April 19, 2012: Silver Bullet

Jonathan Frid’s family announced today that the actor died last week. Frid played Barnabas Collins on the Sixties gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. A feature film based on the show, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, will premiere next month.

As a kid, I had a deep crush on Barnabas, the darkly suave vampire who ran around biting people’s necks on the show. I wanted Barnabas, who wore a flowing black cape and had spiky little bangs, to bite me on the neck. I mooned over him throughout the summer of 1968, but First Grade put an end to my fantasy life: School didn’t let out till a full hour after Dark Shadows aired.

“Here’s the deal,” I told my mother as I slipped into my first-day-of-school outfit of patchwork elephant bells, ecru pirate shirt, and matching crocheted headband. “You watch the show every day at 11, and write down what happens. Then you can tell me about it when I get home from school.”

“Oh, hurray,” Mom muttered as I cinched my turquoise-encrusted conch belt. “I’ll lay around the house all day watching soap operas for you, and maybe the house will clean itself. You can watch TV during Christmas vacation.”

On the Dark Shadows LP, which I owned in 1969, actor Jonathan Frid recited the Christina Rossetti poem titled "When I Am Dead, My Dearest," which includes the lines, "When I am dead, my dearest, sing no sad songs for me."

She did it anyway. I got home from school, and Mom pulled out the Flintstones writing tablet I’d given her to take Dark Shadows notes on.

“Today’s episode was especially enlightening,” Mom sighed, eyeing her scribbled plot synopses about Collinwood, the mythical TV town Barnabas menaced each weekday afternoon. “In a plot lifted wholesale from H.G. Wells, your friend the vampire traveled back to the year 1841 by climbing something called The Staircase of Time.”

“Did he bite anyone on the neck while he was there?”

“Hang on. I’m getting to it. He was joined in the 19th century by a profoundly untalented actress pretending to be 30 years younger than her actual age—”

“That’s Julia Hoffman, Mom! She’s in love with Barnabas, and she’s trying to win his affections by giving him shots that will turn him into a mortal!”

“—and, much to your mother’s horror, he was also joined by Joan Bennett, who used to be a pretty good actress in her day and who looked plenty embarrassed to find herself involved in this mess.”

“How did Barnabas look in his Staircase of Time outfit?”

“Itchy,” Mom said. “And a little sad.”

“Maybe he needs a little boy vampire to keep him company,” I chirped. “I’ll bet he wouldn’t be sad if he had a nice little boy to play with.”

My mother looked at me for what seemed like a very long time. “Where did you get that cigarette holder?” she finally said.

“I made it,” I told her.

“Well, little boys don’t smoke. And if they did, they wouldn’t use sequined cigarette extensions to do it with.”

“Aunt Jay says it makes me look like a dowager,” I said, pretending to flick an ash onto the spotless carpet. “What’s a dowager?”

“It means old lady. You don’t want to look like an old lady, do you?”

I glanced at my mother’s shoes, then at her hair, just like Judy Carne, the British girl on Laugh In, always did before she said something funny. “It seems to be working for you,” I repied.

“Okay, Shecky Greene.” She gave me a little shove. “You go practice your deadpan. I’ve got to get back to making dinner.”

My mother never did know how to vamp.

 Thing I Hate Today: Typos.


4 Responses

  1. Your mother took the time from her busy schedule to watch your favorite TV program…pretty special. You two have shared a lot over the years such as long walks and making pizzelles. Relationship!

    “How did Barnabas look in his Staircase of Time outfit?”
    “Itchy,” Mom said. “And a little sad.”
    This made J laugh.

  2. This might be my favorite blog post yet. Still, you were a strange little boy, even by my standards. R.I.P. Barnabas.

  3. So Friday night I was telling my friend Brigitte about this, and she said that every summer, they’d drive between Florida and Texas on family vacation, and she was able to enforce stopping at the motel by 4 p.m. every day to watch DS. You two must’ve been fierce.

  4. I don’t know how I missed this when you first posted it… excellent story. A minor correction: Collinwood was the mansion, the town was Collinsport. And somewhere there is probably an official count of times actors pronounced it “collingwood.”

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