Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remembering the Vampire

Remembering the Vampire

I am taking a momentary break from A-Z to pay tribute to someone who indirectly had a great influence on my life.

The world has lost Jonathan Frid. Most people will probably not recognize his name, but to many of us who grew up in the 1960s, he made us “rush home from school” every weekday.

He played Barnabas Collins, the original sympathetic vampire, on ABC’s “Gothic soap opera” Dark Shadows.

This is no small achievement. Back in the days before Edward of Twilight and the recent vampire craze in popular culture, Barnabas was something very different. Originally introduced into the show to boost ratings, intended to be a temporary villain who would eventually be conquered and destroyed, Frid portrayed Barnabas as an unwilling killer who hated being what he was and was wracked with guilt for the deeds he couldn’t help doing.

The audience responded to his portrayal with overwhelming fascination and love. He became a phenomenon, particularly among young female viewers, of whom I was one. Each of us felt like the one privileged to know the secret Barnabas had to hide from everyone. Each of us felt that we understood him: the outcast, the rejected, the one no one else really knows. He was the perfect identification figure for angst-ridden teenagers.

And eventually there was another: Julia Hoffman, played by Grayson Hall, the doctor who discovered Barnabas’s secret—and, instead of revealing it, tried to find a cure for him, came to love him, and devoted herself to him unselfishly and unrequitedly. Over the run of the show these two became the de facto hero and heroine and in a sense the moral conscience of the supernaturally plagued town of Collinsport, Maine.

Again, this is no minor point. Dark Shadows began to transform from a simple mindless entertainment to something much more rich, a piece of literature that explored the great themes of good and evil—especially as they can exist in all of us. To me, in high school at the time, it fueled my love of the way literature can explore and reveal the human heart and soul. I took its lessons with me to college as an English major and, much later, when I rediscovered it in the mid-1990s, it colored my study of psychology—particularly themes such as Freud’s examination of the dark side of human nature and, conversely, of the nature of altruism and selfless love.

And it did more for me. In exploring my renewed passion online, I discovered fan fiction. I found people writing their own Dark Shadows stories, taking the beloved characters to new places, and I rediscovered my own urge to write, which had been dormant for many years. I began to write short stories and eventually completed a fan novel. Then, having learned to handle characters that weren’t my own, I learned to create my own. But without Dark Shadows, I probably would never have begun to write again.

I also did something else I’d never thought I would do: I went to fan conventions. The first time I felt a little silly and self-conscious. But there I met a few of the fans I had interacted with on fan sites online and found wonderful, intelligent (normal!) people who shared my—so to speak—obsession. I discovered a group of “soulmates,” those who longed for Barnabas and Julia to be together, and our shared passion led to special friendships that will always mean a lot to me. Although we came from different parts of the country, we found ways and occasions to meet throughout the years, and we shared our lives through e-mail even before the days of Facebook.

One special memory will always be of our gathering in Long Island, New York, to attend a wonderful one-man show performed by Jonathan Frid. He was a very good classically trained actor who perhaps unfortunately remained typecast long after Dark Shadows left the air. But for that alone he will live in the hearts and memories of many of us for a very long time.

He passed away before the new movie of Dark Shadows was released—in which he has a cameo role. It remains to be seen how Tim Burton and Johnny Depp will interpret the role of Barnabas, but for many of us fans, there will always be only one Barnabas Collins. Just as there will probably never be another TV show like this, one that comes along in your formative years and really changes the way you look at things.

(Now, back to A-Z)


  1. I just saw the preview for the upcoming movie. Sad that he died before it was released.

  2. Hi Elaine .. I don't recognise him or the show - but I admire Tim Burton and Johnny Depp - so I might get to watch their film and see his cameo role .... Glad you had a good time at the fan conventions ... cheers Hilary

  3. My mom is a fan of Dark Shadows. I was named after a minor character in the show.
    Visiting from the A-Z challenge!

  4. Very good piece that you have written here. Fitting and appropriate. I feel he deserved a bit more than most news sights gave him. Thank you!

  5. OMGosh I remember watching this show every day after school!Loved Barnabas. It is sad he didn't see the replay of it.