Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Harold Swanton Part Five: Summer Shade [6.15]

by Jack Seabrook

"Summer Evil" was
first published here
"Summer Shade," which was broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, January 10, 1961, is based on a short story by Nora H. Caplan titled "Summer Evil" that had been published a few months before in the October 1960 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

The story begins as Phyllis, Ben, and their seven-year-old daughter, Kate, purchase a house built in the 1830s in a small town in Maryland that is not far from Washington, D.C. The house and its sale price seem almost too good to be true to Phyllis, and a note of concern arises when the old woman who used to own the house writes to warn her about the danger of Kate playing alongside a nearby creek. Phyllis is a writer who promised Ben that she would take the summer off from work until Kate goes back to school. However, when she receives a letter from her agent, she decides that she needs to devote some time to her writing, so Phyllis sends Kate outside to play on her own and the child heads for the creek.

James Franciscus as Ben
Late that afternoon, Kate tells her mother that she was playing with a little girl of the same age named Letty. The next day, Kate is happy to return to the creek to play with Letty again, and Phyllis appreciates having more time to write. When she wanders down to the creek, Kate tells her that Letty just left. As time passes, Kate talks about Letty less and less. One night, Phyllis shares her concerns about Letty with Ben, who dismisses them. The next day, Kate comes down with a fever and has to spend a few days in bed. When she recovers, Phyllis and Ben attend a dinner party and hire a woman to babysit Kate. When they get home, Phyllis finds Kate in bed, wearing a coral necklace given to her by Letty to ward off the pox. Phyllis realizes that this suggests that Letty was able to enter their house.

Kate also shows her mother a paper doll that Letty made, and Phyllis notes that it was made with paper advertising a slave auction. The paper is fresh and Kate says that Letty got it in town just the week before. From then on, Phyllis decides not to mention Letty, while Kate continues to visit the creek. Phyllis tells Ben that they will have to move but he resists; Phyllis adds that she found a grave in the churchyard of a girl named Letty, who died at age eight in 1844 of smallpox.

Julie Adams as Phyllis
In late August, Reverend White visits and happens to mention exorcism; Phyllis asks if it is still done and she is certain that Letty hears and understands her question. The next day, Kate asks her mother if exorcism hurts, and Phyllis assures her that the purpose of the rite is to drive away something harmful. Kate assures her mother that Letty has gone and she need not worry. A few days before school begins, a new girl named Judy comes to play with Kate. Phyllis is relieved that her daughter has a new friend, unaware that Judy is just a new host for Letty and that Kate is well aware of the girl's real identity.

Despite the title, there appears to be little evil in "Summer Evil." Kate is a lonely child who befriends the spirit of a girl who has been dead for over a century. It is unclear whether Letty possesses Kate, though this is suggested by several events:
  • the prior homeowner writes to warn Phyllis about letting Kate play by the creek
  • Phyllis never sees Letty
  • Letty seems to enter a closed house to give Kate the necklace
  • Kate seems worried when the topic of exorcism is mentioned
Susan Gordon as Kate
However, other than the idea that Letty's spirit may possess Kate, Letty never seems to cause any harm. The final scene, where Letty seems to possess Judy, appears to present an ideal solution for Kate, though whether it is in Judy's best interests is questionable. The events take place over the summer and one may accept that unwanted possession represents an evil act. The only other hint of evil comes from the slave auction handbills that Letty uses to make paper dolls, though the fact that slavery was legal in Maryland in the 1840s hardly makes seven-year-old Letty guilty or complicit.

Nora H. Caplan (1926-2020), the author of "Summer Evil," was born in Springfield, MO, and moved to Washington, D.C., after World War Two. She worked for many years as a librarian and wrote fiction and articles that were published in various magazines. The FictionMags Index lists five short stories by her that were published between 1958 and 1962, four in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. She also wrote a children's book that was published in 2014. The adaptation of "Summer Evil" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents was the only time that one of her stories was adapted for the screen.

When Harold Swanton adapted "Summer Evil" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he made numerous changes but retained the main events of the short story. From the opening shot, it is evident that the location has changed, as the camera focuses on a humorous real estate sign that features a cartoon witch and advertises the best buys in Salem with Broome Realty Co. Unlike the short story, which was set in Maryland (where writer Nora H. Caplan lived), the TV show (retitled "Summer Shade") takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, a town with a long history and an association with witchcraft and supernatural events.

The family sets out in their car after unsuccessfully looking for a house, but Phyllis's intuition leads them to a home for sale that meets their needs. Amelia Gastell, the 74-year-old owner, emerges from her garden wearing a head covering that resembles a witch's hat. She seems reticent to sell to the couple until she sees that they have a young daughter; this is in contrast to the short story, where the former owner writes to warn the family and suggests that she would not have sold to them if she had known that they had a little girl.

Charity Grace as Amelia Gastell
The following scene shows the family already having moved in; the local minister visits and remarks that Miss Gastell's family "'goes straight back to the Puritans--a lot of them are buried in our own churchyard.'" Swanton removes the short story's subplot of having Phyllis be a writer who sends Kate off to play alone when she needs to work. Instead of having Kate first mention Letty after her mother sends her off alone to the creek, it is during a scene in the kitchen when Kate first mentions having played with Letty, who had to "'go to meeting'" in the family "'gig.'" One evening, Ben asks Kate about Letty and learns that the child uses a hornbook at school, suggesting that Letty is from an earlier time. Kate also likes to look at the pictures in A Child's History of New England, a book left behind by Miss Gastell. Ben suggests that Kate made Letty up, but Phyllis denies this and shows her husband a drawing of a Puritan woman made by Letty, purportedly a picture of Letty's aunt, Bridget Bishop.

When Kate is in bed with a fever, a doctor makes a house call and says that he recognizes the name Bridget Bishop from local history. Ben looks in the index of the Child's History and finds that she was convicted of witchcraft and hanged in 1692. Along with moving the story's setting to Salem, Mass., Swanton has moved Letty's origin back from the 1840s to the 1690s in order to link it to the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in 1692-93. Gone are references to slavery in Maryland in the 1840s; they are replaced with references to witchcraft in Massachusetts in the 1690s.

John Hoyt
Late one night, Ben finds a buzzard bone necklace around Kate's neck and the child says that Letty gave it to her to "'keep off the pox.'" When her father insists that she must have found the necklace in a pile of junk left behind by Miss Gastell, Kate agrees, possibly telling her first conscious lie. Soon, Phyllis takes the minister up on his offer of a tour of the old church graveyard and she sees a tombstone dated May 16, 1694, that bears to name of Lauretta Bishop, who "Died of the Pox." Phyllis realizes that this is Letty's grave and that her daughter's playmate has been dead for almost three hundred years. She then asks the reverend about exorcisms. Swanton rearranges some of the story's events in his teleplay; in the short story, the necklace is not discovered until after the babysitter leaves, and the mention of exorcism does not occur until the reverend comes to the house for dinner.

Another important change is that the babysitter is eliminated as a separate character and replaced by Miss Gastell, who thus appears at three key points in the episode. When questioned, she admits that the buzzard bone necklace was hers but claims not to know where it originated. When Ben relates various things about Kate, Miss Gastell smiles and agrees that they will have to find her a playmate. The next morning, at the breakfast table, Kate asks about exorcism, claiming that she heard about it on TV. For the first time, she tells her parents that she made Letty up and the girl was not real. This is her second intentional lie.

Veronica Cartwright as Judy/Letty
In the show's final scenes, Miss Gastell arrives at the house with Judy, a new playmate for Kate, and we see the two girls playing up in Kate's room, where Kate refers to Judy as Letty and counsels her to stop talking in an old-fashioned way.

Swanton's decision to move the story to Salem, Mass., and to take advantage of that town's history of witchcraft gives the show an easy explanation for why these strange events are happening but, like the short story, there is a lack of danger and an uneven tone. The first shot of the TV show strikes a humorous note, and the rest of the episode fails to create any real sense of danger, despite competent direction and acting. Kate never does anything particularly bad (other than lying to her parents) and Letty never seems to be anything other than a playmate for the lonely little girl. Without any menace, there is little suspense, and without any suspense, the ending, where Kate and Judy/Letty play happily, does not seem to present a particularly unsettling situation.

Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) directed "Summer Shade" and almost all of his work was on television, from 1952 to 1975. He directed 24 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Harold Swanton's adaptation of "Coyote Moon."

Starring as Phyllis is Julie Adams (1926-2019), who was voted Miss Little Rock at age 19 in 1946 and who went on to a long career on screen from 1949 to 2018. Her most famous role was in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). She was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Little White Frock," and she was on Night Gallery and The Night Stalker. A website is devoted to her here.

Stuart Nedd as the doctor
Her husband Ben is played by James Franciscus (1934-1991), whose career on screen lasted from 1957 to 1985. He was on one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Forty Detectives Later") and starred on several TV series: Naked City (1958-59), The Investigators (1961), Mr. Novak (1963-65), Longstreet (1971-72), Doc Elliot (1973-74), and Hunter (1976-77). He was also in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).

Kate is played by Susan Gordon (1949-2011), the daughter of film director Bert I. Gordon. Susan was on screen from 1958 to 1967 and appeared on The Twilight Zone and in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

In supporting roles:
  • John Hoyt (1905-1991) as the doctor; born John Hoysradt, he started out on Broadway in 1931 and joined Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre in 1937. Onscreen from 1946 to 1987, he appeared in Roger Corman's X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), along with countless TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Night Stalker. He was also in "The McGregor Affair" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
  • Charity Grace (1884-1965) as Amelia Gastell; a schoolteacher who retired at age 60 and took up acting, she was on TV from 1947 to 1964 and she appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Party Line."
  • Stuart Nedd (1915-1971) as the doctor; he was on screen from 1943 to 1961 and this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Veronica Cartwright (1949- ) as Judy/Letty; born in England, she has been on screen since 1958 in films such as The Birds (1963) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and she was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Schartz-Metterklume Method."
Watch "Summer Shade" for free online here or order the DVD here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story! It was reprinted in the 1995 collection, The Haunted Hour, which can be read here at the Internet Archive.

Caplan, Nora H. "Summer Evil." Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Oct. 1960, pp. 30–40.
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
"Nora H. Caplan, Writer and Advocate for Justice and Peace, Dies at 93." The Town Courier, 1 May 2000.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,
"Summer Shade." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 15, NBC, 10 Jan. 1961.

In two weeks: Museum Piece, starring Larry Gates!

Listen to a podcast about "Summer Shade here!


Grant said...

I've always been fond of this one, and if you want two child actresses who already know how to act in weird stories, Susan Gordon and Veronica Cartwright seem like perfect choices.
In a way, it's like a much happier version of "Where The Woodbine Twineth" on THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR.

Jack Seabrook said...

That's a good comparison, Grant. And doesn't Veronica Cartwright look a lot like her sister at this point?

Grant said...

Yes, definitely.

Don said...

Thanks for the tip about the Good Evening Podcast. I look forward to listening. I did get a little confused Googling it because there are 2 podcasts with the same name.

Has anyone figured out why both Cartwright sisters are credited on IMDb? They are 3.5 years apart so it doesn't seem like doubling was likely at that age.

Jack Seabrook said...

My guess is that someone watched the last scene and thought it was Angela Cartwright, since at this age Veronica Cartwright looks so much like Angela. In reality, Angela was a few years younger at the time and was not in the show.