Remembering Jonathan Frid

20 Apr

The arrival of Friday is always a little bittersweet. The day comes bearing the hope and the promise of the weekend, but it also brings with it the realization that, yes, another week has been shot all to hell.

Now we have learned that today marks the one week anniversary of the death of Jonathan Frid, known to millions as Barnabas Collins from the gothic TV soap opera, Dark Shadows.
Jonathan passed away at the age of 87 on Friday the 13th, but the announcement of his death was delayed. He did not want a memorial or a funeral. I suppose when you’d spent as much time in coffins as Mr. Frid had,  you prefer to slip away quietly when your time comes.

Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas was the first vampire as hero. The current crop of vampires–from Anne Rice’s epics to Twilight and True Blood, owe a debt to Dark Shadows and Mr. Frid.

I was one of those kids who ran home from school to tune in to the daily trials and tribulations of Barnabas and the rest of the Collins clan. Dark Shadows was a big deal in my formative years, so I can’t help but be a little sentimental about Mr. Frid’s passing.

There is a lot of buzz right now about the Tim Burton movie version of Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that it looks like the movie is a comedy. I know some Dark Shadows purists who are grumbling already. I am taking a wait and see attitude myself. The TV show was, frankly, quite campy, even if they didn’t always mean for it to be. Thanks in part to the Batman TV series, camp was very in in the late 60’s.

Things that are camp are “over the top” or even “cheesy.” They are wonderful in their ridiculousness. That certainly describes Dark Shadows, even though most of us who watched it daily took the show very seriously.

And everyone loved Barnabas. From what I’ve read, Jonathan Frid didn’t get it at all. He could not figure out why people were so gaga over the show. But he knew a good gig when he got one and so he gave the people what they wanted.

I have a friend (who also happen to be my boss) who grew up in New York. She and her best friend went to the studio where Dark Shadows was made every Wednesday, where they waited, along with other fans, for the stars of the show to emerge from their day’s work. She and her friend met the cast and crew and even got to take a tour of the set. She recently shared some snapshots her friend took during their Wednesday excursions.

One of her memories of Jonathan Frid was that he once attempted to sign an autograph by putting the paper he was signing against a wall. He was then perplexed that the pen would not write in that position.

This was long before the “astronaut pen” episode of Seinfeld. Jonathan Frid was an actor–an artist, not a scientist. He is to be forgiven for his lack of understanding of the effects of gravity on ink.

I appreciate my friend sharing these images with me.  I realize now that I scanned them about a week ago, even as Jonathan Frid was slipping away from this mortal coil.

Jonathan Frid greeting his fans

Despite issues with gravity, Mr. Frid’s autograph

What is Jonathan wearing? Is that a smoking jacket?

When my friend first showed me these picture, I was struck by how young Jonathan Frid looked. When I was a kid watching Dark Shadows, I thought he was pretty old then. Of course, Barnabas was something like 200 years old, so my confusion is understandable.

As a diehard Dark Shadows fan, I had to have the soundtrack album, so my mother got it for me for my 11th birthday. The musical selections were supplemented with readings from Shakespeare by Jonathan Frid. I thought it fitting that I wind up this blog with this famous quote from The Bard which I first heard read by Jonathan Frid on the Dark Shadows soundtrack album. It was the selection just before the closing credits theme:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Rest in peace, Mr. Frid.

Happy Friday!

6 Responses to “Remembering Jonathan Frid”

  1. Pamela N Red April 20, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    My aunt loved that show and never missed an episode, she had a crush on Barnabas. I wasn’t a fan because it was scary to me but then I was pretty young at the time. I had no idea he even died. I noticed someone on Pinterest sharing a lot of pictures from the show but just figured she was a fan.

  2. marianrhea April 20, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    I was a very little girl then and Dark Shadows often had me sitting on the edge of my seat and then leaving the light on at night—SO scary! LOL! I loved it! I’m sad to hear of his passing… Dark Shadows remains a great childhood memory!

  3. Ellen India April 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    I used to rush home to watch Dark Shadows too! Years later as ana dult living in Atlanta, Jonathan came to an event I was at. he told such funny stories about flies landing on the actor’s faces while filming, etc.

  4. Eliza Rose April 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Thanks for this piece! The photos your friend supplied are wonderful.

    As for Mr. Frid wearing the robe:

    From my understanding, during the morning rehearsal and camera blocking, the Dark Shadows cast members often worked in their dressing gowns or bathrobes until it was time to put on their costumes for the afternoon’s dress rehearsal and taping.

    Maybe he was just getting in to work or leaving for the day, or had gone out for a break before it was time to change.

  5. Anna Savitt July 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    I will miss Jonathan Frid terribly. I had such a crush on him in 1967, at the age of 14. Dark Shadows came on too early for me to get home in time to see it, so I got my Mother to watch it, and give me a full report when I got home. I loved that show, there have been attempts with other soaps to do Vampire stories, but none compare with Dark Shadows. I am so glad I have the entire show on not only VHS, but DVD as well.

  6. susanad813 (@susanad813) September 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Thanks for this post! Love those photos!

    I used to stay up until the wee hours on weekend nights watching reruns of old shows and bad movies. Sadly, I always changed the channel when Dark Shadows started because I didn’t like soap operas.

    When the preview for the recent movie started airing, I went to Netflix to check out the episodes there. Now I’m kicking myself for skipping over Dark Shadows all those times. Had I been a teenager or young adult when the show originally aired I’m fairly certain I would have been an insatiable Jonathan Frid fangirl. LOL

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