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January 17, 2017

Out of the Shadows

Jim Storm has gone from The Secret, through the Shadows, and onto the open road.

Herbie J Pilato
  • James Storm

  • James Storm
  • Dark Shadows

  • Planet of the Apes

  • James Storm
  • James Storm

Prolific and charismatic, charming and disarming, actor Jim Storm is probably best known as the mysterious Gerard Stiles from classic TV’s legendary gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.

Shadows, originally airing on ABC from 1966 to 1971, dramatized the lives and deaths of witches, warlocks, werewolves, specters, and vampires interpreted by a cast of respected actors including Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Lara Parker, Grayson Hall, and countless others. 

In its final season, the cult-classic was injected with a troika of new blood in the way of eclectic on-screen performers such as Kate Jackson, Virginia Vestoff, and Storm.

Storm’s Gerard, like Jackson’s Daphne, initially debuted as a silent ghost in one era (1970) of the time-shifting show, only to speak in another period (1840) when he was party to a love triangle with Vestoff’s Samantha and Selby’s Quentin Collins.

Storm recalls how he was cast into the Shadows: “I had sublet my apartment and I was on my way to Munich to play guitar in the streets, and the phone rang, and it was my agent and she said, ‘You can’t go anywhere because [casting director] Linda Otto wants to see you for this TV show.’  I met Linda and then she said, ‘You have to meet Dan Curtis, and read for him.’

"So, I go to meet Dan at his office, where he’s sitting with his feet up on the desk, and twirling his hair…which is something he always did.  And he’s just looking at me with this demonic look on his face, and said, ‘Ok.’

“I then left his office, went out the door, down the hall and onto the elevator, got home, and the phone rang, and my agent said, ‘You’re not going anywhere.  They want to sign you for Dark Shadows.  So I had to get my apartment back, and then that’s how I started.”
“For about six weeks I was lit in green-light, and raising my eye brow, which I learned to do in mime class.

“It was a great show to do, and a lot of fun.  And the women were so sexy, and the guys were fun.  I was there for Kate Jackson’s audition, which included three other women, and I looked at Kate and said to myself, “That’s the one they’re going to choose.  She was so wonderful, and naïve and sweet as could be. from South Alabama, a beautiful girl.  And we hit it off.”

As he did with others in the cast, including Frid, who portrayed the famed-vampire Barnabas Collins, and Grayson Hall, who played Dr. Julia Hoffman, and with whom Storm later performed in Night of Dark Shadows.

“They were all great,” he says, “…and I had a wonderful time with each and every one of them on the show.”

Storm has the distinct honor of playing the only character on the series that actually said the show’s title on the air. In an 1840 scene with Jerry Lacy, as Lamar Trask, Storm’s Stiles says, “I would think it best if I just remain the dark shadows.”   

Years before Shadows, Storm made one of his earliest TV appearances with another daytime serial, aptly-titled, The Secret Storm.  

From 1987 to 2009, Storm was Bill Spencer, Sr. on another afternoon soap, The Bold and the Beautiful, while his long list of credits also includes daytime dramas like The Doctors and One Life To Live, the latter on which he made his TV debut in the 1968-1969 season (as Dr. Larry Wolek).

Additional television appearances included guest-star stints on several prime-time series from the 1970s like Barnaby Jones, The Rockford Files, Police Woman, Kung Fu, and the short-lived small-screen edition of Planet of the Apes

His TV-movies are The Healers (1974), and horror flicks like Trilogy of Terror and Scream of the Wolf, both directed by Shadows creator Dan Curtis, while his feature film list includes everything from 1971’s Night of Dark Shadows to the more recent American Troubles (2015), Benjamin Ghandi (2016), and the upcoming 4/20 Massacre (directed by Dylan Reynolds).

A stage-trained actor, dancer, and mime, Storm is also musician (with a penchant for folk music), and recently stretched his artistic wings as a professional photographer. 

Storm was born in Highland Park, Illinois to actress Margaret and writer John Platky, who changed his name to Storm shortly before he married.  “It had more a writer’s sound to it,” he explains of father’s decision to switch surnames.  “At least that’s what we were told while growing up. 

"Later, I realized he changed his name because he was Jewish and was in fact harassed so much at Brown University, he left.  The film studios wanted my Mom but she didn’t want to be involved with acting.  She spent her younger days illustrating for Walter Lanz and a guy named Walt Disney,” Storm adds with a wink.

The Storm family moved in 1958 to La Jolla, within the city of San Diego, where he attended La Jolla High School.  His maternal grandparents were silent film stars John and Martha Steppling, his brother, Michael Storm, is also an actor, and his cousin his playwright John Steppling who, as Jim says, “…introduced me to the theater.” 

Throughout it all, Storm remains humble, down-to-earth, and unaffected by the Hollywood machine.  What’s his secret to success in life and work that continues to take his fans by storm?  “Truthfully,” he says with his trademark modesty, “I think it comes through studying,” as in his core theatrical craft of acting.

Storm has always invested in perfecting his theatrical craft, specifically in the last 10 years, with acting coach Salome Jens. 

“What we’re always going for in the scene work,” he clarifies, “and this may sound cliché and a little pretentious, but we’re always going for in scene work is what’s happening [off-screen], which allows the actor to retain a sense of reality in the performance.  It all carries over from work into life.”

Storm also credits his grandparents and their background in the entertainment industry as contributing to his grounded sense of self. 

“They worked in silent films in Santa Barbara long before Hollywood came into being.  My grandfather, who I never knew, as he died before I was born, was a classically-trained Shakespearean actor, and one of the first to graduate from the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York. 

"And my grandmother was a Floradora dancer, one of the first before the famous Ziefield girls – and they performed throughout the United States and the world in places like Cuba and South America.”

Storm’s mother, whom he describes as “beautiful,” was groomed by the studios as competition for Mary Pickford, known as “America’s sweetheart,” the first female star of the screen (alongside Charlie Chaplin, the screen’s first male star). 

Storm’s uncles were actors, as well, as was his father, who was also a director who, “…worked with Will Geer [The Waltons] to form the famed WPA Theatre in Los Angeles.  And he later turned to writing, as that’s where his passion was.”

As to Storm’s own passion for his various artistic crafts, those stem from what he defines as “a gene of creativity, and thinking.”

In the process of such genetic transference, environmental guidance also comes into play regarding his social graces, family values, strong work ethic, and solid understanding of general life priorities all of which, he professes, develops with time and experience. 

“Certainly,” he begins to explain, “when at just 21 years old, you go to New York and, then, only five days later, you find yourself on Broadway…that’s an accomplishment.  But there were times when I was very full of myself, and would say things like, ‘What’s so difficult about this acting stuff anyway?’

“But through the years, you mellow out, after the hard hits, which is when you learn humility.  That’s when you come down to earth.”

Once more crediting his upbringing, he adds, “My parents gave me a very strong sense of identity.”

Storm never attended formal acting school but, instead, “built theaters,” while he received his stage training in regional theaters, then New York, and on to Broadway. 

“But I was always working with coaches for acting and voice,” he conveys, “and then studied mime in Paris.  And I was very much interested in dance.  So I studied that, too, because I knew as an actor you had to have the body control.”

Storm eventually studied with the sophisticated likes of New York’s leading acting teacher Lee Strasberg, with whom he attained “a professional observership,” and John Stix, an acting coach from the Juilliard School of Dance, Drama, and Music.  When those sessions were completed, Storm journeyed west, and studied with Jeff Corey in Los Angeles, and auditioned for the Actors Studio.

Storm’s time on One Life led to his studying acting with coach Salome Jens, whom he watched and respected as a young actor, and with whom he now remains because “it helps to keep [one’s craft] well-oiled.”

At the same time, he says, “I’m kind of stretching out in other areas,” namely music. “I’m not qualified to be a musician.  I don’t know music that well.  But I play by ear…and what I like.”  He does so, for example, at Dark Shadows conventions, and in other arenas where he feels comfortable. 

“I don’t enjoy performing music in unfamiliar venues,” he admits.  “I don’t mind performing at Dark Shadows conventions because it’s kind of a built-in audience, and I can play what I want to play.  

“I’ve done gigs with bands and stuff, but that’s not something I’m real comfortable with.  But I love folk music.  I was raised with long hair.  Rock-and-roll wasn’t even in the spectrum for me.  But when the folk period arrived, when I was about 14 or 15 years old, and music was just such an influence that it just simply changed my life. 

"So, like everyone else my age, I had a guitar and bongo drums,” he laughs. “Then I played in coffee houses, and my brother became a pretty notable folk singer with a duo called ‘The Other Singers,’ and then he went on The Andy Williams Show with the Good Time Singers, who replaced the Christy Minstrels.  And he did that for years, while I was off in New York, being an actor.”

While his brother, too, has been a painter, and is presently a ceramicist, Storm’s guitar has never left his side.  “I’ve always had it with me,” he affirms.  “I’ve always played music.”

“Now, my sister, Martha” he adds, “she’s the brains.  She’s a fiber artist…she weaves and does tapestries and quilts.  She’s a very gifted seamstress, which she inherited from my grandparents.” 

Beyond his Shadows performance, and his various talents, it’s Storm’s appearances in several classic TV favorites, alongside some of television’s most notable stars that remain standout memories from his vast career:

Kung Fu, starring David Carradine:  “One of the greatest jobs I ever had, and the first job I got in Hollywood.  And my brother was played by Slim Pickens, and he was a trip. 

"He was the biggest, gentlest guy…every day he’d say, ‘I’ve got a hamburger joint in Burbank.  Come on, let’s go.’  And we’d jump in his beat-up Bronco truck, and drive over there and sit and have these great burgers. 

"He was a big joke-teller.  He had worked with Marlon Brando, and he said, ‘You know, that’s when I started learning what this acting stuff is about.’  He was a bronco-rider and road the rodeos for years, and that’s how he was discovered.  He said, ‘Hell, I can make more money doing this acting stuff then going bare-back on a bronco.’  He was just a wonderful guy.”

Unfortunately, Storm’s experience with Carradine was not as pleasant.  “He was very cold, aloof, and difficult.  He would sit right in front of the camera when I was working, and crouch right down in front of the camera, and try to intimidate me.  He was a wonderful actor, and he loved music, too, but he was not a very gracious guy. 

"And that’s okay.  I wasn’t there to be his friend, and I didn’t want to be his friend.  His wife, on the other hand, Barbara Hershey, was just delightful.”

Barnaby Jones, starring Buddy Ebsen:  As Storm recalls, “The first thing Buddy said to me was, ‘So, you’re in show biz, eh?’ We had the same agent, Jimmy McCue.  And Buddy was like, ‘Oh, Jimmy.  Yeah, well – good luck to you.’  And that was about it,” Storm smiles.

Police Woman, starring Angie Dickinson:  “Now, on the other hand,” he adds, “Angie was just the best.  She came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Angie Dickinson.  Welcome to the show.  What’s your name?  Jim Storm?  Oh, that’s nice name.  I like that name.’ 

"And then every day for about a week, she was like, ‘Hey, Jim…how are you?  How’s the show going?  Are you comfortable?  Is everything okay?’  And it was the same way with Earl Holliman, her co-star on the show.  Those two are what made that series a success.  Earl was fantastic to work with…a wonderful guy.  I mostly worked with Earl, but I just adored Angie.”

The Rockford Files, starring James Garner:  Storm worked mostly with Noah Berry, who played Rocky, Rockford’s father, and who was, as Storm says, “a tremendous character-actor for years before that.  He was a great guy.”

As to Garner himself, Storm says, “Jim was as charming as could be, and always pleasant.  I’d go across the street at Universal [Studios, where Rockford filmed] to have lunch, and he’d be standing there, having a hot dog, which he called the best hot dogs in town.  Bottom line, he was Jim Rockford.  There was no acting involved.  He really nailed that part. 

"He was a major star and I can see why Maverick [Garner’s previous TV series] was such a major hit.”

Storm also performed on St. Elsewhere, starring, among others, Denzel Washington, who directed the episode that featured Storm, who recalls the crew on the set asking, “Well, Denzel – how do you want to set this shot up?”  To which Washington replied, simply, “Just do it.  Just set it up.” 

“He was very laid back,” Storm recalls of Washington on Elsewhere, which also featured Christine Pickles, whom he had worked with in New York.

As to his TV-movies, the most well-known is Trilogy of Terror, in which played a character named Eddie Nells in one of three different horror tales that starred Karen Black.  Storm recalls the events that lead up to his being cast in Terror, which aired four years after he ended his stint on Shadows

“I was visiting my Mom in Los Angeles, thought to call Dan Curtis, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Where are you?  I’m in the Playboy building on Sunset.  Get your butt down here!”

Shortly, thereafter, Storm met with Curtis, who said he wanted him to appear in Trilogy of Terror, and then introduced him to casting director Hoyt Bauers.

Curtis instructed Bauers to “get this kid an agent – I mean, a GOOD agent.  This kid can act!”

“Dan had guts,” Storm says.  “I mean, you never wanted to mess with Dan.  He knew what he wanted, and he got it…and he wasn’t going to be denied.  And I owe the beginning of my Hollywood career to him.”

In addition to his theatrical mix, Storm’s career in photography is flourishing.  As was recently explained in Cultural Weekly, Storm desired a first baseman’s glove for his eighth birthday, but instead his father gifted with a darkroom kit.  From that moment Storm envisioned images on photo paper. 

Influenced by photographers of the WPA era, such as Walker Evans, Marion Post Walcott, and Dorothea Lange, as well as mid-century maestro Robert Frank, Storm, with camera in hand, has journeyed by bus from his home in Los Angeles to places like Nebraska, and Montana where he first encountered a rodeo while making a film. 

Intrigued with the physical and mental preparation necessary to compete in such an arena, Storm was also impressed with the camaraderie amongst the participating cowboys.  “No matter what the event,” he says, “these people have each other’s backs.”

Storm went on to take photographs of “these extraordinary athletes and their animals” on the Professional Rodeo Circuit throughout Montana, and Nebraska, as well as in South Dakota, a destination that soon provided another kind of opportunity: frequent and particularly poignant visits of support for the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

In the midst of his busy life and career, Storm donates much of his time to various charities, fighting the good fight, and advocating against, for example, any pipeline development at Standing Rock. 

“The heart of America is the open road,” he says. “Coming to Standing Rock as an observer and volunteer is a life time experience and knowing that being involved with an historical event in some way changes my outlook of the world and offers such hope and optimism in a world that sorely needs it.”

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