Sunday, February 28, 2016

Humbert Allen Astredo (1929-2016)


Humbert Allen Astredo appeared in CYRANO on stage, and that play's forceful, biting, and eloquent world seems made for him. Mr. Astredo died on Feb. 19, and his panache is his legacy. When he first appeared on DARK SHADOWS as Nicholas Blair, viewers were treated to a wholly unique figure. He reveled in his mirthfully menacing sense of style and nimble command of the language. Soap operas are the domain of characters who are intentionally slow-witted. It's the only way to stretch out the stories. With the introduction of figures like Nicholas Blair (and Professor Stokes around the same time), DARK SHADOWS would defy this cliche. Nicholas was almost always one step ahead, and the piercing sense of awareness mustered by Mr. Astredo gave that total authenticity. His singular contribution to the show was his ability to believably fuse HP Lovecraft with Noel Coward. Critics of the show inevitably missed the kind of elan that he brought to it, but without that sense of wit, DARK SHADOWS is incomplete. In his time, Humbert Allen Astredo was a soldier, comedian, and actor. It took all three to make Nicholas Blair.

Astredo and Elizabeth Taylor in THE LITTLE FOXES, 1981.
Jim Pierson remembers, “After Frid during the portions of the show when Barnabas was behaving badly, I think Humbert had the most commanding presence of the male villains on DS. Of course he was always dapper, and he added a unique style of wicked humor to Nicholas Blair that was so different from anything else on the show.”

As Nicholas Blair in DARK SHADOWS.
In 2014, with more than a little help from the endlessly gracious Lara Parker, the notoriously reclusive Mr. Astredo granted us an interview. It was the DARK SHADOWS equivalent to an audience with J.D. Salinger. He was brighter, sharper, and more intense than I expected. The email correspondence leading up to our talk was extensive. I suspected that DARK SHADOWS was only marginally interesting to him, and so I focused on the craft of acting. The dialogue became as much an interview with me as anything, and it was clear that his time and attention were precious things not to be meted out carelessly.

Was it intimidating? Absolutely, and I would have been a bit disappointed if it hadn't been. This was, after all, Nicholas Blair. Acting was very much behind him. His reasons were private, and I sensed well enough not to question his decision. He was firm in it, but there was plentiful evidence that his love of performance and language was nevertheless alive. He ripped into Shakespeare several times when we spoke, and it was a joy to witness. He claimed that his beloved Kindle often grew unreadable from the spray he projected as he would read aloud. Even if he were his only audience, it was clear that Humbert Allen Astredo never stopped performing.

(Note: Listen to McCray's 2014 interview with Humbert Allen Astredo below.)

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