“Barnabas never ceases to be exciting.”
My husband opens the doors to the drawing room, and finds me deep in thought, puzzling over an old book. I’m reading carefully, and transcribing some of the more difficult passages.
As he makes his way to the drinks cabinet, he asks, “Is that for the blog?” I tell him it is, and I show him the cover. He asks why I’m writing about this now, and I say that the book just came out.
“But that looks old,” he says.
“Yeah, it just came out.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m in January 1970. This was published in December 1969.”
“Oh, I see,” he says. “You were meanwhiling.” This is why our marriage works.
So here it is, the mysterious book that I brought with me from the past: a Paperback Library confection called Barnabas Collins: A Personal Picture Album. It’s got “more than 100 photographs of JONATHAN FRID at work and at play,” and it was published just in time for Christmas, a special treat for all the good children who want to know what Jonathan Frid looks like when he’s at play.
If the goldish-green cover looks familiar to you, that’s because Paperback Library also published that enormous pile of Dark Shadows gothic romances; so far, there have been twelve novels and a Barnabas Collins joke book, with more to come.
Because this is a Paperback Library book, you’d think this was “compiled by Jonathan Frid” in the same way that “Marilyn Ross” writes the novels; it’s close to the truth, but not quite. At first glance, I’d expect this to be some kind of fever dream cooked up by an associate editor, using pictures scrounged from ABC publicity.
But the remarkable thing about this remarkable book is that Jonathan Frid did actually work on it. It includes a lot of his personal photographs, and the captions are written in what sounds like his actual voice, as I recognize it from his interviews. This feels like a real glimpse into Frid’s life — a curated one, naturally, but authentic all the same.
Just to level set on the authenticity, here’s a contemporary article called “My Secret Life by Jonathan Frid,” from the November 1969 issue of 16 Magazine.
Before I knew you, before Barnabas and Dark Shadows and all the unbelievable and wonderful things that have happened to me during the past year, my secret life was a rather ordinary one. I would work on my scrapbook, go to the theatre or, if something good was on, watch TV — and I was alone a great deal of the time. Now, thanks to you, those times are gone.
Maybe you’re the girl who wrote me a letter recently, inviting me to a birthday party you were having at your house this winter. Or are you the one who wrote and told me, in a long and very personal letter, all about yourself? I want you to know that I read every word you wrote to me and though we have not actually met yet, I feel as though I know you well and have known you for a long time.
Or are you the 16-er who wrote me that carefuly documented, typewritten letter about the history of Dark Shadows? Why, you know more about the show than I do! When I finished reading your marvelous letter, I felt as though we had a long, fascinating conversation together. It was after that I decided to try to persuade 16 to print the whole history of Dark Shadows, so that all the rest of our friends could share the interesting things you know!
So that’s what Jonathan Frid doesn’t sound like. The 16 editor ghost-writing “My Secret Life” gets so caught up in her Frid cosplay that she actually speaks as if Jonathan Frid is a 16 editor, too.
With that transparent mendacity as our baseline, here’s what Jonathan Frid really sounds like, in his own handwriting and everything.
To my fans, the audience: I dedicate this book of pictures
from the past, the present, the future…
— Jonathan Frid
So already there’s an issue, namely: which pictures in this book are from the future? It’s Fridspeak, in book form.
The book starts right in with the theater, and the beckoning.
“The theater twenty-eight years ago beckoned me,” Frid writes. “Being thrust into character parts singed my spirits for a moment, but soon I found roles away from my image of myself an exciting and rewarding adventure.”
Let’s take that last sentence again.
[It] singed my spirits for a moment, but soon I found roles away from my image of myself an exciting and rewarding adventure.
That is actually a gramatically correct English sentence, but you have to live with it for a minute. That’s the second sentence in this book.
So any doubt you might have is immediately put to rest. This must be Jonathan Frid’s prose; nobody else talks like this.
“I believe now that the series of priests, lords and cardinals I played helped me to find an earlier insight into man’s humanity and inhumanity to himself.”
I love it. I could listen to him do this all day, and now that I think about it, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
We dip back into the Shadows for a moment, for a picture of Barnabas and Elizabeth. “Joan Bennett,” goes the caption, “the first long-run star leading lady in my career, brought back to my mind a scene which took place many years earlier: the first time I faced a famous actress.”
And then he drags out Hepburn, of course. He managed to hold it back for a whole six pages, but he’s only human. “I can only confess I was star-struck and awkward,” he humble-brags, “acting, actually working with Katharine Hepburn.”
So, yeah, Frid definitely had a hand in the compiling. It’s the same as a year ago, in that interview with TV Picture Life called “Jonathan Frid Reveals: The 6 Women I Admire Most!” As soon as the interviewer asks for a name, he immediately pipes up, “Katharine Hepburn. She’s the first who comes to mind! I met her when she was starring in Much Ado About Nothing, in the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Connecticut, in 1958.”
I expect his friends and acquaintances have heard a lot about that 1958 Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. You’d be amazed at how often that comes up in conversation.
So there’s a nice selection of highlights from the footlights — Orlando, Lord Capulet, Caliban. Then we make the transition to his current role.
“I never feel like a monster being Barnabas,” Frid writes. “He is each day as complex as Caliban is confusing.” Or the other way around, mostly.
And then there’s the first bald-faced lie in the book: “Barnabas never ceases to be exciting.”
I call no way on that one. For Jonathan Frid, exciting is not the thing that Barnabas never ceases to be. This is actually going to become something of an issue over the next twelve months.
We come to the next section, “One Week with Jonathan Frid”. There are only two section headings like this in the book; there’s “One Week with Jonathan Frid” and “One Day at Work,” and then it kind of trails off into a smattering of after-school activities.
There’s a couple interesting things to point out about this two-page spread, principally that hat at top right.
And then there’s this picture, the second one on that page, which I can’t really make sense of. It’s dark and printed kind of small, so it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. I suppose that’s Frid on the left, because he’s got the same hat on, and he’s looking at the gentleman sitting opposite him, whoever that is.
If you squint, it looks a bit like David Selby, but why would David Selby be sitting across from him at a desk? Why would you include this picture, if it’s this inscrutable? And why is Frid wearing that hat indoors? I feel like if we could only understand what’s happening in this photograph, it would be a major breakthrough in Frid Studies.
But we’ve got a busy week ahead, apparently; Frid steps out of a taxi, and before you know it, we’re on an airplane.
So this isn’t just any old One Week with Jonathan Frid. This is Frid’s Big Week, the crazy ten-city tour that he perpetrated in May 1968, when all of a sudden Dark Shadows was super popular, and he was mobbed by screaming teens in their thousands. Not all of the pictures in this section come from that specific week, but most of them do.
This is especially exciting for me, because I got kind of obsessed with the ten-city tour when I wrote about it two years ago, and this book adds some crucial documentary evidence.
But here’s a question: why is this the first half of the book? We went through Frid’s CV, and then there were a few pics of Barnabas looking grumpy, and then all of a sudden we’re in Grand Rapids. He hasn’t even gone to work yet, and already there’s a parade, as if this is a normal part of his everyday routine.
That’s because this book has a story arc, taking us on a journey from the public Frid to the private one. We start out on stage with Katharine Hepburn, and then step into the biggest public events he’s ever had. As we go along, the focus becomes more personal — working in the studio with the cast, learning his lines, and then leaving the studio to go home. The story becomes more and more intimate, until of course we run into the thing that must not be said, and it gets more public again.
So here’s an interesting moment: “A kiss from the crowd.” Frid is in his open-air hearse, being paraded through whatever city this is — Birmingham, let’s say, or Charleston — and there’s a woman on the far left, blowing a kiss at him.
And then on the facing page, there’s Frid, returning the kiss. It’s a very sweet moment. And I think it’s especially interesting, because the woman in the crowd is Black; he’s metaphorically kissing a Black woman, in what might turn out to be Alabama.
Interracial relationships were still fairly taboo in America; it was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn’t ban interracial marriage. And here’s a vampire, out in the midday sun of 1968, getting a kiss from the crowd.
And then it’s on with the parade! There’s more than twenty pages of this, including a confusing picture of hardly anything, captioned “Almost a panic.” This is how Jonathan Frid sees the world, these days.
There’s a couple pictures that I can’t really place that appear to be Frid selecting a beauty pageant winner. I don’t know when this happened. On the ten-city trip, there was supposed to be a Best Dressed Ghouls contest in Fort Wayne, but after all the unpleasantness — you know, the eleven women, and the shrubbery — they never managed to come to any conclusion about it.
And again, here’s Frid apparently selecting a Black woman as the winner of whatever contest she’s winning. I’m kind of fixating on the Black people in this book, because we hardly ever see any on Dark Shadows; there are only two in the entire run of the show, and Barnabas kills one of them.
But, look! Beyond the borderlines of ABC Studio 16: the United States of America.
Here’s another moment from Frid’s Big Week — an appearance on Bozo’s Big Top in Flint, Michigan, where he attempted to hula hoop with his Barnabas cape on. He played Lord Capulet, once upon a time.
And then, the most significant page in the entire book, as far as I’m concerned — Frid shakes hands with Fredda Lee, the hypnotized Atlanta-Eleven Girl at the Marriott Motor Hotel. You remember Fredda, she’s the one who turned from side to side in a coffin, holding a “Barnabas Collins Press Conference” sign. Yes, that Fredda Lee. The Atlanta-Eleven one.
I honestly thought that I would go through the whole rest of my life without ever seeing a picture of Fredda Lee. This is my favorite book of all time.
There’s a lot more of this — a high school newspaper press conference, some hospital visits for sick children, trying to get into a car while a couple dozen children fight their way through a barrier of frustrated lawmen, brandishing autograph books — but I think Frid has made his point. He’s popular.
But these are exciting snapshots for his fans, the audience, because these are the moments when he actually walks among us. And wouldn’t it be thrilling, to be ten, and within shouting distance of Jonathan Frid at the height of his powers?
And then there’s Pat Priest, “one of the many presidents of Barnabas fan clubs. This one’s called Frid’s Fiendian Fellowship, FFF.”
And oh, Pat Priest, with your gorgeous glasses and earnest expression, patiently puzzling over acceptable alliteration. I looked up the FFF. Their newsletter was called The Fiendian Shadows, and I wish I had a copy. I bet it was something else.
But finally, at long last, Jonathan Frid shows up at work, ready to strap on the fangs and give people something to think about. There’s a couple pages with Frid in the makeup chair, and then… this.
Oh, my. I didn’t see that one coming. Frid in blackface, on a two-page spread of “funny faces”. Now we’re going to have to have that long-overdue national conversation about race, and I thought we’d already had one.
I’m not really sure where to go with that, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to move on to some cute rehearsal photos, and try to forget. Look, it’s John Karlen.
I don’t know who some of the people in these pictures are, they could be anybody. Frid hardly mentions anyone’s name in the captions. In fact, he betrays very little interest in his co-workers at all.
I mean, yeah, the collection is supposed to be his personal picture album, but you’d think he’d say a word about Louis or Grayson or Selby. The closest he comes is with a picture of David Henesy, who he calls “the boy.”
I guess if you’re not Shakespeare, Joan Bennett or Katharine Hepburn, then Jonathan Frid has no time for you. Did you know that he worked with Katharine Hepburn, by the way?
So we get some nice on-set photos, which look like pretty much any on-set photo — actors, killing time until they turn the cameras on.
There’s a nice pic of Grayson fussing with Frid’s hair, and another one where Frid is explaining something important to Louis, while Joan sits next to them and pointedly reads a magazine.
And then there are several spectacular photos of Nancy Barrett, showing off her legs and resting her head on Frid’s shoulder. It’s still actors killing time, but from angles that we don’t see very often.
Then we leave the studio, and it’s time to talk about the thing that must not be talked about. Because this is the moment, about 30 pages before the end, when we leave the studio and start on the homeward journey, to his apartment and his private life, and whatever that may consist of.
The next nine pictures were all taken on the same day, as a Paperback Library photographer followed Frid home, taking snaps along the way. You can tell that it’s the same afternoon, because he’s wearing the same clothes, and when else would there have been a photographer taking pictures of him shopping?
This is the first page in that sequence — and here, just at the threshold where public life becomes private life, he runs into the law.
“The corner police kid me about going into the sun,” he explains. “Here I’m signing autographs — not being arrested.”
It’s cute, a little self-deprecating joke, but the important thing is that this is a reminder that the police are standing guard, ready to protect the public welfare from people like Jonathan Frid.
This book was published in December 1969, and it was only six months ago that drag queens and homophiles got sick of police randomly raiding their nightclubs and arresting everybody on the premises. On that hot night in late June, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn started a riot, which continued for several days and inspired the formation of gay activist groups, dedicated to creating some private spaces for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to get together, without the fear of being stopped by the police and asked for autographs.
So for 45-year-old well-dressed bachelors in the theater arts, the possibility of being arrested for nothing was a salient one. This is why the Personal Picture Album ends up not actually being that personal.
And what does Frid do on the very next page? He stops by the Playboy Club, of course, which is what he always does on the way home, on the days that he’s being followed by a Paperback Library photographer.
Now, every time I talk about Jonathan Frid being gay, things get a little antsy at the bottom of the page. For example, here’s a comment from the “Win a Date with Jonathan Frid” post:
I have read Mr. Frid belonged to the playboy club in NYC and loved looking at pictures of naked women also had a large collection of Playboy. Now I am a born again Christian and don’t agree with a lot of stuff so i hope he wasn’t gay but I absolutely love him, I wish so much that I knew him. Mabey he just din’t like sex? is that possible?
I’d wondered at the time where that Playboy Club stuff came from, and here it is — a propaganda picture, showing Jonathan Frid at work and at play. So I’m just going to point out that neither of these pictures show Frid inside the club. Instead, he’s posing awkwardly on the steps for a photo op. Take a look at these pictures, and tell me how relaxed and happy he looks. Clearly, this is a place where he feels very much at home.
We don’t go inside to hang out with the Playboy bunnies, as it turns out, go figure. Frid goes to a department store and looks at knickknacks, and he poses at a movie theater as if he’s just gone to see Romeo and Juliet, and then there’s a final pic with one of his “favorite girls”, a statue near his apartment. And that is what Mr. J. Frid does on his way home today.
We pick up the story the next day, apparently. “The day off begins with decorating the new apartment,” he says. A guy is painting. The other guy in this picture is also from the Paperback Library, an editor or designer or something. You don’t get much of a chance to relax, once the Paperback Library enters your life. They fill all the available space.
So then there’s two pages of Frid and the editor, “working on this book,” which is amusingly self-reflexive. There aren’t any carefully staged domestic moments, like they did for 16 magazine sometimes. 16 would charge over to Don Briscoe’s house periodically, and make him sit next to a pile of books. Paperback Library just took pictures of Frid meeting with other people from Paperback Library.
But there’s a nice little two-page spread of Frid party pictures, with special appearances by Alexandra Moltke, Dan Curtis, and Jonathan’s mother. I don’t know who the rest of the people are; they must have been somebody.
And then the story just kind of drifts off into the sunset. There’s a few pages of Frid in Central Park, looking at the lake, leading to a very Frid finale: a silhouette, and a Shakespeare quote.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a Sleep.”
So that’s Jonathan Frid’s life, for now: a parade, a kiss from the crowd, some studio time and a sunset.
Before we go, I want to give a shout-out to the eleven women in Fort Wayne, who are shouting out terrible visions of the future.
You remember the eleven women, of course; I never shut up about them. They’re the ones from the Glenbrook Shopping Mall on day 4 of the ten-city tour, when they planned for a crowd of three thousand, and got twelve thousand instead.
“With [Frid] is Phil Kriegler of ABC-TV, a short amiable man: ‘I play the heavy on this trip. I’m the one who has to pull him away from all the women who want autographs. The last time I did it, one woman gave me a punch in the back that nearly crippled me.’
“Kriegler said that 12,000 women, children and teenagers were waiting for them at a shopping center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“‘The screaming was unbelievable. Eleven women fainted, there were 58 lost children, one broken arm, a broken leg, and $1,500 damage to trees and shrubs.’”
And they rise to their feet, the eleven women, who are down but not out. They have a message for Frid, and the world, and the Paperback Library, about the way this all ends — this book, and this show, and the 1960s in general.
We’ve learned who some of the eleven women are, by now — that old lady in Providence, and the other one in Boston, Fredda Lee and Pat Priest and the kiss from a crowd lady, and Katharine Hepburn, obviously. We’ve been collecting them, along the way.
Jonathan Frid has another year and a half of fame, give or take, and then his stardom fades and he returns to private life, whatever that looks like when the spotlight moves on.
Oh, and the girl who wrote that letter and knew everything about Dark Shadows, she’s got to be one of the eleven women, surely? Or is she one of the 58 lost children?
Whatever happened to those lost children, do you think? Were they ever found again? Did anyone ever learn what they were up to? What happens to a story, when the story is over?
Tomorrow: Probably Her.
Before I started writing about Dark Shadows, I spent a couple of decades writing about the Muppets — starting with a self-published fanzine called MuppetZine, and then a website called Tough Pigs.
Last week, for Tough Pigs’ 15th anniversary, I wrote an article called My Years with MuppetZine, a commentary track that accompanies an archive of all the old zines. If you like my writing and you want to know what I was doing before Dark Shadows Every Day, then go check it out.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
At the end of yesterday’s episode, Chris dropped the portrait on the floor. At the beginning of today’s, the portrait is still on the easel.
When Quentin runs into the room, why is the werewolf hiding behind the curtains?
You can hear somebody talking in the studio at the moment when Quentin leans against the front door with the candlestick in his hand. It sounds like they’re saying “Pull your feet up now,” but it’s probably something else.
When Quentin bends down to talk to Tate, they talk over each other on the first line.
How did Quentin know that he would find Julia at Olivia’s suite?
Before Julia goes into Tate’s drawing room, she pulls Quentin aside, and whispers something in his ear. He says that he doesn’t understand, but he’ll do what she says. Then Julia enters the drawing room, and closes the doors behind her. The camera is supposed to stay on Quentin and Olivia — they have a couple more lines in this scene, which presumably explains what Julia whispered — but instead, they cut to Julia. You can hear a couple of barely-audible lines, as Quentin and Amanda continue their scene, and then Julia looks up to at the camera to get her cue. They continue on with the scene, and we never find out what Julia was whispering about.
Julia tells Olivia to call Tate by his first name. She asks what his first name is, and Julia says, “Charles.” Then Olivia approaches Tate, and doesn’t say his name. She finally murmurs “Charles,” after he’s already seen her and called her “Amanda”.
When Olivia’s walking through the woods past a pile of rocks, you can see a bit of another set.
Somebody in the studio coughs when Julia reaches for Olivia’s locket.
During the flashback, you can still see the background of Olivia’s hotel room. Halfway through the flashback, the camera operator moves the camera around, and you can see the background changing.
There are several strange edits in the show today; the most jarring happens during Olivia and Julia’s conversation towards the end of act three.
When Julia gets up from the couch and walks to the door, there’s a boom mic overhead.
Behind the Scenes:
Emory Bass appears as Mr. Best in three episodes, starting with today’s. He comes back a year later to play a minister in 1841PT. This is his first screen credit, but he was on Broadway in Kiss Me Kate in 1952, and Pal Joey in 1963. While he’s making this appearance on Dark Shadows, he’s currently in the middle of a three-year run in the original cast of 1776, where he played James Wilson.
This episode also has another appearance of the colorful quilted afghan, which is always hopping from one place to another. We last spotted the afghan a month ago in Paul’s hotel room. Today, it’s in Tate’s house, covering the dying man.
Tomorrow: Probably Her.
— Danny Horn