Sunday, April 22, 2012

Remembering Jonathan Frid

It was big news when I interviewed Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall the two big stars of the MGM movie House Of Dark Shadows as a fledgling entertainment writer at The Globe And Mail in 1970.
A few years later there I was the TV critic at the Hamilton Spectator working in the big new newspaper plant on --gulp --Frid Street.
When I told Frid all about it in a subsequent telephone interview he roared with laughter.
You see "Frid Street" was named after his father the notable construction company executive Herbert Percival "H.P." Frid.
"I avoided that fate as best I could," joked Jonathan. "I went right into acting."
So there you have it --TV's most famous vampire was actually a proud Hamiltonian joining a long line of entertainment luminaries that included Douglass Duumbrille, one of the movies' greatest ever villains, Boris Karloff who raised onions on a farm near Caledonia for years, Florence Lawrence, the first female to get her name in lights over a movie marquee, Robert Beatty, the Hamilton born British movie heartthrob right up to such contemporary contenders as Wendy Crewson and Paul Popowich.
In person Frid was what you might call theatrical, an odd cross between Vincent Price and Charles Nelson Reilly.
Born in Hamilton in 1924 he graduated from McMaster University in 1948 and the next year began studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
He moved to the U.S. in 1954 to receive a MFA from Yale University in 1954. In 1962 he began using the stage name Jonathan Frid --up to then he'd been known as John Herbert Frid.
With his classical training Frid spent the next three decades working mainly in the theatre with a occasional foray into TV work to pay the bills.
In 1966 he had decided to move to the West Coast and teach directing when the call came to play the vampire in a new ABC daytime Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows to star old time movie star Joan Bennett.
"I was told it wouldn't last long and I could save up some money," he giggled on the phone.
Did he ever mind that he was typecast for life? "Mercy no! It's been my identification marker wherever I go."
Dark Shadows ran on ABC for five years from 1966 to 1971 and attracted a cult audience who marveled at the tacky sets and the atrocious dialogue.
"I never camped it up, you see. I tried to be as serious as I could. And it made me famous and wealthy beyond measure."
In 1973 Frid co-starred with Shelley Winters in the TV flick The Devil's Daughter and even directed a movie himself --the little seen Seizure.
In the 1980s he performed one man readings at Dark Shadows conventions that sprang up across North America and played the part in a revival of Arsenic And Old Lace that ran across the continent.
In 1994, aged 70, he retired to Canada but continued to tour in one man shows and in 2000 co-starred in a revival of Mass Appeal that ran in his native Hamilton.
Frid continued to attend Dark Shadows conventions in 2007 and 2008 and last June spent three days filming a cameo with fellow series mates Lara Parker, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott in the new Tim Burton remake. So he died bjust before release of the completed new movie.
Frid died April 14 in Hamilton, aged 87.
But we all know Barnabas will never die, don't we?

1 comment:

e6633ee2-e082-11e4-b759-679574082296 said...

I came across this article and I thought I would let you know that my friend, Cathy Robbins and I have been campaigning to get Jonathan Frid into Canada's Walk of Fame. We have a FB Page called Nominate Jonathan Frid to Canada's Walk of Fame with almost 8000 followers. we also have a group called Jonathan Frid Treasures where we share pictures and stories about his life. I met him in 1968 and remained in touch with him till his death, and have lots of stories. Just thought you'd be interested. Elena Nacanther