A few selected interviews with Jonathan Frid
"TV Vampire Projects Charm, Sex Appeal"
By Dan Lewis
The Independent Star News - July 24,1967
NEW YORK --- The newest matinee idol is a 43-year-old Shakespearean actor with a self-claimed cadaverous-looking face who plays the part of a sophisticated vampire on daytime network television.
Jonathan Frid, who has made a career out of playing villainous roles, has suddenly discovered what it means lo have fans. To daytime viewers, he is Barnabas, the vampire with an English accent on "Dark Shadows," an afternoon serial on ABC-TV, and he's being inundated with fan mail — at the rate of more than 300 a day.
And what fan mail!
"You are utterly fascinating," wrote a lady from Manhattan Beach, Calif. "Bela Lugosi was marvelous and weird, but he didn't have sex appeal and you do."
A 15-year-old girl from New York City penned: "I look forward to seeing you everyday. I just sit there drooling over you."
A woman from Newark, HI., air - mailed: "Please don't get rid of Barnabas. I wish he'd bite me on the neck. He gets me so excited I could smoke a whole pack of cigarettes just watching him."
A fan club at a high school in Hazelton, Pa., inquired: "How can a man be so good-looking, fangs and all?"
And so it goes. Jonathan Frid, who has appeared in more than 30 Shakespearean productions since he was graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. (He's a Canadian National) and holds a masters degree from Yale University Drama School, suddenly has become the object of adulation from teen-age girls to grandmothers. At ABC-TV, the report is that five times as much mail has come in to "Dark Shadows" since Frid came on the scene two months ago. He was only supposed to be on the daytime serial, which stars former screen star Joan Bennett, for six weeks and perhaps less. It now appears that he will be around much longer. "Dark Shadows" producer Dan Curtis has no intention of letting his vampire go, not with the new life a vampire as uniquely given it.
Frid's reaction to his sudden fame, and new image, is one of amazement and bewilderment. The most acclaim he's ever had before has come from reviews, locally written critical praise. But adulation, fans, fan mail?
"It just seems incredible," Frid exclaimed. "Bartenders recognize me (they watch the show because they work nights.) Kids recognize me on the street. A man came over to me in a restaurant and berated me because I scared the hell out of his kids. Then he confided that he also watched the show when he had a chance."
Frid, a bachelor, gets all sorts of telephone calls. A 21-year-ols girl sent a picture, followed it with a phone call and told Frid she became so enamored of him that she went to a seance.
"She was sure," Frid said, "that she had first met me in 1233. To have a following is great, Frid acknowledged, but some of it is so weird.
"It makes you wonder about people, and what attracts them," he observed. Then he pulled out another fan letter. It was from a woman in New Westminster, British Columbia, and it read, in part: "You're my favorite. You have great charm 'and dignity, but also you express the most evil, corrupt and forceful domination of your victims."
Frid also is philosophical about his current image. He's not quite sure yet what to do about it, capatalize on it and give It a strong publicity push.
"We've thought about making a thing out of it," he confided. "But I'm not sure what we should do, if anything. I've always thought of myself as an actor. Being a star is moonlightng. Being a star is altogether another profession."
Meanwhile, he's under options to "Dark Shadows" for a year and he doesn't mind being a villain all the time. Roughly 6 feet tall, with piercing eyes and square jaw which easily lends itself to sinister roles, Frid has been playing ornery characters for most of his 25 years on stage. He's a character villain with the background of a classic actor.
"I've played Richard III any number of times, and I can't remember the total castings in which I've played the villainous Catholic priests of the middle ages," Frid said. "There's enough villainy in this face of mine. It is sort of cadaverous looking."
Playing such roles has required special research, and rehearsal, Frid said.
"The only way to play villains is to play against them. I play it seriously in 'Dark Shadows, but with charm."
Schooled in Hamilton, Ont., and later at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, Frid's touch of charm comes with the flavor of an easily acquired English accent. For the past two years, Frid las been a member of the San Diego Shakespeare Festival in the summer and toured with Ray Milland in "Hostile Witness" in the winter. He has just completed the "Hostile Witness" tour when his agent called him and told him the Barnabas role was available. The audition was quick and successful, and now he's a famous vampire.
Jonathan Frid: His Fans Dig His Fangs
By Joan Crosby
Corpus Christi Caller-Times - September 15, 1968
NEW YORK (NEA) -- It's a building set apart from its neighbors in a seedy section of New York's West Side only because it looks a bit newer than the others, because its graffiti is extraordinarily single-minded and because it contains, at certain hours of certain days, Jonathan Frid.
Jonathan Frid has a lot of fans and they write a lot of letters and some of them get terribly poetic and rapturous as they describe him.
One Look at your noble countenance and we feel lifted into an ecstasy of admiration. Our thoughts as we view your profile: "Truly heaven has made such a man,'" one wrote. Another sent him a full page on how to make a gargle, heading the page Take Care of Your Wonderful Voice. "You are the greatest TV actor in the U.S.A." ... "You are the most devastating thing in the wild vampire role I've ever seen" . . . "Truly the most magnificent actor of this century" . . . "You're the best-looking, the finest actor in the whole wide world. Such class. Such elegance," others have written.
Now it is entirely possible to be an Intelligent, aware television fan and still not know who this paragon of the manly and acting virtues is. Jonathan Frid, for the uninitiated, plays Barnabas Collins, a vampire victim of circumstances and the fury of a witch, on ABC-TV's daytime thriller, "Dark Shadows."
It's a ripe, ripe series, filled with plots and counterplots, all of which always seem to have a deadline—the cast is constantly looking at clocks. People have dreams constantly, thunder and lightning are as important to the show as the actors, and cobwebs make it look as if cleaning women are very hard to find in Collinsport, where the victim lives.
Frid also gets to speak a lot of "if" dialogue, as-fraught as it is fruity.
"If we fail, this may be the last dawn I ever gee."
"If you tell her now, there may not be a tonight."
"If we don't finish by daybreak, there won't be any hope at all for me."
Occasionally his dialogue doesn't start with "if." Then it goes like this: "Someday we will talk again and I'll tell you things you've never known before. You'll know that loving me would be the greatest mistake you could ever have made in your life."
When the character of Barnabas first appeared in the story, he was an evil, fanged creature. But he caught on with the fans, and has been undergoing changes. Now his fangs don't appear so often and he only kills when he has to. ("When I found myself well, I vowed I would never kill again ... and now I must," Barnabas said recently.)
The many plots on "Dark Shadows" move much more quickly than they do on-other afternoon shows. "This is melodrama," producer. Robert Costello says, "and if you think too much about the plot, it falls apart. So it must keep moving."
Frid's first experience with slow-moving soap opera gave him a shock he'll never forget. He doesn't recall the exact year, but around 1961 he was cast as a psychiatrist in "As the World Turns." The next day he tuned in to see the program and heard one character saying to another, "I have called in a psychiatrist to help you. He's coming right now."
Frid recalls the horror with which he jumped out of his chair and rushed to get the schedule they had given him. "I was sure my first appearance on the show was in exactly two weeks. And it was — it took two weeks for me to rush right over."
Playbill for ROAR LIKE A DOVE. Except for that brief run, a job as Broadway understudy to every actor except Charlie Ruggles in "Roar Like a Dove," a few minor TV roles and a national tour 'in "Hostile Witness," Frid, Canadian born, Shakespearean trained and a graduate of the Yale Drama School, has lacked prior opportunities to become known to the public. He has become so well known to one segment of it now that he has just embarked on-his first personal appearance tour.
IT'S EASY to joke about "Dark Shadows," and it's easy to tease him about his problems trying to insert his fangs into his mouth after he has spoken his dialogue (he can't talk when they are in). But Frid says, "I take the role very seriously, of course. I play Macbeth really. He's a man lost, seeking identity with society. It's the most untypical role I have ever had. I have ranged from the young 30s to a very old man. We have never figured the age of the vampire, but he's between 175 and 200 — but not a day older."
Frid himself is 43. "Last year I went around telling people I was 44 until my mother corrected me."
His feet are still firmly planted on the ground. "All the stuff they call my style is from insecurity. I want to play cool, I want to contain all my emotions. It's only when you are insecure that you project. Part of the charm of the show is the fact that it's amateur night."
The only thing not completely real about Frid is his first name. "My real name is John Frid, but I changed it to Jonathan when I began acting because it took up more space in the program. Besides, if you said my name it went by too quickly— johnfridjohnfrifjohnfrid.”
"Vampire" trades in cape for stage readings
By John Wall
Assistant Lifestyle Editor
The Altoona Mirror, Monday, January 25, 1988
Though he has long since traded in the cape and fangs of "Dark Shadows" character Barnabas Collins, actor Jonathan Frid plans to sink his teeth into some meaty parts Tuesday at his one-man show "Fools and Fiends" at Perm State Altoona's Harry E. Slep Student Center.
"I still love to go around scaring the bejesus out of everyone," Frid said in a telephone interview, "but this show is just me with a stool and a music stand. There are none of the tired conventions of the Theatuh.' This is just plain, raw, gut theater — rotgut theater."
"It's really just a potpourri of short stories and poetry, some spookers, but some not. If you think about it there isn't a story that's been written that doesn't have a fool or a fiend in it." he said, describing the content of the production, Frid added that he is making a kind of all-Pennsylvania tour with the show, appearing at several Penn State University branch campuses this week.
Ironically, the Canadian-born actor is returning to a scene of personal triumph, as he remembered the glowing notices he received in a production of Shakespeare's "Richard III" at University Park in the early 1960s.
"I always think of Richard III as the zenith of my artistic career and we opened the show at Penn State. In fact, the Altoona Mirror reviewed the show and the Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator, my home town news, quoted from the reviews," he remembered. "I never forget praise."
Frid said the idea for his one-man show began more than a decade ago when he made appearances at "Dark Shadows" fan club conventions. "I was tired of answering the same questions and I decided to let the fans know that after all, I was an actor not a vampire."
Frid said he began by performing readings from Shakespeare and other plays as well as pieces written by fans of the soap classic.
"I could have read the telephone book as far as they were concerned and one thing led to another and I began to look for some things that would appeal to a larger audience," he said. Frid began to entertain various ideas for his show, such as all-Shakespeare or all-horror readings, but suggestions gleaned while entertaining friends at his New York apartment began to shape the show to a workable conception.
Jonathan Frid promo photo for Fools & Fiends
"I had considered some rather pretentious themes, like how we were all such victims of fate and my friends said 'Oh come on Frid, that's terribly pompous,'" he laughed, "So I began to just put together stories I liked and naturally, knowing which side my bread is buttered on, put some horror stuff in there."
The stories Frid came up with are as varied as the daytime television listings. Some of his favorite readings include "Dead Call," a suspense thriller by William F. Nolan, "The Man who Loved Flowers," by Stephen King and "The Girls in their Summer Dresses," by Irwin Shaw. Of the latter choice Frid said, "No one expects to see it as a horror tale, but that's my view of it." Such choices garnered at least one review from a source close to home, Frid added. "My mother, who died just a few months ago, saw the show and said 'What is Jon doing?,' and she thought it was just appalling and depressing, but I think — and audiences have told me — it's funny, scary and very entertaining."
Frid believes that such a stark, scare-oriented show reflects the times somewhat, especially as the content reflects society today. "We're just not as romantic as we once were," he said with a note of regret, "Some of those old chestnut movies are now so impossibly syrupy and when I was a kid we accepted that as real life," he added.
Frid hopes "Fools and Fiends" will give him an acting vehicle for years to come. Like such shows as Hal Holbrook's "Mark Twain," Frid would like to have a play designed specifically with his talents in mind to keep his acting talents honed.
"I'm trying to devote most of this year to this enterprise, because 1 want to get this thing rolling in order to work on a few other ideas for one-man productions," he said, "I don't just want to sit on my fanny doing just one thing."
Jonathan Frid and Larry Storch in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, 1987.
In the past year, Frid has been anything but dormant as he has performed "Fools and Fiends" at various cities and toured extensively as Jonathan-Brewster in the successful revival road company of "Arsenic and Old Lace." He believes such work has helped make the media and the public realize the he is known for something other than "Dark Shadows'" suave bloodsucker.
"You know, I've never felt Barnabas was typecasting," he laughed. "He was all kinds of things, he was a lover, he was a killer, a vulnerable person and an aggressor. He had all the multiple characteristics of Shakespearean heroes."
"Some of the media reported that I had escaped to Mexico to get away from this dreadful curse of Barnabas, which I found hilarious," he continued, "but it's better to have some kind of reputation than no reputation at all and (the role of Barnabas Collins) has stood me in good stead for many, many years."
In fact, Frid says his show, what he calls "readers theater," is his favorite form of acting — no small admission from a man who has worked successfully in film, television and theater.
"It reduces acting to its very essence," he admitted, "I love getting a roomful of bored kids or whatever and looking right in their eyes to get their imagination going."
The Dangerous Days of Jonathan Frid
Tiger Beat, March, 1969
You see him every day! But do you really know him? Find out why he’s the way he is and what really troubles him the most …
Like most actors, Jonathan Frid lives a double life. (Or, in his case, it’s more accurate to say a life-and-a-half. His acting life as Barnabas Collins on DARK SHADOWS leaves little time for a living life as Jonathan Herbert Frid.)
Both lives have some dangers ahead, and he faces both with a clear eye.
“Poor old Barnabas Collins never passes a day of his life — and so far there have been about 65,000 days — without being aware of the danger hanging over him as heavy as a stake,” Jonathan says.
“When I first started on SHADOWS, Barnabas was a practicing vampire who really didn’t want to be a vampire. But as hard as he — I — tried to avoid it, there was always an awareness that at any moment I was going to be forced to stick my fangs into the neck of someone I really loved very much. That’s definitely not a nice way for a basically gentle man to live.”
“There was also the constant danger that someone was going to find out that I was a vampire, which would mean instant stake-in-the-heart — which is also not one of the nicer things to look forward to. “For the past few months, the writers have given us a break. Dr. Hoffman (Grayson Hall) pulled off some kind of scientific shenanigans — you’ll have to ask her to explain them, I’m not the scientific type — which made Barnabas temporarily a normal man.
“The key word there is temporarily. So long as our manmade man, Adam, lives, Barnabas has no need for any blood of his own. Unfortunately, Adam has wandered off somewhere, and if anything happens to him — like getting run down by a bulldozer, or choking on a chicken bone — it’s back to the blood bank and the coffin-sized bedroom for me.
“Needless to say, that’s the kind of danger that makes a man very uneasy, and as an actor it’s something that I must keep in mind every minute that I’m playing Barnabas. And with my schedule that’s most of my waking hours.”
During what few hours Jonathan has to relax and think about himself as a young actor rather than an ancient vampire, he must also give some thought to the dangers that could lie ahead in her personal and professional life.
IS HE AFRAID?
“For one thing, people keep asking me if I’m not afraid that playing in DARK SHADOWS for so long is going to typecast me, so that people will think of me strictly as a vampire. I will admit that the danger has certainly occurred to me, but I don’t really about it too much,” he says honestly.
Actually, Jonathan Frid has good cause not to worry too much about that. Long before he first struggled out of his coffin on afternoon television he established a reputation in Canada, New York and most of the rest of the country as one of the finer Shakespearian actors. At festivals from San Diego to New Jersey he has created the brooding villains and sprightly comics of classic theater; on television he has been seen on such non-spooky shows as LOOK UP AND LIVE and AS THE WORLD TURNS. On Broadway he was featured in the comedy success ROAR LIKE A DOVE with Betsy Palmer.
And, most important of all, id the legion of loyal fans who have flocked to him in the two years since his first throat-nibble on DARK SHADOWS keep that loyalty — there will always be demand for the darkly handsome face and courtly manners of Jonathan Frid.
“There is another danger I have to live with that is both satisfying and maddening,” he admits. “That’s some of the fans.”
HARD TO BELIEVE
“Let me explain quickly that I’m not complaining about fans — it’s very important to an actor to know that his work is appreciated, and the mail that comes to me makes me very happy, even though I find it hard to believe.
“But you must remember that this ‘stardom’ stuff is very new to me; I’ve lived a fairly quiet life as a stage actor where the only real contact you have with an audience is when you take your bows at the final curtain.
“Hearing the applause from a theatre audience and suddenly being mobbed on the streets are two very different things,” he points out, “and the second still frightens me sometimes.”
Jonathan’s coworkers on ABC-TV, who have often helped pilot him through those mobs safely, have some comments to make about his relationship with his fans.
“He’s absolutely the best I’ve ever worked with,” says one. “In the almost two years since this whole overwhelming popularity started, I’ve never seen him be rude once to anyone. I remember once, when I started to work with him, I suggested that we leave the studio by the back door, so we wouldn’t be delayed by the crowd waiting in front. At first he agreed, since we were in a rush to get to a photo shooting, but then he reconsidered and said ‘No, I can’t do it. Some of those kids have been waiting all day. Let’s go out the regular way — how long can it take?’ Now that’s class.”
Jonathan is also well-know at the network for his constant willingness to give up his own time — which is in short supply at best — to travel to other cities to talk about DARK SHADOWS. (A visit to the local children’s hospital is usually a must on these trips, and he recently, without fanfare, made a quiet visit to a Veteran’s Hospital just outside New York.)
There is a danger involved with large crowd of fans — the famous Barnabas ring has been torn off his finger a dozen times — but it is, again, obviously a danger that Jonathan refuses to worry too much about.
For all the “dark shadows” that could lie in the future, Jonathan still manages to enjoy the present. When the story recently made it possible for him to take a week off, he was immediately on a plane for Acapulco, where he could relax and be anything by a working vampire. Sometimes, when his schedule is a little lighter than usual, he slips out for a quiet dinner — usually alone.
And sometimes he allows himself to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes — he goes to a party.
“I have to confess it — I love parties. I almost never have a chance to go to any more — and maybe that’s another danger. I’ve had to turn down so many invitations in the past year that pretty soon people are going to think I’m high-hatting them and stop inviting me to any parties at all. There’s a real danger to worry about!”
And so the dangers mount up, both for Barnabas and for Jonathan. But, as Jonathan says, “Wouldn’t it be awful boring if there was never any danger in your life?”
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1 comment: Cousin Barnabas said... This was fun to read after editing Barnabas lines today and picking out inflections to get him as close to Mr. Frid's version as possible. I must agree with the danger of playing his role among gobs of others. And times of mail sure have changed. I'm still waiting for some. Scary to think he was worried about turning down people's invitations, but it sounds like him. Thanks for the article. February 3, 2015 at 12:43 AM
By Helene LaCaccia
DELAWARE COUNTY (PA.) DAILY TIMES - Friday, April 30, 1971
Reading of the distressed reactions of many viewers of all ages to the cancellation of ABC's 'Dark Shadow' reminded me of the day, mid-January, when I was allowed into the vampire's coffin. That is Jonathan Frid's apartment in New York.
Jonathan Frid, for those who were in China these past years, is the most beloved screen vampire this side of Bela Lugosi. He is Barnabas Collins, the accursed soul lurking in the Dark Shadows of "Collingswood," site of the one soap opera mother and child watched in unison with equal involvement.
In no time at all, even by television standards, Jonathan, alias Barnabas crept, tortured eyes, fangs, somber demeanor and all, into the hearts — if not the jugulars — of his audience. Kids find him deliriously, frighteningly for real and women, a large part of, his audience, find him deliciously, frighteningly romantic. Like: "If I'm going to be bit by a vampire, let it be Barnabas Collins."
Thus Jonathan found himself not only plucked from an honorable but anonymous career in Shakespearean theater and given a ghoulish success on the screen, but also a success on trding cards, bubblegum wrappers, comicbooks, games, paperbacks and the supreme test of appeal, on T-shirts.
And here is where we stop being cute.
The man 'is not cute. He is terribly human — a characteristic many actors I've met manage to hide well — not in the sense of goodness to but frailties and inconsistencies and questioning of goals and values.
To those who may feel sorry for Barnabas-Jonathan, let it be known he, for one, is probably relieved today that the choice has been made for for him.
"I am an actor with more serious ambitions. I don't want to go on the rest of my life doing this Vampire thing.. I'm in a trauma right now. I want to quit, but I'm not sure I can relinquish the. fame and the financial rewards, all this ..."
He gestured toward the pleasant apartment. "I like the comfort and the recognition, but I don't like what I have to do for it. I really dislike the role and I'm ashamed of my acting . . ." I apologized for not being particularly familiar with the show. He interrupted: "Listen ... if I thought you spent your day watching soap operas, I wouldn't have let you in."
"Yeah, I like the adulation, but some of the audience reaction is frightening. All those people who want me to come over and speak on the occult, or be honorary president of their occult society, frighten me more than I frighten them as a vampire. They're terribly serious. I've had adults ask me, but seriously, not if I always sleep in a coffin, but how does it feel to sleep in a coffin ..."
The typecasting was becoming abhorrent and he expressed the worry that even the trade may consider him only good enough for the kind of role he was doing. "The trade is as stupid as the audience that can't tell the difference between an actor and a character."
On the other hand he expressed the hope that his present name fame could get him some, good roles. "I'd like to do some good movies. Not necessarily just the theater."
For the Hamilton, Ontario, boy who studied at the Royal Academy of London, the theater, Shakespearian preferably, is still what, he knows best; and Richard III, is the favorite role. "I get to where I defend that miserable man, where I convince even myself of the legitimacy of the Yorks over the Lancaster's and defend it."
"What, could Jonathan Frid not distinguish between an actor and his character?
"Oh that's different. I don't wind up feeling I am Richard the Third. But I must defend him as human ... like Barnabas I try to do him humanly, not a caricature, a Lugosi type-of vampire who was strictly vampire. The way I do Barnabas, he is a pathetic man who hates to be a vampire but can't help it. He has a problem; He has to bite girls on the neck and drink blood, but he is really very unhappy about it afterwards ..."
The tall, man, surprisingly blue-eyed, 47 years old and with forward blown ear-covering hair, kept on talking in a well-modulated baritone. .He was a study in paradoxes, of non-commitment, of which he was well aware.
"I can give you opposite answers to any question. 'I suppose I am fairly easily influenced." He thought of himself as basically shallow, yet also knew there was depth to him but was to lazy to plumb it.
"I was always a lazy boy. A bad student. I have been a dilettante for so long. Because I didn't need the money I guess." "Why? Do you think, starving actors are better?"
"No; but they have to try harder to get a job and hang on to it. It's like during the depression. All of a sudden workers had to be good. Today, electricians, masons, anyone doesn't have to be so good. But, when jobs are scarce, you just don't fool around any more. You know, like love of God. It's not enough to love God to keep the narrow path; you also have to fear God."
Is he very religious?
"I don't think so. But I do think a lot about the after-life. I worry about doomsday."
He had no definite, dogmatic answer to the problems of living, as most actors do when they know they will be quoted.
"I like the way young people question things, but then it also leads to anarchy ..."
"Women's lib bores me. I love to see a soft, feminine woman, yet I gravitate towards the strong, more aggressive types. But then I can't stand them too long, .either ..."
"I believe in discipline in schools, but I also see the other side of it ..."
Jonathan Frid has no hobbies and I was grateful that he said as much honestly, instead of the standard "People are my hobby" type of answer one gets from 4 out of 5 celebrities whose only hobby-people is often themselves.
"My apartment, maybe, is my hobby at this, time. I love comfort. I indulge myself a lot in the luxurious life. I am very selfish."
And so he was, yet as the conversation progressed in the philosophical aspects of life and of his business, it was easy to see the reluctant vampire was also very thoughtful, perceptive.
One got the impression that were not so tiring, or tiresome, he might like to be involved, to be sure of his way. Only that would require the making of a decision, something Jonathan Frid does only when absolutely forced to, or when convenient.
No doubt he feels relieved at the cancellation of Dark Shadows. it made the decision for him.
"Though, if I do quit, I'll probably regret the days of fame and recognition and miss them." And then he also might not.
By Ruthanne Devlin,
The Hartford Times Aug. 9, 1970
Nine million jealous women would like to see Nancy Brown contract an incurable tropical disease, or be bitten by a death adder, or in some way simply disappear from the face of the earth.
Hard to believe?
Not when you know that Mrs. Brown, formerly of West Hartford, is personal secretary to Jonathan Frid, ABC television's famous romantic vampire and a bachelor whose fan mail and mash notes from teen-boppers and housewives once surpassed Steve McQueen's, and is still going strong.
In the two years since we last talked, Jonathan's acquired a measure of artistic stability, a new apartment on New York's East Side, and a new secretary, Nancy — who takes casually the whole madness of, her boss's fantastic popularity and his fans' envy of her.
Later, Jon would join us. For the moment, Nancy agreed to talk about him.
During the six months of her employ, she's had few reminders that Jonathan, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, endures the "curse of the undead" as Barnabas Collins on the daytime soaper "Dark Shadows" (telecast in Hartford at 4 p.m. Chs. 6, 7, 8 and 40).
"It’s odd, really. He's so normal! It's like he goes off to IBM every day," Nancy said. "He rarely talks shop and never acts like a vampire around here."
Occasionally, however, strange things happen.
>>> Jonathan and secretary Nancy Brown go over fan mail.
"We were looking around in a store when this bunch of teen-age girls began pounding on the window and crying 'Barnabas, Barnabas!' They were so rowdy because of him, I forget when I'm with him how popular he is, because he isn't the egotistical, theatrical type."
Although born in Manchester, Nancy grew up in West Hartford where she lived until her exodus to New York City in 1962.
"I never had reason to go back to Manchester," she began, because my family had moved to Hartford and "Windsor, Now I've got a sister in West Hartford, a brother in Wethersfield, and my mother Mrs. Richard Kirschen and another sister living in Windsor.”
Neither "Dark Shadows" nor the name "Jonathan Frid" meant anything to her when a friend mentioned an actor-friend was looking for a secretary. Conveniently, Nancy was looking for a job. They went for a hamburger and she was introduced to Jonathan.
“In the beginning I actually gave the job away to a girl friend because the hours weren't right," Nancy recalled. "After a while, she took a cruise and I got the job back. Jon and I agreed on a one-month trial, things clicked, and I stayed. "
Operating out of his apartment, Nancy reads and clips articles about Jon, helps organize his phenomenal fan mail ("I pick it up in huge shopping bags"), plans and is hostess for his dinner parties, arranges interviews and prepares an occasional meal.
"I’m around simply to coordinate everybody else," she mused. "Jon's already got a lawyer, an accountant, a maid and an agent. But being at the studio all day, he doesn't have time for the other things. And," she added, “a man who isn't, married can get bogged down with all the trivia like grocery shopping."
Nancy considers Jon relatively unaffected and "terribly thoughtful." Ironically. She also sees these traits as his one great fault: He's too easygoing for his own good.
“I always had the idea from past experience that people get less nice as they get more famous, but not Jon, His acting to him is just a job.
“Maybe it's because he's been through a lot, but he often thinks about himself and what kind of person he is, Because of this, I don't think he demands enough of others, especially in this world where you get only what you really go after. Jon doesn't like to say 'no' or demand things, and someday that might hurt him professionally."
>>> Jonathan Frid is mobbed by fans at Norwalk during the shooting of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.
Maybe someday, but right now Jonathan couldn't be busier. He has one of the largest personal followings in television He shares top billing with veteran actress Joan Bennett on "Shadows." After a I0- to 12-hour day at the studio, he returns to his apartment for a quick meal and several hours' study on the next-day's script. Weekends are given to more script study or appearances as Barnabas at special events, like Tricia Nixon's Halloween party.
Recently he completed his first movie, a full-length film based on and titled after "Dark Shadows,” two weeks of which were shot on location at the Lockwood-Mathews mansion in Norwalk.
Visitors expecting the actor's apartment to be furnished like a "Dark Shadows" set are surprised when there isn't a Gothic chair, guttered candle, or cobwebby corner in sight.
"I'm not sure the Spanish over there is Jonathan, but everything here is much softer than I expected," Nancy admitted. "He's a big- man (over 6 feet tall) and I had imagined big, hunky furniture, very old. Of course, I was going more by his looks than his nature. Now I know he's really very gentle and has a soft nature and all of these soft things make sense.”
Jonathan emerged from his bedroom as Nancy described the incredible variety of presents bubble gum, food fans send crushers decked out in flashing lights and plastic flowers, full size oil paintings, “I'm not wild about all the portraits," he began, in a voice 10 years enriched by Shakespearean theater, "but there is a grotesque one I like. It's very pink (the colors are not to be believed) but it has a tortured look and I like to think I'm tortured.”
>>> Unafraid of Barnabas/Jonathan, this little girl engages in animated conversation with the actor.
Jonathan's convincing performances as Barnabas Collins, a romantic gentleman cursed and tainted by vampirism, have brought headaches as well as satisfaction. He is most disturbed when people act as though they believe he's a real blood sucker!
"You expect that sort of thing from youngsters, but when adults I think, 'My God, they vote!’”
Softening, he agreed there was merit in fantasy.
"I suppose we go through life as children. But it's a kind of sloppiness of the mind when imagination wins out over reason. When an actor I see on stage does an especially fine job, I get very uptight when someone I'm with wants to go backstage. I’m so in awe, I don't want to meet him."
The actor wished some of that reluctance had rubbed off on his fans in Norwalk who crowded sets and threatened to disrupt the entire shooting schedule of the movie.
"I was never more unattractive to the public than at Norwalk," he said apologetically. "The film was having problems. I was in a vile mood and there were those kids (someone said 4,000) everywhere. Heaven knows how they found out we were there.
"It was impossible to keep them out of the house, too many doors,” he continued. “I didn’t dare encourage them by chatting and being nice, so I didn’t.”
>>> (Photo from end of HODS)
The film won’t be released until early September, but several Norwalk teens know the ending. In fact, they witnessed the death of Barnabas Collins.
“We thought we had cleared the kids out, but several sneaked in again,” he related. “During the final scene, my 'death scene,' was alone on the floor waiting to begin when I saw a bunch kids hiding in a room just off the set, watching me.
"I figured, so long as they’re quiet, let them stay," He chuckled. "They might have caught my look, because they didn't make a sound. And, there was enough of the actor's ego left in me to appreciate an audience, so I played the whole scene knowing 20 kids were watching. Afterwards, there were a few gasps and they scurried away like mice."
In the beginning Jonathan researched his role, but now he just plays his moments and leaves the intricacies up to the writers. Since that day three years when Barnabas Collins, clad in his caped coat and carrying this silver wolf’s head cane, glided onto the set, the actor has shaped his character until now the lines of are fuzzy.
“We’ve gotten closer over the years, and to a certain degree — I don't know where — I play myself. Or," he reflected abruptly, "maybe I'm getting more like him.”
Jonathan has serious feelings about vampires. First, he's certain they're around, although his definition is a little different from Bram Stoker's "Dracula."
"A vampire to me is someone who can't sustain a give-and-take relationship. These are one-way people, only taking.
"In that way, Bela Lugosi was a better vampire than I could hope to be. He was so cold-blooded and passionless; he would command and someone would obey. I do that sometimes when I'm being very evil, or putting the zap on somebody, but mostly I'm engaged in a passionate give-and-take.
I'm always in love, which in a sense makes me a bastard vampire. "If I played it properly," he reflected, "I'd be the most hideous thing on earth- Instead, I come off as a human being with a terrible affliction. It's the agony of knowing what I am that comes across. My awareness of myself is equal to the horror experienced by the audience."
Jonathan Frid steps out of the dark shadows!
By Valerie Berger
Flip, April 1969
Jonathan Frid visited FLIP on a winter’s day that was cold enough to freeze a vampire’s blood!
But there is certainly no vampire lurking inside of Jonathan. He’s a gentle man who’s spent his life perfecting his art — acting — and he still can’t understand why his portrayal of Barnabas Collins on “Dark Shadows” has created such excitement all across the country. Of course, he’s not fighting it, and he even seems to be enjoying his star status.
Without his stage makeup, he’s not at all ominous looking — he’s really quite handsome — and he moves his hands expressively when he talks. This is what he had to say. —Valerie Berger
FLIP: Even though your role in Dark Shadows is what first brought you national attention, you’ve been an actor all your life. How did you first get interested in acting and the theatre.
JONATHAN: It was in prep school. Every year the six boys who were academically at the top of each class had to participate in the school play. I was never at the top academically, but I was interested and I volunteered to be in the play — which was an unheard of thing to do. The teacher in charge of dramatics was delighted to have a student interested in the play. I remember I played an old man. I was sixteen years old then, but all through my teens and twenties I found myself playing these character roles, people much older than myself. Now that I’m getting older, my parts have been getting younger, till we’ve just about met in the middle. Barnabas may be 175 years old, but I play him as a man my age.
FLIP: Then you got into this pretty much on your own, without encouragement from your family.
JONATHAN: Yes, but they didn’t discourage me, either, which was important. Especially with their strict Presbyterian background. My father was a building contractor, and he really loved his work. He had three sons and he wanted them to go into what would make them happy, too.
FLIP: You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare over the years. What was your favorite role?
JONATHAN: Richard III. There’s really a lot of humor in the part, which a lot Of people don’t realize. Except for the fact that he’s killing people, Richard does nothing but put people on the whole first part of the play. It was a challenge, because I feel there is still a lot of work to be done with Richard, when other actors play him. But I was lucky in having a director who Saw the character as I did. He helped me tremendously.
FLIP: You were an “unknown” actor for many years, that is, a working actor without a national following. Was there ever a time when you felt you almost got a part that would have made you a star, or you just missed recognition in some other way?
JONATHAN: No. I suppose subconsciously every actor wants to be a star, but I never consciously worked at it. I got a lot of satisfaction out of many of my roles, but I never expected any of them to bring me stardom. I certainly never expected that Barnabas would.
FLIP: You’re usually working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the Dark Shadows set. What’s happening in Collinwood this week to enable you to have this time off?
JONATHAN: Actually, the writers just forgot to write me into the script! But we’re having Some trouble now with Barnabas and the series in general, and there’s been a lot Of rewriting, So I’m not on till the end of the week.
FLIP: What sort Of trouble are you having?
JONATHAN: We need new ideas for the story lines. So far, Dan Curtis, the producer, has been coming up with all the ideas. It’s really funny to watch him with the show’s writers. Dan has this miniature golf course set up in his office, and he goes swinging around it, thinking, and all of a sudden he’ll stop short and say, “I’ve got a great idea!” And out will come the idea for the next story. He’s just like a little kid about it, he gets so excited. But lately he hasn’t been able to think as quickly, So instead of having scripts two or three weeks in advance of taping dates, sometimes we’re only three days ahead.
FLIP: But through all these problems, you’ve managed to give Barnabas a strong personality and even change his character from its early pure sinisterism to a more sympathetic interpretation.
JONATHAN: On the contrary, Barnabas was much more sympathetic in the beginning, when I could portray his agony and remorse every time his need for blood compelled him to bite someone. He was “cured” of being a vampire six months ago, you know. So now he’s an ordinary mortal and not nearly so interesting or sympathetic a character as he was when he was a vampire. Now he just kind of hangs around. But in a sense, it’s interesting for me to play him as an ordinary man. I’ve done it before, too. In a flashback to the days before he was cursed, I played him as an 18th century gentleman! But, unlike most actors, I’ve rarely had the opportunity to play myself — to be a normal human being. I’ve usually played parts that were mysterious or vaguely sinister.
So it was fun for awhile, but now I wish they would decide what to do with Barnabas. Of course, Barnabas isn’t permanently cured. There’s a monster on the show, and if it dies, Barnabas will be forced to go back to being a vampire. And there are a couple of scenes each week in which the audience is given the uneasy feeling that he may be going back right then.
FLIP: But there’s no immediate danger that Barnabas will be killed off, just because they can’t think what else to do with him.
JONATHAN: No, I don’t think so. They’re playing around with a couple of ideas. They may send Barnabas back into the past and then have the monster die. But then they’d have to send someone back after Barnabas to warn him not to come back! But nothing’s definite yet.
FLIP: What sort of research did you do for the part? Did you read up on witchcraft and the like?
JONATHAN: No. I don’t play Barnabas as a vampire, per se. He’s a man with a hangup. He has all the human characteristics and passions but his uncontrollable need for blood, human blood, makes him a monster. He must have it or he’ll die. But I myself have no interest in the occult, and I haven’t tried to make Barnabas true to form. In fact, I’ve probably broken every rule in the book. Historically, vampires were supposed to be bloodless, passionless creatures with absolutely no interests except getting blood. Bela Lugosi played them to perfection — I saw him a couple of months ago on the late, late show at about 3 in the morning. A vampire would go after its victim with a perfectly bland expression on its face. It felt no emotion and had no conscience. That’s what made the thought of a vampire so terrifying.
FLIP: You’re evidently concerned about the show’s effect on teens, judging from the way you didn’t want FLIP’s last month’s cover, where you appeared, to be sadistic.
JONATHAN: No, that’s not right — I thought the cover should be more sadistic. I’d have worn my fangs, except that that’s been so overdone. I think Barnabas should be more evil—he’s a more interesting character then. And as far as kids being impressed with the evil things Barnabas does, I just don’t think that’s a problem. Kids are pretty smart. They can watch Barnabas without applying it to their lives. They know Barnabas isn’t human. He looks like a man and talks like a man and has courtly manners, but he’s really a monster. And just as you wouldn’t bring a lion in the jungle to trial for killing another animal, you can’t judge Barnabas’ actions in human terms. But it’s funny that all the magazine and newspaper publicity about Barnabas’ being a vampire has come out months after he stopped being one. And the fan mail peaked two months after he became normal.
FLIP: How much fan mail do you receive now?
JONATHAN: About 1,500 to 2,000 letters a week.
FLIP: I know you try to answer as much as you can. How do you decide which letters require an answer?
JONATHAN: A lot of the mail is sent to the West Coast for the fan club. Then my secretary sorts the rest and I answer a random sampling, to ease my conscience. But I don’t mind if magazines print that I don’t answer all the fan mail — the people who write me know that would be impossible. They’re just taking a chance that their letter will be one I do pick up.
FLIP: Do you get much chance to meet your fans?
JONATHAN: Oh, yes. There’s always a crowd outside the studio, and when come out I spend a few minutes talking to them and signing autographs. Then when I have to leave, I say, “Okay, thank you," and I walk away quickly. But one night I was really in a hurry, so I sent one of the stagehands downstairs to ask the guard to let me out the back way. So I heard the guy say in a very loud voice, “Barnabas wants to leave through the back. Will you open the door?” I thought, oh, no, everyone outside heard! But then I thought, well, they’ll all go around to the back and I can get out the front. It would have worked, too, except there was one lady still standing there. Her daughter had gone around to the back, and when she saw me, boy did she bawl me out. She and her daughter had come all the way from Pittsburgh, or something, to see me, and here I was sneaking out. She was right, too.
FLIP: Sometimes fame can be an inconvenience!
JONATHAN: Yes, but I enjoy the recognition much more than I dislike the inconvenience. To give you an example: One afternoon when I wasn’t taping I was downtown doing some errands. I was due at the studio at 4 o’clock to block for the next day’s taping and I was late. So I grabbed a taxi and as we raced toward the studio I was thinking, here I am late, and I’ll still have to get through the crowd outside before I can get into the studio. Well, I arrived and there were only two girls standing outside and, boy, was I mad!
FLIP: When you talk to fans, what do they ask you about most?
JONATHAN: Mostly questions about the story line, what’s going to happen next. And then, who’s still upstairs in the studio. And my birthday was last week, so I’ve been getting a lot of questions about that. I don’t mind people knowing how old I am, but I don’t tell my birthday. But somehow they find it out, and my unlisted telephone number, as well. Kids are great detectives. But it’s the questions on the story line that I’m not too good at. I don’t read the scripts the days I’m not on the show, and the only time I watch the show is when I’m on, to criticize my own perform, So I don’t always know what’s going on at a given moment. And I’m such a slow study—I learn my lines so slowly—that the first year I was on the show I spent every minute either memorizing or performing. I was once on a TV talk show, and the moderator was asking me about the relationships of the characters to each other. He had a blackboard and a piece of chalk and he was actually drawing the whole family tree of Collinsport. I could hardly help him at all, but the studio audience kept calling out all the answers. They knew all the characters perfectly.
FLIP: After Dark Shadows you’ve said you’d like to teach drama at a university out West. Will you then stop acting?
JONATHAN: Lately the teaching idea isn’t as concrete as it once was. Mostly, it’s something I talk about during interviews. But I do sometimes think about taking off two or three years from acting to teach. I certainly have a reservoir of experience I could pass on. But in addition to acting courses, I’d probably have to teach a textbook course on the history of drama, or something, and I was never a great student. And I’d have to teach about ten years before I was making as much money as I am right now. So that’s something to think about. But if I did teach, I wouldn’t act at the same time. Schools seem to like it if you do, but I had too many professors in school who wouldn’t show up for class half the time because they had a matinee, or something else to do.
FLIP: Is there anything else you might like to do in the future?
JONATHAN: well, I had been thinking of a nighttime TV program. But I was once on a talk show with Barbara Parkins of PEYTON PLACE, and I found she didn’t have it much easier than I do. They shoot two or three shows a week, and because they’re in prime time, they have to be a lot more technically perfect than Dark Shadows. Then, I’ve never made a movie, and I’d like to try that. But for the time being, I just wish that Dark Shadows would settle down. It’s become such a ...
FLIP: A fad?
JONATHAN: Yes, a fad. Some of these soap operas run for years with the same characters, but we’re so far “in” this year that by next year we could be way, way “out” of it! And I hope that doesn’t happen.
By Catherine Breslin
Maclean's, December 1, 1969
With fangs, a cape and a job as resident vampire on TV’s horrorsoaper Dark Shadows, Canadian actor Jonathan Frid is learning that the fastest way to a woman’s heart is through the jugular.
The first time it happened was at a supermarket in Charleston, South Carolina, just 18 months ago. A middle-aged, unlovely Canadian bachelor of scholarly bent and indiscernible allure was being deafened and debuttoned by a gaggle of nymphettes performing one of the sexual rites of our times. A pop star or a rock group would have expected such treatment. But for Jonathan Frid the experience was terrifying.
Jonathan who? Frid. He’s a 44-year-old sometime Shakespearean actor who grew up in a well-to-do Hamilton, Ontario, family with a stern Protestant outlook. For 25 years he walked on and off the boards in a hundred and one road shows. His acting was competent. Remember his Caliban in San Diego, his Richard III at Penn State? But fame passed him by. Then he became a vampire and found himself basking in the sort of adulation that not even Olivier has enjoyed. At a telethon in Birmingham, Alabama, this fall it was Frid, and not such imported “names” as Frankie Avalon, who was the target for a horde of pubescent females screaming, “Bite me, Barnabas. Bite me!”
For three increasingly frenetic years Frid has been playing Barnabas Collins in ABC Television’s afternoon “horror-soaper,” Dark Shadows. Barnabas is the resident vampire of the series, sharing a 36-room mansion called Collinwood with a weird crew of witches, warlocks, werewolves, winged beasties and other Gothic standbys. The plot is a convolution of murders, mutilations, hexings and time-tunnelings that even Frid finds “impossible to follow.”
An average audience of 6,300,000 Americans watches Dark Shadows every weekday at 4 p.m. That makes it the top daytime TV show in the world — without adding in the hundreds of thousands of Canadian viewers who tune in to ABC border stations. All the tea leaves of TV (fan mail, crowd count) credit this astonishing success to the show’s lank, gloomy star. Frid, swirling his de rigueur cape, snarling around his plastic fangs and sucking blood all over the sound stage, has an audience appeal so powerful it’s beyond the merely bizarre. Shrugs producer Robert Costello: “Half the women in America want this guy to bite them on the neck.”
Today the signature of Jonathan Frid (co-signing with Barnabas Collins) is rated by Coronet magazine as “the autograph of the year.”
William Dennis, ABC vice-president in charge of the network’s merchandising empire, says Barnabas Collins and Dark Shadows are “a phenomenon, an explosion we didn’t expect. There’s no doubt it’s the hottest property we control. Not up to Batman yet, but it’s got a longer pull and should give Batman a real run in the long haul.” By that, Dennis means the market bonanza for Barnabas comic books, novelettes, posters, jewelry, masquerade costumes, penny banks, puzzles, coloring books, card games, toys, sweatshirts, 3-D slides and LP records. With all these selling like hot cakes, the Christmas market should also see dolls, kites, model kits, magic slates, stuffed pillows and even, as one talented merchandiser dreams, a range of “Barnabas Boots — you know, monster shoes.” A soup company is reportedly toying with the idea of a Barnabas Cook Book, and the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp., offering “giant pinups” of Jonathan Frid with their third set of Barnabas bubble-gum cards.
All told, ABC expects that $20 million in Barnabas paraphernalia will be sold before the fever breaks. That will earn $500,000 in license fees. And even after the network, authors and producers take their respective cuts, Jonathan Frid will still receive enough to further confuse his already complicated finances.
What he is making remains something of a mystery, largely because royalty payments have still to be computed. Until he renegotiated his contract in November, Frid was paid a basic $600 a week whether or not he appeared in the show. If he appeared in all five programs, his weekly pay would be $1,500. He earns a few thousand from each of his many public appearances; takes other lucrative acting jobs; rakes in cash from Jonathan Frid-Barnabas Collins concessions. For making females from 12 to old-enough-to-know-better squeal with orgasmic delight, Frid makes ... “I really don’t know how much,” he says. Associates guess that in 1970 it will be somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000. Another showbiz rumor has it that Frid, the best-loved monster since Boris Karloff, grosses around $17,000 a week. Frid smiles grimly on hearing that. “Actually, stardom is leaving me broke. I just don’t know how to cope, careerwise and economically.” As the first certifiable star of daytime soap opera, he “should have made a million out of this thing already. God, I need a business manager.” This summer he moved to an East Side Manhattan apartment where the rent is “so high I don’t even tell my mother,” Mrs. Herbert Frid, widow of a wealthy Hamilton, Ontario, contractor.
It was there, amid the splendors of East Side living, that he sat this fall and mourned over his latest business offer. He had been asked to lend his name to a chain of restaurants. He conceded that the money sounded good, and that he was rather more broke than usual at the time. “But I want to preserve some integrity,” he said. “And then, if the profits started to slip. I’d probably end up out there cooking the damn stuff myself.”
It is entirely possible that members of Jonathan Frid’s family had faced the prospect of Herbert Frid’s youngest son doing just that for a living.
Frid’s father was a man of some consequence in southern Ontario, and Jonathan’s background — Presbyterian, private school, the Nob Hill that in Hamilton is called The Mountain — was properly Establishment. After Sunday services he dressed as the minister and re-enacted the sermon to the delight of his ardently Presbyterian grandmother, who thought she had a born preacher in the family. At 16, he finally gave in to an “absolute compulsion” he had been battling since the age of five. In what he calls “the most agonizing decision in my life,” Jonathan volunteered to act in a school production of Sheridan’s comedy, The Rivals, and turned in a brilliant performance as Sir Anthony Absolute by imitating the school’s very English headmaster.
Jonathan went on to McMaster University, where Frid Senior later served on the board of governors. Jonathan reorganized the dramatic society and reactivated the Inter-Varsity Drama League after the war. About nine years ago he changed his name from John to Jonathan so it would take up more room in the programs. The old one “went too quickly —JohnFridJohnFridJohnFrid.”
Midway through university, Frid volunteered for the navy and was slated to go to the Pacific. At that point, however, the allies used the atom bomb. Frid’s war wounds were limited to being seasick, but the interlude provided a Hollywood fan magazine with the teasing headline: “How The Bomb Saved Jonathan Frid For Dark Shadows
Frid graduated in 1948, and spent the next 19 years in a “rich and rewarding” but financially lean theatrical world: a spell at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London . . . playing in the English provinces as an American gangster ...at Lome Greene’s Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto ... in CBC radio plays ... stock companies ... In 1954 his wealthy father played “angel” to the Dominion Drama Festival, that year being staged in Hamilton. Frid was persuaded to play the lead in Hamilton’s festival entry, Rebecca, which the adjudicators panned.
Three years later, armed now with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in directing from Yale Drama School, Frid went back into acting. By then his elder brother Doug owned a ski resort near Orangeville, Ontario, and the other brother was president of the family construction business. Jonathan, at 32, was earning $50 a week if he was lucky.
Of his work at that time, one actor recalls: “John was one hell of a fine actor, who had been in a million plays all over the universe, but it was usually we who got the notices.” In 1967, he had just finished a six-month tour of the sticks playing a one-line walk-on part with the road-show company of Hostile Witness when offered the part of Barnabas Collins, vampire.
Dark Shadows, “a gothic suspense series,” was then 10 months old and dying. “We decided to go all the way with the spook stuff,” says the show’s creator, Dan Curtis. “I’d always felt that if the viewers bought a vampire, we could get away with anything. If it didn’t work, we could always drive a stake through his heart.”
When Barnabas Collins climbed out of his cobwebbed coffin in April 14, 1967, the ratings surged and the mail rolled in. Something about this sad-eyed fellow with an early-Beatles hairdo, flowing black cape, massive carved cane, onyx ring, custom-made fangs and nervous ways twanged a responsive chord in the great Out There where the ratings come from.
Some inexplicable 20th-century chemistry had annointed this aging bachelor as the vicarious aphrodisiac of the year. A fan in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, wrote: “If it takes blood to keep him alive, he can have some of mine.” A lady in New Westminster, BC, praised his “great charm and dignity” and “his most evil, corrupt and forceful domination of your victims.” A housewife in Illinois wrote : “1 wish you’d bite me on the neck. I get so excited watching you, I could smoke a whole pack of cigarettes.”
The phenomenon spread. A nineyear-old in Rockville, Maryland, showed up for her dentist appointment watching Barnabas on a portable TV. A sixth grade science teacher in Flint, Michigan, reported that her entire class could locate the jugular vein, thanks to Barnabas. At Penn State University, where Jonathan had been invited to play the lead in Richard III in 1965, a stern warning was issued to students cutting classes to watch the soaper.
Yet the thing built slowly enough that its full impact didn’t hit Jonathan until a year after he took the role, when he was making a 10-city public-appearance tour complete with chartered Lear jet and publicity-man escort. Driving up to a supermarket at their first stop in Charleston, Jonathan suddenly felt the physical shock of the crowd of 2,500 waiting to greet him: “I didn’t believe it. It was the stepping stone from being somebody who went to the CNE to watch Frank Sinatra being idolized, to being Frank Sinatra.” Suddenly they were ripping and tearing at his clothes; it took 14 policemen and five squad cars to manoeuvre him to safety.
The rest of the tour was a continuing triumph: 5,000 at the Grand Rapids airport to watch him ride into town on the roof of a hearse (an experience he does not deign to repeat). At a Fort Wayne shopping centre a mob of 15,000 (more than Richard Nixon or Robert Kennedy were able to draw in that presidential election year) crunched through plateglass windows in the press to see Barnabas. “They were grabbing at me like animals. We had to run for our lives,” Frid recalls. He escaped through a warehouse with a police escort.
Frid has since learned to relish that rarified sensation of mob worship: “Part of the fun of these crowds is to go with it, to ride it like the rapids or surf-boarding. You’ve got to stay with the wave.” Yet between these sessions of mass ecstasy his life had then become “a constant agony, a nightmare every day.”
For months he was written into almost every episode, a half-hour show five days a week, as the Dark Shadows plot line explored the sad details of how Barnabas had gotten the way he was. (He was bitten to death by a mad bat 180 years ago.) Always “the slowest study in the history of the theatre,” Frid would rise at 6.30 every morning and grapple with the script over breakfast before reporting to work at eight. The cast rehearsed until taping at 3:15, with a brief lunch break at 10:30 which Frid used for shaving. After taping, they had a dry run of the next day’s “incredibly complicated” script until around 6.30 p.m. Frid spent each evening at home, cramming the lines that would get him up again at 6.30 the next morning. He recalls, “I was panic-stricken every day. I had to wing it like mad.”
As he wearily discovered, “a work bonanza like this means no social life at all.” He rarely salvaged enough time for the small rites of daily living: buying stamps, paying bills, fetching laundry. When his clean underwear ran out, he wore bathing suits to work.
This year the pressure finally eased, and the scripts came under control. Frid turned down an offer to spend the summer touring as Dracula because he doesn’t want to be typed. Instead, he passed the summer decorating his apartment, a five-room extravagance with three baths, seven closets, a genuine rock garden and a stereo system piped everywhere from johns to rocks. While we talked, Frid looked around the apartment’s half-finished splendor and sighed, “I still feel like I’m staying in a hotel. My grandparents had an old house in Waterdown, Ontario, where we used to go in summer. There was a home, and it takes years and generations before a house is really that.”
Now what he wants is “someone who will lick me into shape and tell me ‘learn this’ or ‘rehearse that.’ I’ve been dilettantish for two years in terms of hard-boiled management of myself.” When the Barnabas-fever first crested he brought down advisers from the family firm in Hamilton and consulted an eminent lawyer; they told him not to bother with a business manager — “ridiculous advice, just so wrong,” he moans now.
When the gravity of his chaos weighs down on Frid, he is apt to grasp at the nearest available straws. Last summer he was considering installing his decorator, a middle-aged friend named Ruth, as general factotum to answer fan mail, retrieve laundry and “put some order in my life.” In the fall he was thinking of making actor friend Bob Teuscher his business manager. A friend as business manager — an actor-poet friend? The hapless Barnabas himself could not do better.
In fact, Jonathan and Barnabas have much in common. Both are gloomy, brooding chaps, civilized and vulnerable, given to lonely ruminations and courtly Victorian manners. Both stumble from one crisis to another with the help of inordinate good luck. Both give off an air of kindly helplessness, which may actually be the catnip element of the Barnabas sex appeal. In interviews, Frid habitually compares Barnabas to Macbeth, Hamlet and Richard III. Yet he gives short shrift to critics who express dismay that a Shakespearean specialist with all those years of theatrical academics behind him could soil his high brow with TV melodrama. “Listen, this role reaches about the limits of my intelligence,” Frid says. “Shakespeare is pretty big potatoes, and how I ever coped with it I’ll never know.”
In a curious way Jonathan Frid seems to be, like Barnabas Collins, a refugee from another time. A casting agent who knows Frid well calls him “kind of square and old-fashioned, almost too nice for this business.” His favorite suit is actually a Barnabas costume, an Edwardian double-breasted that he bought from the show’s wardrobe department. Chainsmoking, he gives off a bored serenity that masks 'an impressive amount of insecurity and indecision. Actor friends agree he has changed very little with success. His loner streak still runs deep. He relaxes by reading the obituaries in the New York Times: “Such marvelous pieces of history. Fascinating!” He prefers a bar to a cocktail party because “you can be a dud at a bar as long as you buy your own drinks. Some of my best creative thoughts happen when I’m sitting alone at a bar surrounded by noisy people.”
Frid has no idea how many fan clubs have been organized in his name, though he does know he gets more than 5,000 letters a month. One euphoric New Year he spent $1,000 on a special mailing to his fans (“My God, Clark Gable wouldn’t have done that”). Since then he has limited his personal answers to gifts and really interesting letters; but all his mail is answered in one way or another. Yet the phenomenon rolls on. When Frid took two weeks off to do Dial M For Murder in Sullivan, Illinois, the tickets were sold out weeks in advance. Coming up is the shooting of the first Dark Shadows feature film, possibly one of a series. His co-star is Joan Bennett.
Sitting in his walnut-paneled study, flanked by mounds of Dark Shadows scripts, scrapbooks lovingly assembled by the faithful, and bronze plaques with such inscriptions as “16 Magazine 7th Annual Geegee Award” and “Barnabas We Love You, Charleston, S.C., Teens,” Jonathan Frid stretched out his long legs and put himself in a nutshell: “The summing-up of my life, if you get down to the real nitty-gritty, is there isn’t anything terribly exciting there.”
Even so, the vampire business is a little more diverting than teaching drama somewhere in California, which is what Frid was about to do when his agent persuaded him to audition for the part of Barnabas. And, besides, it’s not everyone who can inspire the opposite sex to demand: “Bite me, Barnabas. Bite me!”