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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore



Archive for April 21st, 2012

 

Goodbye, Barnabas

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Long before Edward Cullen and the host of wannabe-famous vampires who followed, there was Barnabas Collins.

I expect you’ll have to be a bit older than 39 to remember Barnabas and Dark Shadows, the TV soap on which he appeared.

I was fifteen when Dark Shadows began it’s five-year run in 1966. I quickly became an ardent fan and I was not alone. During high school, I worked part-time after school at the local Boy’s Club, in the junior ( 12 and under) lounge and game room, and each weekday, when Dark Shadows aired, the game room virtually emptied and the lounge, where the TV was located, was stuffed with both junior and older members, and a few staff members, for the half-hour the program was on.

I bring this up today because, this morning, I learned that Jonathan Frid, the actor who portrayed Barnabas Collins, passed away at 87.

Perhaps you have to be young to be so taken with something so silly that you still mourn its passing four decades later, but I’ve never forgotten it, or the character he played. .

Following is his obituary as it appears in today’s Boston Globe.

If you, too, were a fan of the show, especially if you were one of the many thousands who sent him fan mail each week, please leave a comment and share your remembrances of the show, and the times, for they were, indeed, most interesting times.

Goodbye, Barnabas.

***

Jonathan Frid, 87; actor helped give ‘Dark Shadows’ more bite

Mr. Frid in character as Barnabas Collins in a 1970 photo.

NEW YORK – Jonathan Frid, a Shakespearean actor who found unexpected – and, by his own account, unwanted – celebrity as the vampire Barnabas Collins on the sanguinary soap opera “Dark Shadows,’’ died Friday the 13th in Hamilton, Ontario.

He was 87.

He died of complications of a fall, said Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played several characters on the show.

Mr. Frid, who lived in Ancaster, Ontario, leaves no immediate survivors.

Mr. Frid, along with several castmates, makes a cameo appearance in Tim Burton’s feature film “Dark Shadows,’’ to be released May 11. Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas.

Though Mr. Frid was the acknowledged public face of “Dark Shadows’’ – his likeness was on comic books, board games, trading cards, and many other items – Barnabas did not make his first appearance until more than 200 episodes into the run.

The character was conceived as a short-term addition to the cast, and early on the threat of the stake loomed large.

Broadcast on weekday afternoons on ABC, “Dark Shadows’’ began in 1966 as a conventional soap opera (with Gothic overtones), centering on the Collins family and their creaky manse in Maine.

The next year, with ratings slipping, the show’s executive producer, Dan Curtis, chose to inject an element of the supernatural.

Enter Barnabas, a brooding, lovelorn, eternally 175-year-old representative of the undead. Television vampires are legion today, but such a character was an unusual contrivance at the time.

The ratings shot up, and not only among the traditional soap-opera demographic of stay-at-home women.

With its breathtakingly low-rent production values and equally breathtakingly purple dialogue, “Dark Shadows’’ induced a generation of high school and college students to cut class to revel in its unintended high camp.

The producers shelved the stake.

Swirling cape, haunted eyes, and fierce eyebrows notwithstanding, Barnabas, as portrayed by Mr. Frid, was no regulation-issue vampire. An 18th-century man – he had been entombed in the Collins family crypt – he struggled to come to terms with the 20th-century world.

He was a vulnerable vampire, who pined for his lost love, Josette. (She had leaped to her death in 1795.) He was racked with guilt over his thirst for blood, and Mr. Frid played him as a man in the grip of a compulsion he devoutly wished to shake.

Mr. Frid starred in almost 600 episodes, from April 18, 1967, to April 2, 1971, when the show went off the air. (It remains perennially undead on DVD.)

Mr. Frid received nearly 6,000 fan letters a week. “I wish you’d bite me on the neck,’’ read one, from a woman in Illinois.

Others contained snapshots of the letter-writers’ necks – and everything on down – laid bare.

All this, Mr. Frid said in 1968, was exquisitely ironic in that “the other vampires we’ve had on the show were much more voluptuous biters than I am.’’

It was also an exquisitely unimagined career path for a stage actor trained at the Yale School of Drama and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Mr. Frid, as he made plain in interviews, was as conflicted about his calling as Barnabas was about his own.

The son of a prosperous construction executive, John Herbert Frid was born in Hamilton; he changed his given name to Jonathan early in his stage career.

After service in the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II, Mr. Frid received a bachelor’s degree from McMaster University in Hamilton; he later moved to London, where he studied at the Royal Academy and appeared in repertory theater.

In 1957, he received a master’s degree in directing from Yale.

Mr. Frid spent his early career acting in North American regional theater, appearing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts and the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn.

On Broadway, he played Richard Scroop, archbishop of York, in “Henry IV, Part 2’’ in 1960.

Long after “Dark Shadows’’ ended, Barnabas remained an albatross.

Mr. Frid reprised the role in the 1970 feature film “House of Dark Shadows’’; the few other screen roles that came his way also tended toward the ghoulish.

He starred opposite Shelley Winters in the 1973 television movie “The Devil’s Daughter,’’ about Satanism; the next year he played a horror writer in “Seizure,’’ Oliver Stone’s first feature.

Returning to the stage, Mr. Frid played Jonathan Brewster, a role originated by Boris Karloff, in a 1986 Broadway revival of the macabre comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.’’

As critical as he was of “Dark Shadows,’’ Mr. Frid was equally critical of his performance in it.

“I’d get this long-lost look on my face,’’ he told The Hamilton Spectator in 2000. “ ‘Where is my love? Where is my love?’ it seemed to say. Actually, it was me thinking: ‘Where the hell is the teleprompter? And what’s my next line?’ ’’

 
 


 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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