New Light on ‘Dark Shadows’


[Did we misspell Barnabas all the way through this story? Yes.–lrh]

Frid, Minus Fangs, to Read in O.C.

Performance: The actor has less than fond memories for his years as vampire Barnabus Collins on TV’s ‘Dark Shadows.’

October 26, 1991


other artists weary of uncertain careers, Jonathan Frid was about to
cash in the actor’s life and become a teacher. Then the big break came
and spoiled his plans.

In 1967, the Yale-trained Frid, a
sometime Shakespearean who had toured public schools performing the
Lincoln-Douglas debates, won the part of Barnabus Collins, a courtly
vampire on the ABC-TV daytime serial "Dark Shadows." The soap opera
with gothic overtones would run through 1971, spawn two feature-length
movies and a small marketing phenomenon and also earn Frid a footnote
in the annals of popular culture.

Frid, who never cared for
horror movies as a child (he recalls sneaking off to see matinees of
musicals) would forevermore share Barnabus’ curse: Like the vampire who
spent 175 self-hating years sucking blood, Frid would find his career
kept alive by a predicament he hates.

"Everywhere I go," sighs Frid, now 66, "I get a few morons who expect to see the vampire."

Halloween notwithstanding, he warns that those who expect to see the
vampire tonight will be sorely disappointed when Frid, sans fangs,
appears at Yorba Linda’s Forum Theatre to read a set of short stories
under the somewhat cumbersome title of "Jonathan Frid’s

The program, which Frid describes as "readers
theater," leans heavily on wits from the first half of the 20th
Century, including Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and Groucho Marx. He
adds a few items by writers known for somewhat heavier work–Somerset
Maugham and Robert Frost–as well as a couple of modern pieces,
including one by illustrator and humorist Gahan Wilson. "Jonathan
Frid’s Fridiculousness" also contains a few items by its eponymous
performer: a humorous genealogy of his name titled "Freaks, Frights and
Fridians," and a set examining the frustrations of modern telephone

As a seasonal courtesy, Frid does plan to end each half
of the program with a story drawn from what might be called genre
fiction. "Here There Be Tygers" by Stephen King concludes the first
act, and "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe wraps up the show.

"It is," Frid allows, "what’s expected of me."

a native of Canada, insists that recent years spent on tour with his
one-man act "have been the happiest time of my life in show business"
but that, inevitably, he finds himself recalling the "Dark Shadows"
that defined his career.

And recalling the program’s
hallmarks–turgid dialogue, shoddy production values and metaphysical
mumbo jumbo–Frid is less than charitable.

"It was just garbage,
just preposterous; even for its day, it was awful," he says. "All of
us, and especially the vampire, would be given these long, convoluted
sentences that go on forever. It was a show that tried to be different,
but most of the time it fell flat on its face.

"Some people try
to apologize for it, saying that’s how television was done in the ’60s.
Well, there was a lot of brilliant television in those days, and we
weren’t a part of it, I’m afraid."

The program’s success–and the continuing fascination that Barnabus holds for thousands of fans–befuddles Frid.

guess there was something vulnerable about the character, if you accept
the idiotic premise of coming out of a coffin after 175 years. It must
have been the vulnerability–I was so humiliated all the time, maybe
there was a bit of humility in my work."

But roles for
ex-vampires were few after the series was canceled in 1971, so Frid
began the odyssey that eventually would lead him to Yorba Linda.

the 1970s, Frid won an occasional small film role, but he largely
remained out of public sight. Unable to shake his "Dark Shadows"
lineage, he finally consented–in exchange for room, board and air fare
to Los Angeles–to attend one of the innumerable conventions staged for
fans of the program.

"They’re a strange lot," he said of the
fans. "I feel like a Martian when I’m among them. Let’s face it: Most
of the people who work in this world, the haves and the achievers,
don’t watch soap operas."

Nevertheless, Frid said he enjoyed the
free travel and so continued to attend "Dark Shadows" conventions
through the 1980s. Tired of answering the same questions over and again
at these events, Frid proposed instead to present readings. First, his
programs consisted entirely of poetry written by "Dark Shadows" fans.

of it’s not very good," he said, "but some of it, at least, wasn’t bad.
They were mostly romantic things based on Barnabus the lovable vampire,
the romantic antihero, you know, the longing and yearning of this man
who was condemned by this curse, the longing and yearning, the longing
and the yearning," Frid says. "Please don’t ask me to repeat any of it."

Frid was cast in a 1986 New York revival of "Arsenic and Old Lace," he
regained enough stature to book himself outside of "Dark Shadows"
conventions. Juggling several programs, he now offers different
versions of his readers theater, based on humor, horror or Shakespeare,
playing mainly at schools, colleges and corporate functions.

finds himself in particular demand this time of year. A New York
foundation engaged him to read a horror story at one of its public
events, and MCI, the long-distance company, hired him to read a
three-minute condensation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" as part of a
Halloween promotion.

Still, Frid recalls a 1963 tour of Pittsburgh’s
inner-city schools as the highlight of his career. "We put on the
Lincoln-Douglas debates in every classroom," he says. "The kids were
poor, and they were tough, but by God they were sharp. It was the most
thrilling thing I’ve ever done."

So then, has Frid given any thought to picking up his long-delayed ambition to be a teacher?

I’m almost 70," he says. The former vampire adds without a hint of
irony: "I’m getting a little long in the tooth for that."

Lengthening ‘Shadows’

* The gothic
soap opera is long gone from network TV but not forgotten. As the
series finds new fans in reruns, a festival to celebrate it opens

July 6, 2000


"Dark Shadows" has seemingly endured about as long as its most beloved character, the 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins.

maybe not that long. But the daytime gothic soap opera, which premiered
on ABC on June 27, 1966, and continued until 1971, simply won’t die. In
fact, the show has found new blood in reruns–first in syndication,
then on PBS and now on the Sci-Fi Channel.

This weekend, an
estimated 5,000 fans are expected to attend the annual "Dark Shadows"
Festival, to be held Friday through Sunday at the Los Angeles Airport
Marriott Hotel.

Among the original series actors scheduled to
appear are David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Karlen,
Nancy Barrett and Mitchell Ryan.

The festivals attract all age
groups, says Parker, who played Angelique. "We have lots and lots of
new fans," she says. "There are people who show up who name their
children Angelique. There are people who have been coming back for 20
years, and they all know each other. For them it’s a real pastime. It’s
based on ‘Dark Shadows,’ but they all know each other and enjoy being

New generations have access to the 30-year-old
program, with all 1,225 episodes available on MPI home video. The
series’ creator, Dan Curtis of "The Winds of War" fame, is even
preparing a stage musical based on the series, and the second "Dark
Shadows" feature film, 1971’s "Night of Dark Shadows," is slated to be

"Sometimes fans wait for an hour and half just to say
hello," Parker says of the autograph-signing sessions. "They give us
presents. They talk about their experiences and what it meant to them
to be watching the show as teenagers and how much the characters meant
to them. Sometimes it’s quite touching."

"We take it pretty serious," says Scott, who played Josette. "’We raise tons of money for charity."

they played enemies on the series, Scott and Parker are the best of
friends. In fact, the cast is closer now than when they did the series.
"We were young and we were very career-oriented," Scott says. "One of
the reasons why we love going is because there are all of these new
fans who keep coming to the show because of cable. What they are really
interested in is what we are doing now. It would be stultifying if we
went to one of these things and we were lost in some retro world. It
would be horrible."

Scott formed her own publishing company,
Pomegranate Press Ltd., 15 years ago when she wrote her first book, "My
Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows." She’s published 43 books,
including five "Dark Shadows" tomes. Her latest, "Dark Shadows Almanac:
The Millennium Edition," which she co-wrote with Jim Pierson, is
currently in stores. And Parker is writing her third "Dark Shadows"
novel for HarperCollins.

"We have all had careers and, actually, acting careers that have gone on gratifyingly long," Scott says.

20 cast members, says Scott, normally show up at the festivals.
Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas and once complained about his
identification with the character, is noticeably absent. "Jonathan
hasn’t come in the last couple of years," Scott says. "He’s been
touring with his one-man show and he lives in Canada. He’ll return.
Others come in from wherever–we get them all."

Scott and Parker say their feelings toward the "Dark Shadows" cult following have changed over the years.

was my first job, and so my feeling was onward and upward" after the
show was canceled, Parker says. "I came to Hollywood feeling extremely
confident that I had done five years on a very successful series. Of
course, I said, ‘I’m putting this all behind me. I am never even going
to think about this show again. I’m going to get on with my life and
become a famous movie star.’ "

Though she never achieved that
stardom, Parker says "Dark Shadows" never "stood in my way at all. I
got to play an awful lot of roles on TV, but I never got another big
series. It just turned out that the thing that gave me the greatest
number of opportunities was ‘Dark Shadows.’ I have come to appreciate

Scott believes she’s put her finger on the enduring appeal
of "Dark Shadows," which premiered the same year as another cult
sensation, "Star Trek."

"It’s always my feeling that ["Star Trek" creator] Gene Roddenberry was a genius like Dan Curtis," she says.

Roddenberry went ahead in time, and we went back in time. Both of the
series borrowed liberally from the great classics–from Melville to
Henry James to the Bible. They told universal morality tales. They are
the kind of stories told around the campfire, the kind of stories
children adore and the stories that adults gravitate to."

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in broadcasting, Film, Hollywood, Television. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to New Light on ‘Dark Shadows’

  1. R Greene says:

    Was “Barnabas” really misspelled throughout the article in 1991?


  2. jtbwriter says:

    Love the look back, considering Jonathan Frid is still active through his website and seems to accept his “alter ego”!
    I think something that he and some critics miss when crowds of fans attend the conventions, is that fact that a vampire, werewolf, witch, etc is a threat we understand. We who followed the show understood the humanity (or lack of) in these characters, whereas the true monsters we have to deal with everyday (9/11, war, recession) are something we don’t ever understand.


  3. My admittedly narrow, personal recollection of Dan Curtis is that he was a tightly wound little man with a loud, foul voice. When he turned to directing, he did so by screaming obscenities at his actors and crew. I doubt that he was a visionary of any kind, just an exploiter of a singular idea.
    Of course I may have only known him on his bad days.


  4. Henry says:

    It is very unfortunate that Frid would state his work on Dark Shadows, and the show itself, was garbage and awful. I suppose he felt he has to pan the show in order to be taken serioulsy as an artist in his subsequent career. But if it really was that bad, why did he do it? the irony is that Dark Shadows is his enduring legacy.


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