Monday, December 3, 2012

Jonathan Frid: "The 6 Women I Admire Most," 1969

Jonathan Frid, Daytime TV's Most Unique Star, Reveals:
Jan. 1969, TV Picture Life
By Paul Denis

"What are the women you admire most? I asked Jonathan Frid while visiting at his apartment in midtown New York City. He was relaxing on a rare day when he wasn't expected at ABC Studios, where Dark Shadows is taped daily.

"The women I admire most?" Jonathan repeated.

"Well," I said, "not all of them. Say the six women you admire most ..."

"Six women? ..."

"Yes," I said. "Six women who are known to most of us. Actresses, perhaps ..."

"Katharine Hepburn," he said. "She's the first who comes to mind!"

"Do you know her?"

"Yes," he replied. "I met her when she was starring in Much Ado About Nothing in the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Connecticut, in 1958. I was in a small role; I wasn't important; but it gave me a chance to know here. I was there, every day, watching her."

He sat down on a Queen Anne chair with a pink patterned seat. "My favorite chair," he commented.

Jonathan's a husky, 170 pound, broad shouldered, six-footer. But because of his lean, rather haggard face, he looked so much thinner.

"Perhaps you like Miss Hepburn because she's thin? I asked.

"No," he said. "It's not a person's being thin or fat that counts. It's the person. Miss Hepburn is so vital! That reddish-gold hair! The gray-green eyes! The vitality of her stride, the strength of her sensitivity of her face! Her unconcealed freckles, her clear-eyed candor, her mercurial temper, her independence and her competence and her compassion for her fellow man!"

"She seemed above flattery, and you had the feeling that you couldn't fool her or frighten her."

"As tough as she seems to be, I'm sure she's actually shy and uses her bravado to cover up her shyness. I'm shy, too, and perhaps, I, too, have times when I put up a brave front."

The living room of his apartment has a beige-gold carpet, a rectangular marble-top coffee table, with brass legs, an old tic-toc clock hanging on the wall, a corner table on which lay a shiney brass Greek warrior's helmet, some photos, and a gold candelabra that could hold five candles, a boodcase with current and old books. It was a comfortable, very lived in room.

"And how about the other five women you admire?"

"Joan Bennett!" he said, without hesitation.

Joan Bennett, of course, plays Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on Dark Shadows. She has the leading female role.

"Joan Bennett is so very modest," Jonathan explained, with enthusiasm. "She's very sensible, very professional, and with a delightful sense of humor! I admire her for the interest in public affairs. She campaigned for McCarthy. She has such idealism, and such zeal."

"When I first came on Dark Shadows, I was practically a walk-on and she, a star, was so easy to get along with!"

"When I'm with her at the studio, she represents so much that is fine in the theatre! Did you know that she's the eighth generation in an acting family on her mother's side? She is the sister of the late actresses Constance Bennett and Barbara Bennett. She made her acting debut with her father in that Broadway production of Farregan, and she's played opposite such eminent actors as John Barrymore, George Arliss, Ronald Coleman, Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck. I think she made some 70 films!"

"Because of her background, she's a sort of symbol of continuity and tradition in the theatre."

"Yes, despite her great background of movie, stage and TV work, she doesn't look down on others. Rather, she is very self-effacing. She does her work, and that's it. With Joan, you can forget that she's a star; she's that relaxing and comfortable with you."

"On the other hand, when you're with Katherine Hepburn you can't forget she's a star. And this is mean as a high compliment for both Katherine Hepburn and Joan Bennett."

"On Dark Shadows, Joan plays a tempestuous woman, a grand dame who is the pivotal figure of all the drama surrounding the great brooding mansion of Collinwood. Her role requires an actress of great feeling and understanding, and Joan is just that!"

"And who else?" I asked

"Greta Garbo! That's who else! From the time I was a kid and saw some of her old movies, I was under her spell."

"I'd go almost anywhere today to see a Garbo movie. I understand she made a lot of movies during her 15 active years in Hollywood."

"I'm entranced by her. There is something deep and mysterious and poetic about her. Her face is unbelievably sensitive, expressive, beautiful! When her face appears fullface, in close up, on the silver screen, she takes over completely and has you in her power. Such magnetism! Her face and her acting apparently were made to order for movies. I've often wondered if she could have brought that same excitement to the stage; but since she's never appeared in a love show of any kind, we'll never know."

"She always underplayed her emotions, and you could read what you wanted in her face. For me, she is a real great beauty!"

We remained silent for a moment, taking pleasure in memories of her intense beauty.

"Bette Davis!" said Frid. "Dynamite! She's a great dramatic actress, of course, and I admire her for her talen and for her spirit. There's something unconquerableabout her. She's strong and independent and willful, and I guess I admire those qualities. I believe she's won more Oscar nominations than any other actress, and she deserves it."

 "She's a fighter, and the image I have of her is that nobody can knock her out. They may knock her down, but not out."

"There's a smouldering fire all about her, and you feel she may erupt at any moment. This alive, held-in, caged-in feeling makes for very exciting acting."

"Fortitude is the word for Bette Davis, and I've always admired courageous people. They're so much more admirable than weak, vacillitating, dependent, indecisive people."

Katherine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis - four of the great ladies of the silver screen. Who else?

"Eileen Heckart. Remember her in the movie, Up the Down Staircase, in which she played a high school teacher? She's great!"

"Now she's not a typical movie star. In fact, I've read that she often turns down co-starring roles in movies, insisting she's not box office. How's that for modesty? I know she calls herself a character woman rather than a glamor-girl or star."

"I've seen her in many plays, and every time she swept me along with the magic of her acting. I admire talent so much, and she is so talented! I saw her in The Bad Seed and in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs."

"I guess I admire talent in a woman more than regulation pretty face and figure. The fact is that a so-called gorgeous girl ages just as quickly as anybody else, and her beauty is of the moment; but a girl with beauty within ... well, that lasts a lifetime."

He tried to remember all the shows he's seen Miss Heckart in, then said "She is so versatile. She's acted women from 19 to 90, and she prepares for roles carefully. I read where she sat in an Automat restaurant for two weeks, watching old people eating. She noticed that so often people's teeth didn't fit because they didn't want to or couldn't afford to spend money on better teeth. She did this for her role as an old lady in Save Me a Place in the Forest Lawn. I admire that kind of dedication to one's craft."

 One more woman, I reminded him.

"Simone Signoret," he said. "She won an Oscar for her performance in Room at the Top, remember? Some people think she's great in personifying the mature woman in love. At a time when we're so preoccupied with little girls, and miniskirts, and the teen generation, she stands out as a sort of champion of the mature woman.

"I remember going to the movie theater to see Room at the Top. When the first scene opened, it was backstage in a little theatre, and suddenly I saw this magnificent face in the background. I did not know who she was, but I said to myself, 'God, what a fascinating face!' Then, as the scenes unfolded, and her role began to grow, I kept saying to myself, 'What a wonderful face! Where did she come from? How is it I had never seen her before?

"I experienced the thrill of discovery when I found Simone Signoret in that movie."

"I admire her for her astute acting. In Room at the Top, for instance, she was marvelous in creating a woman who commits herself to love without fear and out of her whole feeling for what life is for."

"There is a classic beauty about her, a great dignity and charm and wisdom. I admire these qualities more than prettiness, bounce, youthfulness."

Studying his list of six women, I realized that he admires mature women most. Miss Davis is 60; Gretsa Garbo and Katherine Hepburn are 59; Joan Bennett is 58; Eileen Heckart is 49 and Miss Signoret is 47.

Also, he favors tall and slender women; Greta Garbo is five-foot-eight and Katherine Hepburn is five-foot-seven. The others are shorter, but certainly not petite: Joan Bennett is five-foot-four, and Bette Davis is a half inch shorter than Miss Signoret.

It seems that if you want to be admired by Jonathan Frid, it would help if you're tall, slender, mature, brainy and very, very talented!

Jonathan Frid himself suggests maturity. He doesn't have apretty-boy face. His is a fascinating face that suggests experience and wisdom. He has depth, and this quality comes through even when he's portraying Barnabas Collins, a vampire, on Dark Shadows. He tries no to make Barnabas Collins a comicstrip vampire. he plays him as a strange man, with a strange problem - loneliness. As a result, most of his fanmail (5,000 letters a week!) is sympathetic to the character he plays. Fans are convinced Barnabas is not just all evil. In fact, his fans love him!

In his personal life, Jonathan is a loner, by choice, and he doesn't participate in the usual things actors do in New York. He does not go to theatrical clubs; he does not show up at premieres and other celebrity events.

He admires actresses for their courage in staying in an insecure occupation; but he doesn't seek their company. Their show-business chatter and business with themselves and their career, bore him.

But Katherine Hepburn, Joan Bettenn, Greta Garbo, Eileen Heckart, Simone Signoret - they're different - and that's why he admires them the most!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great article and photos! And a very Happy Birthday (Dec. 2) to Jonathan Frid! (RIP)

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