Jonathan Frid, the actor best known for playing Barnabas Collins on the daytime soap Dark Shadows, has passed away at the age of 87.
It is impossible for me to explain the profound impact Dark Shadows had on me. The series ran from 1966 to 1971, going off the air when I was a mere two years old, but I caught it in reruns after school during my middle school and early high school years, instantly transfixed from the moment I first stumbled across it. My mother watched General Hospital religiously, but Dark Shadows was unlike any other soap opera I knew. There was a gorgeous Gothic atmosphere to the show, from the perpetual thunderstorms to the always-crashing surf to the haunted homestead of Collinwood itself. To say haunted is no exaggeration, either. It wasn’t just the atmosphere that was Gothic. Barnabas was a vampire, albeit a reluctant and tortured one, perhaps the first of his kind to be seen in popular entertainment. Other characters were witches, ghosts, werewolves, pirate zombies–there was even a Frankenstein plotline at one point, if I recall, featuring manmade lovers Adam and Eve. Oh, and there was time travel. How could a monster kid like me resist?
Of course, half the fun was the cheapness of it all. A daily soap with a shoestring budget, they didn’t know the meaning of the word “reshoots.” Often, you’d see stage hands walk by in the background. I remember one closing sequence where a candle tipped over as the credits rolled, setting fire to the tablecloth, and a stage hand appeared on-screen to frantically put it out. Walls shook, doors came off their hinges, lines were flubbed magnificently, and in what is perhaps my favorite blooper of all time, the camera caught Jonathan Frid’s vampire Barnabas absently picking his nose as he waited for his cue. All in a day’s work for Dark Shadows, the best soap opera ever.
Frid himself was a big part of what made it so great, too. He inhabited Barnabas fully. I’m so glad that the role that made Frid famous and had such a big impact on my life is being recreated by Johnny Depp in a big Tim Burton film, in a way that will honor his work and his memory–
Oh. Never mind. At least we’ll always have the TV episodes.