The Lid’s Off Barnabas Collins
By Chris Cushing, Startime, May, 1971
Jonathan Frid, who as super-star vampire Barnabas Collins on ABC’s “Dark Shadows,” may give us some of his victims a sharp pain in the next. Yet to his millions of disciples he’s the answer to their wild bat-tle cry. Off screen and on tour with his wolf’s head cane, black cape, fangs and weird ring, Frid draws bigger crowds that politicians making similar appearances. Teenagers rush up to kiss his ring, while others carry signs promoting him for the White House. He has already been there as a guest of the Nixons.
All over the country, fan clubs sprout up for him by and hundreds of letters a week flood his offices. Despite all of this adulation, Frid eschews things monstrous and macabre. Strange doings for an actor who so realistically delineates a toothsome terror whose malevolent magnetism attracts followers from ghost to ghost.
“I’m not putting the bite on Barnabas,” Jonathan hastens to explain. “I enjoy the role, but I’ve been afraid of starting a cycle which would type me as a horror actor. I don’t want to be put in the same casting registers with Lugosi or Christopher Lee who succeeded him as Dracula. My Barnabas is a being with human emotions, not a monster.”
“Some reporters ask if I began ‘Dark Shadows’ as a copy of Dracula,” Frid shows signs of a smile spreading over his good-matured, ruggedly handsome face. “Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, I’d never seen Lugosi’s characterization until the serial was well under way. I’ll admit I was fascinated by Bela’s performance. It was like a ballet. Yet his vampire was a bloodless,e vil, passionless monster. Death marked his white face and full, red lips.”
Warming up to his subject, Frid pointed out that his writers have given full life to Barnabas.
“He was a human being more like Mr. Hyde with a lust for blood,” he explained. “Lugosi played his character in a monotone, without range, just a cold-blooded neck biter.”
Some psychologist analyze women’s romantic Barnabas fixation with the thought that he is portrayed as a solitary, bedeviled man who seeks the next of young ladies only when his uncontrollable urge for blood drives him to it.
“Barnabas feels remorseful about it later,” Frid explains. “He has a wicked dilemma. He needs blood. Afterward, like an addict he’s ashamed but simply can’t help himself.
“Remember Lugosi’s Dracula wasn’t particular about where the blood came from. Barnabas leans toward women which makes him a romantic character.”
A character actor, not a horror actor, is the way Jonathan sees his portrayal.
“I don’t think of myself as the mad scientist type,” he says, peering over his spectacles.
Though the actor recently scored in the movie version of “Dark Shadows” recreating his television role, he adds, “Please, oh please, don’t suggest me for ‘The Mummy’ of “Phantom of the Opera’ or not another ‘Frankenstein.’”
|Frid in CORIOLANUS.|
“Shakespearean theatre was my bag before television,” Frid explains. “I’ve been the heavy in so many Shakespeare supper festivals that even today I own my allegiance to the House of York.”
Jonathan’s anti-hero of all time is Richard the Third.
“He’s a study in hate,” Frid explains. “And I can exude all villainy required by this monster part in this monster-of-sorts role whose direction and thinking motivates hate.”
The ABC star, who shows great concern about being horror-cast, was heartened to learn that Boris Karloff had also appeared in other than weird movies.
“My only experience in viewing Karloff was the grotesque make-up or lunatic professor parts,” Frid recalled. “I was greatly encouraged that he also appear in such films as ‘House of Rothschild,’ ‘The Unconquered,’ ‘Tap Roots,’ ‘Devil’s Island’ and a variety of westerns, crime melodramas and oriental settings. He was also Capt. Hook in ‘Peter Pan’ on Broadway.
“I also think Lon Chaney’s best performance was not in any monster role, but in ‘Of Mice and Men.’”
Frid’s reading tastes are directed more to current news stories rather than fiction.
“I used to read Poe and the classics when I had more time,” he admits, “but now I stick to newspapers. Maybe I’m too much of a realist, but if you want to show me a ghost make it at noon on Times Square.”
Jonathan takes great pride at being an actor when such luminaries as Sir Laurence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn and Charles Laughton have all shared the same profession.
|Frid and Katharine Hepburn in Much Ado About Nothing.|
Jonathan cites Charles Laughton as the greatest interpreter of George Bernard Shaw.
“Laughton was a giant in such epics as ‘Major Barbara’ and ‘Cesar and Cleopatra,’” he says. “Laughton was unbeatable when he came to grips with Shaw’s climactic dialogue, playing cute in the beginning, then thundering with his lines at the end. Superb! He was also great in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’”
Sir Laurence Olivier is another of Frid’s favorites. A fine actor in memorable roles such as “Richard II,” “Henry V” and “The Entertainer.”
Unlike his cinematic confreres in celluloid scariness, Jonathan’s likeness on trading cards, game boards and comic and paperback books as well as recordings have not be limited to sales in a specific market. Sales reports indicate that it’s more than just the horror fan who is buying the merchandise.
The wide attention Frid gets sometimes awes him. During one personal appearance out of town, people grabbed at him when he was handing out photos. He was embarrassed recently when on the show he inadvertently places his ring on a different finger and received a stack of mail asking why.
“I do wish that the viewers would distinguish between my on-screen and off-screen personalities.”
His private live seems unruffled next to his hectic life with the Collins’ family.
“I go home at night and work two or three hours on the script, and get up at six-thirty or seven and work for an hour over breakfast before going to the studio. At the studio I work on the script all day long when I’m not rehearsing. I’m so busy I barely have time to pick up my laundry.”
In almost four years, Jonathan Frid has established himself as one of the stalwart actors on the dramatic scene today.
And he has earned the reputation as the only actor who put so much new blood into daytime television.
(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.)