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Monday, July 6, 2015

Bay of the Living Dead: Jonathan Frid Was Gay and That's OK

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins - ABC/DAN CURTIS PRODUCTIONS
  • ABC/Dan Curtis Productions
  • Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins

Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice a month column about the horror genre.

Dark Shadows chatrooms on Facebook were whipped up into a frenzy last week with the appearance of a new Facebook page called Jonathan Frid Was Gay and That's OK.

Because I had written about Jonathan Frid's sexuality here at SF Weekly and elsewhere, I was immediately accused of starting the Frid is Gay page, when in fact I did not. Nor do I help in running it. Of course the accusation made me curious as to who did launch the page. 

I found out that the page comes to LGBT Dark Shadows fans courtesy of an Italian gentleman in New York named Giosue. He works in New York's theater community — his Facebook page reveals him to be a seasoned musical theater performer, with many photos of himself in performance.  Giosue has simple, obvious reasons for starting the Jonathan Frid Was Gay page: anti-gay bullying, hate and slander in Dark Shadows fandom is out of control and needs to be stood up to.

"He was silenced by the fear still clearly present in many fans today," Giosue posted on June 28, "By putting this aspect of his life under erasure you diminish the man. There is nothing wrong with being gay." 

Now around a week old, Jonathan Frid Was Gay And That's OK has picked up 85 members to date. (Also, looking at photos of Giosue in performance, it's difficult to understand how anyone could think that he and I are the same person.)

Frid (1924-2012) was a classically trained Shakespearean actor who achieved unlikely sex symbol status in 1967 when, at age 43, he was cast as the 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows. The series was a horror themed soap opera — it became a pop culture phenomenon in its day. Frid played Barnabas, a tragic anti-hero, as though he were playing Hamlet. Daytime TV audiences of the period were mesmerized — there had never been anything like this on a daytime drama. 

As this column has previously noted, Jonathan Frid was indeed a gay man. His status as a closeted gay actor playing a closeted vampire resonated with young gay viewers, many of whom now cite him as their first positive role model.

Unfortunately, the right-wing, antigay component of Dark Shadows fandom continues to rear its ugly head — they have made it a "crime" to discuss Jonathan Frid's sexuality, often resorting to bullying, threats, and smear campaigns in order to silence dissent. The behavior can get quite ugly — I have personally received, via email, threats which state that my editors will be contacted — personal friends of mine have already been contacted by this gang of thugs. 

"The fact that it bothers so many just to have it said in the open is a testament to how vitriolic the homophobia is among the fans," Giosue wrote. "Those of us who have struggled with the closet know how isolating and soul crushing it can be, no matter how much of a good face you put on to the rest of the world." 

Many people, including individuals with physical disabilities, have been subjected to abuse from within the Dark Shadows  fandom sphere  — several of them have shared their stories with me. The virulence of the attacks are often shocking. Besides protecting Jonathan Frid's legacy from the "evil scourge" of homosexuality, Dark Shadows fans routinely lunge at each other's throats like rabid dogs over who's this actor or that actor's "best friend," who's the more "loyal" fan, and who did or didn't like the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Dark Shadows movie of 2012. 

"The bullying was horrible," said Dark Shadows fan Carole Hollingsworth, who is a Wiccan. Hollingsworth said she was bombarded at Dark Shadows chatrooms, both in public postings, and in private messages, with abusive comments urging her to "repent."

"You can't help but think that most of them had to be on pretty shaky ground faith wise if the likes of a mere Wiccan like myself could upset them that much," she said.

"I think a lot of them derive pleasure from it," Dark Shadows fan Dale Bellinghausen said of his own attackers. Bellinghausen showed me some of the messages he'd gotten regarding his alleged behavior in DS chatrooms. Some of these lectures were so long and rambling they made little sense. 

"From all the interviews I've seen of Jonathan, and from my seeing him in person, my impression of Jonathan was that he was a private and dignified man" said Patrick Henry, a gay man in San Francisco. "Very much of another era, like the character of Barnabas which he played so convincingly. I cannot imagine that behavior such as bullying, threats and insults would be acceptable to him for any reason." 

"From the interviews I've seen, Jonathan Frid was an intelligent and insightful man" said Darryl Thompson, another gay fan. "He would be appalled and hurt to see bullying and malicious behavior being committed in his name. Ugly vicious harassment towards others dishonors Frid's memory." 

"Bullying sullies and cheapens his legacy," said Russ Lanier, yet another gay fan. Lanier said that Frid would be appalled and saddened by the behavior, and recalls quiet discussions of Frid's sexuality at 1990s fan events. Lanier wants the bullying and the slander to stop. 

"Jonathan Frid and Barnabas Collins were an integral part of my childhood," Lanier said. "He and I deserve better."

"Jonathan Frid would not approve approve of bullying or hate-mongering in his name or anyone else's," said gay fan Alan R. Henry. "These toxic sociopaths need to be stopped, these so-called fans who destroy someone for no good reason."

click to enlarge Dark Shadows logo re-imagined with the rainbow flag colors. - N/A
  • n/a
  • Dark Shadows logo re-imagined with the rainbow flag colors.

More and more people are indeed saying no to the anti-gay hate and the slandering of others that has ruined Dark Shadows fandom for decades. Wallace McBride, who runs the Rondo Award winning website The Collinsport Historical Society , challenged the antigay haters in a magnificent Pride weekend posting.

Larry Hardrick's Facebook chatroom The Dark Shadows Appreciation Society was launched as a direct response to the bullying — Hardrick wanted to create a safe space for fans, LGBT and otherwise. "I run a tight ship," Hardrick told SF Weekly. "No bullying will be allowed on my page regardless of someone's stance."

Hardrick reports that he's seen, on other pages, vicious attacks over discussions of Frid's sexuality and over the pros and cons of the Burton/Depp film — he acknowledged that he's been personally attacked over the latter issue. He said discussions of both of those those topics are welcome in his chatroom. 

"If they discuss it intelligently," Hardrick said. "If trouble or arguments start they must take it somewhere else, not in our group. No cover-ups or denials, just no arguments on the page." 

It is indeed gratifying to see so many people taking a public stand. It's 2015, and marriage equality is now the law of the land. Enough of all this hate and homophobia.

As for myself, it might be too late. The bullying and the slander I've endured went too far. There may be no going back. I once used my podium as a journalist in support of the Dark Shadows franchise. After all I've seen and been subjected to, it's highly unlikely I will support it again. Around 1990 a psychotic Dark Shadows fan asked me to commit perjury so he could file a nuisance lawsuit against actress/author Kathryn Leigh Scott, a leading cast member of the series. Rather than do the shamefully horrific thing I was asked, I contacted Scott and provided her with a signed statement verifying that I'd been asked to commit perjury. As far as I know that lawsuit never went before a judge.

I remain proud of the fact that I helped Ms. Scott resolve that issue, and prouder of the fact that I, an out gay man, stood up to the anti-gay hate that poisons Dark Shadows fandom.

click to enlarge Christopher Lee, Superstar - HAMMER FILMS
  • Hammer Films
  • Christopher Lee, Superstar

On a more positive note, we were delighted to see the July schedule for the Castro Theatre. On July 16, the venerable movie palace will pay tribute to the recently departed horror icon Sir Christopher Lee, to whom we paid tribute in last month's column, with a double-feature of The Wicker Man (1973) at 5:30 and 9:05 p.m, and Horror of Dracula (1958) at 7:30 p.m.

Produced by England's iconic studio Hammer Films, Horror of Dracula stunned 1950s audiences. Possibly the first Dracula film to be produced in color, the film featured shocking — for its time — sexual overtones, along with lots of blood and thunder. It remains a masterpiece, and was the role that made Lee a star. He went on to play the thirsty count many more times.

Lee's personal favorite of all his films, The Wicker Man is a brilliant chiller about ancient Celtic witchcraft on an isolated British island. A musical of sorts, the film features a number of original tunes, all performed in the ancient Celtic style. Films are rarely more hypnotic than this. 

Lastly, our delightful friend Doug Ronning offers another installment in his monthly chat series Monster Movies Salon. Join Ronning on Saturday July 11 for "Sinister States, Vile Ventures, and Cut-Throat Consortium: Politics and Corporations as Monster." As usual, Tales From the Crypt scriptwriter Ronning will offer a film viewing, engaging dialogue, personal writing, and dramatic play.     

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