Barnabas Collins, and the man who portrayed him, Jonathan Frid, are synonymous with the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. Now, there’s a documentary that shines a light on Frid, which includes his journey as an actor and his life as TV’s most famous vampire, in which Ian Buchanan takes part.
Unearthing The Life Of Jonathan Frid
Produced and directed by Daytime Emmy-winner Mary O’Leary (General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, and One Life to Live), Dark Shadows and Beyond – the Jonathan Frid Story tells the story of the actor who brought to life tortured anti-hero, Barnabas Collins.
Dark Shadows, set in fictional Collinsport, Maine, was still finding its footing in the mid-1960s when Frid joined the cast. Originally, his character was slated for a limited run on the ABC soap, but Frid added humanity to his role, making him a fan favorite and ensuring the show’s place in pop culture history.
The documentary opens perfectly with one of Jonathan Frid’s most famous Dark Shadows scenes. While there’s tons of other Dark Shadows content in the documentary, the film also tells the story of how the Canadian-born Frid came to America to attend the Yale School of Drama, followed by a successful career in theatre.
Telling Jonathan Frid’s Story
As both Frid’s longtime friend and the person who worked alongside the actor on his one-man stage shows, O’Leary was the perfect person to helm the documentary. “The adventure began in 2016,” she tells Soap Hub, “when I was invited by producer, Jim Pierson, to participate in the documentary, Master of Dark Shadows, about series creator Dan Curtis.”
As Frid had passed away in 2012, O’Leary was asked to represent Frid’s viewpoint. A few years later, Pierson offered her the job to conceive, produce, and direct a documentary on Frid.
While a fan of the show in her childhood O’Leary became reacquainted with Dark Shadows when the program was airing in syndication on public television in the 1980s. At the time, she was working as an assistant producer on Guiding Light. One evening, she watched a fundraising program on her local PBS station, during which Frid encouraged viewers to pledge; Frid did a performance and talked about his plans to develop a one-man show.
O’Leary wrote Frid a letter offering her help. A few days later, she was pleasantly surprised to hear the actor’s voice on the other end of her phone. “’Hello, Mary. This is Jonathan Frid and I was most impressed by your letter,’” O’Leary recalls. A friendship was born and the two began working together to develop three one-man stage shows that Frid toured across the country for close to a decade.
Drawing On Daytime Drama
She used her skills as a producer of daytime drama to craft the documentary on her late friend. “I knew I wanted to tell a story with heart,” O’Leary says. To that end, she interviewed Frid’s family, close friends, Yale Drama School chum and TV talk show host, Dick Cavett, theatre colleagues Marion Ross (Happy Days) and Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man) along with conversations with DS co-stars including David Selby (ex-Quentin), Lara Parker (ex-Angelique), Kathryn Leigh Scott (ex Maggie/Josette), and Marie Wallace (ex-Eve/Jenny/Megan.)
O’Leary says she set out to answer the question, “Who was the man behind the character vampire’s cloak?” She located letters that Frid mailed to his parents in the 1960s when he was establishing himself as a stage actor when he was cast as Barnabas.
Adding In Ian Buchanan
Despite having worked on nine daytime dramas between them, O’Leary says that she and Ian Buchanan (ex-Duke, GH; ex-James, The Bold and the Beautiful) had never crossed paths professionally, but she thought he’d be a splendid choice to read Frid’s letters in the film. The two actors have much in common – Frid was born in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) while Buchanan was born in Hamilton, Scotland. Both of their mothers were nurses. And Buchanan also played a daytime vampire – Joshua Temple on Port Charles.
“I listened to Jonathan’s voice but I didn’t want to imitate it,” Buchanan says. “He had such a wonderful voice, a very specific accent. I was fascinated by it. Jonathan had an enormous love of the theater. I got a great sense of his kindness and generosity through watching this brilliant documentary.”
Buchanan’s not the only non-Dark Shadows soap opera actor, who appears in the documentary. There’s footage of Frid doing a Q&A with fans in 2008 and one question is asked by none other than a young Haley Pullos (Molly, GH)!
While the documentary is a must-see for fans of Dark Shadows, O’Leary hopes that it will reach a wider audience. “At its core, it is a story of a hard-working actor, dedicated to his craft. He never sought out recognition; it was the achievement that mattered. He was a gentleman, who treated his fans with respect.” O’Leary says, “This documentary is an homage to Jonathan Frid, a man who had great success, but never forgot to appreciate the people around him.”
Dark Shadows and Beyond – the Jonathan Frid Story is available now on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon. The bonus features disc includes rare performance footage, archival material from Frid’s private collection, and more. The documentary is also available on additional digital platforms including Apple TV, Vudu Fandango, Google Play, and others.