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Jonathan Frid, Dark Shadows' original vampire Barnabas Collins, dies at 87

Jonathan Frid, the actor who originated the role of Barnabas Collins, the star vampire on the 1960s soap Dark Shadows, has died at 87.

Frid died on Friday the 13th, reports Digital Spy.

An upcoming feature remake of Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas, is set to open in a few weeks. Frid has a cameo in the film.

Here's a Miami Herald feature I wrote in 2006 about Dark Shadows, in which I interviewed two of Frid's co-stars: Broadway star Donna McKechnie, who played two roles on the show; and Lara Parker, Barnabas' evil nemesis, the witch Angelique. I also spoke with Dark Shadows historian Craig Hamrick, who died of colon cancer a few months later.

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

 

In 1966, a weird daytime soap opera debuted on ABC. Unlike most soaps, this one didn't feature young housewives, handsome doctors and affairs of the heart.

 

Dark Shadows told spooky tales of witches, vampires and stakes in the heart.

The last original episode aired in April 1971. But 35 years later, like one of its vampires, Dark Shadows lives on and on.

Not only was it a hit in the United States, it became a sensation in Central and South America, dubbed into Spanish and retitled Sombras Tenebrosas.

Charles Peters of Miami was one of millions of kids in the late '60s and early '70s who raced home every day to watch vampire Barnabas Collins, Angelique the witch, scientist Dr. Julia Hoffman, ghost Quentin Collins and werewolf Chris Jennings.

"It became an obsession, " said Peters, 50, a Winn-Dixie assistant manager. "You didn't see that sort of thing on television. You don't see it now.

"If you have the fanaticism about Dark Shadows, it's different from everything else, " he said. "Not everyone gets it. But the fact that after all these years, we're talking about a show that disappeared 35 years ago, it has to be different."

The show that refuses to die has spawned hit music, a book series, children's board games and two feature films. Reruns ran for years on the SciFi cable channel.

It is the most prolific TV series on home video - all 1,225 episodes have been released. MPI Home Video has sold more than 300,000 four-disc DVD sets, each with 40 episodes and retailing for $60. The final episodes will be released next month. Previously, MPI sold the entire series on VHS tape - 250 four-episode volumes, according to MPI spokeswoman Chris Hester.

This weekend, series stars will reminisce and sign autographs at the Dark Shadows 40th Anniversary Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"It's still very, very popular with loyal fans. They come to the conventions. They have Dark Shadows blogs. They argue about who did what, " said actress Lara Parker, who played Angelique and will be at the convention, along with former co-stars including David Selby, John Karlen and Donna McKechnie.

Dark Shadows premiered June 27, 1966, a Jane Eyre-like Gothic drama about a young governess named Victoria Winters (played by Alexandra Moltke) who comes to live in a spooky old Maine mansion called Collinwood.

Movie legend Joan Bennett, then 56, played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, matriarch of the Collins family.

Bennett, who died in 1990, starred in some of Hollywood's earliest talking pictures. Her film career collapsed in 1951 after her jealous husband shot her agent.

"She was pretty desperate to work, " said Craig Hamrick, author of Barnabas & Company, a book about the series. "Her agent had talked her into it. It was $333 a show with a minimum of three shows a week, even if she didn't work. Her agent also said he didn't think it was going to last and she believed him."

Bennett's agent almost was right. Audiences had trouble warming up to the series and within 16 weeks, ABC came this close to canceling it.

Series creator Dan Curtis took advice from his children: Make the show scarier.

"I figured why the hell not. I'll make it really scary, " Curtis said in an interview before his death at 78 in March 2006. "What have I got to lose?"

First, the show introduced a ghost. The ratings went up. Then, a few other spooks came to Collinwood. Viewership increased again. "When we put the vampire on, forget it - the ratings went through the roof, " Curtis said in the interview, included on a DVD.

Thanks to the vampire story, Dark Shadows gained a huge gay following, according to Hamrick.

"Vampires are hiding who they are and I could identify with that, " Hamrick said. "I was living in Kansas at the time and I couldn't tell my family."

On his website, www.darkshadowsonline.com, Hamrick describes himself as a "blossoming gay kid" who grew up in the '70s reading old Dark Shadows novels. He discovered the show itself years later in reruns.

Some Dark Shadows stories were adapted from other works, including a Bride of Frankenstein knockoff about two man-made monsters, Adam and Eve. Other stories involved time travel and something called "parallel time, " which allowed cast members to play different characters during the same time period.

Donna McKechnie, who won a 1976 Tony for A Chorus Line, played two parts in different eras during her Dark Shadows stint from August 1969 to January 1970.

The 30-minute show was barely rehearsed and videotaped in real time with no stops and starts.

"It was manic. Once you got into the tempo of it, it was kind of exciting, " said McKechnie, 63, whose autobiography, Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life, comes out in September.

McKechnie - her character came to life from a painting - departed the show in dramatic fashion: crushed by debris in a bridge collapse.

"They just dumped that stuff on me and left, " she said. "I was sitting in total darkness with peat moss in my mouth."

Peters, the grocery store manager, remembers it well: "Her death scene was hilarious. It wasn't intended to be. She and David Selby [as Quentin Collins] got so caught up in the drama of the scene, they went over the top. It was one of my favorite death scenes."

"Camp" is a word frequently used today to describe Dark Shadows. Not 40 years ago.

"We played it serious, " said Parker, 60, who recently earned a master's degree in creative writing. She now writes novels based on characters from the series. Her newest, The Salem Branch, focuses on her own character, Angelique, and how she became a witch.

Dark Shadows launched the acting career of Kate Jackson, spawned several hit records and two feature films starring the TV cast, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971). Both are set for DVD release next year, as is a seven-disc CD set of music from the series. Also available on DVD: a 1991 NBC-TV prime time revival that starred Ben Cross as Barnabas.

Canadian actor Jonathan Frid played Barnabas in the original series. Then in his 40s, he became a teen idol.

Parker said much of the series' success came because of Frid, who played a tortured vampire viewers felt sorry for. The agony viewers saw actually was Frid nervously forgetting his dialogue in an era before teleprompters.

"You'd say, 'This man is suffering so much, ' " Parker said.

Frid, 81, is semi-retired in Canada, according to Jim Pierson, 40, director of marketing and promotions for Dan Curtis Productions in Burbank, Calif.

Frid's character was one of Charles Peters' favorites. He dressed up as Barnabas on Halloween about 40 years ago. He collected Dark Shadows comic books, plastic models, novels and a View-Master slide reel.

"When my uncle died, I didn't want to go to the funeral because Dark Shadows was on, " Peters said, still feeling a bit guilty nearly 40 years later. "Is that a terrible thing? He wasn't one of my favorite uncles."

Today, Peters' wife, Dalia, has set limits.

"I drive her crazy about it, " he said. "I have three pictures of Collinwood on the wall and I sit at the computer and look at them. I don't think I could have a DarkShadows room. That would be overstepping it."

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Repent of your wickedness and turn to Jesus for salvation before is too late ;)

http://youtu.be/ysNd4QGOgeY

At least he got to do that cameo and knew that his work was still appreciated....

I grew up on this show. It brings back memories of my childhood. Loved it back then, never wanted to miss an episode!

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