Did Barnabas Begin the Modern Television Vampire?By
With Johnny Depp bringing back the classic late 60s television vampire to the big screen, he has all of us old time vampire fans wondering one thing. Could we even have the kind of vampires on television we have today if it were not for Jonathan Frid’s portrayal of the soap opera character Barnabas? Looking at the chatter on the web, those of us old enough to be nostalgic for the show that ran in the late afternoons from 1966 to 1971 remember. It seems that Barnabas was the first vampire to really question his existence as a blood sucker of the night, something almost all television vampires do these days.
Even though the show began as a sort of semi-creepy soap opera set in Collinwood, an old mansion that had seen better days and had its share of ghosts, initially no one saw the spirits until ratings sagged so much that the network threatened to can it. That was when creator Dan Curtis decided to go ahead with some crazy ideas he had and had the ghost be visible and part of the stories. The ratings went up, the show stayed on and when they decided around show 200 to introduce a vampire, the tone was really already set.
But Frid played the character as someone who although not exciting by today’s standard of vampires, had a sense of the lost soul about him that made every girl in my high school rush home to watch the day’s show. We all loved him and found him sexy, as I guess you only could in the 60s. That kind of television vampire who wasn’t based on Lugosi’s dangerous eastern European count but on an American soul who was damned but still capable of feeling need and perhaps even love.
We forget sometimes what an innocent time that was and even though the television vampire that Frid portrayed was not the violent and lustful vamps we see in True Blood, he still managed to pull us in day after day. Like today’s fans of Twilight who gather together (today on websites) we would meet in hallways and talk about the previous day’s episodes and what we thought Barnabas really should do. It is no real wonder that Depp held on to that old memory of a character he probably saw as a child and wanted to explore again now.
But seeing him in the latest film just makes me want to look at the old television vampire Barnabas and see how he compares. My memories of the show are tinged with time, but thankfully our pals at Amazon have the shows available to see again and again. I may complain some days about the creeping advance of technology on all our old habits, but I am always thankful for its ability to deliver my memories to me in glorious Technicolor.
You might want to check out some of the original television vampire scenes while waiting for True Blood to return or planning to head out to the theatre to see Depp’s new interpretation of an old role. I am glad that Frid lived long enough to see this renewal of interest in his old character, and even play a bit of a cameo in the new film.
Depp is such a fan; it is no real surprise he wanted to do that. After all, how often do you get the chance to talk to the original television vampire while reviving his old role? I think re-watching Frid in that classic role is something I am going to look forward to enjoying again.