I am so saddened to hear of the death of my good friend and fellow actor on Dark Shadows, Jonathan Frid. He was a warm-hearted and compassionate man with a lovely sense of humor, and he was a staggeringly charismatic actor, who is personally responsible for the lasting success of the Dark Shadows TV show in so many ways,
His introduction on the soap opera saved it from cancellation and initiated five years of wonderful stories, of which his character of the reluctant vampire was most often the centerpiece. It was his choice to make the vampire terrifying but also tortured by guilt, and in doing this he became the heartthrob of thousands of housewives across the country watching him over their ironing. They longed to be bitten!
My personal association with Jonathan was life changing. I had been in New York just over a week when I auditioned for the part of Angelique on camera with Jonathan, doing the scene in which I tearfully entreated him to love me and not my mistress Josette Of course my head was spinning but he leaned in before the red light went on and said, “You know, she’s a witch.” Without that bit of information, I might never have put the evil spin on the moment that snagged me the role. How fortunate for me that he was there! He also whispered in my ear, “I hope you get it,” which sent my confidence soaring.
When I had been on the show for several weeks, I was doing another “tearful scene” of heartbreak and rejection. He said to me during rehearsal, “You should stop trying to be the heroine.” I was shocked to receive this bit of criticism. “Stop crying,” he said. “You’re the villain! You have the plum role.” Once again, his presence in my life was a gift. He gave me the best advice. When I insisted that I was not “the jealous type,” he simply said, “Dig deeper.”
I played countless scenes with Jonathan, and as is now well known among the fans, he often forgot his lines. He famously told us that once when he performed Shakespeare in a college production, he found himself saying lines from Hamlet in the middle of Richard III! When he “went up” on camera during a scene with me, I could tell by the panic in his eyes that he had lost his way, and I often had to get him back on track.
We were, as you all know, taping 'live' with no opportunity to cut and start over, or to edit, and I always worried that his performance would suffer. But, the following week when we watched the show and that moment would appear on the screen, I was amazed! He was mesmerizing. His dreadful actor’s dilemma became Barnabas’s dilemma, and Jonathan’s anxiety made Barnabas all the more convincingly troubled. He had that rare quality as an actor to bring his own inner truth to the moment.
When Jonathan returned to the Dark Shadows festivals in his eighties he was always received with a standing ovation. He was beloved by the fans! It was hard for him to maintain his high standards in the festival environment, but he always assumed that jovial attitude and made his audience laugh with his generous wit, When he did his readings of Poe or Shakespeare, he always gave a rich and layered interpretation, putting to use his wonderful classic actor’s voice and bearing. What a treat for us all.
Often, after someone dies unexpectedly, it is easy to look back and see that the signs were there. Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby and I went to London to film cameos in the new Tim Burton/ Johnny Depp movie, and undoubtedly, we would not have been asked to come if Jonathan had not been willing to join us.
It was difficult for him. He was disoriented and felt helpless away from his house in Canada. The second morning we were there, he packed up his bags early and went down to the lobby. There he demanded a taxi to the airport and told the concierge that he wanted a plane ticket back to Hamilton. It was as though he yearned for that refuge where he was embraced by all that was familiar, where he could feel safe.
We were all excited and looking forward to our scene where the four of us could be together again, but now we were afraid that things might fall apart. Convinced to stay and participate in the cameo moment we were all anticipating, he rode with us in the car to the studio. “Why is it so far?” he kept asking. And then he said, “Are we on the island?’”
Of course we thought he meant the island of England and we assured him that we were. Once in costume and on the set, he seemed shaky and irritable as we rehearsed our “moment,” the four of us walking through the door of Collinwood at a grand party, and being greeted by Johnny Depp
Filming can be brutally tedious and we stood there for several long minutes, Kathryn holding Jonathan up on one side and I on the other, both of us clinging to him for dear life while lighting and camera adjustments were made. Hunched over now and leaning on his memorable cane, Jonathan seemed ready to collapse. But when the assistant director came over with a chair and offered it to him, he exploded in anger and banged his cane on the floor. “Why does everyone think I need a chair! I don’t need a chair!”
Temperament and pride were still a vital part of his character, and he was still holding on to that rage, I think now, against the dying of the light. But on the way back to the hotel he said again, “Where are we? Am I on the island?” as if he had a sense where he would be going.
I am heartbroken that Jonathan could not see the movie he journeyed so far to be in. I was looking forward to a big hug and kiss this summer at the festival, and another set of self-deprecating, witty remarks to his adoring audience where the love in the auditorium was always palpable.
I will miss him so much. I am grateful to have known him. Take care, Jonathan, now that you have reached your island. Hopefully it looks like Hamilton. Our love goes with you.