Monday, August 24, 2015

Interview with the (Romantic) Vampire, 1970

(Here's that interview with Jonathan Frid that I mentioned last week. The story was published by a newspaper in Hartford, Conn., not far from some of the locations used in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. Included are a handful of photos that accompanied the story, plus a few images from HoDS to help break up the text. It's an interesting interview  not just because of Frid's frankness about his growing impatience with celebrity, but also because it of some rare commentary from his assistant, Nancy Brown.)

Romantic Vampire 
By Ruthanne Devlin, The Hartford Times
Aug. 9, 1970

Nine million jealous women would like to see Nancy Brown contract an incurable tropical disease, or be bitten by a death adder, or in some way simply disappear from the face of the earth.

Hard to believe?

Not when you know that Mrs. Brown, formerly of West Hartford, is personal secretary to Jonathan Frid, ABC television's famous romantic vampire and a bachelor whose fan mail and mash notes from teen-boppers and housewives once surpassed Steve McQueen's, and is still going strong.

In the two years since we last talked, Jonathan's acquired a measure of artistic stability, a new apartment on New York's East Side, and a new secretary, Nancy — who takes casually the whole madness of, her boss's fantastic popularity and his fans' envy of her.

Later, Jon would join us. For the moment, Nancy agreed to talk about him.

During the six months of her employ, she's had few reminders that Jonathan, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, endures the "curse of the undead" as Barnabas Collins on the daytime soaper "Dark Shadows" (telecast in Hartford at 4 p.m. Chs. 6, 7, 8 and 40).

"It’s odd, really. He's so normal! It's like he goes off to IBM every day," Nancy said. "He rarely talks shop and never acts like a vampire around here."

Occasionally, however, strange things happen.

Jonathan and secretary Nancy Brown go over fan mail.
"We were looking around in a store when this bunch of teen-age girls began pounding on the window and crying 'Barnabas, Barnabas!' They were so rowdy because of him, I forget when I'm with him how popular he is, because he isn't the egotistical, theatrical type."

Although born in Manchester, Nancy grew up in West Hartford where she lived until her exodus to New York City in 1962.

"I never had reason to go back to Manchester," she began, because my family had moved to Hartford and "Windsor, Now I've got a sister in West Hartford, a brother in Wethersfield, and my mother Mrs. Richard Kirschen and another sister living in Windsor.”

Neither "Dark Shadows" nor the name "Jonathan Frid" meant anything to her when a friend mentioned an actor-friend was looking for a secretary. Conveniently, Nancy was looking for a job. They went for a hamburger and she was introduced to Jonathan.

“In the beginning I actually gave the job away to a girl friend because the hours weren't right," Nancy recalled. "After a while, she took a cruise and I got the job back. Jon and I agreed on a one-month trial, things clicked, and I stayed. "

Operating out of his apartment, Nancy reads and clips articles about Jon, helps organize his phenomenal fan mail ("I pick it up in huge shopping bags"), plans and is hostess for his dinner parties, arranges interviews and prepares an occasional meal.

"I’m around simply to coordinate everybody else," she mused. "Jon's already got a lawyer, an accountant, a maid and an agent. But being at the studio all day, he doesn't have time for the other things. And," she added, “a man who isn't, married can get bogged down with all the trivia like grocery shopping."

Nancy considers Jon relatively unaffected and "terribly thoughtful." Ironically. She also sees these traits as his one great fault: He's too easygoing for his own good.

“I always had the idea from past experience that people get less nice as they get more famous, but not Jon, His acting to him is just a job.

“Maybe it's because he's been through a lot, but he often thinks about himself and what kind of person he is, Because of this, I don't think he demands enough of others, especially in this world where you get only what you really go after. Jon doesn't like to say 'no' or demand things, and someday that might hurt him professionally."

Jonathan Frid is mobbed by fans at Norwalk during the shooting of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

Maybe someday, but right now Jonathan couldn't be busier. He has one of the largest personal followings in television He shares top billing with veteran actress Joan Bennett on "Shadows." After a I0- to 12-hour day at the studio, he returns to his apartment for a quick meal and several hours' study on the next-day's script. Weekends are given to more script study or appearances as Barnabas at special events, like Tricia Nixon's Halloween party.

Recently he completed his first movie, a full-length film based on and titled after "Dark Shadows,” two weeks of which were shot on location at the Lockwood-Mathews mansion in Norwalk.

Visitors expecting the actor's apartment to be furnished like a "Dark Shadows" set are surprised when there isn't a Gothic chair, guttered candle, or cobwebby corner in sight.

"I'm not sure the Spanish over there is Jonathan, but everything here is much softer than I expected," Nancy admitted. "He's a big- man (over 6 feet tall) and I had imagined big, hunky furniture, very old. Of course, I was going more by his looks than his nature. Now I know he's really very gentle and has a soft nature and all of these soft things make sense.”

Jonathan emerged from his bedroom as Nancy described the incredible variety of presents bubble gum, food fans send crushers decked out in flashing lights and plastic flowers, full size oil paintings, “I'm not wild about all the portraits," he began, in a voice 10 years enriched by Shakespearean theater, "but there is a grotesque one I like. It's very pink (the colors are not to be believed) but it has a tortured look and I like to think I'm tortured.”

Unafraid of Barnabas/Jonathan, this little girl engages in animated conversation with the actor.

Jonathan's convincing performances as Barnabas Collins, a romantic gentleman cursed and tainted by vampirism, have brought headaches as well as satisfaction. He is most disturbed when people act as though they believe he's a real blood sucker!

"You expect that sort of thing from youngsters, but when adults I think, 'My God, they vote!’”

Softening, he agreed there was merit in fantasy.

"I suppose we go through life as children. But it's a kind of sloppiness of the mind when imagination wins out over reason. When an actor I see on stage does an especially fine job, I get very uptight when someone I'm with wants to go backstage. I’m so in awe, I don't want to meet him."

The actor wished some of that reluctance had rubbed off on his fans in Norwalk who crowded sets and threatened to disrupt the entire shooting schedule of the movie.

"I was never more unattractive to the public than at Norwalk," he said apologetically. "The film was having problems. I was in a vile mood and there were those kids (someone said 4,000) everywhere. Heaven knows how they found out we were there.

"It was impossible to keep them out of the house, too many doors,” he continued. “I didn’t dare encourage them by chatting and being nice, so I didn’t.”

The film won’t be released until early September, but several Norwalk teens know the ending. In fact, they witnessed the death of Barnabas Collins.

“We thought we had cleared the kids out, but several sneaked in again,” he related. “During the final scene, my 'death scene,' was alone on the floor waiting to begin when I saw a bunch kids hiding in a room just off the set, watching me.

"I figured, so long as they’re quiet, let them stay," He chuckled. "They might have caught my look, because they didn't make a sound. And, there was enough of the actor's ego left in me to  appreciate an audience, so I played the whole scene knowing 20 kids were watching. Afterwards, there were a few gasps and they scurried away like mice."

In the beginning Jonathan researched his role, but now he just plays his moments and leaves the intricacies up to the writers. Since that day three years when Barnabas Collins, clad in his caped coat and carrying this silver wolf’s head cane, glided onto the set, the actor has shaped his character until now the lines of are fuzzy.

“We’ve gotten closer over the years, and to a certain degree — I don't know where — I play myself. Or," he reflected abruptly, "maybe I'm getting more like him.”

Jonathan has serious feelings about vampires. First, he's certain they're around, although his definition is a little different from Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

"A vampire to me is someone who can't sustain a give-and-take relationship. These are one-way people, only taking.

"In that way, Bela Lugosi was a better vampire than I could hope to be. He was so cold-blooded and passionless; he would command and someone would obey. I do that sometimes when I'm being very evil, or putting the zap on somebody, but mostly I'm engaged in a passionate give-and-take. I'm always in love, which in a sense makes me a bastard vampire.

"If I played it properly," he reflected, "I'd be the most hideous thing on earth- Instead, I come off as a human being with a terrible affliction. It's the agony of knowing what I am that comes across. My awareness of myself is equal to the horror experienced by the audience."

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