Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jonathan Frid, reluctant vampire, 1971

Following the cancellation of Dark Shadows in 1971, writer Helene LaCaccia unearthed some notes from an interview she'd conducted earlier in the year with actor Jonathan Frid. The archival scan is barely legible and the story's not the best-written piece you'll ever read. But, Frid's comments are quite interesting and certainly illustrate a very specific state of mind at the beginning of the final year for Dark Shadows. I've typeset the story below and left the errors intact (such as the reference to "Collinswood.")


Jonathan Frid, reluctant vampire
Friday, April 30, 1971
By Helene LaCaccia

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 o 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.


Unknown said...

Interesting piece. Thanks for posting it. I don't think I had seen that one before.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Cuz. I am the associate editor of the Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times and I cam check our library to see if there's a better clip of this story!

Cousin Barnabas said...

That'd be great! You can send the image to Thanks!

Anonymous said...

...'blue eyes'...? In January, 1971, Mr. Frid was a month into his 46th year.

Anonymous said...

I noticed the "blue-eyed" description, too. JF had hazel eyes, which could appear blue or another color depending on lighting and what color he was wearing.

Cousin Barnabas said...

All kinds of strange details slipped into print. There's one story (It's posted here, somewhere) that refers to Frid as a "husky" 170 pounds. If the man was four-feet tall, he might be considered "husky" at 170 pounds, but Frid stood about six feet and was FAR from chubby, husky, etc.

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