Jonathan Frid Passes at 87
No doubt, many have heard the name Barnabas Collins in recent months. Some of you will remember that name as far back as the 90s when Ben Cross played the character. However, my first memory of him was thanks to home video and the multi-volumes of the soap opera; Dark Shadows.
The first actor to portray him was Jonathan Frid; a Canadian born thespian who first love was of theater. He had done so many different plays and eventually decided that television was the next step. At some point, just before he got the call to Dark Shadows, he planned on moving and becoming an acting teacher. He took the part as it was supposed to be a short term arrangement. However, the character became very popular and those plans were cancelled.
Frid never seemed overly pleased with the work. There was a definite love/hate relationship with the character. A vocal group of fans kept trying to ask him more questions about the vampire, but Frid was out of sorts because he had done many other things outside the product name. Though, he mentioned that it’s not a huge group that did this, he did say they seemed to believe his career started and ended with that show. I’m happy to report that he retired from his stage career in New York in 1994, returning to Canada to live out his life doing one man shows for charity in his native land and in the US. To the pleasure of fan, he returned to the role of Barnabas Collins in Big Finish’s Dark Shadows audio dramas and even attended the Dark Shadows convention in Burbank, CA. He continued to go for as long as his health held out.
The passing of this man hits me hard. I wasn’t a huge horror fan at the time I got introduced to Dark Shadows. When I was a kid, my imagination had a bad habit of putting me into the situation I watched. Most people just called me scared and wimp. They had no idea what a psychopathic killer running around in ones dreams truly was like. This was a different matter altogether. I was at Blockbuster Video (remember those?) with my mom, looking for something to watch. I was bored, and I think we rented all that we had really wanted to see around two or three times by this point. It was getting old. So I wandered through the TV/Cult Favorite aisle and saw the video sitting there. I called mom over in confusion and she gave this look of surprise and delight that it was there. I asked what it was and she gave me a brief synopsis of it. I shrugged and grabbed volume 25, because for some reason the first wasn’t doing it for me. In this volume, I saw a doctor trying to cure vampirism. What? You can cure that? I had never been introduced to the concept before. So I sat enthralled with the show trying to figure out where they were going next. In the next few days I wanted to see Volume 26 convinced I had to see what happened. It did something that no one had ever done before, it gave me a monster to cling to. In this Universal Movie Monster sort of soap opera, I was introduced to a vampire that I could truly sympathize with. Well before Edward Cullen (the Twilight Saga) and before Louis de Point du Lac (Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles); there was a vampire that I could truly be sorry for. The gist of the story is that he is to marry a girl named Josette and manages to run afowl of a witch by the name of Angelique. Angelique affections are spurned by Barnabas, so she decided to use a spell to make him fall in love and marry her. When Barnabas breaks through the fog, he takes revenge on the woman by shooting her. With, what she believes to be, her dying words; Angelique summoned a vampire bat from Hell to attack her would-be groom. The story goes on from there, as you could guess. If you want to read about it, Wikipedia is at your disposal. Not to mention the 1,225 episodes of the original show. Yes, that’s a lot. Take heart, Barnabas’ face shows up in episode #210. That will give you something to strive for.
Barnabas was really MY first vampire. Dracula was something hokey to me at that time. Yeah, I know what I’m saying, I was also 10 years old. The Bela Lugosi look didn’t do much for me, but then, I don’t have the same appreciation for those things as I do now. Barnabas was genuinely a friendly man who tried to get along with his family. He had a pleasant voice, good old world manners, and always had a kind thing to say to his relatives. However, when no one was around, there was a shift into his sinister personality. He became more menacing and willing to dish out punishment. It was as if he wanted to have some approval, but couldn’t completely fight off the nature of what he was. He didn’t want to be a vampire, nothing new there, but while he had the ablilities he damned well used them.
The old soap opera series was fun in that old Doctor Who episode fashion. If you watch it and expect that it’s going to be something on the caliber of Shakespeare, you’ve already shot yourself in the foot. This isn’t meant to be the “be all, end all” of that. It’s hokey because it’s a soap. It tries to be serious, but the fun of it bleeds through anyway. In the Ben Cross series, it was a very serious homage to the show. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the revival, I will say that I give them a lot of credit for being as respectful to the material as they were. These days it seems so difficult to find a production team willing to try and put that sort of love into it. Was Cross like Jonathan Frid? Absolutely not! He was Ben Cross playing a very serious role. He wasn’t nearly as approachable as Frid’s Barnabas was. That’s to its credit and determent. It’s the one thing I can definitely point that closed the gap between the two. I know how many more there were, but that’s the nail. Barnabas was still to be sympathized with, but the more sullen Cross made you sadder somehow. I don’t know that I necessarily liked that, but it worked for all the reasons it needed to. However, NBC pre-empted it and rescheduled the show more often than not in its first season. This was due to the Gulf War going on in that time frame and it killed the series outright. Unfortunately, NBC has had a habit of doing this to series that might’ve found, or had, a large audience.
Mr. Frid’s last cameo appearance will be in the new Dark Shadow’s movie set to hit theaters on May, 11th, along side co-stars from the old show. The tongue-through-cheek approach of Burton and Depp are prevalent through the trailer, and have made me less than enthused about seeing it. In the way that I said that Cross’ sadder than Frid’s Barnabas didn’t do it for me, Depp’s is that much worse. What I saw gleamed of no real respect to the property that I came to love as a kid. I had such hopes that Depp would try to reign in the antics of Burton, however this wasn’t to be. I should have known better than that. I do know better, but hope beyond hope still prevailed and failed me. This takes the campy side and amplifies it well passed where it should be. I will admit that I might’ve found this funnier had I not known what this was, but knowing kills it for me. I will never apologize for being well versed on a variety of things.
Mr. Frid will be missed sorely by myself, my mom, his former cast mates and other fans everywhere. I have him to thank for so many things. As much of Dracula as he was derived from, he taught me there were genuine differences between what I believed a vampire was and what they could be. It was because of this that I appreciated the original Dracula movie for what it was, the actual Dracula story, Count Orlok (Nosferatu), and even Louis, Claudia, and Lestat of Anne Rice fame. It’s also the reason I can’t stand Twilight now. I can overlook many things in a story, and can usually get behind things that most of my contemporaries can’t. This, not so much. No matter what, I cannot wrap my head around Edward Cullen. In truth, I don’t want to. Barnabas was my vampire. When he fell in love, he tried his best to get the girl and didn’t agonize over it. When one thing failed, he tried another. The pain in this man was obvious, but it didn’t incapacitate him to the point of ineffectiveness. I’ll be fair and say that this isn’t always Edward’s problem, but there is a matter of his constant struggle not to love her. This eventually gets overcome, but it also turns her into a vampire along with him to survive a pregnancy. In all of the soap opera of Dark Shadows, I don’t think they ever tried to go that far. That’s soap opera camp to it’s extreme. My opinion, for those fans out there. Take it for what it’s worth.
Mr. Frid left us on April 13th, 2012 at the Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. He was taken there after having fallen in his home. Before he started acting he was part of the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II.
Rest in peace, Mr. Frid. Although I will always remember you in one way, I will always respect the body of work you put out. It’s the least a fan can do.