Friday, April 20, 2012

Camera Obscura: RIP Jonathan Frid, aka Barnabas Collins

I was sad to read of the passing of actor Jonathan Frid, best known to TV audiences as Barnabas Collins, the vampire soap opera so popular for many years and now about to launch again as a movie, with Johnny Depp playing Frid's character.

That menacing wolf's-head cane (get yours today!) he carried and his near-alien voice and looks made him one of the coolest characters on TV in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a commanding performer onscreen and on the stage too. A friend of mine had the great opportunity to work on a Shakespearean show with Frid some years back, an envious task.

Growing up, just about everyone I knew fled schools in the afternoon to race home and catch the newest daily episodes of the vamp tales, and like many, I had a sort of crush on one of the actresses, Lara Parker, who played Angelique. I discovered a few years ago she was a native of Knoxville and grew up in Memphis before tackling television. Her website today boasts a warm regard for the late Jonathan Frid:

"He was a warm-hearted and compassionate man with a lovely sense of humor, and he was a staggeringly charismatic actor, who is personally responsible for the lasting success of the Dark Shadows TV show in so many ways,

His introduction on the soap opera saved it from cancellation and initiated five years of wonderful stories, of which his character of the reluctant vampire was most often the centerpiece. It was his choice to make the vampire terrifying but also tortured by guilt, and in doing this he became the heartthrob of thousands of housewives across the country watching him over their ironing. They longed to be bitten!

My personal association with Jonathan was life changing. I had been in New York just over a week when I auditioned for the part of Angelique on camera with Jonathan, doing the scene in which I tearfully entreated him to love me and not my mistress Josette Of course my head was spinning but he leaned in before the red light went on and said, “You know, she’s a witch.” Without that bit of information, I might never have put the evil spin on the moment that snagged me the role. How fortunate for me that he was there! He also whispered in my ear, “I hope you get it,” which sent my confidence soaring."

She goes on to write how frail Frid had been as they filmed their cameo scenes for the new film, and mourns that he will now miss the relaunch of the mythic show.

While the series, in retrospect, are but brief jaunts into the supernatural made on minuscule budgets, I always thought the duo of Parker and Frid were terrific onscreen. Doomed villains trapped by their fates, they brought the characters into vivid life - and afterlife.

The original show was a mass of terrors - werewolves, witches, warlocks, ghosts, time-traveling, vampires, telepaths, mausoleums, gothic homes and endless shadows almost always underscored with a most haunting theme music (with plenty of theremin music). It was a true television original and the template producer Dan Curtis made still thrives on shows like True Blood today. New books, fan conventions and radio podcasts continue to tell the tales of Dark Shadows.

Thanks for all the fine afternoons of vampire madness, Jonathan. Hope that this time, they let you rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. I used to love that show. I would watch it at my babysitter's house after I walked home from school.