Friday, October 14, 2016

Clippings: Jonathan Frid "Flips" out, 1969

While he might have had mixed feelings about the show in later years, nobody devoted themselves to DARK SHADOWS  as much as actor Jonathan Frid. For almost four years, his life was devoted to Barnabas Collins, with his days off from the studio often devoted to making promotional appearances for ABC. He only had two legitimate breaks from the series, one to star in a stage adaption of "Dial M for Murder" in Illinois in 1969, the other to shoot HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS the following year. Frid probably spent more time at Collinwood than at home.

If the collection of clippings archived on this website are proof of anything, it's that Frid rarely said "no" to an interview. During the peak of DARK SHADOWS, he was a hot commodity, with publications doing pretty much anything to publish his name and/or photos. Some of those features turned out a little strange, such as this pointless photo spread of the actor shaving. Not to be outdone, FLIP published a bizzaro series of photos in March 1969, of the actor posing in vampire drag with model Judy Nugent (perhaps the actress from the Mickey Mouse Club serials?) and Brian Carrigan, of the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. Interestingly, that band  also included future composers Michael Kamen (LETHAL WEAPON) and Mark Snow (THE X-FILES.)

FLIP published a story the following May about a writer's visit to the DARK SHADOWS set. Below is a transcript of that story, accompanied by the photos published in the March issue. Based on the episode details spilled by Frid in the interview, my guess is the writer's visit took place Jan. 17, 1969, the date episode 675 was taped.

The photos are by Tom Morton.

"My Day on Dark Shadows"

Flip Magazine, May 1969

It's kind of hard getting yourself a day on the set of Dark Shadows, even if you are an intrepid FLIP reporter and have a friend at ABC. First, you've got to pick a day when Jonathan Frid will be Barnabas-ing around ('cause what's Dark Shadows without him?) and that's only once or twice a week. Then it's got to be a day when there are no particular emergencies going on in the FLIP office (the day we go to press being definitely out for field trips).

But, after waiting a month or so, there dawned a day when all the signs were right, and Marty Harrison and I assembled all our various notebooks, cameras, pens and light meters, and taxied over to the huge barn of a building on West 53rd Street in Manhattan where the Dark Shadows episodes are taped.

The guard who met us right inside the door was firm and fatherly, and didn't let us go by until he found our names on a list he kept carefully hidden from himself under sixteen other sheets of paper. Once past the guard, we got into a creaky elevator that almost forgot where it was going between the first and second floors. But finally it let us out grudgingly at the second floor offices, where all the action is before rehearsals start downstairs at noon.

We hung up our coats in the visitors' lounge, where there was a man sitting and talking on the phone. The man turned around to say "hi!" and wow! it was Jonathan Frid! He looked casual and groovy in a green plaid V-necked sweater, herringbone trousers and black boots. He was quite excited, too, over a project he was considering— making a long play record of him reading new ghost stories for children.

Jonathan had to study his lines, So we decided to go down and explore the set before things got too busy there. That same elevator set us down, with a gasp and a sigh, on the ground floor, and the guard gave us a cheery smile as we passed (we were old friends now).

Frid with the story's author, Valerie Berger.
Getting to the set means edging your way down a long, narrow corridor piled to the ceiling with props not in use that day. Barnabas' coffin was shoved in a corner out of the way, and there was an antique shop full of old chests, lamps, chairs and bric-a-brac. The corridor opens up suddenly and you are on the set —almost. Graceful me had to trip over a surgical table first, which called for profuse apologies to the lady dummy with the sewed-on arm that was lying on it. A little detective work revealed that the unhappy mannequin had been a beautiful young girl just the day before, until Chris Jennings kind of chewed on her in one of his werewolf-y moods. But that's the way it goes on Dark Shadows.

There is so little room in the studio that each day they put up only the sets that will be in use. I was hoping to see the graveyard, but it was an off day for haunting, So they had packed it away. We were able, though, to walk through the front door of Collinwood and climb the staircase in the hall. Interesting discovery on top of the stairs: There are no rooms at the end of that little hall, just a tiny platform where an actor can stand off camera until it's time for him to come back down the stairs.

The library at Collinwood was set up for action, and across the studio in a little corner, two adjoining walls and a door made up the sheriff's office.

But there was nothing much going on yet, so we went back upstairs. (This time we took a little winding staircase, to give the elevator a rest.) The first thing that happened upstairs was that I ran bump into Jonathan Frid's dressing room with him inside! He was calmly studying his script and eating what looked like a ham sandwich on a roll. He wasn't a bit surprised or annoyed to see me quivering on his doorstep; he just put down the script and started talking to me between bites about what was going on in the show.

"I'm starting to use my cane more," he began. "It's not just a prop anymore, because its silver head is deadly to werewolves. Of course," he grinned ruefully, "sometimes it doesn't work just right. For instance, yesterday I was supposed to hit a werewolf on the head with it . I really hit him on the shoulder, but it looks real on TV. Anyway, the cane bounced off his shoulder and hit me in the head, and after the show a doctor had to take a stitch in my head!" He sighed and shook his head as he got up and began to move around his tiny white box of a dressing room. "Concussion, that's the word of the day, concussion," he murmured to himself.

I asked him what he thought of his dressing room. It's awfully small, as you can see from the pictures. He didn't mind that, he said, the only thing that bothered him was that he had a makeup table built into the wall which he considered a waste of space, since he never puts on makeup in his dressing room, "and the table just becomes a catchall."

I knew Jonathan wanted to study his lines some more, so I excused myself and went trotting down the hall after an interesting redheaded streak who was hurtling toward her dressing room, calling Hi! to everyone she passed. This just had to be the brilliant, dedicated Dr. Julia Hoffman, alias Grayson Hall. As soon as she saw me, pad and pencil poised, she laughed. "I know," she said cheerfully, "You want to know what it's like to work with Jonathan Frid, right?" I admitted I was going to ask her just that.

"He's a dream," Grayson said promptly, "a man totally without malice. He's never said a nasty thing about anybody and, believe me, he's heard me say plenty! Anyway," she continued, putting on her best Julia Hoffman accent, "I love Barnabas. I left my hospital just to be near him." She opened a bottle of nail polish and started doing her nails. "I've even killed for him." She stopped polishing and thought about this. "No, actually I didn't — I was too chicken. But a year ago in the story, when Dr. Woodard started suspecting Barnabas, I made a long needle, and Barnabas stabbed him."

Suddenly the loudspeaker system started booming that it was rehearsal time, and everyone down on the set, please. "I've got one more nail to do, wait for me," Grayson yelled back at it.

Grayson flew out of her dressing room, her long red robe billowing behind her, and everybody chased after her down the narrow winding staircase. She didn't make it all the way to the set without finding someone to stop and talk to, though. But somebody on the set bellowed, "Grayson!" and Grayson jumped and started running again, calling, "I'm here, I'm here. Hi, Jonathan!"

She and Jonathan took their places on the set. Then Carolyn Stoddard opened the library doors, came in, and said, "They've taken Chris to the police station!" And another episode had begun! This was just a rehearsal for the cameras, though, and none of the actors had their costumes or make-up on yet. It was kind of like watching a tennis game, because they were rehearsing scenes in the library and in the sheriff's office at the same time. So I stood in the middle watching everything except the camera that came up from behind and almost ran me over. But everyone's so nice there that the man didn't even mind that I had dented his nice camera (not really!) The biggest problem at the rehearsal seemed to be that all the actors kept forgetting to close the door after they left a room. (Funny—that's the same problem I have at home.) And the only door that was supposed to stay open kept closing by itself and locking Jonathan in the '"bedroom." But a man with a screwdriver fixed that!

Whenever there was a short break, Jonathan would sit quietly in a chair in the library studying his lines. He's what theatrical people call a "'slow study" and, since he's onstage almost constantly on the days he works, he has a lot of memorizing to do.

When the camera rehearsal was over, everyone trooped up the stairs again. (It seems the only people who use the elevator are visitors who don't know any better!) This time I found myself outside the makeup room and was invited in by Vinnie Loscalzo, who is in charge of the faces that everyone wears onstage. To start things off, I asked him how he developed Barnabas' vampire makeup.

"Jonathan and I worked on it together," he said. "I'd try something, then he'd make a suggestion. We played around with it until we came up with a good vampire-type makeup." Vinnie is constantly devising makeup for new characters. Now that Jonathan is a vampire only during flashbacks in time, he spends a good part of his day doing the difficult werewolf makeup. And once he had to take a beautiful young girl and age her into an old woman, little by little over the course of a week. He's also in charge of special effects for all blood, bandaging, fang marks, and gunshot wounds needed for the show!

It was almost time for the dress rehearsal now, but first we had a surprise for Jonathan. To say "thank you" for being such groovy ghoul in FLIP the past few months, we presented him with the huge photograph of Barnabas that appears on the cover of this issue. He was pleased and surprised and told us he would hang it on the wall of his apartment.

Then, sadly, it was time to go. We clanked down in the elevator for the last time, walked past the guard and went outside in the New York cold.

There were three girls huddled in a doorway outside, waiting to see Jonathan. They were going to have a long wait, but in the end they wouldn't be disappointed — Jonathan always stops outside on his way home to talk to his tans. That's because he and Grayson and Vinnie and everyone else who works on Dark Shadows are as groovy a bunch of people as ever haunted an old Gothic mansion! 

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