Jim Pierson has worked on Dark Shadows-related projects for over two decades, both for Dan Curtis Productions and as director of the Dark Shadows Festivals. He shares his memories of working with Jonathan Frid and his impressions of the actor away from the spotlight...
I have so many memories of Jonathan Frid beyond Barnabas Collins, the role that brought his stage-honed, Shakespearean talents to millions of captivated viewers and made him an indelible pop culture icon. Back in 1989, when I began working for Dan Curtis, the creator of Dark Shadows, I looked after Jonathan in Las Vegas where he was to appear at the Video Software Dealers Association convention, helping to launch the series' release on home video. To see Jonathan draw a still-adoring crowd alongside the likes of such superstars as Jane Fonda was quite marvellous.
But what impressed me most about Jonathan was his total disinterest in pursuing fame and his commitment to the art of performance. Above all else, Jonathan wanted to make his characters human and believable. This meant that playing a vampire would not involve presenting the standard, bloodthirsty villain, but something much more powerful and real. Jonathan was a classically-trained actor and wanted to find the truth when he acted. He loved nothing better than to entertain a small group of enthralled listeners with run-throughs of his reader's theatre presentations in the cozy comfort of his New York apartment. He was a master storyteller.
Jonathan took his work very seriously, which meant that when I would book him and his Dark Shadows colleagues on TV talk shows such as Good Morning America, he would bristle whenever a host would bring up the "bloopers" for which the daytime series was infamous. Jonathan had a huge amount of material to memorize for each episode of Dark Shadows, and he found nothing funny about his mistakes, even decades later. He was a dedicated craftsman at heart. Make no mistake, Jonathan had a fine sense of humor too. His one-man show Fridiculousness displayed his penchant for blending comedy and drama.
After moving back to his native Canada in the mid-1990s, Jonathan retreated from the Dark Shadows afterglow for a dozen years, finally returning to celebrate Barnabas' 40th anniversary in 2007. It was a joyful homecoming and Jonathan rediscovered the impact of his portrayal and the ongoing affection all those years later. He gained a renewed appreciation of Dark Shadows at large, recognizing the unique qualities of the show and uncovering many moments he found to be "magical".
It was poignant taking him to England to appear in a cameo for the Johnny Depp Dark Shadows film last year. It was an exhausting experience for Jonathan to travel, but when meeting Depp, who was in costume as Barnabas, Jonathan expressively gave Depp a thorough examination and then amusingly complimented his successor's replication of the trademark Barnabas hairstyle.
Jonathan Frid, in his life and his work, represented a bygone period of great dedication, civility and romanticism. As with Barnabas, he seemed to be a figure from another era but, like that fictional creation, Jonathan has transcended time with a legacy that is destined to live on for centuries to come.