Friday, December 13, 2013

1971 interview goes in search of the "real" Jonathan Frid

"His Best Friend Reveals the Real Jonathan Frid"
TV Dawn to Dusk, Jan., 1971

By Arnold Latham

Loneliness is a word fraught with hints of melancholy and despair. It means a sense of hopelessness or futility that guides the thoughts, word and deeds of those suffering from it.

Years ago, when he was a youngster, Jonathan Frid experienced much that is common with the melancholy person. During a recent interview, he spoke openly about this.

"My father and I were not particularly close," Jonathan told us. " I had respect for his thinking but we weren't what you'd call buddy-buddy at all. He was very approachable but not terribly interested or involved."

Jonathan admits to never liking his childhood. "I was a loner," he confirmed. "I was the youngest of three boys. I was always kind of jealous about what they could do. This frustrated me to a considerable degree when I was a child. I was feeling sorry for myself much of the time, and never really contented with my life as it existed then."

But what sort of man is Jonathan today? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Is he a good person to have as a friend?

To find out as much of this as we could, we interviewed a close friend of his named Jimmy Butler. Jimmy first met Jonathan some three of four years ago, and they hit it off immediately though Jonathan isn't a particularly easy person with whom to establish a friendship.

"He genuinely likes people," Jimmy says. "And he is definitely a good drinking companion."

But that could be called "the occasional Jonathan," the side of him that is not commonly called into evidence. It comes out only if he is truly relaxed and enjoys completely the people he happens to be with. Such moments, unfortunately, are rare.

He usually finishes at the studio," adds Jimmy, "then zips right on to his apartment where he cooks his own dinner, studies the next day's lines and then perhaps reads some philosophy and, finally, goes to sleep."

A great many people would call this sort of existence dull or might even go so far as to label it "stagnating." Not Jonathan. It's what he prefers. You can see how serious he is about it by the expression on his face and the way he talks. "I'm sociable enough," he says, "but on the other hand, I don't mind being alone. I'm not a gadabout town. It's very difficult to get me pinned down for any social engagements and if I make a commitment, I usually end of regretting having done so."

Ironically, though, he gets along well with just about every member of the Dark Shadows cast and crew.

"It's really absolutely marvelous!" Jimmy tells us, obviously enthusiastic. "The rapport that exists between everyone! It makes for a very healthy, cooperative atmosphere, and one that greatly benefits the show."

Can Joan Bennett be counted among his group? Reports have circulated that she acts very much the part of reigning movie queen, and makes the cast and crew subservient to her whims.

"No true," Jimmy says, frowning a bit at another example of journalistic inaccuracy. "Joan is a very friendly, helpful person. No one has been more aware of this than Jonathan. He was concerned about working with her at first. He fully realizes, of course, the extent of her background and he wondered whether or not there would be serious conflict between the two of them. After all, Jonathan has an extensive background, himself, including Shakespearean roles, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Broadway and other areas. He was, as it turned out, very pleasantly surprised by her attitude."

"I've had it all, Jonathan," she once told him. "Now, it's your turn."

The incident that prompted this remark was Jonathan's realization that he was getting far more exposure and fan mail than she was. In years past, the reverse would have been true.

"So he asked her frankly one day, if she were annoyed by this turn of events," comments Jimmy. "That's when she looked at him and replied as she did. Jonathan was very much relieved."

It seems that people have different preconceived ideas about Jonathan, himself, just as he'd had about Joan Bennett. He is considered by his fans to be very romantic and sexy, or very villainous and disagreeable, or maybe a combination of these impressions. He is none of them, according to Jimmy Butler.

"I felt absolute surprise myself when I met Jonathan for the first time," he admits. "He was quiet, scholarly, the type of man I could have expected to wear a sweater with patches on the arms or sitting in his study at a midwestern university. The perfect professorial-sort of guy. But, you see, I had expected the opposite - a terribly flamboyant character!"

Jonathan has a temper but he managers to keep it under control and only once, as Jimmy can remember, did he let it loose.

"The only incident I can think of occurred when he moved into his new apartment," his friend tells us. "The telephone company kept giving out his unlisted number and he was getting phone calls at 2 a.m. Kids in California were calling him at 11 p.m., not realizing that there was a three-hour time difference. He keeps changing his number every so often, which makes life a bit more hectic than it really should be. All this made Jonathan enraged when it first started happening. He battled the phone company constantly. The situation has improved, but it still happens now-and-then, to his despair!"

Obviously, Jonathan's moodiness is not a shortcoming in some respects. He is not a good mixer as a result. "I loathe parties," he admitted. "I loathe, especially, the idea of putting on a face and smiling and being jovial even though, it might so happen, that you don't feel like it at the time. I try to avoid such social obligations as often as I possibly can. But when it does prove inescapable, I spend hours of misery. But, somehow, I manage to appear to be a good guest."

But, according to Jimmy Butler, moodiness and its associated hangups are not what bother Jonathan the most. His biggest problem is something altogether different, and totally surprising in view of his extreme dramatic training.

"He's a terribly slow study," reveals Jimmy. "As strange as it may sound, it's quite true that he has a tremendous problem getting his lines down. If somebody visits the Dark Shadows set, he is never rude to that person but, usually, he has his mind on the script. He might seem to be abrupt but he really doesn't intend, ever to create that impression.

"This problem of memorizing his dialogue has always  been a hangup, even during the days when he was doing Shakespeare. The fact that he was so successful is doubly a tribute to his ability in view of the slowness he labors under. As for filming an episode of Dark Shadows every day, five days a week, well, it's been agony, absolute agony for him. And to realize that there'll be a whole new script each week, 52 weeks a year, the pressure is unbelievable on him. It's only natural then, even if he were not normally a loner, that he might drift in that direction if only to conserve his time and have more of it for studying and memorizing."

According to Jimmy, one other far less serious but nearly as odd hangup Jonathan has is the fact that "Jonathan will tell you his age - which is 47 years - but not his birthdate itself. He doesn't like to receive presents, or have parties thrown for the occasion."

"I've never been able to figure out why this is so," Jimmy adds, "but it is very pronounced."

Lest we give the impression that Jonathan is a very cold, emotionless individual (which is definately not the case, by the way), it should be mentioned that he leaves New York for only three reasons: a once-in-a-great-while vacation, such as one he took to Mexico a few months ago, personal appearance tours, visits to children's and veteran' hospitals.

The latter take up much of Jonathan's time.

"From what I gather," Jimmy says, "he has an enormous respect for these people. The fact that they have survived as well as they have is really inspiring to him. He figures if, by spending an hour or so with them, he can make life a little happier, it has been well worth any possible trouble. Furthermore, Jonathan is basically such a nice guy that he finds it hard to say no."

Not everyone can point to Jonathan and say, "He's a good friend. I enjoy his company." But those who can know one very important thing - as a friend, Jonathan is unswervingly loyal. He is incapable of betraying people he likes and respects - or anyone, for that matter.

"Those blessed with the melancholy temperament do not have to strive to be faithful," wrote one journalist. "With them it is natural. A melancholy temperament person usually does not attract a large number of friends ... but he will keep tjose he attracts and would literally 'lay down his life for his friend'."

Loneliness has been changed into aloneness and his moods controlled Jonathan knows what is so very crucial in the life of every human being - that there are other people who care whether he lives or dies.

(NOTE: These clippings are courtesy of Elena Nacanther, who is part of an effort to get Jonathan Frid nominated to Canada's Walk of Fame, a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that recognizes Canadians who have excelled in music, sports, film, television, and other artistic endeavors. You can find the NOMINATE JONATHAN FRID TO CANADA'S WALK OF FAME Facebook page by clicking here. Please pay them a visit. You can see more selections from Elena's scrapbook each Friday here at the Collinsport Historical Society.)

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