Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nancy Kersey Talks about her Longtime Friend, Dark Shadow's Jonathan Frid

 A word from Denise:

Twenty-three years ago, I was living in NYC, pursuing a career in acting and working graveyard shift at the law firm of Davis, Polk and Wardwell.  My husband also worked there and a host of other aspiring actors, musicians, writers, filmmakers and other artists.  We were an interesting lot.  One of our co-workers was a young actress, Nancy Kersey.  She was a fun person to work with and a great friend.  One night, Nancy asked my then fiancee, Donovan, and me to attend a preview of the performance by an actor with whom she worked.  When I asked the actor's name and she said, "Jonathan Frid", I was flabbergasted.  She worked with my childhood idol!  I was a big fan of "Dark Shadows" as a small child.  Of course, I said yes.  Thanks to this very special lady, I had the opportunity to meet this lovely gentleman and visit his home.  A dream come true for me!

I never imagined back then that I'd be the published author of four vampire novels, but I have to say that the complex characterization of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins certainly influenced the way I view vampires.

Twenty-two years later, I was on the "Dark Shadows" fan page and who do I see posting on the board but Nancy!  I messaged her, and we re-connected.  Sadly, Mr. Frid passed away shortly after that.  I thought my readers might enjoy hearing Nancy talk about her friendship with this wonderful actor and approached Nancy with the idea.  To my great pleasure, she agreed, and now I'm proud to introduce Nancy Kersey to you!

Nancy with Barnabas'  signature wolf's head cane.


When I was nine years old, one of my favorite pastimes was watching a creepy soap opera in the afternoon before “Wee Willie Webber” cartoon hour came on.  The show was called “Dark Shadows” and my young curiosity honed in on it’s vacillating vampire, Barnabas Collins.  I couldn’t get enough of the character and at one point I wore red boots much like the character did during the famed 1795 time period when the show went back to explain how the tortured vampire came to be.

For most of us, fantasy is an important component in our existence; it is that mind trip outside of ourselves and our daily routine that centers on a character, series of characters or an environment.  It was a lot of fun to slip into the town of Collinsport and further into the home of its namesake the Collins family, also known as Collinwood.  “Dark Shadows” furthered my budding interest in horror movies and Gothic stories.  Haunted houses? I already lived in one so that wasn’t anything to pursue.  What I did decide to pursue was the theater because the actor who played Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid, had trained to become an actor, worked on the stage and now was creating this fabulous and forever intriguing character.  I knew his background from reading the magazine articles I spent my allowance on every month. 

My love of writing and play acting started before I was even in school.  I didn’t realize you could actually get paid for doing such things until I read everything I could about Jonathan Frid and his theatrical background.  I decided that I wanted to work in the theater.  I would write scripts and I would act in them too. 

On the way to doing all that, I discovered that “Dark Shadows” was being shown in syndication on a public television station in New Jersey in the early 1980s.  I would watch the show when I could and in mind gave it a nod for steering me into the direction I was now heading in my career.  One day, I discovered that Jonathan Frid was going to appear at what was called a “Dark Shadows” festival in New Jersey.   I had often wondered what had become of him and when I learned he would be performing some material there, I made plans to go.  Long story short: I saw Jonathan do what was termed a “work in progress” one-man show.  Part of the apprehension I did have about seeing him perform is that I had already learned that what intrigued me as a child, and what I thought was good, wasn’t necessarily so to my adult eyes.  Well, that certainly was not the case with Jonathan’s performance.  I was intrigued by what he was doing and wrote up the event in performing arts monthly in Philadelphia I contributed to.  Serendipity intervened and within a few months of my having wrote about the wonderful experience seeing Jonathan Frid perform; I was invited to his apartment in New York to see more of the work-in-progress.  That led to a long conversation with him afterwards, some more trips up to New York, and finally an invitation to work with him, his business partner and some other associates in creating a touring one-man show under the banner of his production company, Clunes Associates.  I accepted.  It fit into my plans to move to New York to pursue theater work.  And now I had been hired as a writer by a new production company for a theatrical project.  Perfect.

What I never expected was to actually become friends with Jonathan Frid.  Yes, I was thrilled beyond measure at the prospect of working with an actor I thought was greatly talented but already experienced enough in life to realize there was a clear difference between fantasy and reality.  He was NOT Barnabas Collins.  This was not pretend.  This was a business proposition that could help open doors for me.  It was important for Jonathan too, as it turns out, that I not view him from the standpoint of a fan nor interact with him that way either.  He wanted to work with a professional writer to develop and edit material for his shows.  My natural “let’s look at this realistically” was going to be welcomed.  It was a good thing that Jonathan didn’t want “yes men” around him because I was certainly not one of those.  I didn’t cater to people (unless I was paid to do so) and in business I tended to speak plainly.  All of this, plus a shared sense of humor, culminated into a wonderful working relationship. 

As I have detailed in several entries in my blog, it was a very intense working relationship but there were many moments of play, including day long road trips. I had a car. I loved to drive and take trips.  Jonathan did not have a car and loved road trips.  What a combination!  We would just drive up to Connecticut or the Hudson Valley and explore the little towns and hamlets, find an interesting restaurant to eat in and take whatever roads looked interesting to us.  That meant getting lost quite a bit too. 
While on these drives there would be prolonged silences due to our just looking at the scenery and enjoying sights.  Other times we would ponder things I wonder if anyone else in the world thought about such things such as the gender issues regarding the words woman and person.  A waitperson.  A chairman or chairwoman.  Jonathan wondered if for women it shouldn’t just be wo-per = a woperson.  Sometimes he would come up with these crazy combinations that made me laugh so hard I had to pull the car off the road to catch my breath.  He was one of the funniest people I have ever known.  The common things fascinated him. 

When Jonathan retired in 1994 and moved back to his native Canada, I did wonder if he would pursue the friendship.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I helped him move to Canada and would send him letters now and then.  Jonathan had a loner personality and I would have understood if he didn’t really keep with me anymore even though we had a grand time working and doing stuff together.  One day in May 1995, Jonathan called “Hello, yes I am still alive,” he said.  “When can you come up?” 

So for the next decade plus I made many trips a year up to Canada to visit Jonathan, help work in his beautiful yard and garden, launch his website at, and basically just sit around and talk about 50 things at once.  He was the only person I knew I shared this irritating habit (to others) , we would go off on tangents.  Sometimes those discussions went on literally for hours and people who had also been with us when we started talking had disappeared without our realizing it.

Jonathan’s health during the past two years had been declining.  I was told that he also did not plan to take medications to prolong the decline.  He was starting to lose his independence and finally after a particularly bad fall, succumbed to the complications in his sleep on April 14th.  He went the way he hoped.  When I heard the news from his nephew, I cried.  After drying the tears I raised a glass to Jonathan’s memory thanking him for the good times and all the inspiration. 

Nancy, I'd like to thank you once more for being my guest here today!  Readers, please a comment for Nancy and share your fond memories of "Dark Shadows" and Mr. Frid.  Those who leave a contact email or url will receive a free ebook of my vampire short stories Annals of the Immortyls as a thank-you from me!


Denise Verrico said...

Nancy, I'm thrilled to have you here today! What a moving post!

Linda Dachtyl said...

Great posting. Thanks for sharing it.

Denise Verrico said...

Thanks for stopping by, Linda!

Marc said...

Thanks for sharing your memories with us. I actually just started watching Dark Shadows today. 4 episodes down only 1200 odd more to go :)

Marian Allen said...

Thank you so much for hosting this blog entry! I loved DARK SHADOWS and Jonathan Frid's work. It's great to learn he was every bit as nice a person as anyone could hope. :)

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Anonymous said...

That was a lovely recollection, Nancy. I wish I had known Jonathan better, but your stories bring him to vivid life for me, and I'm very grateful to you for that. Please keep on regaling us with similar memories. Thanks in advance for your generosity. Love, Robin Vogel

Alondra said...

As always, I enjoy reading Nancy's memories of working with Jonathan and their friendship. I'm glad that I can call her one of my friends as well.

Denise Verrico said...

Thanks so much to all who have commented! Please share Nancy's post with your friends. I'll be sending the free ebook link and coupon codes on Saturday morning.

The Moon Goddess said...

I have always wondered how Nancy met Jonathan and now I know. Thanks for the great post!

bn100 said...

I enjoyed the post.


Karyn Fry said...

I remember being with Nancy on one of our trips up to visit Jonathan and the two of them got into such an intense conversation that they didn't even realist that I had left to wash the dinner dishes and then gone to bed around 1:00am. Nancy told me in the morning that Jon had looked up around 3:00 and noticing I wasn't there asked where I was. Nancy told him I had said good night and gone to bed two hours earlier. He then called softly towards my bedroom, "goodnight,Kay!"

Marge Hicks said...

When Jonathan was practicing for his One Man Show a friend and I were invited to his apartment to hear him .How lucky we were. I'm pretty sure that Nancy sent the invitations out at that time. Thank you for your memories.