Posted by: thewearyprofessor | July 12, 2014

Read My Thoughts on the 1973 TV Movie DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK

Editor Wallace McBride just published a new anthology of short pieces on classic horror cinema. My contribution deals with the memorable 1970s TV flick Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Have a look at the book at Amazon:
The Collinsport Historical Society Presents: Bride of Monster Serial (Volume 2)

Bride of Monster Serial

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | April 5, 2013

Roger – A Personal Remembrance

It’s sad, but future generations will never be able to understand the effect Roger Ebert had on our lives. Of those aware enough at the time to care about film, who didn’t watch his reviews in the late 1970s and 1980s? Who didn’t know that “Two Thumbs Up” referred to favorable reviews in stereo by Roger and his partner/antagonist Gene Siskel? Nowadays, who didn’t meet Roger on the web anytime they looked for provocative and intelligent discourse? His presence on Twitter was ubiquitous. If he wasn’t tweeting, others were constantly re-tweeting him or linking his blog posts. The blog posts themselves were entertaining and enlightening not just because of what Roger said, which was invariably worth reading, but also because he would attract amazingly literate people to comment. Now Roger, that bespeckled bee buzzing around our internet lives, is stilled. That guy from our shared past that somehow metamorphosed into our frequent net companion is now gone—although who can’t still hear his voice in their heads?

Personally, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the death of Roger Ebert. After reading and watching his work for years, I contacted him in 2005 to correct something in one of his reviews. He ended up printing my letter in his Movie Answer Man column and in his annual book the following year. More importantly, this led to a series of personal email exchanges that I will always treasure.

Here is the first exchange, from 12/25/2005:

Q. You write that J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis “hated each others’ fantasy worlds.” While you are correct in saying J. R. R. Tolkien disliked elements of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis was most appreciative and enthusiastic of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He wrote several reviews and essays attesting to this fact and current editions of Tolkien’s work even boast the famous Lewis quote “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron” as part of their back jacket copy.

Frank Gruber, Adjunct Professor of Literature and Composition, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ

A. Many other readers supplied similar information, including Kevin Bush of West Palm Beach, FL, who wrote: “In fact, Lewis probably overpraised Tolkien. I remember one book review where he favorably compared Lord of the Rings to Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.”

My correspondents were quite correct. Lewis did not hate LOTR, and I have corrected the online review. My information came from a British reference book named The Reader’s Companion to Twentieth Century Writers, edited by Peter Parker. It reads bluntly: “Lewis and Tolkien, despite their friendship, despised each other’s writings for children.” In answer to your next question, yes, they considered LOTR and Narnia to be writings for children.

This led to another volley, where I quoted material from Tolkien’s own letters that indicated Lord of the Rings was not intended for children, unlike The Hobbit. I also questioned the wisdom of using a reference work by someone better known for his web-slinging than his research. Roger conceded my point. Through the years we exchanged short emails on topics from 9/11 and Hollywood to aspect ratio presentation on home video. I also called him on a minor error in his audio commentary on my beloved Citizen Kane. Sometimes he never answered–he was a busy man–but when he did it was always a thrill to see replies from his distinctively simple personal email address and the sender name Roger Ebert.

During the illness that eventually cost him his lower jaw and the ability to speak, I offered to lighten his load by doing some unpaid research. He thanked me for my incredible generosity and admitted he might take me up on it at some point. What generosity? As I bluntly told him, I would get the better end of the deal. I would be able to brag to my students that I knew and had worked with the great Roger Ebert.Ebert

Sadly, the next couple of years were largely consumed by his illness. When he returned, tentatively, to reviewing and writing I sent him some encouragement, but never renewed my offer. We had some minor exchanges via his blog and he took a look at mine after I sent him the link, but I never received another of those memorable e-mails. He didn’t need any help from me or anybody else. He was blossoming in ways unimaginable. Far from being a man without a voice, he was a man with a louder and arguably stronger new voice. He was suddenly thriving, at the height of his considerable comfort and dexterity with the written word–a prolific mind unleashed. His existence became some incredible mix of Stephen Hawking, Gene Siskel, E.B. White and S.J. Perelman. His life and talent were our wonderful gift.

Roger’s premature death this week at age 70 hit me hard. Like he did with so many others, he had touched me personally. His death is not only a loss to our literate world, but the loss of a distant friend–a guiding voice making sense of some of this madness we live in has been stilled.

I’m going to re-listen to his Citizen Kane audio commentary in his honor. I’m not even going to nitpick his single, minor, and altogether forgivable error. There is no need for that now. As someone named Sam Grittner said on Twitter yesterday, in Roger’s case R.I.P. should now stand for Review In Peace.

That’s all there is to say. The balcony, of course, is now closed–but the occupant will not be forgotten.

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | March 28, 2013

Okay, Deep Down We’re All Brothers—But Friends?

One of the many writing-related jobs I have is teaching composition and literature at a community college. My students have ranged in age from 18 to 76 (a personal high!), but one point of connection easy to exploit for discussion and illustration is their familiarity with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s social media behemoth has certainly come a long way from its Harvard-only origins a scant nine years ago.

After bucking pressure from friends and acquaintances for years, I finally succumbed to my own curiosity and loop-outsider’s frustration and opened a Facebook account in 2011. Dozens of people immediately befriended me. I repaid them by spending a memorable spring break spamming their timelines with tons of family photos, shots of collectibles, and just about everything anybody had asked me if they could see over the years. It was an interesting experiment. If people could withstand that onslaught, then they really were my friends—or just family members who were kind of stuck with me.

Although I’ve seldom used Facebook to let my corner of the world know what I’m eating at a given time (okay, maybe twice—but once was due to my fascination with a self-heating meal supplied by the Red Cross during a disaster, so that clearly shouldn’t count), I actually kind of enjoy living vicariously through people who do. Friends are performing activities, going places, and buying cars, and I’m going along for the cyber ride—watching with alternating happiness or envy. Nowadays I usually use the site to share items of an innocuously personal nature—silly witticisms that occur to me a few times a week, select images from my own life that strike me as amusing when I have a camera nearby, and occasional links that I genuinely think may interest 30% or better of my Friends.

In fact, it’s this innocuously personal stuff that really fascinates me about Facebook. A lot of the posted material might never work its way into years of normal conversation, and affords us the opportunity to arguably be more intimate than any generation in human history. The casual nature of sitting in a room alone and pounding one’s instant musings onto a glowing computer or phone screen results in the most extraordinary outpouring of sociological and scatological minutia. Although I’m not too enthusiastic when my niece posts pics of puss-filled pustules and asks if they look infected, I do marvel at the sheer variety of content.

Please take a moment and marvel at the alliteration in the previous sentence.

Thank you. Back to our topic:

No matter how innocuous, or infectious, this personal material may be, it’s really not aimed at the general public. Most Facebook users are probably savvy enough not to have their privacy settings set on nonexistent. Their posts are meant to alternately amuse and torture folks who have personally agreed to share their lives, sealing the deal by clicking “Confirm” on the Friend Request. In some cases it may have been after a late night binge or during a severe headache, but it’s still a legally binding permit to be subjected to all matter of trivial mindfarts.

Which brings me, at long last, to my point. Last night I received three Friend Requests. One was from an old high school friend I haven’t seen in 30 years. The other two were from people I may not have met or spoken with during my entire life. The high school friend found me, I believe, because I posted a photo of a goofy light switch plate on a mutual friend’s timeline. Of such wacky origins are worthy relationships rekindled in our modern world. The other two probably know my name from spur of the moment comments I left on the status updates of someone they actually do know.

The old high school friend I didn’t hesitate a moment before confirming (frankly, I’m eager to hear what he’s been up to and maybe get him to finally acknowledge that The Monkees’ music is indeed timeless), but the other two remain in Confirm/Not Now limbo. Frankly, I don’t want to allow people I’ve never even spoken with access to my inner life. Is this wrong? Most people would say no, but others seem to revel in accumulating hundreds or even thousands of Friends.

As a teacher, I’ve ushered several hundred students through the metaphoric turnstile of my classroom door. I participate in a few localized fan and semi-pro circles, usually dealing with ancient pop-culture properties like ‘60s TV series or music. I sat on a few academic and non-academic convention panels. I tweet the occasional tweet. Bottom line: a few thousand people walking around today probably have a vague idea who I am. This is probably true for many of us, and makes us all, in our extremely minor ways, pocket celebrities. This also gives us a taste of celebrity problems. Sure, we don’t have to deal with paparazzi and walk around in baseball hats and dark glasses, but we do have to occasionally discourage or ignore stalkers who want to intrude on our space.

Sometimes we take a leap of faith and welcome a marginal acquaintance into our lives and it works out fine. I can think of at least three great Friends who entered my life through the Twitterverse (shoutout to Alan, Wallace and Will!). Other times are more problematic.

Sometimes we all wish our avatar photos had baseball hats and sunglasses.

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | June 22, 2012

The Performance Art of Grayson Hall: Life on Two Levels

Presented as part of

“We live on two levels…The fantastic level and the realistic level are the two levels upon which we live. But which is the real one, really?” –Richard Burton as the Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon in Night of the Iguana

Even taking into consideration the endless parade of ambitious new talent, almost 27 years after her death Grayson Hall is still one of the most unusual and arresting performers in film and television history. Her Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated performance in the film version of Tennessee Williams’s play Night of the Iguana still registers impressively, while her television portrayals of Dr. Julia Hoffman and Magda the Gypsy in the original Dark Shadows are scorched in viewers’ memories.

Why is this so?

Certainly her physical presence is a factor. Her tightly-pulled skin, coolly probing eyes, sharply arched eyebrows and nostrils, hair that always appeared at least mildly askew no matter what wig or how coiffed and short her hairstyle, and the relentless intelligence of her deportment and delivery all served to render her unforgettable whether she was playing a frustrated guardian or a duplicitous doctor. On screen, her clothing choices and wardrobe were always functional at best, even outlandish gypsy garb serving the needs of the particular performance rather than the private personality of the actor. Much as her contemporaries in the art world did in the 1960s, Grayson Hall used the objects and features she had to work with to foster her performance art.

Performers unanimously agree that film and television acting are two very different skills, particularly when the distinction is between a large budgeted John Huston film starring Richard Burton and the nerve-wracking combat acting of live-on-tape televised serials featuring a cast largely composed of young acting neophytes.

Film acting demands seemingly endless waiting and constant delays as technicians prepare, followed by short bursts of concentrated energy and emotion. These snippets of action are frequently repeated in multiple takes before a crew sometimes as large as a small theater audience, with scenes often filmed out of sequence due to location, money or personnel constraints. Preparation time, intimate knowledge of the character arc and motivation are essential for actors to be truly effective under those circumstances.

Live-on-tape television required quick and scattershot memorization, rapid blocking, hasty wardrobe and scenery changes, occasionally frantic leaps over morasses of trailing cables as juggernaut cameras maneuvered in tight spaces—all the while with primitive teleprompters unspooling, as necessary to the frazzled actors as crutches are to the hobbled.

It was the electricity of combat acting versus the waiting and deliberation of film acting. Is it any wonder that the few performers who dared attempt both show differences in their performance art?

On film, Grayson Hall was decisively most at home. She possessed an innate assurance before the cameras, whether it was while adapting her own stage role as Judith Fellowes from Night of the Iguana, or playing the Mrs. Danvers-like role of Carlotta Drake in Night of Dark Shadows. On film, each of her motions was carefully performed, meticulous in execution. Her delivery was precise and nuanced. Each subtle look was powerful and each glare was a rare and shocking indictment, while every line delivery sounded out crisp and flawless. Regardless of what the demands of her harried personal life may have been as working wife and mother, in motion pictures Grayson Hall was almost supernaturally cool and competent—an absolutely assured professional continually delivering a moderated and perfect performance complementary in tone to the material and to the medium of film.

Her Dark Shadows co-star Lara Parker, before acting in her first theatrical feature, sought Grayson Hall’s advice. “We were watching Deborah Kerr (Grayson Hall’s co-star in Night of the Iguana) in Tea and Sympathy. She said ‘Watch her. Watch how she never stops moving. She just could slightly turn her face, drop her face, yet it seemed totally completely natural. Look how she never has an expression on her face, so you can look into her eyes and see what she’s thinking…don’t mush up your face. Leave your face alone. Just act and react. Just don’t do anything, just think it. But keep subtly slowly moving…Whatever you do, keep your face quiet, because you are 30 feet tall!’” This was an experienced film artist describing the core difference between film and daily live-on tape TV acting.

On television, over a span of 475 Dark Shadows episodes, Grayson Hall had countless memorable moments and flashes of brilliance, but was often comically uncomfortable. Not only was she without the luxury of intense rehearsals and downtime for performance preparation, but the storylines were often so fantastic that she admittedly had little idea what was going on—which was even more frustrating since her husband, Sam Hall, was writing many of the shows. There is a memorable vignette in one of Kathryn Leigh Scott’s memoirs where Grayson Hall ducks into a backwater diner for coffee and meets a waitress who at last explains all of the recent Dark Shadows plotlines to her in understandable terms. Receiving the script the day before, blocking a full show only scant hours before taping, and not understanding the full arc or meaning of the story all understandably took their toll on the theatrically-trained actress’ performance. Layers of subtlety and gradations of emotion went out the window. It had to be enough to hit the correct marks, get most of the lines right and rely on a library of stock facial expressions, reactions and body language just to get through each show. This often betrayed her, as looks of shock and befuddlement were always comical when coupled with a daytime drama’s frequent musical stings to telegraph moments of dramatic reveal or tension. “We learned to never end a scene with a shot of her,” admitted Grayson’s husband Sam Hall, presumably with a smile. Viewers will never forget her intrepid but befuddled performance as a victim of the Dream Curse: prancing gingerly, backhand covering her mouth in terror, opening one door after another and barely reacting to such things as bright-eyed plastic skulls or lethargic guillotines–but becoming completely undone by a full skeleton in a wedding dress and a cheap wig, responding with a smoker’s throaty scream and hurrying back to her chair during the bride’s close-up to wait for the camera and wake with a horrified “Aaaah! No! No!” Yet her art demanded she take even these nonsensical moments and the most absurd lines as reality. “Yes, I was a ridiculous doctor…but when I did it I was actually serious and believed every minute of it,” she told Soap Opera Digest years after the series ended.

On one level, this must have been humiliating and frustrating for an Academy Award-nominated actress. Then again, a child had to be raised, bills had to be paid— Dark Shadows furnished two regular paychecks each week for the Hall family—and there was legitimate classic film star Joan Bennett starring in the show, too. Grayson Hall had to make the best of it. Realistically speaking, it just had to be done.

Which brings us neatly back to Night of the Iguana. Late in the film, Deborah Kerr as Hannah Jelkes concludes “We are operating on a realistic level when we are doing the things that have to be done.” Regardless of what was required, no matter how fantastic the circumstances or plot machinations, and whether acting before film cameras or on video for the small screen, Grayson Hall’s priority was always the heightened reality of her performance art. Few actresses are consistently as committed to the needs of each project, vital and alive in each moment, and absolutely riveting.

Her stage work was ephemeral and is now lost in time, but her film and television work remains, hard evidence and clear testament to a theatrical life devoted to a pragmatic and realistic approach to performance art. No matter which of the two mediums, no matter the imitation of life required that day, to the best of her considerable ability Grayson Hall did what needed to be done.

And she is unforgettable.

Dr. Julia Hoffman experiences the Dream Curse

Remembering Grayson Hall:

More Blog-a-thon participants:

The Collinsport Historical Society
Jonathan Frid was the face of Dark Shadows, but Grayson Hall was it’s soul. Even though nobody ever made action figures or board games baed on her characters, Dark Shadows wouldn’t have been the same without her. Plus fan art, vintage newspaper clippings about Hall’s stage career and more throughout the day!

The Collins Foundation
“If you have to choose between real and interesting, choose interesting.” According to Patrick McCray, Grayson Hall gives us both in Dark Shadows.

The Classic Movie Lady
At age 13, this blogger’s favorite actress was Grayson Hall … and she had never seen Dark Shadows.

The Drawing Room (Home of the Dark Shadows podcast)
On the latest installment of The Drawing Room podcast, Chrissy recites her poem, Ode to Hoffman, 1967, which celebrates Grayson Hall’s contribution to the early episodes of Dark Shadows. The poem is also available to read at the website.

Barnabas & Company S. R. Shutt shares his thoughts on the artistry of Grayson Hall, playfully inspired by Wallace Stevens’ short verse cycle, Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird.

Dead Celebrity I will Sorely Miss of the Day – The Grayson Hall edition
The “hopelessly unhip blogger and bikini model” says Grayson Hall was the “BADDEST VAMPIRE LOVIN’ FOX THERE WILL EVER BE.”

7 or 8 things I know about Her
Biographer R.J. Jamison summarizes the mystique of Grayson Hall

Hoffman/Lambert: The Doctor and The Vampire
Jessica Dwyer talks about women who are drawn to the dark side, and what Julia Hoffman’s character has to say about that strange fascination.

Back during my college filmmaking days, the instructor had us perform an interesting experiment. He had us run the full frame films we had shot masked off at the top and bottom with a widescreen projection matte. Suddenly all of the compositions we had carefully crafted were changed, as the top and bottom of the image shrank. We all oohed and aahed at first. Our work suddenly looked like bigscreen movies you might see in a real theater. Then, as the novelty wore off, we began to lament the loss of our original framing and directorial choices. Where was that idyllic blue sky that set off the foreground character’s gloomy words? Why were so many characters’ hands missing? Why did nobody have a full head in a close-up?

I was reminded of this after my viewing of the classic John Wayne western HONDO on blu-ray this week. The film was originally shot in the more or less full frame aspect ratio of 1.37:1, which is roughly the same image you might see on an older non-widescreen television. The new blu-ray was released at 1.85:1, which means the top and bottom of the image are missing and the picture is magnified to fill current widescreen televisions. That’s right, part of the originally filmed image is missing from Paramount’s new blu-ray.

To me this is an abomination, yet there are film scholars rallying to Paramount’s defense. Some say most of the theaters in 1953 had already converted to widescreen and this is how the movie would have been shown. Whether this is true or not, and frankly seeing the output of Hollywood in the early fifties I have severe doubts, the fact remains that the director framed a full-screen 1.37:1 image each day on set, edited a full-screen image in the editing room, and presented a full-screen image to the studio upon completion. If we truly believe in the auteur theory and that film is a work of art, then regardless of what a theater did afterwards in terms of display, the movie the director shot should be considered the definitive form.

One site even presents a source from 1954 to say that the film was shot in widescreen (below). That is not what the source says. It says the absolute MAXIMUM width this film can be shown is 1.85:1 widescreen. Any more and too much of the picture information is lost.

If presentation is to be taken into account, why aren’t we watching classic TV shows with all four sides cropped and the corners rounded like those old television sets? Because that’s not the way they were shot.

Yes, there are stories of later directors getting sloppy and including hanging boom microphones and other elements because they knew you would never see them in theaters after the films were matted—but I have never heard a director say this himself. Certainly it would not have been the case with any of our great cinema directors, the ones who designed each frame meticulously.

My plea is simple: Give us what the director shot, edited and submitted. Give us his original vision. We’ll figure out how we want to show it. Let people who MUST see movies with every inch of their widescreen TVs filled use their Zoom control. Me, I’d rather see the full original camera image.

I think most people like seeing all of John Wayne’s hat. I know I do.

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | April 26, 2012

The Response to Jonathan Frid’s Death

As I write this, exactly one week has passed since news broke of the passing of original Dark Shadows icon Jonathan Frid. 2012 has sadly been a year characterized by the death of beloved entertainment icons associated with the 1960s, including Monkee Davy Jones and music impresario Dick Clark—yet aspects of the response to Jonathan’s demise are unique.

It began with the manner in which the news was revealed. Jonathan was apparently hospitalized in Hamilton, Ontario, after suffering a fall and passed away in his sleep on Saturday, April 14, 2012 (there was initially some confusion about the date and most online sources still claim it was Friday the 13th of April, but the family and The New York Times both now confirm the 14th). The family waited until after a private memorial with close family and friends was held on Wednesday, April 18 (exactly 45 years after his first appearance as Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows), to release the news. The manner in which this sad information was disseminated to fandom and the general public is a rather interesting case study.


Jonathan Frid at the 2011 Dark Shadows Festival (note the familiar wolf's head cane)

Although internet rumors apparently began to swirl hours earlier, the first credible source to reveal news was his Shadows co-star and friend, Kathryn Leigh Scott. At 12:19 a.m. Pacific Time on April 19, she tweeted “I am so sad about the passing of my dear friend #JonathanFrid” and included a link to a brief remembrance she had written.

This was enough to send rapid and far-reaching ripples of grief across the fan community, yet the general reach was limited and circumscribed. No major news outlets picked up the story for almost six hours. Instead, it was left to bloggers like myself to hurriedly prepare memorial tributes and obituaries. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia (which supposedly has a mechanism in place to prevent adding the dates of death to the listings of live persons without verification), was one of the first outlets to confirm the fact and place of Jonathan’s demise.

The professional news organizations, apparently caught unprepared despite Jonathan’s age and the impending release of a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp as his signature character Barnabas, resorted to Twitter and blogs to obtain background information. This continued for quite some time. CNN contacted me via e-mail at 12:33 p.m. Eastern Time to request information, almost nine hours after the news began to spread.

“There was a lot of confusion,” another network contact confided to me. “Yes, of course we knew there was a movie coming out, but we weren’t sure the general public would remember Frid. In fact, some of the few people in our newsroom who recalled the name immediately thought he might have died years ago. We had to do some research. It would have been different if he hadn’t been retired for so long—or maybe even if he lived in the U.S.”

It was not until 9:27 a.m. ET that Marcy Robin, the editor/publisher of the longstanding Dark Shadows Newsletter Shadowgram, sent the following via e-mail:

“In Memoriam – Jonathan Frid
December 2, 1924 – April 13, 2012 (editor’s note: see note above regarding the date of death)

“Donald Frid, Jonathan’s nephew, who assisted Jonathan at many of the recent Festivals, has informed us that Jonathan passed away at the age of 87 on April 13, 2012, in Hamilton, Ontario.

“His health had been declining in recent weeks and he died peacefully in his sleep in a local hospital.

“At Jonathan’s request, there was no funeral and there will be no memorial service.

“Donations in the memory of Jonathan Frid may be made to Hillfield-Strathallen College, the school where he got his first taste of acting.

Or a charity of your choice.

“Donald and the other members of the Frid family are grateful for all the support and appreciation Jonathan received from the Dark Shadows community over these many years.

“At a gathering of family and friends on April 18, the family remarked on John’s passing on Friday, April the 13th, and the fact that they were remembering him on April 18, the 45th anniversary of the broadcast of his first appearance at the door of Collinwood.”

This information was rapidly disseminated by many of us via Twitter and Facebook. The mention that there would be no funeral or memorial service seemed to cause some consternation, as fans desired the opportunity to corporately mourn the loss of the beloved star.

Within hours, the hashtag #JonathanFrid was trending worldwide on Twitter.

While it is not necessary, and may indeed be impossible, to record the exact number of memorials and tributes published during the following week, they do fall into three distinct categories from which I have culled examples:

1)     Statements by Castmates:

Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans and Josette Dupres): “May Jonathan Frid ‘our reluctant vampire,’ live on in our hearts! How blessed I am to have known this dear man and to have such wonderful memories of him, both on screen and off…I am so grateful to have worked with Jonathan, and to have known him as the charismatic, entertaining, complex and plain spoken man that he was. What fun we had working together! He was irascible, irreverent, funny, caring, loveable and thoroughly professional, and in the end became the whole reason why ‘kids ran home from school to watch’ Dark Shadows…I love you, Jonathan. Rest in peace.”

Lara Parker (Angelique and Cassandra Collins): “He was a warm-hearted and compassionate man with a lovely sense of humor, and he was a staggeringly charismatic actor, who is personally responsible for the lasting success of the Dark Shadows TV show in so many ways… I was looking forward to a big hug and kiss this summer at the festival, and another set of self-deprecating, witty remarks to his adoring audience where the love in the auditorium was always palatable…I will miss him so much. I am grateful to have known him. Take care, Jonathan, now that you have reached your island. Hopefully it looks like Hamilton. Our love goes with you.”

David Selby (Quentin Collins): “Jonathan…You never mentioned that you were contemplating a long trip… You were never anything but considerate to me, gentlemanly, a throwback to when there were gentlemen – courteous – exquisite charming manners but always with a quiet, respectful, measuring with those skeptical eyes, and then an easy smile… What is it about love that made Dark Shadows so needed by millions? They loved you, Jonathan, as did I.”

Selby and Frid

David Selby and Jonathan Frid performing a dramatic reading at the 2011 Dark Shadows Festival

2)     Remembrances by Family and Acquaintances:

“‘He was a shy guy and he didn’t want a lot of fuss,’ said Don (Frid, Jonathan’s nephew). 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.” (

“Frid’s family held a wake on April 18 at Sammy’s Restaurant in Ancaster. Frid stopped cooking years ago, and frequented Sammy’s daily for lunch and dinner. Anna Kalecki, owner of Sammy’s, said Frid was like a member of the family. When she, her husband and two sons went out for dinner, they’d bring Frid along. ‘He’d say, “Tell people I’m your grandpa,”’ Kalecki said. ‘He was such a special person.’ She said he’d often come in the door of the restaurant and do a little dance, swinging his cane. ‘He was a really entertaining person,’ Kalecki said. ‘All the customers liked him.’ (

“In the 1980s I interviewed Jonathan in his New York apartment, and for a time was visiting him each Sunday to go through his archives to gather information on a book I was researching, and to reflect with him about those days. It was certainly surreal to know that one Sunday Jonathan Frid would be buying me breakfast or lunch, and on another Sunday I would return the favor. Perhaps the greatest compliment I got from him was when I wrote my first profile on him and presented it to him when it came out in print. (He) read it over and commented, ‘It feels as though you truly got to know me…. I’m a little uncomfortable that you got to know me so well.’ (Ed Gross, Blog of Dark Shadows)

“Jonathan Frid, in his life and his work, represented a bygone period of great dedication, civility and romanticism. As with Barnabas, he seemed to be a figure from another era but, like that fictional creation, Jonathan has transcended time with a legacy that is destined to live on for centuries to come.” (Jim Pierson, Dark Shadows archivist, quoted at

“Jonathan’s larger than life personality and will make it all the harder to accept his death, though I actually prayed for it when learning of his hospitalizations and other problems. Many nights sitting in Central Park, admiring the bright stars he talked about death, his lack of fear about dying, and his wish that he could die in his sleep. I am so happy that work out for him.” (Nancy Kersey, Jonathan’s longtime personal assistant)

“I’m saddened to learn of the death of Jonathan Frid. He was a delightful, considerate, witty man, and the perfect vampire for Dark Shadows. I was intimidated by him when I was a kid—he treated me nicely, and he and Mom often roared with laughter at the crazy things they had to do for the show—but he was a star, and thus, even though he was kind and thoughtful when he was in our kitchen, I never quite knew how to behave around him. The man had charisma. (Matt Hall, son of Dark Shadows scriptwriter Sam Hall and series co-star Grayson Hall)

“ ‘Actors forget their lines! The sets look cheap! The “special effects” are a bat on a string!’

“Yup. It’s true. All of that. Those people miss the point, but I’ve long since ceased my efforts to disabuse them. Let them laugh. Frid himself laughed, I saw him laugh. In my high school and college days, when I worked for him in a variety of capacities, I would sit with Barnabas Collins in his New York City apartment and watch Dark Shadows on a New Jersey PBS station. Sometimes he would giggle at himself, other times he would wince, and switch the channel in disgust.

“ ‘I can’t watch it!’ he bellowed once, slamming down the remote on his desk. ‘It’s unwatchable!’

“I never tried to explain to him why I liked the show, or why I was so forgiving of his propensity to forget his lines. But if I had, or if I could now, I might say, ‘There’s far more right with Dark Shadows than there is wrong. And the right is right enough to make us not mind the wrong. Not only that, the wrong is so entertaining that it becomes part of what’s right.’ …

“I used to organize groups of fans to attend rehearsals in his apartment on Saturday afternoons. I’d sit there, usually on the floor, looking up at that imposing figure, the man I had seen for the first time in a TV broadcast of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (the 1970 feature film based upon the series) in 1982.

“ ‘Villains!’ he would shriek, reading from Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart and punching at the sky. ‘Dissemble no more! I admit the deed. Here, here! Tear up the planks! It is the beating of his hideous heart!’

“It gave me a chill every time. Even typing it gives me a chill. Particularly now.” (Will McKinley on

Frid 2

Jonathan Frid peers into the vast ballroom, seeming a bit stunned by the throng of fans at the 2011 Festival (many were first-time attendees)

3)     Responses by Fandom and Media:

“You were such an amazing actor…you are and will forever be Barnabas, the quintessential vampire with a soul. You portrayed the role with such style and gave Barnabas an air of dignified sadness. You were fascinating, and sparked a creativity in me that made me write my imaginations and dreams down on paper. Thank you.

“Rest in Peace, Jonathan Frid…” (J.J.Lopez Minkoff on the SkyDancingBlog)

“The last time I saw him was August 21, 2011, in Brooklyn, New York, at the 45th Anniversary Dark Shadows Festival banquet. Aged and infirm, walking so hesitantly with his familiar wolf’s head cane, he could hardly eat once he had settled at his table because so many fans stopped by to say hello, to photograph him, to touch him or let him know how his moving performance had touched them. Frid’s family always seemed a bit bemused by all the attention Jonathan received. The show did not play in Canada, so the prophet was never really famous in his hometown. On the road, however, kindly old Uncle Jonathan was a Beatle.” (Frank Jay Gruber on

“Most of us wouldn’t get on Facebook and participate in dozens of threads to talk about the death of a friend or loved one. The loss is too material for us to share with people who are virtually strangers. But we do just that when a celebrity dies, even one who has been as personable and reclusive as Jonathan Frid.

“His death is not our loss. But then again, it is, only not in a way that’s easily identifiable. It’s a communal loss, which is why we’re so prone to discuss it with strangers. Because, all other differences aside, we loved Jonathan Frid in our own way. No matter what else sets us apart, we’ve got that much in common.” (“Cousin Barnabas” of

“It hurts right now. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. The man who helped inspire all of this is gone. But look at all that came after him, just think about it. We’ve got all that magic and all those memories and those aren’t ever going to fade. So tonight I’m going to curl up on the couch and I’m going to watch Jonathan Frid do what he did best. I’m going to watch him bring to life a character that will never ever die. And thanks to that magic, in a way, neither will he.

“Thank you sir, you were a true gentleman.


“The little girl in front of the TV.” (Jessica Dwyer on

“Fortunately, nearly all 1225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS survive in some form or other. In them, given the nature of the medium (which was in essence live theater), you will see Jonathan Frid forget his lines, look for the teleprompter, and fumble his dialogue into amusing Yodaisms, but you will also see hundreds of episodes in which he thrills you, breaks your heart, or chills your blood.” …

“In what now amounts to his final public gesture, Frid personally signed 2500 cards that were included in MPI Home Video’s coffin-shaped box set DARK SHADOWS THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SERIES, a 133-disc limited edition set that sold out well in advance of its street date. It is the most handsome DVD box set I’ve ever seen, but — the next time I reach for a new set of discs — it’s going to be bittersweet to have to open Jonathan’s coffin to fetch it!” (Tim Lucas on

“Long after ‘Dark Shadows’ ended, Barnabas remained an albatross. Mr. Frid reprised the role in the 1970 feature film ‘House of Dark Shadows’; the few other screen roles that came his way also tended toward the ghoulish.” (The New York Times)

For the purpose of this essay, many of the commercial media responses in the latter category are of little interest (hence their omission). They include similar litanies of facts and credits, and very little unique observation or insight.

In addition to the three categories mentioned above, another minor trend is the non-specialized reprinting of archival material from the heyday of the program published during its original ABC run. Some of this material is remarkable for its derisive and rather disrespectful tone, mocking not only the show but the actors involved. Memorably, one piece reposted from the archives of The Saturday Evening Post includes lines such as “’That vampire’ is, in reality, a 44-year-old Canadian actor named Jonathan Frid, a tall, attractively homely man with a face like a gardening trowel.” This is not the usual type of material you see presented during a period of mourning.

It is certain the tributes and memorials will continue for some time to come. In fact, it was announced earlier this week that the July 28-29 Dark Shadows Festival event to be held at the Lyndhurst Mansion (the site which served as the Collinwood Mansion in the two original theatrical films) and the nearby DoubleTree Hilton Hotel would serve as an official fan memorial. During the Tarrytown event, Jonathan was scheduled to again host a video retrospective of some of his favorite series moments. This event will now be attended by his nephew Donald and will undoubtedly be a poignant and cathartic time for fans.

My primary concern with this piece is to document and discuss how the death of a cult celebrity of Jonathan’s magnitude, a man whose popularity during the late 1960s was Beatle-esque, was disseminated and treated in this age of social media and fan empowerment.

While Jonathan, as the eventual headliner of the program (his character was first introduced in April 17, 1967’s episode 210 as a choking hand and forearm almost ten months after the series premiered on June 27, 1966), is undoubtedly something of a special case, his death must be a clarion call to other celebrities, both prominent and otherwise, to ensure that efficient mechanisms are in place to alert their faithful fans and the general public to any news of magnitude. At the very least, a process should be in place for trusted fan information sources to be alerted.

The death of this memorable, talented and beloved actor is not only of lasting significance to his generation-spanning body of fans, but the media response, both in the social and professional spheres, is an important case study as we struggle to understand the democratization of information currency in the 2010s.

Just as Jonathan Frid’s portrayal of the famously reluctant vampire was groundbreaking and significant, and as his character’s popularity dominated popular culture in the 1960s, how apropos it is that the end of his time on Earth should be so relevant and important to our understanding of the modern world in 2012. Barnabas, too, had a vital place in the past and in the present.

Rest in peace, Jonathan.


The Collinsport Historical Society has published a convenient listing with links to many of the resources cited in this article at

Full addresses for the others may be obtained via search engine or by contacting Frank Jay Gruber at

All photos accompanying this article are (c) 2012 Frank Jay Gruber.

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | April 20, 2012

Star Trek and the Space Shuttle: Legacy and Hope

In 1976, at age 11, I was one of the estimated 200,000-400,000 dedicated fans who wrote letters begging President Gerald Ford to rename the prototype of America’s space shuttle orbiters Enterprise, after the starship that captured our imaginations in the original Star Trek television series. Although I could not have put it into words at the time, the original name, Constitution, seemed a bit nationalistic and provincial in nature, while Enterprise suggested a grand and worthwhile mission. The fans won, although President Ford claimed his fondness for the name came from the aircraft carrier Enterprise, and on September 17, 1976, at Rockwell’s Air Force Plant 42 assembly facility in Palmdale, California, the newly-renamed shuttle was rolled out with great ceremony.

Along with series creator Gene Roddenberry, most of the major cast of Star Trek was present for the event. Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei and Walter Koenig all stood there with bright smiles in their wide-lapelled 1970s clothing. It was a sunny and beautiful day, one filled with the promise of an exciting new chapter in NASA and humanity’s history.Cast at Launch

The shuttle would be the first American space vehicle flown without first having had an unmanned test. It would be exciting for this reason alone, besides its unique design and all of the other reasons. For the initial tests, Enterprise flew piggybacked onto a specially converted 747 carrier aircraft called the SCA. The first time she disengaged and flew free from her mounting was on August 12, 1977, which was also my 12th birthday. It was a great summer to be 12, with Star Wars in theaters and a new shuttle soaring in the sky (and my Yankees midway through a season that would end with them winning the World Series). Yet only a few months later, on October 26, 1977, our beloved and hard won Enterprise flew for the very last time. After all, a prototype vehicle with no engines or heat shield had its limitations. Ironically, the shuttle named after the beloved starship that explored the final frontier would become the only one of the fleet that never made it to space.

She had, however, achieved her purpose. The testing phase now complete, NASA was free to build the Columbia (the first shuttle to achieve Earth orbit) and four sister ships over the next decade. One ship, the Challenger, arrived in 1982 but blew up with teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard on the unforgettable morning of January 28, 1986. Endeavour, the final shuttle, was built as a replacement in 1991.

Throughout the entire shuttle era, the connection to Star Trek was never far in the background. Many of the astronauts, technicians and project managers were avowed fans, and the makers of Star Trek were great supporters of the space program. The Enterprise prototype appeared in the recreation room in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, docked to a model of the International Space Station in Benjamin Sisko’s office in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, and was shown in the opening credits of the show Enterprise each week (although it was actually footage of another shuttle with the name Enterprise digitally superimposed). One of the great innovations of the entire shuttle program was the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), a jetpack like device with 24 nitrogen thrusters that astronauts could wear to operate tether-free outside the vehicle. A similar device appears in Star Trek-The Motion Picture, as does a Vulcan shuttle. When Challenger exploded in 1986, that year’s film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was dedicated to the lost astronauts: “The cast and crew of Star Trek wish to dedicate this film to the men and women of the spaceship Challenger whose courageous spirit shall live to the 23rd century and beyond”.

It would be two and one half years until the next shuttle flight. During this time, beginning in 1987, Star Trek-The Next Generation kept the hope of peaceful space exploration alive in the public consciousness.

Now, as the immediate future of manned space exploration is in doubt, some commentators point to the shuttle as an expensive, unreliable and deadly failure—a blemish after the promise of Apollo. This could not be farther from the truth. Besides the achievements in terms of scientific knowledge, each day peoples’ lives are improved or saved by some specific development from the space shuttle program. Some of its legacies include better baby formulas based on the nutritional supplements created for the astronauts, an artificial heart that works on the principles of the shuttle’s fuel pump, a hand held cutter developed for the program but now used to extricate accident victims from crashed automobiles, various anti-oxidizing lubricants that keep our machinery functioning, types of insulation that keep us warm and prevent injury, image processing and video Shuttle Enterprisestabilization software that help us solve crimes and edit our digital photos, and even a stronger type of fishing net that more effectively puts food on our tables. From a space science perspective, the most visible and obvious legacies are the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope.

The Enterprise prototype, previously stored at the Smithsonian’s Dulles Airport hangar facility, is now on its way to a new home at the U.S.S. Intrepid Museum in New York City. This is apropos, as Intrepid itself has been featured three times as the name of vehicles in Star Trek. For the first couple of years, until a special housing facility is built beside the ship, it will sit atop the aircraft carrier’s deck and be visible even across the Hudson as a proud reminder of our legacy in space. Taking her place in the Smithsonian is the Discovery, the most utilized orbiter vehicle. The remaining vessels will be distributed around the country.

The advertising tagline for the first Star Trek movie was “The human adventure is just beginning”. Starting at roughly the same time, the space shuttle program was a bold and worthwhile illustration of that fact. As we now pause and catch our breath before the next step in our reach for the heavens, we must never lose sight of the bright destiny before us as an innovative and ambitious species. The Enterprise shuttle, gleaming in the sunshine with the skyscrapers of New York behind it, will be a wonderful reminder.

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | April 19, 2012

Jonathan Frid (1924-2012)

Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, who played the charismatic undead Barnabas Collins in the original Dark Shadows, may have been the only person unable to fall under the charms of a vampire. Upon hearing the news of his peaceful passing at age 87, my first reaction was to think “He’s free at last.”

Initially hired for a short span, the actor portrayed a famously “reluctant vampire” converted to his dark existence by a jilted witch. He only took victims out of dire need and constantly mourned his lost love Josette. This was a man on the verge of marriage, a victim of betrayal and loss who must now suffer his ungodly destiny and unfulfilled love for all eternity. Is it any wonder the romantic teenagers and housewives of America were captivated?Jonathan Frid

Frid, who considered himself a serious actor, was more inclined to read Shakespeare than act in a super-heated Gothic revival–yet he needed the money. Here was a reluctant vampire in more ways than one. As he once famously said during a 1960s game show appearance, he knew “upon which side (his) bread was buttered” and would continue to “bite whomever they (told him) to.” Yet he did have his limits, refusing to appear in the second Dark Shadows feature film for fear of being typecast. This was far too late, of course. Frid’s Barnabas Collins had already reached iconic status, featured on posters, bubblegum cards and in teenybopper magazine cover stories. He was shutting the crypt door long after the hearse had gotten out. Jonathan Frid was forever Barnabas Collins.

In later years, he came to terms with this. Beginning in the late 1980s, he slowly embraced the character. As the series repeats became a draw on public television, he would appear on pledge drives. He would soon make personal appearances at the annual Dark Shadows Festival reunions.

The last time I saw him was August 21, 2011, in Brooklyn, New York, at the 45th Anniversary Dark Shadows Festival banquet. Aged and infirm, walking so hesitantly with his familiar wolf’s head cane, he could hardly eat once he had settled at his table because so many fans stopped by to say hello, to photograph him, to touch him or let him know how his moving performance had touched them. Frid’s family always seemed a bit bemused by all the attention Jonathan received. The show did not play in Canada, so the prophet was never really famous in his hometown. On the road, however, kindly old Uncle Jonathan was a Beatle.

Loved by his castmates, adored by his fans, yet somewhat hampered by unfulfilled hopes, lofty ambitions and the infirmity of age, Jonathan Frid is finally free of Barnabas and unbidden fame at last. May he rest in peace.

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | April 13, 2012

Reading’s Future in a World Without Serendipity

Pundits are speculating the recent Justice Department decision that essentially allows carte blanche authority to set its own loss-leading e-book pricing structure may signal the death knell for brick and mortar bookstores. Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million stock prices are down on the news, and ex-Borders employees are presumably poised to act as experienced grief counselors.

Even before this development, Barnes & Noble turned most of its prime front of store display space into boutiques to promote its Nook e-reader. They might as well hand their retail workers guns to shoot themselves in the feet, as every e-reader they talk customers into buying likely lessens the need or likelihood of a return trip to the store. The clerks are effectively putting themselves out of work.

In this e-reading age, it is not only the fronts of the stores that have become interactive boutiques. For many shoppers the entire bookstore merely functions as a place to discover titles via marketing or serendipity, which browsers then order for their devices—in many cases before even leaving the store. This effectively makes brick and mortar businesses into free display space for leading e-book vendor Amazon and the publishers. Sales figures are never readily available, but I suspect the superstore cafes may be outselling the book and DVD areas.

Right or wrBN storeong, if these stores cease to exist it will profoundly affect individual readers and fundamentally alter the world of publishing forever.

What happens to the happy browsing accidents that result in the discovery of new titles? Will readers now be substantially constrained and limited by Amazon’s recommendations based on their prior purchase and browsing histories?

How will this influence and address changes in taste due to aging and personal growth? Will most readers follow the course of least resistance and keep to their favorite genres and authors? This will make publisher projections and acquisitions much less risky, but will diminish variety and daring.

Will the evolution of literature and the development of new writers fundamentally change?

Have we seen the end of the term “in print” to describe available books?

Certainly the argument is often made that the elimination of overhead, physical materials and shipping will allow publishers to keep more authors and titles available, but by what means will they be found? We must never judge books by their covers, but will we even have the opportunity to be attracted by them?

For readers, it will be the end of an epoch when the last brick and mortar bookstore closes its doors.

Posted by: thewearyprofessor | April 12, 2012

The World on My Nightstand

Like me, I suspect many of you are relics of the pre-download age adapting as well as possible to the frenetic digital onslaught. We have actual physical media in our homes and cars. We own CDs, DVDs, and—might as well own up to it—a few of us actually have VHS tapes, audio cassettes and the odd LP record (or hundreds) boxed in our closets and/or attics.

All of these items are on the technological equivalent of the Endangered Species List, and physical books may be the next media to go the way of the dodo. Yes, printed books are becoming extinct. How did civilization get to a point where I can say that?

Right now, as I sit here rather quaintly scribbling on actual paper with a bona fide pen, beside me sits a nightstand overflowing with the usual items. There are a few objects that might have been on bedside stands in the 1950s—a lamp, a tissue box, and a bottle of water—and a small collection of gadgets that would be indistinguishable from magic to residents of that time:

An e-reader holding approximately 1300 books (admittedly most of them Gutenberg Project freebies); a tablet computer that allows me to access thousands of movies and TV episodes (along with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, the entire World Wide Web, etc.); an MP3 player containing roughly 1000 albums worth of audio (music and spoken word); and a mobile phone that not only allows me to communicate with just about anyone in the civilized world, but also acts as an alarm clock, calculator and calendar.

It’s no exaggeration to claim I can access the vast majority of not only all recorded human knowledge and achievement, but also—provided I have diligence and a valid credit card—information about almost anyone’s activities. All of civilization is accessible from my nightstand.Nightstand

Read War and Peace? Done! (Okay, I’m lying. But I will. Someday. Really. Okay, maybe.)

Tweet nonsense to the Leader of the Free World? Roger that.

See a photo of my aunt’s dead parakeet from 1962? Checkmark!

This seems unreal, the stuff of science fiction. Not even believable science fiction, but the drug-induced late 60s variety. Twenty years ago we would sooner have believed we could own George Jetson’s robot maid and Samsonite carry-on car than access the world from our bedside tables in 2012.

This is all beyond humanity’s collective wildest dreams.

So how did it happen?

Incremental baby steps and giant leaps. Need and inspiration begat technology (wars hot and cold plus the space race) and here we are living in a world inconceivable to the average children who watched The Mickey Mouse Club and The Lone Ranger during their first runs.

This is amazing, and also frankly very scary. Once you have the world on your nightstand, what’s left?

Only the things which remain private.

Freedom of access can rapidly become a restriction of action. With unsleeping eyes all around, ears attuned to the smallest chatter, and the relentless sifting and hunger for data, where do we find the privacy to be our true selves (whoever they are)? Where do we find the solitude and isolation of mind to contemplate, to meditate, to pray? How do we convince ourselves to turn off the endless dialogue without fear of missing anything?

How can we act in private with the world at our bedside?

For that matter, do we even desire privacy, or has that changed?

While I think about that, let me type this up for my blog.

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