Wednesday, February 6, 2013

1967 interview finds Jonathan Frid coping with stardom

"TV Vampire Projects Charm, Sex Appeal"

July 24,1967
The Independent Star-News


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 [ive times as much mail has come in to "Dark Shadows" since Frid came on the scene ;wo 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 las no intention of letting his vampire go, not with the new life a vampire lias 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, it anything. I've always ways 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.

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