Friday, May 04, 2012

Jonathan Frid - the Man I Knew

The reason why Jonathan was so hesitant to answer questions about how he liked working with so-and-so is because he believed that to truly answer the question, you have to tell the good and bad.  That is how you provide a whole picture of working or knowing someone.  However, he didn't usually care to disparage someone living or dead at least not publicly.  This was at the core of his thinking as an actor: the interesting characters have opposite poles - good and bad - and that's where you find the emotional truth of the character.

I must admit that I am writing this blog entry mostly for my own emotional need at the moment.  And in doing so I need to share both sides of the man.   I have read countless articles and blogs written since Jonathan's death in those early morning hours of April 14th.  They focus on his work and the odd remarks here and there made during public appearances.  There was so much more to the man than anything that has been covered thus far.  That bothers me because John was a fascinating man.  He was a good man, good friend and a good teacher for me.  But I had to decide that if I was going to go through with writing a public blog entry about John, I would have to be as he wanted: honest.  He said he didn't care what people wrote about him and for the most part that was true.  He wasn't married to any public image he had.

One thing Jonathan would never be is emotionally tied down, or pinned down.  This aspect of his nature was reflected in his work and even more recently so when he told the interviewer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND that the new Dark Shadows should not be like the original.  He added that he wouldn't even think to tell Johnny Depp how to play the character that made Jonathan famous.  He didn't feel emotionally obligated to the role anymore than he felt it should pin him down as an actor as if his professional life started and ended with Barnabas Collins.  John simply didn't have loyalty in those terms in his personal or professional life.  Emotions ran deep but were forever on wheels with that man.  And if those feelings were hurt, it took awhile for them to heal.  This is what made him such a powerful actor as feelings ran a full course in him and he knew how to tap into them during a performance.  Though John was not a  demonstrative person, he could quickly read the emotional state of others and pick up on emotional nuances the more casual observer might not notice.

Even though emotions ran deep, the temper did not.  As fast as the temper would surface, it would peter out soon afterwards.  Disorganization and sloppiness would send him flying into a fit.  He strove for perfection in his work and anything he was involved with which would invariably create frustrations.  It took him longer to do things: he absorbed things very slowly but once he had gotten it down, it became a natural part of him.

I mentioned loyalty earlier.  John did set his clock to much of anything.  He liked TV shows such as "Cheers,"  "The Carol Burnett Show,"  "All in the Family" and political satire shows, the occasional movie but he would not make plans to be home to watch something.  If he was home, he watched it.  If he wasn't, well, he didn't watch it.  He appreciated the devotion of fans, for example, and the organized fandom around "Dark Shadows" but he didn't understand the culture of it.  He didn't make a secret of this fact.  Watching the same show over and over again isn't something he would ever do, except in the case of a movie like "Gone with the Wind."  John loved old movies and would watch some more than twice but not a television series, not even one he starred in.  John understood the necessity of his professional ties with "Dark Shadows" and honestly did enjoy the time he spent at festivals and fans.  When he was preparing to move back to Canada and "retire" he said to me "I want to find a way to keep in touch with the fans."  He was grateful to them.

And there's that word again "was."  I am still having a tough time writing in the past tense about John.  Even though I had little to do with him the past few years, the twenty years I knew him and the good times and friendship are soothing.   He was a good man - a very complicated person - but all in all, a good man.  I said that to him once and he shifted uncomfortably and uttered "Well, I guess Mother would be proud" making a bit of a joke of it.

What times I remember that also reflect the kind of person John Frid was?

Fans who had their luggage stolen out of a car in New York City just before attending a festival were a bit at a loss as to what to do.  Jonathan contacted them and offered to loan them money and do anything he could to help them out for the weekend while they were at the festival.

Another fan was driving into New York City from New Jersey to attend a rehearsal at his apartment.  Much to her horror, the car broke down INSIDE the Lincoln Tunnel.  She was pushed out by the Tunnel traffic service and once out of the tunnel, was able to make a call to John to explain why she would not be there.  John offered to excuse himself from his company and go to the tunnel exit where the car had been pushed and sit with her until help arrived.  His plan was to order food in for the guests and dash off to the tunnel so the fan would not have to sit by herself in what was not a great area.  The fan told him that help was already on the way and he didn't need to come.  He ordered in food, explained the situation to his other guests, and they wanted for this fan to arrive.  John got her a drink, some food and saw that she was settled. He went on with the rehearsal.

John was a gentleman, especially where women were concerned.  He had grown to accept women in all sort s of roles but that did not stop him from treating them in a courtly manner.  he believed in seeing to their physical safety.

If fans came up to him and started talking about DS or John, John would turn the conversation around by saying "Now, tell me about you."  He wanted to know what made fans tick.  He wanted to know something about the people who admired him.  It was the essence of a personality that fascinated him.

I remember watching him raise holy hell inside a grocery store because someone had left their dog in a car with rolled up windows.  He loved animals.  He loved the underdog - no pun intended.  Animals needed our car and help and he supported that.  The underdogs of society was something he was committed to helping with his own John H. Frid Foundation in Hamilton, Ontario.  His private charities included feeding house-bound individuals with illness, commonly known as Meals-on-Wheels.  He donated money to numerous AIDS organizations and other charities such as Make-A-Wish Foundation.  At Christmas he would buy toys  for the organizations who donated them to children.

The one story that always chokes me up is the one where one of John's friends who was suffering from several maladies had a seizure and was taken to the nearby hospital.  He was dumped unceremoniously in what John described as an unclean, horrible ER room cubicle.  The other friend who was with them later told me that John took the head of his friend, now upset by his surroundings, and gently turned it into his chest to comfort him and so not to have to look at the crappy room.  A few moments later the friend died.

Another friend was dying and John, along with several other friends, took turns going to the friend's apartment to augment the home hospice care.  John had already committed to attend a DS festival in New York City the weekend he had to care for his friend.  John believed once you made a commitment, you kept it.  I remember that fest weekend when John would disappear for a few hours to go sit with his friend, clean up after stomach upset, administer other comforts, clean up messes, and then return to the festival.  His friend died the following week.

So why didn't John talk publicly about these things that greatly affected him?  He didn't even talk that much about them privately.  John was a very private person.  There wasn't a single scandalous thing in his life but he kept even the most mundane things private.  I think being the youngest boy and everyone in your business is what was behind this very strong trait.  Likewise, if you told him something that was private, he kept your business to himself.

At the root of John's personality was his shyness.  He learned how to cope with it; still, sometimes the shyness came off as being aloof.  That was my initial impression with him when he hired me back in 1986 - I thought he was aloof and overly reserved.

I will go into that and how much of a teach and influence on me he was in my next and final blog entry.













6 comments:

Patrick Lynch said...

Again, thank you for such a beautiful heartfelt remembrance of a very fine human being.

Linda Dachtyl said...

It's nice to get to know who John was in life in some way. His demeanor was very kind when I met him first met him and it's nice to see confirmation of that concerning his private life in all that you have written.

Linda

Melody Clark said...

A lovely tribute, Nancy.

Amaryllis León said...

Thank you so much Nancy, for this moving tribute to Jonathan Frid. Reading your past memories with him was a wonderfully revealing experience, especially in light of his recent passing. After having read your blog, I can't think of anyone better suited to writing his biography! Thanks again.

Ivelisse Diaz said...

Nancy:

You stated that you wrote this blog for your own emotional need, well, we are reading and taking to heart everything you wrote about him because it fills a little of the huge emotional need his death has left in us.

The one thing we ask is that you please reconsider andcontinue the narrative and share more of your memories of Mr. Frid and pictures. You were fortunate to have been a friend of a man that many of us never knew personally, but loved nevertheless. We too have taken his death hard, and you have provided us with some comfort. Yours is the most well rounded, and complete portrait of a reluctant iconic. Please reconsider and share more of the Jonathan you knew with us. This might be the closest we ever come to a biography of his life. He is and will be greatly missed.

Thank you for sharing these memories and my condolences on your loss.

Ivelisse Diaz said...

Nancy:

You stated that you wrote this blog for your own emotional need, well, we are reading and taking to heart everything you wrote about him because it fills a little of the huge emotional need his death has left in us.

The one thing we ask is that you please reconsider andcontinue the narrative and share more of your memories of Mr. Frid and pictures. You were fortunate to have been a friend of a man that many of us never knew personally, but loved nevertheless. We too have taken his death hard, and you have provided us with some comfort. Yours is the most well rounded, and complete portrait of a reluctant iconic. Please reconsider and share more of the Jonathan you knew with us. This might be the closest we ever come to a biography of his life. He is and will be greatly missed.

Thank you for sharing these memories and my condolences on your loss.