‘Dark Shadows’ doc reveals the man behind the fangs

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“Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Story of Jonathan Frid” – ★ ★

He was to soap operas what Boris Karloff was to horror films.

When Canadian actor Jonathan Frid joined the cast of ABC-TV’s gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” in 1967, the show spooked 20 million daily viewers and made Frid a virtual rock star.

As 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins, Frid electrified television with his portrayal of a tortured and tragically romantic character forged by Frid’s Shakespearean lineup, the Yale Drama School and the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto.

“Dark Shadows”, a mix of horror, suspense, romance and time travel genres, has become so popular that thousands of American college students are said to have dropped out of class to catch the final episodes of the post- noon of witchcraft, werewolves, vampires, ghosts and things that go in the night. (These were usually machinists who accidentally slipped into the camera range. No repeat on this set.)

“Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story” is produced with economy and panache by Mary O’Leary, Emmy-winning producer for the soap operas “General Hospital” and “The Young and the Restless”.

His biography of the popular actor turns into a love letter to the performing arts, illustrated by a man whose devotion to his craft has become the driving force of his life.

A strong supporter of local and regional theater, Frid, according to a friend, never seemed to have a significant other. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, when people feared being around people with HIV, Frid, who was gay, often visited and supported his affected peers, listened to their stories and held hands with the dying.

O’Leary offers a treasure trove of movies, photos and recordings of Frid’s life, from his early years developing his voice and confidence on stage until his post-Barnabas era when the actor capitalized on his cult to advance the performing arts.

On October 6, 1969, I saw Frid’s last performance in “Dial M For Murder” at the legendary Little Theater on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois. He took the stage to thank everyone for coming, then held up his famous set of fangs, explaining that he usually puts them on after the show, but on this last night of the play, he would just like to be himself- same.

Then he personally signed each program for the crowd of fans waiting outside the stage door.

Many of Frid’s co-stars, friends and colleagues pay homage to him in the O’Leary documentary, including his Yale Drama School classmate Dick Cavett, actors Marion Ross and Anthony Zerbe, and his co-stars of “Dark Shadows” David Selby, Lara Parker, Nancy Barrett and Kathryn Leigh Scott.

Special DVD and Blu-ray features include archival material from Frid’s private collection, PBS-TV chat with Frid, promo pieces with the actor, Frid reading from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and a Best of Barnabas compilation video.

• • •

With: Jonathan Frid, Dick Cavett, David Selby, Anthony Zerbe

Directed by: Mary O’Leary

Other: An MPI Media Group release on digital, DVD and Blu-ray platforms. Unclassified; parental control suggested. 102 minutes


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