Friday, September 8, 2017

Prime sinuendo: Dark Shadows in Confidential Magazine, 1968

"Patchett's what I call 'twilight': he ain't queer and he ain't red. He can't help me in my quest for prime sinuendo."

That bit of dialogue from 1997's L.A. CONFIDENTIAL summarizes the stunted mission statement of the scandal rag industry. "If it bleeds, it leads" just wasn't good enough for these publishers, who were happy to chum the waters themselves on slow news days. The film's title (taken from James Ellroy's source novel of the same name) was a nod to the notorious Confidential Magazine, though a fictionalized version of Hush-Hush was the publication used in both the novel and book.

Founded in 1952 by publisher Robert Harrison, Confidential was launched with the tagline "The Lid is Off!" and quickly became a painful fact of life for anyone in California with a public image to protect. With such headlines as "The REAL Reason for Marilyn Monroe's Divorce," "Gary Cooper's Lost Weekend With Anita Ekberg" and "Jack Warner Bought Me a Summer of Sex," Confidential demolished the old maxim that there is no such thing as bad news.

To their credit, Confidential appears to have picked up on the popularity of DARK SHADOWS faster than most. Time Magazine didn't formally acknowledge the phenomenon until  Aug. 30, 1968, more than a year after Jonathan Frid (and vampire Barnabas Collins) joined the cast. Famous Monsters of Filmland, who you'd think would have their pulse on this kind of thing, didn't jump on the bandwagon until Halloween that same year. Yet, here we have Confidential putting a photo of Frid in costume on its cover in January. (Given the flexible nature of magazine publication dates, it's possible this issue actually hit the racks in late 1967.)

Even more surprisingly, Confidential is one of the few magazines to mention the Phoenix storyline, a waypoint in the series that's almost always overlooked by writers.

I doubt either Frid or producer Dan Curtis were celebrating, though. The staff writers for Confidential went by handles better suited for the porno industry, and I can't imagine ABC inviting "journalists" Dan Feerce, Hamish MacKnackle and Frank Foxle to tour the DARK SHADOWS sets. But that lack of access didn't stop Confidential. They simply cribbed a number of quotes from a 1967 story about Frid and passed it off as their own. While the final product is pretty sleazy, Frid gets off easy ... there's the ubiquitous mention of his status as a "bachelor," but the writer spews most of his venom in a misogynist rant against the tyranny of the American housewife.

Below is a transcript of Confidential's exposé on the sordid appeal of DARK SHADOWS. It's not a great story ... hell, it's barely a story, at all. But if you've ever seen the cover online and wondered about the magazine's contents, allow me to satisfy your curiosity.

Also: Make sure to get a gander at the author's name. It's probably the best thing about the piece.

Jonathan Frid: Why 5 Million Women
Love that TV Bloodsucker

Confidential, Jan. 1968 

The hour is midnight. A full moon shines on a dark, brooding mansion atop Widow's Hill on the Storm-battered coast of Maine.

A tall, thin, black-clad figure hurries silently over the lawn. In the moonlight, his faces shines white as candle-wax/ It is a lean, hungry face, intelligent and incredibly evil.

Crossing the terrace, he enters the mansion through an unlocked door and quickly climbs the stairs to a second-floor bedroom where a lovely teenage girls lies asleep.

He slips into the room without a sound and stands beside the ornate, canopied bed. His fingers dart out and flick the blanket away from the girl's bare shoulders.
His eyes blow like coals in the dark as he stares at the firm young breasts rising and falling beneath her gauze-thin nightgown. her long blonde hair spreads over the pillow like a gold silk fan.

He leans forward until his face is close to hers. he seems about to kiss her. Then his lips part, revealing sharp. gleaming fangs.

But before he can sink his teeth in her throat, the girl moans softly in her sleep and turns away from the unseen intruder.
Well, maybe "unseen" isn't the best word to describe this blood-thirsty prowler. The sleeping beauty supposedly didn't see him. But millions of other females did.

They are the frightened-but-faithful fans of "Dark Shadows," TV's first spook opera, on which the above scene was played.
And they are simply mad about the show's villianish hero, a neurotic vampire named Barnabas Collins. The dolls all drool for that ghoul. Shades of Bela Lugosi! A vampire with sex appeal! So much sex appeal, in fact, that bloodthirsty Barnabas has become TV's hottest - or coldest - matinee idol.

Though he sports a youthful and mod haircut, this Adult Batman is supposed to be 175 years aol. That would make him only a century or two younger than his distant relative, Count Dracula.

Dracula, you may recall, once made it big in Hollywood. But he pulled up stakes and went home to Transylvania before television came along. So ti remained for cousin Barnabas to cure the midafternoon doldrums with a dose of supernatural excitement.

Barnabas really doesn't look his age. Probably because the actor who plays him on the boob tube is 43-year-old Jonathan Frid, a veteran villain of both stage and screen. A Shakespearean actor, Frid has played so many wicked kings, priests and prime ministers that he cant' remember them all. He learned at an early age that hero roles were reserved for men with handsome, pretty or at least friendly faces.

"There's undiluted villainy in this face of mine," he says, not without a trace of pride. "It is sort of cadaverous looking."

But he never dreamed it would make him a star, a matinee idol a Sex Symbol. All of these he has become as Barnabas, the vampire with a taste for Bloody Marys.

"Dark Shadows" started out as a more or less routine soap opera, competing with other afternoon serials consisting of equal quantities of blood, sex and tears. But the older shows had the ratings wrapped up and "Dark Shadows" seemed headed for the TV graveyard until the producer decided to deaden things up.
The writers introduced a little girl ghost, a Phoenix (the mythical bird that rose from its own ashes) and several other weird characters including the British-accented Barnabas.
Soon after the sexy vampire slink onto the scene, the ratings soared. And "Dark Shadows" suddenly became the dark horse winner of the Soap Opera Sweepstakes.

Barnabas now received more than 500 letters a week from females all over the country - and many of them are passionate enough to make even a coldblooded vampire blush.

The writers range from teenyboppers to grandmas, from working girls to socialites, from bachelorettes and housewives to divorcees and husband-hunting widows.

"Please don't get rid of Barnabas," a woman from Newark, Illinois, airmailed the show's producer.

"I wish he'd bite me on the neck. he gets me so excited, I could smoke a whole pack of cigarettes just watching him."
A 15-year-old schoolgirl from New York City penned Barnabas: "I looks forward to seeing you every day. I just sit there drooling over you."

And a lady from Manhattan Beach, California, gushed: "You are utterly fascinating. Bela Lugosi was marvelous and weird, but he didn't have sex appeal and you do."

Those two words - sex appeal - sum up the adult Batman's unearlthy power over his adoring fans.

As one reviewer noted, "his leering scowl is more Freudian than fiendish." And his bedroom manner is carefully calculated to give his watchers thrills, chills, shivers, shudders and goose pimples.

More than 6.5 million persona tune in and turn on with Barnabas every afternoon. At least 5 million of these are females, giving Jonathan Frid the largest audience of any current matinee idol. Though he's still unknown to most night-time tele-viewers, he already has so many fan clubs as most world-famous Hollywood stars. A high school fan club in Hazleton, Pa., inquired: "How can a man be so good looking, fangs and all?"

The fangs he gnashes on camera are not his own choppers. But the false fangs stuck on his even teeth seem to excite some women the way female falsies excite many men.

Without his vampire makeup, Frid is tall, dark and ruggedly handsome - with just a hint of villainy in his craggy features.

Born and reared in Canada, he has a master's degree from Yale University Drama School. But neither the degree nor his obvious acting talent were much help to him in Hollywood, where stardom seems reserved for pretty boys and bosomy girls.
When he was picked for the vampire part, he considered it sort of a campy comic interlude between Shakespearean heavies.

There were other villains on "Dark Shadows," but Barnabas quickly got rid of them. He bit Willie and strangled Jason. Then he took a nip out of Maggie's neck and the poor girl went stark, raving mad.
And when all this bloodletting made Barnabas a supernatural sex symbol, no one was more amazed or bewildered than Jonathan Frid.

"It just seems incredible," Frid told an interviewer who asked what he thought of his sudden success. "It makes you wonder about people and what attracts them."

He displayed a letter from a Barnabas bitten woman in New Westminster, British Columbia. "You're my favorite," she wrote. "You have great charm and dignity, but also you express the most evil, corrupt and forceful domination of your victims."

Well, there's no accounting for tastes. Psychiatrists who have peered into the Dark Shadows believe many American women who have successfully dominated their husbands and lovers, long for a strong, cruel, forceful type to dominate THEM. And if he happens to be a vampire, so much the better. After all, nobody's perfect.
Bachelor Frid gets almost as many phone calls as letters. Even though he has an unlisted number, the dolls somehow learn what it is.

Hardly a day goes but that he doesn't receive at least one call from a cutie offering to crawl into his coffin with him. Some girls send him their nude photos, with suggestions about the tender, fleshy parts of their anatomy that would make juicy tidbits for any hungry vampire.

One 21-year-old girl, who followed up a picture and a sizzling note with a phone call, told him she had hired a professional spirit medium to hold a seance and conjure up a ghostly vision of Barnabas.

"The girl was positive we had met before," Frid said. "She was sure she had first met me in 1223."

That made her a bit ancient for even a 175-year-old vampire, so Jonathan politely told her she must have him confused with the original Dracula.

"Dark Shadows" producer Dan Curtis originally planned to kill Barnabas with a silver bullet or by driving a garlic dipped wooden stake through his heard. As every ghoulish gourmet knows, there's nothing like a dash of garlic on your stake.

Bit the suave, sexy vampire gave new life to "Dark Shadows," so he will be allowed to live on, hopefully for another 175 years.

Frid isn't sure he wants to make a career of being either a monster or a star. "I'm not sure what I should do, if anything," he says. "I've always thought of myself as an actor. Being a star is moonlighting. Being a star is altogether another profession."

Especially being a star vampire.

When a shapely starlet invites him to her house for a bite, he never knows whether she's asking him to dinner - or whether she expects to get bitten.

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