Recalling Days as Child Actor on Dark Shadows

Bucks County Herald                         July 26, 2012


Bucks Woman recalls days as ““Dark Shadows”” Ghost

David Block


If you’re over 40, you might have fond memories of running home from school to watch the horror soap opera, Dark Shadows,” which aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971. Who could forget vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) and the evil witch Angelique Bouchard (Lara Parker)? And who could resist seeing the new “Dark Shadows,” movie, starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas, this past spring?


Langhorne resident Sharon Smyth (now Lentz) will never forget the original ABC series, nor would she dream of skipping the movie – because she starred on the show from 1967 – 1968. She portrayed the ghost of Sarah Collins, Barnabas’s younger sister, who died in 1795.


Watching the movie, brought back memories of her childhood acting career.


An Unexpected Start


When Lentz was five-years-old, she accompanied her mother to a laundry after their washing machine suddenly broke down. A personal manager approached them and suggested that Sharon act and do commercials. Two weeks later, the manager called and Sharon found herself doing dozens of commercials.


“They were all fun,” said Lentz. “It didn’t feel like work.”   


Search for Tomorrow


From 1965 to 1966, Lentz portrayed Suzie Carter, an adopted girl with asthma, in the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow.” “I was eight years old at the time. My mother knew the show much better than I did,” Lentz remembered. “I felt like I was doing something nice for my mom because she now got to meet her favorite stars from the show, something which she never imagined.”


There were no other child-actors, or children’s roles in the script while Lentz was part of the cast. Because she was around adults for long periods of time, her vocabulary expanded. “People told me that I now used grownup words,” she remembered.



Dark Shadows


After she left “Search for Tomorrow,” Lentz got the part of Sarah Collins.


Her parents were thrilled because she got to work with Hollywood star Joan Bennett, who played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the mistress of the Great House of Collinwood.


“I never heard of Joan Bennett, but my parents did. They were huge Joan Bennett fans and kept telling me that she was a big movie star. They were thrilled to finally meet her,” Lentz remembered.


Lentz was happy that she was no longer the only child-actor on a TV cast. David Henesy, 10, who played David Collins, became her friend and ally. Although “Dark Shadows” was a scary soap opera that dealt with the supernatural, neither she nor Henesy were scared because they knew that everything on the set was “pretend.”


The first time Lentz saw “Dark Shadows” episodes with herself as Sarah Collins was when she and her four-year-old daughter, Jessica, watched the reruns. The eerie music scared Jessica, so they turned it off. “I finally understood how the show scared people,” Lentz said. She also understood how Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas scared viewers. From working with Frid, Lentz knew that Frid was not a scary person. “Jonathan was very nice. He never treated me like an insignificant child.”


When she rehearsed her death scene, Frid detected her anxiety just by studying her body language. “I didn’t know what it would be like to pretend to die.” He told her to relax and not worry. She felt relieved that he took control of the scene and helped guide her through it.


After Lentz left the show in 1968, she continued to do commercials for several more years, but when she turned 13, she quit. “I wanted to be normal. I wanted to hang out at the roller rink. I wanted boyfriends. I was tired of acting.”


She also felt relieved that she never had to deal with truant officers again. While on “Dark Shadows,” the truant officer caught up with her family and made some big changes in their lives. Her mother rented an apartment in New York City and enrolled her in the Mace School, which other child-actors attended. Between the show and school, she made it home to Philadelphia only on weekends where her father still lived and worked. Sharon and her mother spent the week away from home.


Jonathan Frid’s death


Jonathan Frid, 87, died in April, one month before the release of the “Dark Shadows” movie.


Lentz was glad that the last acting role he had was a cameo appearance in the Johnny Depp “Dark Shadows” movie. Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas made “Dark Shadows” one of the most popular TV shows when it aired.


Lentz lives with her husband Ed, who is a retired construction carpenter. For nearly two decades, she worked part time according to the schedules of her two children, Jessica and Stephen.  Now that they’re in college and will soon be out on their own, she is thinking of rejoining the workforce, and acting might be in the cards.