TV icon inspired new film starring Johnny Depp
By Mike Pearson, News Staff
He has performed with Katharine Hepburn and Jean Stapleton, better known as Edith Bunker. As a student at the Yale School of Drama he was on a first-name basis with Paul Newman. His film credits include Oliver Stone’s first picture, Seizure, released in 1974.
For most fans, Jonathan Frid is best known as Barnabas Collins, an imprisoned vampire on TV’s Dark Shadows. His character was a fan favourite on the Gothic soap opera from 1967 to 1971.
Frid, originally from Hamilton, spent 40 years living in New York before returning home and settling in Ancaster in 1994.
On April 14, Frid passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was 87.
Actor Johnny Depp is among Frid’s biggest fans. Frid makes a cameo in a soon-to-be-released movie starring Depp, Michelle Pfieffer and Eva Green. The film is set for a May 11 Canadian release date.
Frid’s nephew, Don Frid, recalled a meeting between Depp and Jonathan during production of the new Dark Shadows movie.
“If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be here today,” Depp told Jonathan.
Frid learned the basics of acting during his time at the Hamilton Players Guild and McMaster University.
A Second World War veteran who served in the Royal Canadian Navy, Frid returned to McMaster, graduating in 1948.
He then studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, before moving on to Yale in 1954 where he earned a master’s degree in directing. He appeared as a stage actor in theatres across the U.S. including the American Shakespeare Festival where he performed with Katharine Hepburn in Much Ado About Nothing and the Merchant of Venice.
He planned to teach acting in San Diego when an opportunity arose with Dark Shadows. When a producer handed him a piece of paper, Frid initially thought it was a pink slip. Then he realized it was fan mail.
Don said his uncle’s character connected with fans in a unique way.
“The reason (the show) took off was the period of time, during the Vietnam War,” he said. “It was an escape from reality.”
As Barnabas Collins, Frid’s character is a vampire who frequently returns to his ancestral home to watch over the affairs of his dysfunctional descendants.
Frid also starred in the 1970 film House of Dark Shadows, which was based on the TV series. The movie was a hit for MGM studios.
After relocating to Ancaster, Frid led a quiet, private life, his nephew said. Over the years he was a regular at Ancaster’s Coach and Lantern Pub and Sammy’s Restaurant, where a low-key celebration of his life was held on April 18.
“He was a shy guy and he didn’t want a lot of fuss,” said Don.
Ironically, life in Ancaster afforded a certain level of privacy for Frid. While Dark Shadows was a hit throughout North America, ABC’s Buffalo affiliate passed on the show, making it difficult to find in the Golden Horseshoe area during its initial run.
Don said his uncle was a “confirmed bachelor” who never married and never had children. Nevertheless, he cherished his extended family and wanted to move closer to his hometown during his retirement.
Frid’s family founded Hamilton’s Frid Construction Company.