Happy Birthday Jonathan Frid!
by Armand Vaquer
A pop-culture icon will be celebrating his birthday this coming week.
Next Wednesday, December 2, actor Jonathan Frid will become 85-years-young. Frid is best remembered as the 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins in the 1966 - 1971 gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.
Baby-boomers around at that time would race home from school in the afternoon to catch the latest installment of the show. Dark Shadows originally was conceived to be a gothic soap opera embodied by paperback book illustrations of a damsel looking fearful with a looming spooky mansion in the background.
At first, the show garnered enemic ratings. So producer Dan Curtis added some supernatural elements (ghosts, a woman phoenix, etc.). It helped the ratings a little but the show was still in danger of being cancelled.
Figuring that he had nothing to lose, Curtis decided to introduce the Barnabas Collins character. Canadian-born Jonathan Frid was chosen to play the vampire for about thirteen weeks. But he became so popular with viewers that it was decided to keep him on. In a way, the vampire became a national hero. A flashback story was presented when governess Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) was taken back into time via a seance. This story showed how Barnabas became a vampire.
Above, Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins.
As the show progressed, Barnabas became the star of the show and Frid attained star billing along with veteran actress Joan Bennett (who played matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard). Other supernatural characters such as witches, warlocks, werewolves were introduced during the show's run.
IMDB decribes Jonathan Frid's career (I cannot vouch for the accuracy) as follows:
Jonathan Frid's career in drama began when he first "offered his soul" to the theater as a young boy at a preparatory school in Ontario, Canada. Following his graduation from McMaster University, he attended London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and later earned a Master's Degree in Directing from the Yale School of Drama. Mr. Frid was a leading actor in English and Canadian repertory and went on to work in many of the most celebrated regional theaters in the United States, including the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and the American Shakespeare Festival under the direction of John Houseman, performing with Katharine Hepburn in "Much Ado About Nothing". He has appeared in major roles on-and-off Broadway, in such productions as "Roar Like A Dove", "Murder in the Cathedral" and "Wait Until Dark". But, it was Mr. Frid's portrayal of a complex, conflicted vampire on ABC-TV's daytime drama series "Dark Shadows" (1966) (co-starring with Joan Bennett) and in the subsequent motion picture "House of Dark Shadows" (1970) that earned him a place as an icon of American popular culture. His other film credits include co-starring roles in "The Devil's Daughter" (1973) (TV) (with Shelley Winters) and "Seizure" (1974) (Oliver Stone's directorial debut). In 1986, Mr. Frid joined the Broadway production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" (co-starring with Jean Stapleton). He won critical acclaim for his villainous turn as the homicidal nephew and spent ten months with the play's national tour. That same year, Mr. Frid founded his own production company, "Clunes Associates", to create and tour a series of one-man readers' theater shows across North America. Mr. Frid continues to perform his one-man shows, now under the banner of "Charity Associates", to raise money for a variety of charities. Combining the arts of his voice and his zest for entertaining", as one critic put it. In June of 2000, Mr. Frid returned to the traditional professional stage in the play "Mass Appeal" at the Stirling Festival Theatre in Stirling, Ontario.
Now retired from acting, Frid spends much of his time working on his website in which he posts his musings on his career, current events and personalities and answers queries from fans. He has also returned to making appearances at annual Dark Shadows Festivals after a hiatus of several years.
Above, Dark Shadows cast members have a reunion at the 1989 Dark Shadows Festival. Photo by Armand Vaquer
He is still sharp as a tack, but grouses over the inconveniences of aging. I had the pleasure of meeting Frid at one of the earliest Dark Shadows Festivals in 1984. The photo of Frid at top of this article was one I took at that festival.
Frid is tentatively planning on attending the 2010 Dark Shadows Festival in California next summer. He has started an online store at his website and plans to have items available for sale at the festival.
A big "Happy Birthday" to Jonathan Frid!