Remember Collinwood, its looming silhouette against the Maine fog, its secrets whispering through generations of the Collins family? And at its heart, Victoria Winters, the bright-eyed governess who stumbled into a world of shadows and vampires?
For Alexandra Isles, that world wasn’t just a set – it was the launchpad for an extraordinary life, one that took her from gothic soap opera stardom to the halls of high society, the courtroom of a notorious murder trial, and ultimately, behind the lens of a documentarian.
But just as Victoria Winters’ fate was intertwined with Collinwood’s mysteries, Isles’ own life has become shrouded in its own intriguing chapter: What happened to the actress who brought Victoria to life?
While her character Victoria Winters becomes associated with great wealth through her employment, Alexandra Isles herself was born into a prestigious household. Her father was part of the Danish Mission to the United Nations, her mother was an editor at Vogue, and her entire lineage traces back to some of Europe’s wealthiest families.
Isles was born in Uppsala, Sweden on February 11, 1946. Because of her father’s international duties, Isles essentially grew up in New York City, where she became interested in matters of injustice, a passion that would inform her later work as a documentary filmmaker. It was during this time that she also became interested in acting.
Isles was only twenty-years old when she landed her first acting gig as Victoria Winters on Dark Shadows. In the pilot episode, Isles’ Vickie Winters is hired by the Collins family to act as governess for young David Collins, although she accepts the job hoping to learn more about her forgotten past.
When the show’s original concept got off to a rocky start in terms of viewer ratings, the writers shifted gears. What makes a fairly routine daytime soap opera about a wealthy family more engaging to a younger audience? Vampires, duh!
With the addition of Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) in Dark Shadow’s sixth episode, the series rallied viewership, and younger audiences started tuning in to see what spooky creature would show up in Collinsport next. The show became an overnight hit and turned Isles into a recognizable star. She would star in the show alongside Nancy Barrett.
Even though the original series only ran for five seasons, the Dark Shadows franchise continued in the form of a rebooted series in the 90s and three feature films, including one directed by Tim Burton in 2012 starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins and Bella Heathcoate as Victoria Winters.
Isles ultimately appeared in over 400 episodes during the show’s first two seasons–a prolific run for any young actress!
Other acting work
Isles’ only other acting credit came the same year she left Dark Shadows. Certain Honorable Men was a drama written by Rod Serling and told the story of a naive young politician who discovers the corrupt side of politics. Starring opposite Peter Fonda, Isles played Betty Jo Daly.
Looking back fondly on the experience of shooting the film, Isles recalls how amazed she was to discover fans actually recognized her for her work on Dark Shadows. Even Peter Fonda remarked that she seemed more popular than him!
But Isles wanted to focus her attention on raising a family, so she took a break in 1968, not realizing at the time that she would never return to acting.
What is Alexandra Isles doing now?
Leaving acting not only allowed Isles the time and energy to raise her family, but it also gave her the opportunity to merge her love of storytelling with her passion for social justice. In the mid-80s, she began curating exhibits at the Museum of Television and Radio. Later, she received an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities that allowed her to realize her dreams of making a difference in society. This led Isles to documentary filmmaking.
As a filmmaker, Isles presents narratives of disenfranchised people in order to raise awareness that might lead to actionable change. Since the 90s, she has produced, written, and directed four documentary features and one short including The Power of Conscience, Scandalize My Name, Porraimos: Europe’s Gypsies in the Holocaust, The Healing Gardens of New York, and Harry’s Gift.
Isles’ films have won widespread critical acclaim and have been shown and studied at respected educational institutions, museums, human rights organizations, and film festivals worldwide. To this day, she maintains her humanitarian focus by serving as a volunteer educator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 2021, Isles reunited with several members of the original Dark Shadows cast for a performance of A Christmas Carol performed via Zoom. While Barnabas was missing due to the passing of Jonathan Frid in 2012, the special was a lighthearted and exciting reunion of the beloved cast.
In 1967, Alexandra Moltke married Phillip Isles and took his surname. Their son Adam was born the following year, which prompted the actress to give up acting.
Later, the couple’s marriage ended in divorce when Alexandra had an affair with socialite Claus von Bülow, and the affair ended with the actress testifying against von Bülow when he was accused of attempting to murder his own wife–twice!