Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jonathon Frid

I just saw the news on the internet. A part of my youth, one of the last remnants of myself from a different time, has passed away. Jonathon Frid died last Friday, the 13th, at the age of 87.

In 1976, a strange little soap opera debuted on the ABC network. It concerned the odd goings on at the old Collins estate by the sea in Collinsport, Maine. A former movie star, Joan Bennett, played the mistress of Collinwood. For whatever reason, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard had not left her home for 18 years... At first, the soap didn't really develop well or catch on. There were occasional mentions of ghosts being seen around an old, no longer used wing of the sprawling house. Then, one day, close to a year after the show debuted, two lowlifes showed up in Collinsport, intent on blackmailing Mrs. Stoddard for (possibly) killing her husband 17 years earlier. One of the men, Willie Loomis, started poking around the estate's mausoleum looking for valuables allegedly buried with a former family member.
He found Jonathon Frid.

Frid was introduced to the show, called Dark Shadows, as Barnabas Collins, a vampire accidentally set loose by Willie Loomis. Barnabas convinced Mrs. Stoddard that he was a member of the Collins family's English branch, and took up residence in the old house on the estate. And he does bear an uncanny resemblance  to a portrait of the American family's founder, also named Barnabas...

Dark Shadows aired weekday afternoons at 4pm. At first, it was broadcast and taped live. Sets and walls would shake. Stagehands would occasionally wander into view. And it had a vampire as a major character. Needless to say, I loved it, and I was hooked. Before the run ended, there were major plot-lines involving ghosts, spurned lover witches, werewolves, parallel universes, zombies, and time travel.

Frid had been a Shakespearean actor in his native Canada. He took the role of Barnabas when told it wouldn't be a lengthy assignment - he wanted to earn enough money to move to California where he intended to start an acting school. His character ended up making the show hugely popular, and he stayed until the end in 1971. His Barnabas was a sympathetic character - which I think was a first for a vampire role. Certainly, a vampire had never been the hero of a show before. Frid set the precedent - and created a character which was at once both sympathetic and menacing.

Next month, a new Tim Burton movie based on Dark Shadows will open in movie theaters around the world. It stars Johnny Depp as Barnabas. Jonathan Frid appears in a cameo with other former stars of the tv show. The movie, based on the footage seen so far in the film's trailer, appears to be attempting to become a  camp classic. It will be very different than the tv show. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that before the movie opens, the real Barnabas has found peace and rest at last.

1 comment:

Austan said...

Secretly I hope that he really is a vampire, and is sleeping it off in a Victorian mausoleum in Canada. But I'm very sorry he's gone. He was a friend and colleague's dearest friend.