Jonathan Frid was subjected to so many interviews during the run of DARK SHADOWS that he was forced to fall back on sharing many of the same anecdotes, which is a pitfall of getting asked the same questions repeatedly. The unidentified writer of this story actually gets some good material from him, and the story features some of Frid's best commentary from those days.
Unfortunately, the story is undated. Not only do I not know neither the date nor the author's name, I don't even know where it first appeared. A reader in the comments section below believes it was published in INGENUE, but I've been unable to verify that. (The photos were taken from outside sources.)
THE MAN BENEATH THE VAMPIRE'S CLOAK
"I'm like a teen-ager about Barnabas Collins. Maybe that's the whole secret. They know that I'm as much infatuated with him as they are."
Jonathan Frid looked startled at what he had just said. The tall, hazel-eyed actor had just finished a day's shooting for Dark Shadows, the ABC daytime television drama series in which he plays. -175-year-old vampire. Relaxed now, in a handsome tweed sport jacket and smart turtle-neck jersey, the Canadian-born Jonathan may have put aside the flowing black cape, massive carved cane, onyx ring and fangs that are synonymous with the gentleman-vampire, but he had not quite erased Barnabas' appealing look of weary melancholy.
When the romantic and brooding non-hero first appeared on the Gothic mystery series less than two years ago, his appeal was instantaneous. Initially, the show's writers had intended the character's appearance to be a brief, two-or-three-week spot. And then the fan mail started. Mountains of it. Today, Barnabas Collins receives some 2000 letters each week. In a visit to Fort Wayne, Indiana, he drew bigger crowds than President Nixon. Penn State University issued a stern warning to students who were cutting classes to watch his television show (which has now been shifted to 4 p.m. E.T., in order to accommodate Barnabas' thousands of teen-aged fans).
"Some parents keep their kids from watching the show," Jonathan said. "Not because Of the violence, but because their children are liking a villain. And yet, Barnabas has been 'cured' Of his morbid habits for many months, now. Although there's always the threat . that he could become a vampire again." Through two plot maneuvers — a massive blood transfusion following an auto accident, and the surrendering of part of his life-force to create a new human being named Adam—Barnabas is now a normal man. But with the horror of his past constantly lingering over him, and with the unspoken threat of that past to his future, Barnabas has become a contemporary equivalent Of the traditional Byronic hero—like Heathcliff, in Emily Bronte's romantic, nineteenth-century novel, Wuthering Heights.
"What's interesting to me about the transformation of Barnabas is that people have not lost their involvement; they're really interested in the character I've created," explained Jonathan. The point is an important distinction for the actor, who says "one of my great philosophies is the difference between personality and character."
For Jonathan, Barnabas is a real character with dignified human characteristics. Remembering an early show in which another actor had adopted a condescending attitude toward Barnabas, Jonathan said, "I can recall thinking: you modern day Americans think you're so natural, but you're not. You're just as phony as those people who lived during the eighteenth century. I am going to play Barnabas as a civilized, sensible human being. I'm also going to play a certain quality, a hidden pride within me.
"One of the troubles with our civilization is that we're all looking around for fun-people. There's too much fun going on, just as there was at the end of the Roman Empire. It's a very dangerous life we're going through now in America.”
Which partly explains the fascination that Barnabas Collins, the serious-minded vampire, has for the actor who creates each" day. "Barnabas hasn't got time to be fun. Yet he has to cope with åll these fun-people, and he resents them."
Although Jonathan obviously admired such strength of character, it was equally obvious that he felt dissatisfied with his own life-style. "I'm rather a paradox this way because my style is rather superficial and grand, and I know this. That's probably one of my guilts — that I'm a fairly superficial person looking for fun-people. I don't make friends with good, solid characters—people you'd trust your life with. My conscience tells me that this is not going to save me in the end. But the older I get the more everything becomes crystallized.
“I’m very much oriented toward these people who write to me—especially the teen-agers. Probably because I was a very emotional kid myself. I had yearnings to know, even though I never had the nerve to write letters. A lot of people joke about the more hopeless pleas I receive; despise them, even. But something else is operating here. Their very inarticulateness—this eagerness to know me or to know Barnabas — touches me. I know exactly how they feel. There's this soft part of me that bleeds for them.”
The actor's easy identification with his young fans was an honest; if rather painful, admission. I was a lonely teen-ager. I'd go to the movies and, in my emotional way, I would see the stars as gods of sorts. I would emote with them, identify with them, and I urged to suffer terribly.
“I guess I was kind of a movie freak then," Jonathan said, remembering "that when a new film was announced as "Coming Friday" on the screen he would raise his hand over his face and cover the "ay" in "Friday" so that the big bold letters read: "Coming Frid." In a sense, his entire youthful life way a preparation in fantasy for the day he actually became an actor. After church services (his family brought him up in a very religious atmosphere), the young Jonathan used to dress up to resemble the preacher and then recreate his sermon to the delight of the Frid family. And, with a boyhood friend, he concocted elaborate fantasy-voyages whenever they rowed out in a small boat. "We were rotten sailors, but we thought we were a couple of Errol Flynns. I used to bicycle around my teacher's house, too. Miss Paisley, her name
was. She had a funny little old house, but it seemed like a palace. Later, I adored Katharine Hepburn so much that I was all up tight when I actually worked with her on the stage."
Had he finally given up "heroes," now that he was himself a hero of sorts for so many other people? "I don't think I've ever quite grown up that way. I think it has to do with the fact that I was the youngest of three boys. Grownups always had more fun. I hated being the youngest because they were all older and out doing things, going places. I was always kept home. And I felt this very strongly when I was young, so I can still identify with the yearnings of young people."
Jonathan believes that Barnabas Collins' struggle after goodness is part of his appeal, and he realizes that he shares this yearning. "I'm not ashamed to Want goodness because I'm not good," he said, vehemently. "I'm really selfish to people and I know it. I'm a Good-Time-Charlie myself. And I do so little for people, really. But I know it, and have strong guilt. I'm not perfect; I have problems in my life and sure, I bear on them. I use my anger, my frustrations—anything that I'm unhappy about or feel guilty about— when I play Barnabas. I’ve always played a man of conscience. I was never a villain—I mean, Barnabas was never really evil. He's very much like Macbeth. I've borrowed from Richard III, too. Richard holds back his conscience, he isn't even aware he has one until the very end when it confronts him like a geyser and he's left there with emptiness. He is nothing in a vacuum."
Of all the intricacies in Barnabas' character—from his compassion for others to his agonized feelings of guilt —Jonathan believes that it is Barnabas' determined strength that makes him most attractive to his fans—and to Jonathan, too. It is also the facet of Barnabas from which Jonathan feels most detached. And envious.
"Barnabas has decision and authority. He's always making declarations: 'This must be done! I must this! I must that!" I think the word 'must' is probably half the reason for his success. Well, Jonathan Frid never says 'must.' I'm some kind of eccchh. I'm sort of this way and that way and all over the place. I'm always running off at the end of a sentence into a dot-dot-dot. People don't dislike my indecision — they're just indifferent.
"Women, especially, like strong men who make pronouncements. I suppose it's what they call a 'father image.' I've never been a lady killer. I've been stood up I don't know how many times. Actually, I have no social life at all. I go home at night and work two or three hours on the script, get up at 6:30 and work for an hour over breakfast before going to the studio. Girls may have fun with me for ten minutes or so, but something deep within them loses interest. I guess they really want someone who waves a cane and says, 'I must!'"
(NOTE: Many of the images used for TGIF: Thank God It's Frid-Day, 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.)