Thursday, April 19, 2012


 Before there was Twillight, before there was Interview With a Vampire, before Port Charles and Caleb, there was Dark Shadows... and Barnabas.

Actor Jonathan Frid, who brought the undead character so memorably to life passed away earlier this week.  In his honor, we feature his costar, Kathryn Leigh Scott's memories of their first day working together, as recalled in my book, Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments:

 It could be said that Jonathan Frid is the granddaddy of all modern vampires with his creation of Barnabas Collins, the “reluctant vampire” on Dark Shadows. He certainly saved our fledgling series from early cancellation! We were such an anomaly in daytime television, a Gothic romance tale set in a remote seaside village in Maine that became a paranormal, time-traveling anthology series.

I was the first actor to play a scene with Jonathan and introduce his character to the new storyline. Maggie Evans, the role of the Collinsport waitress that I played in the early days of the show, was at work in the diner when she first encountered Barnabas, complete with cape, wolf-head cane and knuckle-duster-sized ring. Jonathan Frid was delightful. He was soft-spoken, almost courtly in manner. Our characters met as two outsiders and formed such an instant bond that the story of Barnabas and Maggie became the central romance of Dark Shadows. That first encounter between Barnabas and Maggie is still my favorite episode from the entire series.

It's not easy for anyone to walk into an established show without a tremor of nerves and apprehension, but Jonathan’s assignment was more fraught than most. For all the celebrity attention Barnabas eventually aroused, we greeted the introduction of the vampire on April 17,1967 with a certain bemusement. He was there to play a vampire and our reactions ranged from a suspicious: "Really? A what?" to bland resignation: "Give me a break." I don't think anyone was particularly pleased at the turn of events. An afternoon horror melodrama with ghosts and goblins did not sound like a class act. Jonathan might have felt like a complete fool at first, but he carried it off magnificently. He cared about his work and he was determined to create a real and believable character, albeit a vampire.

Several of us stood around in the diner set, arms folded, staring dumbly as Jonathan modeled his costume and discussed, with utmost seriousness, his ideas about the ring and cane. The teeth were something else. We all pondered whether or not he should have an accent. In the end, he made the role of Barnabas Collins uniquely his own.

The complexity of the character was intriguing. Barnabas was essentially evil at first, but one felt sorry for him and he, poor man, suffered the fearful guilt and loathing of his curse: for him to live, others must die. His love for Josette was eternally doomed and he was a despised wretch who, at times, wielded immense supernatural powers and, at other times, was an impotent creature lying helplessly chained in a coffin. One responded to this sad-eyed despair with the romantic notion of saving him from himself....

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