'Dark Shadows' actor Jonathan Frid dies at 87
When Jonathan Frid joined the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows in 1967, little did anyone know his portrayal of a tortured vampire Barnabas Collins would be catalyst that would launch the series into stratosphere of pop culture popularity and make the Hamilton, Ontario born actor a legend.
The actor passed away on April 14 at the age of 87 in his home town of natural causes.
Born in 1924, Frid served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. He graduated from McMaster University in 1948, and the following year was accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. He moved to the United States in 1954, and received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing from the Yale School of Drama in 1957. Classically trained, Frid spent thirty years in live theater, starring in the first productions at the Williamstown Theater and stage productions in Canada, England and the United States, though occasionally working in television.
Frid was making plans to move to the West Coast to pursue a career as an acting teacher, but needed money, so he agreed to accept the role of Barnabas Collins after being told it was a short-term. But, ultimately, the role made him a household name.
And like any cult series that came from the 1960s, Dark Shadows actually defined a lot stuff we take for granted in today’s vampire lore. Without Barnabas Collins, the sympathetic, witch-cursed vampire, there would be no Lestat, no Angel and certainly no sparkly vampires named Edward. Anne Rice’s Lestat –and more so Louis de Pointe du Lac- redefined the vampire genre to be sure, but up until Barnabas Collins, no one had thought to portray vampires in any other way than as vicious, soulless monsters. The character of Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes closest to Collins, a vampire with a soul.
And while Dark Shadows was a soap opera, like many classically trained actors, they took the role seriously – though Frid seemed never to like what he did saying, “I love to play horror for horror’s sake. Inner horror…I mean I never thought I created fear with the fang business of Barnabas. I always felt foolish doing that part of it. The horror part I like was the lie.”
While it was noted for its mix of gothic romance, supernatural horror elements, and occasional camp, what made it fun for fans was that it seemed all the actors, including Frid, rose above the sometime pedestrian scripts, bad direction and cheesy set design and created a characters that leapt off the screen, even when their flubs often made it on the air –which also included boom microphones and an occasional stagehands.
Frid also starred in two theatrical versions of the TV series during its run, as well as Dial M for Murder and Murder in the Cathedral, along with many other TV and movie roles. He also starred on Broadway and on tour in a popular revival of Arsenic and Old Lace.
Last June four former actors from Dark Shadows, Frid, Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby and Lara Parker all filmed cameos in the upcoming big screen adaptation of series that stars Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. Leigh Scott –who played Maggie Evans and Josette du Pres on the series-, wrote on her website “I won’t ever forget the moment when the two Barnabas Collinses met, one in his late 80s and the other in his mid-40s, each with their wolf’s head canes. Jonathan took his time scrutinizing his successor’s appearance. ‘I see you’ve done the hair,’ Jonathan said to Johnny Depp, ‘but a few more spikes.”
And while the films tone will be different from the classic series, apparently Frid and the other original cast members had no problem with the film’s take. “(We all understood that) Johnny Depp and (director) Tim Burton would make what we originated 45 years ago their own — as well they should,” she wrote. “But what a treat that those of us who were part of creating the world of Dark Shadows should be invited to participate in the new film and to carry on the legacy.”