Jonathan Frid's status as a teen idol has always been one of America's cultural phenomena. A few years back I read someone compare it to putting Alan Rickman on the cover of Tiger Beat ("Win a dream date with Severus Snape!"), which is as appropriate a description as any. It's a little unsettling to see Frid's face sitting next to Barry Williams, The Cowsills, Jack Wild and Davy Jones.
I had the chance to revisit this cultural dissonance last night after a car package from a generous reader arrived on my door step. Inside was a stack of magazine clippings published during the heyday of DARK SHADOWS. I'll be sharing these with you over the next few months, and decided to lead with the account of a 1968 contest held by After Noon TV. The contest, itself, is pretty typical, but it's coverage of the winner is what makes this piece so interesting to me. These kinds of promotional stunts usually result in a single photo of the winner and their "date" published months after the fact ... if the winner is acknowledged at all. After Noon TV took things quite a bit further and published something akin to an oral history of the event, speaking with just about everybody involved ... including innocent bystanders. It's a pretty neat little artifact.
You can read a transcript of the contest, the winning entry and an account of the "date" below.
|From left, Jonathan Frid, contest winner Irene Bran and daughter Arlene, 17.|
THE WINNING ENTRYGentlemen :
I think I should win the contest because of the difficulties and hardships I have had to endure since my 17 year old daughter found out about Barnabas's vampire role in Dark Shadows.
Three days out of a week she gets home from school in time to watch the program. What happens the other two days? I have to drop everything I'm doing and sit through a half-hour of this unbelievable series, just so I can enlighten her as to what had transpired in her absence. When it comes to the point where I have to stop my shopping short and grab a cab to get home by 4:00 P.M. so as not to disappoint by daughter, I feel I deserve to be rewarded in some way.
I've given a lot of time and attention to this series, and the first thing I would say to Barnabas if I were chosen the winner would be:
"WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME, BLOOD?"
Irene Bran—Age 40
THE PUBLISHER: I'm not saying I thought it was a bad idea. In fact, I thought it was a pretty good idea. I just wasn't so sure it was going to work. I was well aware that Jonathan Frid is the hottest personality in daytime television, but I just wasn't sure he'd go for the idea of having a blind date with a contest winner. I wasn't sure whether this thing could really get off the ground.
A SECRETARY: I heard about the Win a Date With Barnabas contest, right away I wanted to win. Then the Editor said that no employees could enter. I said that I'd tell my friend to enter, but the Editor said that this contest, like all After Noon TV contests, was strictly legitimate. The person who best answers the question why they should be chosen the winner and what the first thing they will say to Barnabas if they should win would get to be chauffeur-driven to the Promenade Cafe (CHS note: this appears to be the Promenade Cafe located at Rockefeller Center?) and have dinner with Jonathan Frid. "Oh, Nuts," I thought. I really wanted to be the winner. Then the mail started coming in. I was swamped—I had to open all of it. There were thousands and thousands of entries. Everyday I'd ask, "Did you pick a winner yet?" And the Editor would always say, "No, I'm waiting for one really great answer. "
MRS. BRAN WHEN SHE WAS TOLD THAT SHE HAD WON THE CONTEST: You're kidding. Someone must be playing a joke. I've never won anything before. I thought this contest was just a gimmick to see how much fan mail Jonathan Frid gets. When my daughters entered I decided to enter too and tell how it really was. When they kept saying they hadn't heard yet I said, "Don't worry, you won't. "
JONATHAN FRID: I'm always nervous about a blind date. I only think of myself as an ordinary human being. I had hoped it would be more than just a stunt.
THE PUBLISHER: The winner and her seventeen-year-old daughter were to meet at the After Noon TV office. I still wasn't quite sure what to expect. I read the winning letter, and it was great. I have to admit that. At about a quarter to seven Mrs. Bran, a Brooklyn housewife, and her daughter, Arlene, arrived at the office. These two ladies had spent the afternoon in the beauty parlor. I was getting myself, about this whole thing. I was upset only that it was a very windy night, but was delighted that it had stopped raining. We went downstairs and there, on Madison Avenue, was an English chauffeur standing in front of a magnificent red Excalibur automobile. Since everyone was a little ahead of schedule I decided to take the whole crowd out for a drink — including the chauffeur. Mrs. Bran is charming. She lives in Brooklyn but has only been as far in New York as Wall Street. Her husband owns a restaurant in Long Island. Arlene Bran is a senior in a parochial school in Brooklyn and will frain to be a legal secretary after she graduates. Mrs. Bran drank a Scotch sour. Arlene had a coke. I had the feeling, at this point, that the evening would work out very well.
THE CHAUFFEUR: It was to see, in this hard New York City, two people overjoyed with excitement about doing something a little out of the ordinary. It was also nice to see that the actor had the same feeling of apprehension and excitement.
JONATHAN FRID: As soon as I saw Mrs. Bran and her daughter waiting on the sidewalk I liked them. The car was marvelous. I knew right away they'd be fun. It was the first time I'd ever done anything like this.
RON MOTTRAN, THE PHOTOGRAPHER: I wasn't sure what time the car was coming, and I was standing near Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue freezing. Then the red, chauffeur-driven car pulled up, and a crowd gathered. I began taking pictures — it was fun.
GEORGE MEDINAS, PUBLICITY MANAGER, RESTAURANT ASSOCIATES: It sounded like a great idea, and I was very happy to have this group dine at the Promenade Cafe restaurant.
A PATRON IN THE PROMENADE CAFE: Mostly, I wanted to know what was going on. Here was a very cheerful group, and a photographer was taking pictures of them. I figured they must be famous; they were given great seats—right next to the window so they could see everyone ice skating. When I looked very closely I noticed that the guy in the middle looked familiar. I said to my wife, "Doesn't he look familiar?" and she said, "Sure, it's Barnabas from Dark Shadows." Once the photographer left everyone ordered a drink and really started having a great time. Not to be rude or anything, I tried to listen to what was being said. They were doing a lot of laughing, I can tell you ghat much. "Roast beef isn't a bad idea."
They really must have been enjoying themselves. They were talking about Dark Shadows, about the writers and producers, about fan mail. Every now and then they'd watch someone on the ice rink and burst out laughing. Then the Captain suggested that they get ice skates, but one of the women said she didn't want to tear her stockings. My wife wanted to ask for his autograph but I wouldn't let her. "He's so polite," my wife kept saying, "why can't you be like that?" They were joking around about his fangs. Then the younger woman said that she used to be called "fang. " Then everyone ordered roast beef. They also got a nice bottle of wine.
MRS. BRAN: It's something that you don't think will really happen to you. We were so thrilled, especially when the photographer took the pictures. The food was marvelous and Jonathan is much nicer than he is on television; he's so charming, and he made us feel so at ease. It's something that happens once in a lifetime.
JONATHAN FRID: Both the mother and daughter were very bright and I felt relaxed immediately.
A PATRON IN THE PROMENADE CAFE: When they were finished eating the waiter the big surprise came came out with a birthday cake for Barnabas, and everyone sang Happy Birthday. " I've never seen a celebrity look so surprised in my life. He started laughing, saying, "That's the only birthday cake I got this year." Someone said, "It has rum in it." Then he made a wish and blew out the candle and made one cut in the cake. My wife looked jealous. Then three more people joined them at the table. I asked one of the waiters what was happening. He knew the story. It seems that Mrs. Bran's other two daughters and the boy friend of one of them had come to the restaurant because she didn't want to travel on the subway at night. It was about twelve o'clock, and the restaurant was just about empty.
MRS. BRAN: It was a memorable evening, something we'll never forget
JONATHAN: It got late so quickly; I was all ready to go ice skating. Mrs. Bran certainly has three gorgeous daughters.
ARLENE: I really can't wait to go to school tomorrow and tell everyone about it.
MRS. BRAN: Can we do it again next week?