The soap opera “Dark Shadows” has an established place in television and cultural history. Jonathan Frid, the actor who helped make the struggling show a success with his sympathetic portrayal of the 175-year-old out of time vampire, Barnabas Collins, died on Friday, April 13th in Hamilton, Ontario at the age of 87.
Born John Herbert Frid on December 2nd, 1924 in Ontario, Canada, he was the son of a well to do construction executive. After service in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II, Frid received a bachelor’s degree from McMaster University. Later he moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and perform in repertory theater. Eventually, he moved to the United States and earned his master’s degree in directing from Yale in 1957.
The Shakespearean actor would land the role of his lifetime when he appeared on the ABC’s gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” in 1966. Originally intended to guest star in a short three to four week story arc on the show, executive producer Dan Curtis decided to make the unusual move by adding a supernatural tone to the floundering show. Frid’s performance as the remorseful vampire Barnabas reinvigorated the ratings and the show stayed on the air until it was canceled in 1971. Frid had appeared in nearly 600 episodes.
The show was a cultural phenomenon. Children ran home from school, and college students cut class to watch their favorite soap opera vampire. Nearly, 6,000 fan letters poured in a week to Frid. Some zealous female fans went as far as to include photos of where they wanted to be bitten, and anywhere from the neck down was fair game. The show spawned comic books, trading cards, board games, and other merchandise using Frid’s likeness.
After “Dark Shadows” cancellation, Frid would go on to perform in countless one-man shows of his own creation—such as Jonathan Frid’s “Fridiculousness,” and Jonathan Frid’s “Fools and Fiends”—and numerous Shakespearean plays. Mr. Frid reprised his Barnabas Collins role in the 1970 feature film “House of Dark Shadows”; the few other screen roles that came his way also tended toward the ghoulish. He starred opposite Shelley Winters in the 1973 made for television movie “The Devil’s Daughter,” about Satanism; the next year he played a horror writer in “Seizure,” Oliver Stone’s first feature.
Returning to the stage, Mr. Frid played Jonathan Brewster — a role originated by Boris Karloff — in a 1986 Broadway revival of the macabre comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Frid died due to complications from a fall said Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played several characters on “Dark Shadows.” Mr. Frid, who lived in Ancaster, Ontario, leaves no immediate survivors.
Frid makes a cameo appearance in the upcoming Tim Burton film version of “Dark Shadows,” which stars Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. The movie opens on May 11th.
Interviewed by The Hamilton Spectator in 2000, Frid was critical of his performance as Barnabas on “Dark Shadows,” he went on to say:
“I’d get this long-lost look on my face, ‘Where is my love? Where is my love?,’ it seemed to say. Actually, it was me thinking: ‘Where the hell is the teleprompter? And what’s my next line?’ ”
R.I.P. Jonathan Frid! You and Bela Lugosi made your mark on the vampire world!
Sources: The Daily Beast, The New York Times