“In 25 words or less, complete this sentence: I WANT A DATE WITH JONATHAN FRID BECAUSE…”
Every now and then, I like to break out of the usual dull routine of actually watching and writing about a Dark Shadows episode, in order to check in with some of the developments going on outside the walls of ABC Studio 16.
To really understand what’s happening on the show, especially as it’s ramping up in popularity, you need to look at the other sources of Dark Shadows knowledge that the audience absorbed by just living in America in 1968. Magazine articles, TV appearances, the View-Master reels, the gum cards, how annoyed your mother looked when you mentioned the show — in pretentious lit-crit circles, we call this paratextual information. I don’t know what the rest of you call it.
The merchandise and promotion are becoming increasingly important as we stumble towards the new year. 1969 was the peak of Dark Shadows’ popularity, and there’s a lot of extra material that we’re going to have to keep track of.
For example, if the phrase “the Charles Randolph Grean Sounde” means exactly nothing in your life, then I will make it my business to correct that situation. Mr. Grean is pivotal, and so is his Sounde.
Leading the way on the promotion parade are the magazines, which have a big impact on the way that the audience interacted with the show.
There’s a long history of magazines about movies and television, going back to Photoplay in 1911, and the first magazines specifically about soap operas were launched in the late ’60s. I don’t have an authoritative source on the history of the genre, but I did some research on the subject, which involved doing several searches on Ebay.
As far as I know at press time, the first one was Who’s Who in Daytime TV, which launched in 1967. This was followed by After Noon TV in 1968, and then a whole slew of titles in the early ’70s, including Daytime TV, TV By Day, TV Dawn to Dusk, TV Day Stars, Daytime TV Stars, Daylight TV, and TV Before Dark. I swear that I didn’t make any of those up.
In the mid-’70s, they started including the phrase “soap opera” in the title, starting with Soap Opera Digest in 1975, which is one of the two titles that’s still publishing today. (The other is Soaps in Depth, which launched in 1997.) But there were plenty of others — in 1980, Daylight TV changed its name to Soap Opera Stars, and there was also Soap Opera Serials, Soap Opera’s Greatest Stories & Stars, Soap Opera Update, Soap Opera Weekly, Soap Opera Magazine and Soap Opera Illustrated. The average American soap opera viewer must have read five of these a week.
One of the earliest examples was After Noon TV, which launched in August 1968 with a picture of Jonathan Frid and Alexandra Moltke on the cover. These days, soap magazines have lots of news, spoilers and inside info about the production, but back in the 60s and 70s, they were almost entirely interviews and biographies of the actors.
December 1968 is an interesting point to start discussing these magazines, because this is the month when they started offering Jonathan Frid as a contest prize.
There are actually two different magazines that offered a date with Jonathan in the December ’68 issues, which means ABC was probably pitching this concept to every magazine in town. It’s a dangerous idea; if they keep this up, Jonathan’s social calendar is going to fill up fast, and when will he find the time to learn sixty percent of his lines?
Here’s the pitch from TV Radio Talk:
Yes, ladies, finally but finally, your fondest nightmares can come true. TV RADIO TALK is offering YOU the opportunity to savor a spine-tingling day with the most blood-curdling vampire of them all, Dark Shadows’ own Barnabus Collins! [sic]
You will be whisked off to spend the afternoon with Jonathan while he is filming Dark Shadows. Then you will indulge in a long, eerie, candle-lit dinner at one of the city’s finer haunts, escorted by none other than that same delicious vampire.
And how does this otherworldly good luck come about? All you have to do is fill in the ballot below, telling us in 25 words or less why you want a date with Jonathan Frid. Write in ink, lipstick, or blood, but write.
All entries will be judged on originality, spontaneity, and neatness. A panel of famous ghouls will judge the contest, and all decisions will be final. We urge you to send in your ballot now — for the most thrilling, exciting, and bizarre time of your life. After all, how many chances do you think you’ll have to date an honest-to-goodness vampire?
After Noon TV took a more classy approach:
Sometimes a contest prize is so fabulous that it needs almost no description. We will say simply this. The winner of this contest will not only have dinner with Jonathan Frid — Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows, that well-known vampire, and one of the most modest and nicest guys around, but Barnabas and his date will arrive at the elegant Manhattan restaurant in a chauffeur driven Excalibur 88 Roadster — a beautiful car modeled after the 1927-1939 Mercedes-Benz.
On this evening out you’ll get a chance to ask Jonathan questions about Dark Shadows, about what it was like to grow up in Canada, and about what it’s like to have so many people flipping over you. It’s guaranteed that Jonathan will not bite his date. Incidentally, if you’re worried about entering this contest because you’re married, engaged or have a steady boyfriend, worry no more. Your husband, fiancé, or boyfriend is invited too.
The winner will be the person who comes up with the best answers to the questions on the application. Photos of this wonderful evening will appear in a following issue of After Noon TV.
And then the questions are: I think I should win this contest because… and The first thing I will say to Barnabas is…
They don’t actually mention whether this includes airline tickets to New York for the ladies, so I’m not totally sure how this was supposed to work, lady-location-wise. But it’s nice that After Noon TV offered to bring along a gentleman friend. I’m sure the husband, boyfriend and/or fiancé was entirely thrilled to ask Jonathan Frid questions about what it was like to grow up in Canada.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of After Noon TV #8, which says “BARNABAS TAKES THE CONTEST WINNER TO DINNER” on the cover, but that has now become one of my Life Goals.
The soap magazines were mainly for the housewives side of the Dark Shadows fan base, and they mostly kept things classy. But once the magazines for teenagers caught on to Dark Shadows, things got really intense, really quickly.
By this time, the American teenage girl population was at a crisis point. They’d gone nuts over the Beatles in the early ’60s, but the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, because they were tired of playing concerts in venues where you couldn’t actually hear the music over the hysterical squeals of their fans. Beatlemania was cooling off by now, as Paul, John, George and Ringo all settled down and got married.
But the young human female needs somebody to dream and sigh and fight with their friends about, and they can’t all have Jim Morrison, so ABC started promoting the stars of Dark Shadows as potential swoon candidates. This kicked off in May 1967 with Jonathan Frid’s insane ten-city tour, and continued with a full-court press on the teen girl magazines.
The big dog in teen magazines was 16, which launched in 1956, and inspired copycat titles like Seventeen, Teen Beat, Tiger Beat and Flip.
These magazines eagerly play to their base, lining up new heartthrobs as fast as they emerge, and they print spreads with baseball card-style stats. This allows the group of friends clustered around the latest issue to choose which one they plan to marry.
For example, it’s thanks to a single page of 16 that I know that in early 1969, Don Briscoe was born on March 20th in Yalobusha County, Mississippi. He’s 5’11” and weighs 160 pounds, his parents are named Cecil Dixon Briscoe and Pauline Casey Briscoe, his sister’s name is Bonny, he lives in a bachelor apartment in New York, he used to play the guitar, his favorite band is the Beatles, his favorite singer is Aretha Franklin, his favorite color is light blue, and he likes to read, drive sports cars and tinker with his stereo system.
For the 16 readers, the most important stop-press bulletin is: “I like girls who are aware — aware of themselves and the world around them.”
And they certainly are aware of Don Briscoe during this period, right up until March 1969, when they become even more aware of David Selby.
For the teen magazines, the primary goal is to create a sense of intimacy with the singers and actors that they cover.
There are several magazines competing in the same market, so they have to keep digging for new information to print, and the emotional intensity of these features rises dramatically over the next couple of years, eventually reaching a level that we would now consider unbelievably stalker-enabling.
There are lots of articles like “How to Catch David Selby’s Eye!” which include info like the neighborhood in New York where he lives, what his apartment looks like, and what he likes to do on a Sunday morning. Seriously.
Now, the super uncomfortable thing about this promotional activity is that some of the actors are gay, including Jonathan Frid, Louis Edmonds and Joel Crothers. I know that some people get nervous when I talk about Jonathan’s sexual orientation, because he never came out while he was still alive, but his love life is an important part of his story, as it would be for anybody.
And the stuff that we’re seeing in these magazines helps to explain why he never came out. In December 1968, “out” hardly even existed.
So, a quick word about being gay in 1968: it was illegal. The only place you could go to meet other gay people was in bars that catered to the discreet gentleman, and those establishments were the subject of regular police raids. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychological Association took homosexuality off of the list of mental illnesses, and that only happened after a lot of heated debates and sarcastic eye-rolls.
The watershed moment for the gay rights movement was the Stonewall riots — two nights of demonstrations starting on June 28, 1969, following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. But you only recognize a watershed moment in hindsight — at the time, for ordinary gay dudes with day jobs, life didn’t drastically change on June 29th.
So the gay dudes of Dark Shadows keep things on the down low, but obviously it’s an open secret among their peers. These are New York actors and television producers; this is not their first rodeo.
There’s a funny story in Barnabas & Company that speaks to this point:
When Lara Parker joined the Dark Shadows cast as Angelique, she was slightly smitten with her handsome new costar.
“Anthony George was very kind to me,” she recalled in 2006. “He was my first friend on the set. One of my first scenes was with him, and I remember we were running lines, and I thought he was very nice and very good looking.
“After he walked away, Grayson Hall came over to me and said, ‘You don’t have a crush on him, do you?’ I just batted my eyelashes and blushed, and she said, in that wonderful, husky voice of hers, ‘My dear, he’s gay!’ I didn’t have a clue. It just never occurred to me.”
Obviously, it’s not a secret for the staff of 16 and After Noon TV either, because they are equipped with eyes and ears, and their entire job is asking actors intrusive questions about their personal life. That is literally what they do all day long. Plus, Grayson Hall has a big mouth.
But the magazines have no motivation for letting their readers in on this non-secret. It would be a career-ruining scandal, which would benefit nobody. The fantasy for the teen girl readers is that someday “How to Catch Jonathan Frid’s Eye” could be personally relevant, and they don’t want to know that any of their faves are inexplicably off the market.
So the relationship between the actors and the magazines is super fraught. They’re involved in a complicated dance of mutual misdirection, which is both tragic and, for modern readers, highly amusing. At least, I think it is.
For example: this interview from the January 1969 issue of TV Picture Life: “Jonathan Frid, Daytime TV’s Most Unique Star, Reveals: The 6 Women I Admire Most!”
From here on, this post is just going to be excerpts from this amazing feature. See if you can figure out who’s fooling who.
“Who are the women you admire most?” I asked Jonathan Frid while visiting at his apartment in midtown New York City. He was relaxing on a rare day when he wasn’t expected at ABC Studios, where Dark Shadows is taped daily.
“The women I admire most?” Jonathan repeated.
“Well,” I said, “not all of them. Say the six women you admire most…”
“Yes,” I said. “Six women who are known to most of us. Actresses perhaps…”
“Katharine Hepburn,” he said. “She’s the first who comes to mind!”
“Do you know her?”
“Yes,” he replied. “I met her when she was starring in Much Ado About Nothing, in the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Connecticut, in 1958. I was in a small role; I wasn’t important; but it gave me a chance to know her. I was able to observe her. I was there, every day, watching her.”
He sat down on a Queen Anne chair with a pink patterned seat. “My favorite chair,” he commented.
Jonathan’s a husky, 170 pound, broad-shouldered six-footer. But because of this lean, rather haggard frame, he looked so much thinner.
“Perhaps you like Miss Hepburn because she’s thin?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “It’s not a person’s being thin or fat that counts. It’s the person. Miss Hepburn is so vital! That reddish-gold hair! The gray-green eyes! The vitality of her stride, the strength and the sensitivity of her face! Her unconcealed freckles, her clear-eyed candor, her mercurial temper, her independence and her competence and her compassion for her fellow man!”
The living room of his apartment has a beige-gold carpet, a rectangular marble-top coffee table, with brass legs, an old tic-toc clock hanging on the wall, a corner table on which lay a shiny brass Greek warrior’s helmet, some photos, and a gold candelabra that could hold 5 candles, a bookcase with current and old books. It was a comfortable, very lived in room.
“And how about the other five women you admire?”
“Joan Bennett!” he said, without hesitation.
“Joan Bennett is so very modest,” Jonathan explained, with enthusiasm. “She’s very sensible, very professional, and with a delightful sense of humor! I admire her for her interest in public affairs. She campaigned for McCarthy. She has such idealism, and such zeal.
“When I first came on Dark Shadows, I was practically a walk-on and she, a star, was so easy to get along with!
“When I’m with her at the studio, she represents so much that is fine in the theatre! Did you know that she’s the eighth generation in an acting family on her mother’s side?”
“And who else?” I asked.
“Greta Garbo! That’s who else! From the time I was a kid and saw some of her old movies, I was under her spell!
“I’d go almost anywhere today to see a Garbo movie. I understand she made a lot of movies during her 15 active years in Hollywood. She always underplayed her emotions, and you could read what you wanted in her face. For me, she is a real great beauty!”
We remained silent for a moment, taking pleasure in memories of her intense beauty.
“Bette Davis!” said Frid. “Dynamite! She’s a great dramatic actress, of course, and I admire her for her talent and for her spirit. There’s something unconquerable about her. She’s strong and independent and willful, and I guess I admire those qualities. I believe she’s won more Oscar nominations than any other actress, and she deserves it.
“There’s a smouldering fire all about her, and you feel she may erupt any moment. This alive, held-in, caged-in feeling makes for very exciting acting.”
Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis — four great ladies of the silver screen. Who else?
“Eileen Heckart!” said Frid, moving out of his Queen Anne chair to glide gracefully into the kitchen and brew a cup of coffee.
“I guess I admire talent in a woman more than a regulation pretty face and figure. The fact is that a so-called gorgeous girl ages just as quickly as anybody else, and her beauty is of the moment; but a girl with beauty within… well, that lasts a lifetime.
One more woman, I reminded him.
“Simone Signoret,” he said. “She won an Oscar for her performance in Room at the Top, remember? At a time when we’re so preoccupied with little girls, and miniskirts, and the teen generation, she stands out as a sort of champion of the mature woman.”
Studying his list of six women, I realized that he admires mature women most. Miss Davis is 60; Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn are 59; Joan Bennett is 58; Eileen Heckart is 49 and Miss Signoret is 47.
Also, he favors tall and slender women: Greta Garbo is five-foot-nine; Eileen Heckart is five-foot-eight and Katharine Hepburn is five-foot-seven. The others are shorter, but certainly are not petite: Joan Bennett is five-foot-four-and-a-half, Simone Signoret is five-foot-four, and Bette Davis is a half inch shorter than Miss Signoret.
It seems that if you want to be admired by Jonathan Frid, it would help if you’re tall, slender, mature, brainy, and very, very talented!
Tomorrow: Vampire Excites Wives, Young Set.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Julia scolds Chris, reminding him that he’s Amy’s only living relative. A while back, they established that Tom and Joe were cousins, so that’s one other relative at least.
When Vicki finds Jeff’s watch, she tells Maggie, “I gave it to Jeff last night, before — after we were married!”
Behind the Scenes:
There’s a Raggedy Ann doll in Maggie’s room, which we saw briefly last week at Windcliff.
This episode had the first use of the soon-to-be familiar sound effect of a werewolf growling.
Tomorrow: Vampire Excites Wives, Young Set.
— Danny Horn