Grayson Hall: A Hard Act to Follow by RJ Jamison

Chit Chat by Mickey Greene, syndicated columnist

Chit Chat by Mickey Greene, Syndicated Columnist

Chances are, if you’re a Baby Boomer, you know Grayson Hall very well. After all, she was the beloved Dr. Hoffman on the Gothic soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” In addition to Dr. Hoffman, Grayson also played Magda Rakosi, the gypsy who curses Quentin Collins (David Selby) and turns him into a werewolf. She was Julia Hoffman, the housekeeper in parallel time 1970 and portrayed Constance Collins in the very last storyline before the show went off the air. Movie buffs will remember her star turn in “Night of the Iguana” opposite such luminaries as Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner. For that role, she was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actress category. While she didn’t win, the movie gained her lots of attention. Most fans know these facts, but there’s so much more to this beloved actress who passed away in 1985. And, if you’d like to read more, you absolutely have to get yourself a copy of “Grayson Hall: A Hard Act to Follow” (2006) by R.J. Jamison, published by iUniverse.

“Grayson Hall: A Hard Act to Follow” reviews the evolution of Philadelphia’s Shirley Grossman into the cosmopolitan Grayson Hall. The biography discusses her early life surrounded by eccentric socialist-revolutionary minded aunt and uncles, her early first marriage and subsequent second marriage to write Allison Samuel Hall (who wrote for “Dark Shadows”), her joy at living a grand New York theatrical life all the while holding court in her kitchen and adoring motherhood. The biography reviews, summarizes and provides anecdotes on her wide range of theatrical, television, radio and film appearances including the aforementioned John Huston’s “Night of the Iguana” (as the sexually confused Judith Fellowes), heralded turns on the New York stage as two of Jean Genet’s AC/DC madams – Irma in “The Balcony” and Warda in “The Screens” – and corrects the record regarding Grayson’s arrival on, and participation in, ABC’s cult phenomenon, “Dark Shadows.”

For me, Grayson’s face says it all. It is a strong face, yet delicate at the same time. This is the paradox of who she was, and R.J. Jamison details it so wonderfully, laying out for us a life that was rich and full, yet not exactly without its heartache and disappointments. Jamison brings this woman to life, and as you get to know her, you find yourself wishing, as I did, that she could have been a friend of yours. Near the end of the book, which tells of her battle with lung cancer (Hall had been a heavy smoker most of her life), you find yourself grieving with her husband, Sam, and son, Matthew.

Here’s something quite fascinating I learned while reading the book. Most “Dark Shadows” fans are aware that Dr. Hoffman (Grayson) pined away with unrequited love for the handsome, brooding vampire on the show, Barnabas Collins ( Jonathan Frid), whom she was trying to “cure.” However, that was entirely Grayson’s idea to portray the character that way. When the writers, directors and Dan Curtis (creator of the show) finally caught on to how Grayson was playing the good doctor, they used it to full advantage. To this day, many “Dark Shadows” fans wish Julia Hoffman had found her happy ending with Barnabas. In fact, there are several Internet fan groups and message boards devoted to just this concept. Reams of fan fiction have been written about it, speculating what might have happened if the two had ultimately married.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is a marvelous, well-researched, fun read!

© 2006 DBR Media, Inc. Chit Chat by Mickey Greene is syndicated in 450 US publications. Reprinted by permission.
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