Fans of the ‘60s gothic horror soap opera “Dark Shadows” took a stake in the heart with the death of actor Jonathan Frid on Friday the 13 of April, 2012. The 87-year-old Frid had famously portrayed Barnabas Collins, a fleshed-out family skeleton in the form of a Colonial-era vampire, released from two hundred years’ imprisonment in his coffin into the freewheeling counterculture sexual revolution. Barnabas was undoubtedly the show’s premiere attraction; legions of fans hung on his every precisely-elocuted utterance, as the show careened dizzily from modern 20th-century Collinsport concerns to its 18th-century roots, via frequent time travel and mystical meanderings.
Populated with demonic denizens including, but not limited to, witches, ghosts, werewolves and science experiments gone wrong, “Dark Shadows” (“DS”) was a unique product of its time, and went straight to the nation’s heart more surely than any vampire hunter’s weaponry.
When the series premiered on 27 June 1966, its plotline seemed to revolve around the somewhat muddled mutterings of veteran, down-on-her-heels actress Joan Bennett and newcomer Alexandra Moltke, cast as employer Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and employee Victoria Winters, rattling around a darkly atmospheric mansion in rural coastal Maine. The show garnered little attention until six months into production, when the first ghosts were introduced, but took off like a rocket in its second season, when Barnabas was let out of his coffin and let loose on the locals.
The show ran just five seasons, its cancellation provoking one of the earliest fan protest movements from its many loyal followers, but it spawned two theatrical films, “House of Dark Shadows” in 1970, starring Frid in his vampire role, and “Night of Dark Shadows” (1971), focusing on the show’s past life/possession themes. The original remains a cult classic, noted for its camp dialogue, frequently muffed lines, and melodramatic performances. In 1991, actor Ben Cross assayed the Barnabas role in a short-lived primetime remake of the series, and now in May 2012 director Tim Burton is releasing a theatrical film version starring Johnny Depp.
Frid and DS became iconic of their time, an oddity in itself in that the Shakespeare-trained actor always felt like a fish out of water in the role, and the series spent so much of its time reviving eras gone by, in a day when free love, cheap sex, increased drug use and eroding social norms made the future appear to be hurtling toward the US at astonishing speed.
Born 2 December 1924 in Hamilton, Canada, Jonathan Frid was already an accomplished stage actor in his early 40s when Barnabas Collins came knocking. His stylized Shakespearean elocution and aristocratic bearing won him the role of the stilted, stiff, antiquated vampire, exuding a pomaded nimbus redolent of a faded gentility of days gone by. Barnabas was the first popular vampire to have a conscience, paving the unhallowed ground for Anne Rice’s tortured Louis in Interview with the Vampire a decade later.
Whereas most vampires before DS had been portrayed as depraved monsters, incapable of human emotion, Barnabas deprecated his sorry existence, feeling pity and empathy for those upon whom he was forced to feed to survive, and much of the series’ plotline was spent in trying to find his cure. Darkly mysterious, sympathetic but ultimately unapproachable, Barnabas gave and received love, friendship and trust, but found betrayal, suspicion and animosity, and in the process collected scores of panting female fans, caught in the web of his vulnerability and pain.
That Frid and DS tapped into such a strong current of American culture may be explained by some stunning astrological contacts to the US natal chart. With his Pluto at 13 Cancer an exact match for the US Sun, Frid became the embodiment of all that was seething under the polite veneer of American cultural norms that were in the process of major breakdown as Uranus and Pluto made their mid-Virgo conjunction, the summer DS premiered.
Frid’s Pluto was the repository of the mystery, horror, and sexual power that was percolating up from the collective unconscious. With his natal 10 Sagittarius Sun conjoined the nation’s Ascendant, Frid’s Barnabas became a household name conveying a smoldering yet refined sexuality, a bloodlust held in check only by his Old World manners and the ABC censors.
That 10 Sagittarius Sun conjoins a Black Hole, adding immeasurably to Frid’s power to attract and his dark, brooding nature. With a chameleon-like ability to be all things to all people, Frid’s capacity to pull others into his orbit was a hallmark of his performance. This Black Hole charisma easily over-rode the sometimes stumbling presentation of his lines, borne of a grueling live-to-tape soap opera production schedule that rarely allowed for second takes, and required pages of memorization daily.
Barnabas’ problems with women and finding love, both before and after his vampiric conversion, are foreshadowed by a close conjunction of Frid’s Venus and Saturn at 6 and 9 Scorpio, trining the USA Venus/Jupiter conjunction of 3 and 5 Cancer. Barnabas’ sexually unorthodox, be-fanged means of penetration can be seen in another conjunction in Frid’s chart, that of Uranus and Mars at 17 and 20 Pisces, with Mars tightly squared the USA’s own at 21 Gemini and opposed its Neptune at 22 Virgo, giving focus to the sexual (Mars) fantasies (Neptune) of countless women spanning several generations. Moreover, Frid’s Mars is exactly square DS’ own, at 20 Gemini. These feed off each other, each energizing the other, as the undead role of Barnabas breathed life into Frid’s career, and his introduction to the DS cast gave the show its macabre raison d’etre and gained it an audience.
Asteroid Collins (#6471) falls into this mix as well, as from 29 Pisces it broadly conjoins Frid’s Mars and is tightly squared to his natal Jupiter/Mercury conjunction at 26 and 29 Sagittarius. The part of Barnabas Collins was tailor-made for this combination, so focused on both the Big Story, the epic saga of generations of the Collins family, as represented by Jupiter, and the detailed minutia of the daily interweavings of their lives, as symbolized by Mercury.
With Mercury/Jupiter closely trined by Neptune (ruling TV and acting) at 22 Leo, Frid was able to easily capitalize on his presentation of a tortured, mysterious soul, at once victim and deceiver, whose existence is driven by an addiction for blood, all Neptune keywords. The pivotal importance of the role for Frid’s life is seen in asteroid Collins’ placement on a reality-warping Black Hole, transforming Frid virtually overnight into a national sensation.
The series itself made much the same impact. Premiering 27 June 1966, with its Sun exactly on the USA Jupiter at 5 Cancer, DS tapped into the well-spring of American story telling: there was a saga there that people could identify with, however alien in appearance to their own circumstances. Its Mars at 20 Gemini was closely conjoined the USA’s own, bringing that latent sexuality to the surface in ways that both the counterculture adherents and traditionalists could relate to. Mars is square to the ongoing union of Uranus and Pluto, then both at 16 Virgo, unleashing a deeper, explosive, unorthodox sexuality blended with mystery, horror and a libertinism reflected at that time in the country at large, as this combination made inroads into the fragmenting social fabric.
DS’ own Jupiter at 11 Cancer conjoins its Sun, just as the USA’s does, providing more common ground and evoking its expansive saga, sweeping over three centuries. As dual Sun/Jupiter entities, the USA and DS shared a basic ethos or worldview: they were, so to speak, cut from the same story-telling cloth. With the DS Sun conjoined the US Jupiter, and the US Jupiter conjoined the DS Sun, the meshing of the nation’s hunger for a compelling narrative and the series’ ability to produce one was symbiotic.
Incredibly, DS’ natal Saturn at 29 Pisces is an exact match for Frid’s natal asteroid Collins, making him a perfect fit for the part, and illustrating the phenomenal career-shift the role would be for him.
And DS’ own asteroid Collins, at 26 Aries, is exactly on a Black Hole, filling in the missing leg of a Grand Trine formed with Frid’s natal Mercury/Jupiter and Neptune. This pattern becomes a Kite with the inclusion of the USA Moon at 26 Aquarius, opposed Frid’s Neptune, emphatically bringing its population, particularly women, on board, with Frid/Barnabas as the focus of their fantasy (Neptune).
When Jonathan Frid passed away on Friday, April 13, 2012, the Sun at 24 Aries was conjoined transit asteroid Collins at 26 Aries, both points conjunct Black Holes, and their conjunction centered on the DS Collins at 26 Aries, itself exactly opposed by transit Saturn, ancient lord of death, at 26 Libra. Messenger Mercury at 27 Pisces conjoined Frid’s natal asteroid Collins at 29 Pisces, bringing news of the death of the family patriarch. Truly, the heart of the show and the Collins clan was gone.
Ben Cross’ connection with the role is also indisputable. Born 16 December 1947, his natal asteroid Collins at 26 Aries not only matches the series’ Collins exactly, it forms a Grand Trine in Cross’ chart with natal Sun at 23 Sagittarius and Saturn (career) at 22 Leo, the same degree as Frid’s natal Neptune.
Johnny Depp, too, seems destined for the part; at 17 Gemini, his natal Collins conjoins the Sun at 18 Gemini, closely identifying him with the role (he has stated that as a child he was so obsessed with Barnabas that he wanted to be him, dressing up and acting out the part). A child of the ‘60s himself, Depp’s natal (born 9 June 1963) Uranus, Mars and Pluto combine at 1, 3 and 9 Virgo, mirroring the series’ Mars square Uranus/Pluto energies, so vital to DS’ brand of skewed sex mixed with horror. His Sun/Collins conjoins the DS natal Mars at 20 Gemini, and lies in square to Frid’s own Mars at 20 Pisces, providing an unbroken line of blood-soaked succession.
Like the original series, the new movie adaptation which opens May 11, sports a Sun/Jupiter conjunction, this one at 21 and 22 Taurus, opposing the 19 Scorpio Neptune of the original. That flair for story-telling is back, but perhaps deceptively so.
Fittingly, asteroid Collins is again active; at 9 Taurus it conjoins transit Mercury (plotline, the media) at 4 Taurus, and is exactly trine transit Pluto (mystery, horror, sex, death) at 9 Capricorn, as well as exactly opposed Frid’s natal Saturn (his career) at 9 Scorpio. But will the new version cause Jonathan Frid to turn over in his recently-occupied grave?
For DS fans should beware! This is not your pre-pubescent “Dark Shadows”! By all accounts, Burton’s take emphasizes the camp and jettisons the pathos. With Helena Bonham-Carter taking on the role of Dr. Julia Hoffman, Michelle Pfeiffer as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and cameo appearances from Jonathan Frid himself, as well as original DS cast members David Selby (werewolf Quentin) and Lara Parker (witch Angelique), the new “Dark Shadows” is a wide-ranging departure from the original, if still a heart-felt homage (both Burton and Depp report being fascinated and obsessed by DS as kids).
As always, whenever the Collins family mansion is involved, enter at your own risk!