A Vampire Changes Everything
Forty-two-year-old Canadian stage actor Jonathan Frid (pictured left) was an unlikely choice as a soap opera leading man. In fact, Dan Curtis didn't think Barnabas would stick around long enough to matter. With any luck, the producer hoped, the presence of a vampire would draw some attention, and in a few weeks he could be staked so things could move on, like they would on a "normal" soap opera. In his wildest dreams, Dan didn't imagine just how much attention Barnabas would attract.
Jonathan Frid's career had mostly taken place on stage. Though he'd appeared briefly on TV in As The World Turns, he was uneasy about acting on the daily serial Dark Shadows.
The actor's on-camera fear -- which never totally evaporated -- gave Barnabas a sympathetic edge. Jonathan was uncertain of his lines and where he should be on the set, so Barnabas seemed to wish he didn't have to skulk around Collinwood drinking blood.
Every "Dracula" needs his "Van Helsing," so Grayson Hall (pictured right) was brought on to the show in June 1967, as Julia Hoffman, a doctor whose mission was supposed to be the vampire's destruction. Instead, as her story developed, Julia fell in love with Barnabas, providing an unexpected twist.
"I get jealous as hell because he bites young girls in the neck but refuses to bite me," Grayson told The Saturday Evening Post. "Middle-aged housewives are always sending me letters saying they understand the situation perfectly."
Like all of the actors on the show, Grayson was directed to play her lines to the hilt -- as if she was on stage instead of just a few feet from the camera. This led to a heightened sense of reality, and at times added a camp element to the portrayals.
The vampire story line was enormously popular. Ratings climbed. The actors were deluged with fan mail, and as they left the studio each day, they were mobbed by kids seeking pictures and autographs. Barnabas' staking was postponed, and Jonathan became a permanent part of the cast.
Back in Time
A flashback is a common literary device in soap operas. Brief scenes are used to show an event that took place in the past. But when the time came to explain how Barnabas had evolved into a blood-sucker, the DS writers expanded on this concept. At a seance, Victoria Winters was drawn back into the past, where she met the pre-vampire Barnabas. The storyline, set in 1795, lasted for five months, and gave the cast members an opportunity to play other roles -- their present-day characters' ancestors.
During this period, Lara Parker joined the ensemble as Angelique, the scorned woman who cursed Barnabas with vampirism. "I was just a young, naive actress who wanted to play the lead," Lara later told People magazine. "I had to be the princess. I wanted to cry when things went wrong. They kept pulling me aside and saying, "Honey, you're the heavy. Don't cry. Think vicious." Lara's evil-flavored performance added to the supernatural tone of the 1795 flashback, and she became a fan favorite. Angelique returned from the past with Victoria, and the immensely popular actress remained on the show for the remainder of its run.
In response to the frenzy of public interest drummed up by his performance, Jonathan Frid found himself appearing in almost every episode of Dark Shadows for a while. This, coupled with promotional appearances, started taking its toll on the actor.
In July 1968, he told TV Guide about the hectic pace of his life. "I'm so busy," he said between sips of a martini, "I haven't time to pick up my laundry. I find myself wearing bathing suits for underwear."
Besides losing his free time, Jonathan had to give up a great deal of his treasured privacy. He was subjected to numerous interviews and photoshoots. For a photo essay for Flip magazine in 1969, he even had to put up with a photographer looking over his shoulder while he lathered up his face and shaved. A clue to how such things made him feel: In 1970, 45-year-old Frid told Women's Wear Daily, "I always feel like an ass being a teenage idol in a teeny-bopper magazine."
Jonathan told The New York Times that he changed his vacation plans in order to find some anonymity: "I went to Mexico rather than Hawaii when I realized that our show is on prime time in the islands."
It's understandable that Jonathan needed a vacation. Life on the set was stressful. But by all accounts it was also a fun, family-like environment.
NEXT: Life on the Set
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Dark Shadows Online © 2004 Craig Hamrick