Dracula: prince of drabness

CBC’s take on the Bram Stoker classic remains dead and buried

March 25, 1973 was when the CBC aired their version of vampire classic Dracula as part of the umbrella series of television plays, Purple Playhouse. Adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel by Rod Coneybeare (The Friendly Giant’s Rusty), and starring Norman Welsh (Mister Rogers’s resident Santa Claus) as the Count, this Dracula remains a curio remembered by few and coveted by many.

(A butchered and time-coded version thankfully lives on YouTube, giving us an approximation of the production.)

Part of what makes researching this supposed lost CBC “gem” so difficult is that it has been completely overshadowed by 1973’s other TV version of Dracula, the American effort starring Jack Palance. It was written by Twilight Zone scribe Richard Matheson, and directed by Gothic horror maestro Dan Curtis (the creator of vampire soap opera Dark Shadows).

The BBC also helmed a TV mini-series in 1977, starring the debonair Louis Jourdan as Count Dracula.

All three 1970s TV versions share many traits: shot in cramped studios, low budgets, and a vibe of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who (not a bad thing, per se). However, the Palance and Jourdan versions have enjoyed home video releases and multiple repeats over the years, while the Welsh CBC version was aired once—and promptly disposed of.

As with all of CBC’s Purple Playhouse serials—which included Sweeney Todd, The Corsican Brothers, and The Bells—it was introduced by Robertson Davies:

(His legendary faux British accent is on full display, purportedly acquired after spending a year on the boards at the Old Vic Theatre in London.)

The production itself is much more faithful to Stoker’s original novel than the U.S. or U.K. versions, and Welsh’s portrayal much closer to the book’s Count than either Palance (too hammy) or Jourdan (too posh).

In fact, Welsh’s Dracula is similar in tone to the Claes Bang interpretation seen in the recent BBC/Netflix Dracula, created by modern Doctor Who showrunners Mark Gattis and Stephen Moffat.

Dracula fans have petitioned the CBC for years to release or repeat their version of the story. But before the edited work-print escaped onto YouTube all that existed was a still in the popular genre magazine, Famous Monsters (issue #107).

Famous Monsters (#107)

Considering the enduring popularity of the character—there have been over 200 film or television adaptations, second only to Sherlock Holmes—it’s a shame that the CBC haven’t attempted to commercially exploit this production, even as a cult item.

One final piece of Cancon synergy attached to this production: Dracula director Jack Nixon-Browne went on to direct the classic “Ghost Station” (1983) episode of The Littlest Hobo, which took place almost entirely on the TTC:

Share Retrontario

Send tips, comments, and other flotsam and jetsam to @retrontario on Twitter, or ed@retrontario.com. More old newsletters you can use are in the archives.