Thursday, April 26, 2012

Jonathan Frid Dead at 87 / Did Glenn Beck Strike Gold?

Obviously, when I set off for four Air Force years in 1968, an already well-cultivated interest in UFOs couldn't accompany me in the manner to which said interest was accustomed.  But another object of my attention did tag along, at least on certain days, far from home:  The ABC-TV daytime sorta-gothic soap, "Dark Shadows."

Oh, I know what you're thinking, and some among you have dismissed me for less, but you should know that with the passing of so many years, a surprising number of former military members, professional athletes and others affiliated with the Real Men and Real Women club have come forward to confess that they, too, as high school or college students rushed home as fast as they could each weekday afternoon to tune in and watch Dan Curtis' long-running (1966-71) witch/vampire/werewolf/time travel/ghostly love story on TV.  Formerly devoid of bloodsuckers, long-undead vampire Barnabas Collins began fang-ing his way into the show long after its inception -- and ratings soared.

Jonathan Frid was Barnabas, and during an intended brief introduction and stint on the soap, his role took off like, well, like bats out of hell, and the admittedly stunned actor quickly became the most popular member of the series -- and his background as a classically trained Shakespearean actor didn't hurt, either.  In fact, Frid's diction and mannerisms were perfect for ever-altering time periods and melancholia or darkened moods. Yes, vampire Barnabas Collins un-lived for several seasons, and from Frid's first appearance on the show the only thing successfully staked through the heart was the impression that the only people who indulge in afternoon soap operas were bored housewives.

As often as I could in 1968, once finished with daily training,  I rushed off to the Airman's Club at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, ready to do verbal battle with others as we argued over watching either game shows or "Dark Shadows."  We DS viewers usually won.

While the Air Force was -- publicly -- giving up on UFO investigations in 1969, the"Dark Shadows" mania also evidenced itself on the base exchange (store) retail level, where suddenly abundant copies of a record album (a.k.a. an LP, or long-play album, a faded, yet re-emerging antiquity played with a needle) featuring music from the show, scored by Robert Cobert, and dramatic readings from Frid and David Selby (who played werewolf Quentin Collins) filled the racks.  I bought one and only later noticed that the reverse side of the jacket, in black and white, was printed as a negative image, perhaps by accident, perhaps by design.  In recent years, much of Cobert's music from the series enjoyed re-release on compact discs, and considering that "Dark Shadows" spiked during the turbulent Vietnam Era, when hard rock music and drug-infested living almost seemed the norm, Cobert's dramatic, morose and non-psychedelic scores hold up remarkably well.

Frid is certain to be remembered primarily as the vampire Barnabas Collins, and his death was preceded by two big screen adaptations (only one with him) of the TV series, a short-lived evening TV revival of "Dark Shadows" with a different cast, and succeeded by Tim Burton's upcoming (almost certainly) ruinous adaptation of everything memorable about the original series, utilizing the talents of Johnny Depp. Unlike slapstick scenes and comedic dialogue advertised in film previews, the original TV series was no laughing matter, relying instead upon suspense, drama and implied instances of utter horror.

Indeed, yes, "Dark Shadows" was a campy, cheaply constructed TV show presented from NY studios without benefit of current-day special effects.  But the actors and actresses were top-notch and eminently able to remember their lines each and every day when, in its early years, the show was aired live, sometimes jinxed by unavoidable bloopers. 

Years later, following the death of veteran actress and prominent "Collins family" matron Joan Bennett, I remember watching an interview with (surprise!) her nephew, the late talk show host Morton Downey, Jr., who, when asked about Ms. Bennett, replied, apparently infused with angry childhood memories, "Aunt Joan?  That cold bitch!"  Yep, there's nothing like family to warm your heart.

Surviving cast members continue to attend "Dark Shadows" festivals and the like, and many years ago when I reviewed books for a newspaper, key series actress Kathryn Leigh Scott kindly sent me a great press kit and book she wrote about the show.

Jonathan Frid tolerated, but never fully appreciated his legacy on the series, probably because he became quickly and forever typecast as Barnabas.  If it's any consolation, though, I think old Will Shakespeare himself would have applauded both the actor and his act.

(Photos by ABC-TV and affiliated photographers for the record album and enclosed poster, 1969)

GLENN BECK AND THE FANTASTIC:  Say what you want, but the guy, his staff and -- most important -- his high-level contacts in the government, military and industry are patriots, and currently in a frenzy.  His latest special, "Rumors of War 3" takes a hard line on members of the Muslim Brotherhood invited into the U.S. government and allowed into its highest levels with predictably serious problems for national security. .  There are members of Congress actively talking about, working on and worrying over this, and Homeland Security is apparently of no help in providing answers.  So what else is new?  If -- if -- the facts in this mess are what they seem to be, we must demand not only that people leave Office and high official positions at once, but that they slide right into prison uniforms.  Extreme Islam is here and its members, dedicated to destroying America, may have penetrated every level of government -- invited in by the perpetually unapologetic and, indeed, hospitable accommodating Obama bunch.  This sounds absolutely nuts, but the evidence appears plausible.  I strive not to be a conspiracy blogger, but this is big stuff, known to Congress, and as both an American and a veteran I am beyond outrage.  Let's clarify the depths of this allegedly dangerous situation and respond appropriately.