Frid, Jonathan

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Jonathan Frid as the vampire Barnabas Collins in the original Dark Shadows.

Frid, Jonathan (1924–)

(pop culture)

Jonathan Frid, the actor who portrayed vampire Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows, the original ABC-TV daytime series, was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Frid made his stage debut during his teen years in a school production of Sheridan’s The Rivals. However, it was not until his years in the Canadian Navy during World War II that he made the decision to pursue an acting career. After the war, Frid moved to London to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. While in England, he appeared in his first film, The Third Man. In 1950, Frid moved back to Canada to attend the Toronto Academy of Arts and continue his acting career. He graduated from Yale in 1957 with a master’s degree in fine arts with a major in directing. Frid then settled in New York where, for the next decade, he played in several stage productions and was known for his portrayal of a variety of Shakespearean characters. He appeared with Ray Milland in a 1967 touring company production of Hostile Witness. After the tour concluded and he returned to New York, Frid made plans to move to California. His career in New York was at a standstill, and he decided to seek a position on the West Coast as a teacher.

Before he had a chance to leave for California, however, he received a call to join the cast of Dark Shadows. He interviewed for the part because it was to be only a few weeks work and would provide him some money to start over in his new home. At that point, the show’s ratings dropped and ABC threatened cancellation. To boost ratings, the show’s producer, Dan Curtis, decided to experiment with adding supernatural elements to the story line. He had successfully introduced ghosts and decided to add a vampire. Frid, as vampire Barnabas Collins, began to appear in April 1967. The audience responded, especially women and teenagers (the show was on at 4:00 P.M.), and ratings steadily climbed. By summer, everyone recognized that the show was a hit, and numerous spinoff products for fans began to appear.

Frid played the part of Barnabas Collins for the next four years, until the show was finally canceled in 1971. He also starred in the first of two movies based on the show, House of Dark Shadows (1970). At the end of the movie, Barnabas Collins was killed. There were no vampires in the second movie, Night of Dark Shadows (1971), which featured other characters from the Dark Shadows cast. Although Frid gained star status, he also experienced some degree of typecasting that limited his choice of parts once the show ended.

After he joined the show, Frid’s character became the trademark image of Dark Shadows. His likeness dominated the publicity materials for the show, including the first Dark Shadows movie. More than 30 paperback books were written based on the show by Harlequin author Daniel Ross, and nearly all featured Frid’s picture on the cover. His representation also graced the covers of most issues of the Dark Shadows comic book (the first vampire comic to appear after the lifting of the ban on vampires in 1954). Soon after he joined the show, a Barnabas the Vampire Model Kit was issued, complete with a glow-in-the-dark walking stick.

Following the cancellation of the show, Frid kept a low profile. He tried to distance himself from Dark Shadows and the role of Barnabas Collins. He did not want to find himself in a position similar to that of Bela Lugosi—trapped in the Dracula persona. He took a part on stage in Murder at the Cathedral and in two movies: The Devil’s Daughter (1972), an ABC made-for-television movie, and Seizure (1974), director Oliver Stone’s first film. Most of Frid’s time, however, was devoted to the development of three one-man shows: Jonathan Frid’s Fools & Fiends, Shakespearean Odyssey, and Fridiculousness. He toured the country with the shows, performing readings from Shakespeare, humor, and classic horror pieces by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe. In 1986, he joined an all-star cast in a Broadway revival of Arsenic and Old Lace and toured with the company the following year.

Frid’s association with the show did not go away. Dark Shadows went into syndication, and a new audience became delighted with Barnabas Collins. During the 1980s, somewhat surprised (as have been many observers) at the persistence of fan interest in Dark Shadows, the Dark Shadows festival (fan conventions) began to be held in 1983. Frid made his first appearance in 1983 and at every festival from then through 1993. Then for many years he did not appear, though he remained the fans’ most popular character. His long hiatus ended in 2007 when he starred at the convention and he made back to back appearances in 2008 and 2009.

Sources:

Dawidziak, Mark. “Dark Shadows.” Cinefantastique 21, 3 (December 1990): 24–28.
Frid, Jonathan. Barnabas Collins: A Personal Picture Album. New York: Paperback Library, 1969. 128 pp.
Gross, Edward, and Mark Shapiro. The Vampire Interview Book: Conversations with the Undead. New York: Image Publishing, 1991. 134 pp.
Hamrick, Craig. Barnabas & Company: The Cast of the TV Classic Dark Shadows. Lincoln, NB: iU-niverse, Inc., 2003. 276 pp.
Scott, Kathryn Leigh, Jim Pierson, and David Selby. The Dark Shadows Almanac: Millennium Edition. Los Angeles: Pomegranate Press, 2000. 271 pp.

Friends of Dark Shadows see: Dark Shadows Fandom