when describing Diana's time at Collinwood: "She replaced Nancy Barrett on Dark Shadows for a while sometime back."
She was described as "a blue-eyed blonde, five-six-and-a-half and a slender 112 pounds," and a snazzy dresser. (On the magazine's cover, she's swathed in what looks like a luxurious mink coat, see below.)
In my favorite part of the article, while talking about the decor of her apartment, Diana threw in a typical New York comment. She said she didn't fill her apartment with mementos of her career and photos of herself. "The picture of me is what I see in the mirror every morning. I'm changing every day, and I like the changes," she said, casually adding, "I'm in analysis." (As a New Yorker myself, I've learned that pretty much ever Manhattanite is, at some point, in therapy.)
Diana commented on a hot-button topic of the day: equal rights. "I believe a girl should get the same money for the same job as a man," she said. "But I'm not anti-male. The marvelous thing that Women's Lib has done is to make women realize they have the right to fight for whatever the men fight for. Women become more exciting people, because of the Women's Lib idea. And this is better for men as well as for women. Women now can be vital. Everybody is more involved and more interesting today because you can be yourself."
A bit ahead of her time, she went on, "I believe for instance that if the woman wants to have a baby and not a husband, then she should do it, but must accept full responsibility for her actions."
I haven't yet met or interviewed Miss Walker, but I hope to someday. While I was at the Big Apple Con in April 2005, promoting Barnabas & Company, a man struck up a conversation with me and said he was interested in Dark Shadows because his wife had been on the show. As we chatted, he told me she'd played Carolyn. Well...I knew he wasn't Nancy Barrett's husband, so I thought he might be living in his own little world, like a few other people I'd already encountered at the event... But it turned out he was married to Diana. I got his business card, and promptly misplaced it, but when it resurfaces someday, I'll contact Diana and hopefully post an interview here on DSO. Stay tuned. :)
Meeting Diana's husband prompted me to pull out my VHS copy of her episode, which I'd never gotten around to watching, and it was interesting.
At first, Diana's face was kept in the shadows, I guess in hopes no one would notice she wasn't Nancy -- or perhaps to make the transition more gradual for viewers. (Sometimes on soaps in those days, an announcer would say, "The role of (whoever) is now being played by (whoever)," but that wasn't the case here. And today, magazines like Soap Opera Weekly prepare their readers for every little development, so when this sort of temporary recast happens, viewers know what's going on. But I'll bet for that one day in 1968, there were some panicked Nancy Barrett fans who thought their favorite blonde thespian had left the show.
As the episode progressed, it wasn't possible to keep Carolyn in shadows, and it became clear to me why she couldn't have easily been written out of that one episode. Carolyn was the focus character, driving the action in just about every scene, including some interactions with Adam, which couldn't have been easily shifted to another character, because Adam's existence was still a secret to most Collinwooders at that point. (Sometimes on DS, when an actor was suddenly unavailable, his or her scenes were hastily rewritten and given to someone else; Joel Crothers' Joe once delivered some dialogue originally written for Burke Devlin, for example, when Mitch Ryan was under the weather. But in this case, doing that sort of switch would have required such a major rewrite that it was much easier to hire a dayplayer to step in for Nancy.)
Anyway, Diana only appeared in that one episode of DS, but she went on to play one of the core characters in the CBS soap Where the Heart Is. On that show she played the much-younger wife of a character played by James Mitchell. Soap trivia fans of course know that Mitchell went on to costar with Louis Edmonds on All My Children, playing Palmer Courtland, another character known for marrying younger women. Also, Where the Heart Is starred several other DS alums, including Clarice Blackburn.
Walker worked with at least one other DS cast member on stage: in Play It Again Sam, with Jerry Lacy as the ghost of Humphrey Bogart in 1969.