On a bitterly cold winter day in February 1987, my friends Diane and Wes and I drove to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, where we enjoyed seeing Jonathan appear in the classic American comedy, "Arsenic and Old Lace". Jonathan played the heavy of course, namely Jonathan Brewster, the homicidal brute who becomes insanely jealous when he learns his two spinster aunts have murdered more people than he has. Jonathan gave us a magnificent performance and afterwards we walked to the stage door and were able to chat with him a bit. His makeup was creepier than anything he ever wore as Barnabas (except maybe the 200 year-old vampire makeup). As we chatted there, each of his co-stars (Jean Stapleton, Marion Ross, Gary Sandy and Larry Storch) walked by and greeted us. Many years later, Larry Storch showed up at a Dark Shadows Festival to enjoy one of Jonathan's one man shows!
|Marion Ross, Jean Stapleton, Jonathan Frid and Larry Storch in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.|
In August 1988, we had our first Dark Shadows Festival in the Vista Hotel, at the foot of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. (In 1993, the Vista's parking garage would be bombed, causing the Festival to relocate into the Times Square Marriott Marquis for several years before returning to the World Trade Center location. The hotel by then had been renamed the World Trade Center Marriott and was, of course, destroyed along with the twin towers on September 11, 2001.) It was at this Festival that something strange happened. Having friends back home who didn't really know much about Dark Shadows, I was asked several times by them if the Festivals ever attracted any real-life Satan worshippers. I would always scoff and laugh off such a question as ridiculous. However, at this particular Festival, I suddenly found the question not so laughable. I was passing the partially opened door of a room close to the elevators on my floor. From within came two voices, a man's and a woman's, that were chanting in unison. I couldn't help but linger there for several seconds or so, attempting to make out the words. They voices seemed to be repeating a name - "Beelzebub! Beelzebub! Beelzebub!!!" I gulped and hurried away towards the elevators, thinking to myself, "It HAD to happen, at last! Here are real Satanists who are Dark Shadows fans!" A short while later, Jim Pierson asked me to take a message up to Lara Parker. He gave me her room number and when I got off of the elevator I heard the same strange chanting that I'd heard earlier. I found Lara's room and was stunned to see it was the room from which the chanting had been emanating! I sheepishly knocked on the door and the chanting stopped. Lara, with curlers in her hair, answered the door. Behind her stood Jonathan and some other people. Both he and Lara were holding scripts. Suddenly, I realized that the so-called Satanists I'd heard were simply Lara and Jonathan rehearsing for the reading that they were going to perform together for the Festival. The reading was entitled "The Bells" and the word that I'd heard repeated continuously as "Beelzebub" was actually "The Bells, the Bells, the Bells"!
As the Dark Shadows Festival grew through the years and the number of actor guests grew also, Jonathan Frid seemed to step forward and take his rightful place as the patriarch of this unique family of actors who, many years before, had portrayed an even more unique family on a weird afternoon TV show. No matter if there were three, six, a dozen or more actors sharing the stage for the Festival Cast Reunion, Jonathan comfortably took over the role as moderator, fielding questions from the audience and helping some of the newer (clueless) guests come up with answers that would satisfy fans who were obsessed with the intricacies of the meandering five-year plot. While never condescending or rude when faced with a ridiculous comment from the audience ("Barnabas, bite me!") he wasn't averse to giving a clever nod-and-a-wink answer either. When asked by a fan why Barnabas could never wind up happily ever after with a girl on the show, after he'd put so much effort into chasing down Maggie or causing Vicki to become obsessed with Josette and the past, the fan simply could not understand why Barnabas never ended up happy with the woman of his dreams. Jonathan's simple answer to the fan: "Well, maybe I put too much of myself into the part."
The day before the start of the Dark Shadows Festival in Los Angeles in 1991, my brother Larry and I were sharing a room with our friend, Helen Samaras. I felt a strong vibration at one point and asked Helen if that might have been an earthquake? "No", Helen replied. "It was a plane passing over our hotel as it was going in for a landing. If it were a real earthquake, those brass handles on the dresser would be shaking back and forth." Early the next morning, I was awakened by what I thought was my brother shivering in his sleep. Then I heard a "tap-tap-tap" and looked over at the brass dresser drawer handles and saw them shaking back and forth! It was an earthquake! It lasted about twenty seconds. A minute later the phone rang. Helen, who had been in the shower, answered it. "Oh, good morning, Jonathan," she said. A pause. "No, really?! I just got out of the shower, I didn't feel it! Really? Really?" After Helen hung up she told me that Jonathan had experienced the earthquake as he was checking out of another hotel in the Hollywood area, and preparing to drive down to the Festival hotel. She said the earthquake had really excited him.
Sometime in 1993 or 1994, Jonathan Frid apparently decided that he would no longer be attending any more Dark Shadows Festivals. Not only that, he decided to move back to his native Canada! I was deeply saddened because I knew that I, and many others, would miss him terribly. However, I realized that he had to do what made him happy and could totally understand the need to get away to a simpler, quieter way of life. Most of us lost contact with him in the following years. In June 1998, it was my privilege as an RN to care for Louis Edmonds after he had several medical procedures. At one point, Louis asked me if I could come up from Maryland and stay in his guest house for three weeks in order to give him time to find a local nurse who could help him recuperate. I was happy and fortunate to be able do to this. Louis put me up in the guest house of his wonderful Long Island home which he called "The Rookery". Jonathan Frid and Louis Edmonds had become great friends during the run of "Dark Shadows" and had remained close friends through the years. Jonathan had stayed at the Rookery many times. In the rest room of the guest house there was a unique framed photo. Jonathan had autographed a black and white photo of Barnabas for Louis and inscribed it "To my dear Louis. Best Wishes, Joan Crawford." On June 10, Louis received a call from Jonathan saying he was coming to New York the following week and would like to get together with Louis. Louis told me, "Yes, he's coming to New York and you'll see him next Wednesday!" I was overjoyed as I had not seen him for over five years! Louis said Jonathan wanted to "talk, talk, talk". I asked Louis if perhaps I should leave when Jonathan arrived so as to not be a hindrance in their conversation. Louis replied, jokingly, regarding Jonathan's manner of conversing, "You won't hear any conversation. You will hear a soliloquy!"
On June 17, I drove Louis into the city to his East 84th Street apartment, "The Red Pussy". That morning, Jonathan called Louis and Louis told him that "Guy Haines is ecstatic that he is going to see you!" Louis told me that Jonathan said he will be just as ecstatic to see me! After we got to the apartment we went down the street and bought some vodka for Jonathan. When we got back Louis realized we'd forgotten to buy cheese so he sent me back to buy some. When I got back, Jonathan was there. He was sitting in a hard chair because his back was bothering him. I gave him an Advil. He looked great, now sporting a mustache and goatee, and was in good spirits! As we enjoyed crackers, cheese and drinks, Jonathan told us he'd driven himself down from Canada "the back way", by way of Cooperstown, New York. There, he'd stayed in a reasonable, older hotel. He said he'd had a delightful time driving down. On Saturday, as he was making his way to Nancy Kersey's, he'd encountered a torrential downpour on Route 9 in Yonkers and had to call Nancy to come get him. Jonathan asked me about Dave Brown and then told Louis that Dave was a nice guy who collected baseball cards. He told Louis that Ramses Mosteller had lost her husband in the last several years and Louis commented that he would try to get in touch with her. I asked about Jack and Eduardo and Jonathan told me that Eduardo had passed away several years earlier of AIDs-related complications. Jonathan saw him the day that he passed. Jonathan then reminisced a bit of his and Eduardo's time in South America and Mexico. Jonathan said he was to be billed only as "Jonathan Frid - Actor" but the person who was in charge of the tour set him up to do things he really didn't want to do. He said the person wound up in jail. He said he actually knew very little Spanish, only a brief quote, and that Eduardo had been his translator for the entire trip. Jonathan also mentioned going to a Blockbuster video store recently and, after looking through their catalog, he was amazed that there were page after page of videos with his name but only a small section dedicated to Bette Davis and Lawrence Oliver. I said it was the power of "Dark Shadows" and it's longevity. Louis and Jonathan spoke a bit about their "Dark Shadows" co-star, Keith Prentice. They said he was a lot of fun but kind of mischievous and ornery. He once made them Alice B. Toklas brownies which Jonathan said was his only foray into the world of drugs! Jonathan said everyone present enjoyed seeing "Jonathan Frid doing marijuana" but Jonathan himself didn't think it was that big of a deal! Jonathan joked that Keith was a "sloppy drunk" and that he'd once kicked Keith out of his apartment for messing up some of his flowers, only to later find that whatever Keith had done to the flowers caused them to flourish profoundly! Jonathan spoke of his time on "Dark Shadows" and how he drank so much coffee that the tech people put him in charge of the coffee machine!
|Jonathan Frid and Louis Edmonds as Barnabas and Joshua Collins.|
That November, I got to see Jonathan in his performance at Hofstra University. (The night before, Helen Samaras was kind enough to invite me to her home where Jonathan performed for a small group of us! It was like the old days!) I was able to be in the auditorium during Jonathan's rehearsals and wanted to familiarize myself with the show as I was to be videotaping it for him. At one point in the show Jonathan was to take off running up the stairs through the audience, then around the back and down the stairs, jumping back up onto the stage. This was a tricky stunt as the lights were going to be very low when he ran through the audience. When he gave it a try, and ran up those stairs in rehearsal, we all held our breath, hoping that he would be able to complete the run safely. Our collective hearts sank, however, when we heard a loud THUMP as he ran up the stairs. He had fallen, hard. I got to him and helped him up. Nancy Kersey was there also and we were going all over him, making sure nothing was broken or worse. He kept insisting that he was fine and it was nothing. And so, his Hofstra shows went on as planned. However, later during autographs, I think his leg was really hurting him. He dutifully signed autographs for a long line of fans who had come from all over the country to see him. Everyone who met him, some for the first time, others having not seen him for five years or so, were delighted that he had decided to come to New York to entertain us. But, even amongst all of the joy and excitement, for me this minor fall was somehow indicative of the end of my relationship with Jonathan Frid, at least as I had known it. And perhaps an early sign of darker things to come.
Looking back, the years between 1998 and 2007 were a mixed bag for the Dark Shadows Festivals. There were highs, like the Dark Shadows at Disneyland Festival in Anaheim in 2002, and lows, as we lost our dear friends Louis Edmonds and Dave Brown in 2001. Yet for me, each busy, fan-centered Festival had, at its heart, a huge gaping hole. A big, crucial part of the celebration was missing. And I think, as much fun as we were all having, this palpable emptiness was felt by everyone in attendance. We missed Jonathan Frid and we missed him terribly. There were those of us who had enjoyed Jonathan's Festival appearances for those first 10 years. And there were many more new Festival attendees who had never had the pleasure of seeing him in person. Yes, it was wonderful to have Kathryn, Lara, Marie, David and so many others sharing with us each year. But, without the man who has always been considered the heart and soul of Dark Shadows, a nagging sadness kept each celebration from being perfect. And oddly enough, I had a strong feeling that Jonathan missed us, his fans, as much as we missed him. In 2003, Jim Pierson asked me to compile a two hour video of some of the best scenes from twenty years of the Dark Shadows Festivals. As I put this video together, I noticed something interesting. I noticed that Jonathan Frid, in every scene I watched, seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. Whether it was on stage with his fellow actors in a Dark Shadows cast reunion, or entering the stage by grabbing a lady and giving her a "Barnabas bite", or performing his fantastic one-man shows, Jonathan was always beaming as brightly as the sun a vampire fears. So, in 2004, I began doing what little I could to bring Jonathan back to the Dark Shadows Festivals. I began to send out positive thoughts, envisioning in my dreams and daydreams Jonathan Frid's triumphant return to the Festivals. I asked Wiccan friends to cast positive spells of reconciliation. Whenever I spoke to Jim or other friends on the Festival staff, I reminded them that Jonathan was not getting any younger. I shared with them my belief that he would be open to returning to the Festivals if asked properly. And even though negative thoughts that this was all some impossible, childish fantasy would sometimes push their way into my head, deep down I was still hopeful that someday Jonathan would return. And then, despite my childlike optimism, I was as surprised as even the newest Dark Shadows fan when Jonathan made a surprise phone call to the 2006 Dark Shadows Festival! Like most of the attendees, I was overwhelmed with happiness to hear the voice of Jonathan Frid at a Dark Shadows Festival after nearly ten years! I remember embracing Nancy Kersey and thanking her for any part she might have had in this joyous surprise.
The following year, my silly fantasy came true. "Ladies and gentlemen," intoned Jim Pierson to a packed house at the 2007 Dark Shadows Festival, "Mr. Jonathan Frid!" And there he came, the man, the legend, my friend, the hero of Dark Shadows! As he approached the stage slowly, using his own silver wolf's head cane to prop himself up on seemingly feeble legs, we all watched our beloved Jonathan move across the stage as he confidently transformed himself from a frail, grumpy old man to a jovial, acrobatic master of many faces, twirling the cane like a drum major's baton! At that moment, Jonathan received the loudest, most enthusiastic, most loving applause that I had ever heard at any previous Festival! And from what I could see and what I felt in my heart, Jonathan felt the love of the crowd and embraced it intensely.
At the next several Festivals, I had little interaction with Jonathan. He'd pass me in the hall (usually, he'd have an escort) and say "Hello". Several of my Festival friends who had known him back in the eighties told me that he didn't seem to recognize them. Sometimes he would remember a person's face and acknowledge that he knew them from somewhere and apologize for not remembering. It was clear that his mental acuity was declining. However, when he was on the stage, when he was performing for the fans, he was at his very best. Despite an obvious hearing problem, he was sharp and clever, fun and funny, just as he had been in years past. In fact, I'm told it was Jonathan's own idea to stage the Burbank Festival skit of Willie releasing Barnabas from the coffin! What a fantastic idea that was! It was as if Jonathan knew exactly what every fan of "Dark Shadows" would love to see but would never expect to happen! What fun Jonathan had with his old pal, John "Willie Loomis" Karlen! And how it thrilled the astonished audience of Dark Shadows fans!
It seemed as if Jonathan was attempting to make up for all of those lost years! He seemed to relish showing the best scenes of Barnabas on the big screen at the Festivals and commenting on them! He enjoyed joining his former co-stars on stage for the Cast Reunions! He was never better as he performed his latest one-man shows! And yet, when he wasn't on the stage, he seemed to step back behind the curtain of his own, more private, world. At one of the banquets, after getting approval from Jim Pierson, I went over to Jonathan's table to say hello. Jonathan had finished his meal and was chatting with some fans. I re-introduced myself and asked him if he remembered our time in Newport. I reminded him of our trip up there with Ann Wilson, of his escapades at Seaview Terrace and the Black Pearl, and of his friends Jack and Eduardo. He looked a bit puzzled and I wondered if he had been able to hear me at all, with the loud buzz of voices circulating in the banquet hall. And then he told me he was terribly sorry but he didn't remember a bit of it. He even seemed not to remember Jack and Eduardo. I smiled and assured him that if I had a life with as many rich memories as he, I would have difficulty recalling each individual moment too. He smiled and I left him.
Despite such an out-of-character outburst, I'm so happy that in the end, the man I believed to be the real Jonathan Frid was able to shine through the dark curtains and bring us a vivid, everlasting joy filled with unforgettable, happy memories. I have to admit (and it may have been a little silly on my part) that through the years I sometimes worried about Jonathan's apparent fixation with all things dark in the realm of the human experience. Most of the time the theme of his one-man shows (even the comical ones) concerned the evil and darker nature of mankind. I worried that Jonathan's ultimate outlook on life was one of gloom and hopelessness and that it somehow revealed him to be a bitter cynic, having more regrets than feelings of fulfillment. But, in the end, I've come to believe that the man was indeed pleased with his life, his career and his relationship to those who loved and admired him. Jonathan was simply fascinated by the less noble aspects of our collective consciousness and wanted to share that fascination by way of telling stories, both horrible and horribly humorous. It wasn't that he was fretting and despairing about the evil side of our dual nature but rather, taking delight in scaring us, his Dark Shadows children, with the boogie man that is inside us all. And while he may not have desired to tell us great love stories, in the end, he pulled aside the curtain and manifested a love and appreciation for us that had sometimes been difficult for us to see. This love was manifest in unusual ways but it was a love for his fans that was undeniable. Why else would a man, who required a cane for walking, climb into a coffin hidden behind an onstage curtain to, as he put it, "thrill the kiddies"? Why would an eighty-seven year old man who had retired to the hometown area where he spent his childhood take the time to put his signature to more than 2,500 little photos of himself dressed as a TV vampire? Why would a man with increasing confusion of mind and pain of body get on a plane and fly to England to appear in a movie that meant little, if anything, to him personally? I believe the reason for these actions is that Jonathan Frid loved and appreciated his fans and that he wanted to demonstrate his appreciation in these unique ways before he took that final bow and stepped off of the stage of life. I'd also like to think that Jonathan has still more stories and surprises for us. He's just waiting for his cue….behind another curtain.
Dedicated to ALL Dark Shadows fans, everywhere, past, present and future. This means YOU!
CLICK HERE TO READ PART ONE.