Saturday, May 26

Dark Shadows Remembered

From 1967 to 1971 there was a soap opera on Television like no other; the gothic "Dark Shadows". The icon of the show, Jonathan Frid passed away three weeks before the premiere of the Tim Burton movie. The film has it's own audience and perspective but for the fans of the original it was the portrayal of the flawed, wounded Barnabus Collins that is most remembered.

Neither the producers, writers or Frid ever intended to create an iconic and original character but that's what happened. The show was tanking in the ratings and ABC was on the verge of cancelling it when Executive Producer Dan Curtis had a dream about a vampire and his kids suggested he make the show scary. Frid was hired to play the role for a 12 week run then they would stake the character and move on but he proved so popular the role continued for five years. According to actress Lara Parker who played nemesis Angelique, John Frid told Curtis "I want to make him real, I want to make him human and I want to give him a soul and a heart. " It was a combination of that actor, playing that role, written that way that revolutionized an archetype . Years later when I was reading "Interview With a Vampire" I pictured the narrator Louis as Barnabus. They were kindred souls locked in their personal tragedies.

Much has been made of the show's production. There were few rehearsals and one technical blocking. It was all shot live; no stopping, editing, or do overs. Props failed, stage hands wandered in to the frame, lines were forgotten, dead bodies moved. The result was unintended, sometimes cringe inducing hilarity. The critics ridiculed but the fans forgave the gaffes because the actors were so serious in their efforts, so much was invested in the characters to worry about such things. 

I am amazed after more than forty years how those performances hold up. Much credit is given to Frid for the show's success and rightfully so. His classic old world handsomeness and telegenic acting were riveting. The ability for the actor to transmit emotions through the camera is a rare skill and he had it. This despite the fact that he was new to the medium of TV. The terrified look on the character's face was not just an act, Frid was not a quick to learn his lines so he was always searching for the tele prompter with his myopic vision. He confessed later at being a bit chagrined to be associated with the show but actors rarely get the change to choice what will be their great role. Johnny Depp paid him homage when he indicted the lavish set and told Frid  "None of this would be here if it weren't for you."  

Indeed none of the memories of a show kids rushed home from school to watch would have been possible without Jonathan Frid.

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