Thursday, December 14, 2017

Jonathan Frid in DIAL M FOR MURDER, 1969

On Sept. 19, 1969, Barnabas Collins ran into some serious difficulties on DARK SHADOWS.

During his jaunt to 1897, the vampire wound up with a stake in his heart courtesy of Charity Trask. The explanation for how he got there — and how he survived — is complicated, which goes without saying with DARK SHADOWS. But it was also a huge shock to viewers at the time because it marked the first significant departure from the show for actor Jonathan Frid.

Frid had booked the leading role in an adaption of DIAL M FOR MURDER at the Little Theater on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois, necessitating the vampire’s temporary demise. The death scene was shot on Sept. 11 that year, with Frid returning to the set for taping on Oct 7. He wouldn’t again be absent for an extended period of time from DARK SHADOWS until the production of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS called him away.

In between, his presence in Sullivan brought the local theater the kind of attention it might not have been expecting. During his national publicity tours, he didn’t draw crowds so much as mobs, frequently needing law enforcement to protect him from fans. The headlines for his appearance in DIAL M FOR MURDER suggest he drew the same kind of attention from young people who probably had no interest in the Eileen Fulton production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF that preceded it. “Vampire captivates youngsters” and “Teens Frid-der away evening” pretty much capture the Beatlemania vibe that traveled with the actor from New York City.

“As the thriller progressed … it was evident that Frid could do no wrong, as least as far as a large portion of the audience was concerned,” wrote a critic for The Decatur Daily Review. “However, those who attend ensuing performances might be wise to remain in their seats a few minutes after the performance to avoid being trampled in the crush of young people on their way to get Frid’s autograph.”

The rest of the cast got short shrift in the play’s coverage. When 16 Spec Magazine published photos from the production the following April, Frid was the only actor identified in the captions. For the record, Frid played “Tony Wendice” alongside Jerili Little as “Margot Wendice,” Dick Gjonola as “Max Halliday,” John Kelso as “Captain Lesgate,” Art Kassul as “Inspector Hubbard” and Guy Little as “Thompson.”

The play ran from Sept. 23 until Oct. 5. Two days later Frid was back in costume in New York City as Barnabas Collins.

Below are photos and assorted ephemera from the 1969 production of DIAL M FOR MURDER.

Signing autographs for young fans in Sullivan, Illinois.

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