Thursday, September 18, 2014

My sort of cousin Vinny

Vincent Price was a major movie star. You’ve seen him in dozens of horror films. He often played villains. And he had an amazing voice.

As scary and sinister as his persona was, in person he was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Gentle, sweet, gracious.  And sort of... kind of... a distant relative.

In the early ‘40s he lived in the same duplex on Canfield Dr. as my mom’s family when she was a teenager growing up in Los Angeles.

Whenever Vincent was preparing for a movie he would hang out in my grandparents’ kitchen running lines with my grandfather. In THE SONG OF BERNADETTE Grandpa was Jennifer Jones. In LAURA gramps was Gene Tierney. You get the idea. Vincent would bring a bottle and he and my grandfather would run lines late into the night.  Talk about idyllic -- that kitchen was filled with the smell of blintzes and the richness of that voice. 

To repay the favor, Vincent often gave my mom and her sister a ride home from Hamilton High.

Eventually he moved and our family lost touch with him. And then about thirty years later he bumped into my mom at a bank. He recognized her immediately, even though so many years had passed and recalled her name instantly as well.  He couldn’t be more excited to see her. They spent about a half hour catching up. It was a celebrity sighting in reverse.

We always considered Vincent Price a distant member of our family – who doesn’t have that urbane cousin who lives in a haunted house, kills people, drinks blood, robs graves, and dresses in capes? As time marches on Vincent’s brilliance slowly fades into the mist. So I thought I would share a TCM tributes voiced by John Waters to one of the greats of all-time – Vincent Leonard Price Jr.

50 comments:

Stoney said...

I just went to look up the name of his character in "The Ten Commandments" and got a chuckle when IMDB lists him as "Baka the sadistic, covetous, murderous, whip-wielding slave-driver." Not bad for a non-horror film.

My first exposure to him was as "Batman" villain Egghead. You never forget that voice after you first hear it. Let's not forget that the voice worked for Michael Jackson too.

His last role in "Edward Scissorhands" was wonderful. Always love it when horror has a little bit of sadness to it!

BrettJ said...

I had the pleasure of seeing Vincent Price, Coral Brown and Roddy McDowall do "Charley's Aunt" live at Hamilton Place. I remember his talents well and it was a thrill to see them live on stage.

Craig Edwards said...

One of my very favorite actors of all time. I am very proud of a career spanning spotlight post I did on Vincent Price over at my blog - anyone who likes Vincent - please come check it out.

http://craiglgooh.blogspot.com/2011/10/price-far-above-rubies.html

Stoney said...

Expect to see that tribute on TCM a few more times as we head into October. Their lineup for Halloween includes both "The Tingler" and "House Of Wax". Likely more of his films will air in preceding days.

cconfoy said...

I think you mean celebrity "sighting," unless Mr. Price was listing past encounters with your mother.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Some disconnected thoughts on Vincent Price. He was the godfather for Joan Rivers' daughter (not sure of the connection) and he chose a flat $20K fee rather than residuals for doing his voiceover on Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Also, he was an internationally renowned art collector and connoisseur - including overseeing The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art in the 1960s for Sears dept. stores, which offered original art pieces by such painters as Picasso and Rembrandt - and, as Ken indicated, a true gentleman.

Scooter Schechtman said...

I remember Price from a TV movie where he played a scientist who who found some children spelunking in a Hawaiian cave and imprisoned them (sorry, can't remember the title).

Bob Sharp said...

Scooter

That wasn't a TV movie. That was The Brady Bunch, when the family (and Alice) went to Hawaii near the end of the show's run.

Michael said...

Vincent Price was involved in a couple of the greatest moments on, of all things, Hollywood Squares--the great original version, not the horrible updating.

First, in response to a question, he was asked, "How many words does it take to say I love you in Hawaii." He said, "None. You can do it with a pineapple and a twenty."

The other was when Peter Marshall asked Paul Lynde, which American star recently completed a triumphant tour of Australia by giving a baton-twirling exhibition while wearing red, white and blue sequined hot pants? The correct answer could only have been Liberace. Lynde, bless him, said, "Vincent Price."

Kevin O'Shea said...

You know you've made it when you become a Muppet parody character; in this case "Vincent Twice, Vincent Twice."

(Starting at 3:15 of the video clip)

http://youtu.be/9EY5kvGaGlE?t=3m15s

Pizzagod said...

Just a delightful man, who among other roles tried out for Ashley in Gone With the Wind. I can only imagine how that would have changed his career.

I always found him a delight, and am especially fond of his radio work (he was The Saint!)

BrettJ said...

I had the pleasure of seeing Vincent Price, Coral Brown and Roddy McDowall do "Charley's Aunt" live at Hamilton Place. I remember his talents well and it was a thrill to see them live on stage.

Brandon said...

I understand that he spent his childhood summers in my hometown, Waukegan, Illinois. I always loved Vincent Price's work and his tie to my hometown just made it all the better.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I never knew Ju-Ju B's could fly so high after that fake skeleton soared above this 11-year-old kid's head at Burbank's Magnolia Theater in 1959.

normadesmond said...

coral & joan rivers were good pals. i hope you got to be pals with coral too, she was the bomb.

Toby said...

Waukegan? Jack Benny's Waukegan? What cool people to have associated with your home town.

Wonder how many people remember Price and Benny these days?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Who did your grandfather play when he was rehearsing THEATER OF BLOOD?

wg

Dixon Steele said...

Loved him in two very different films from 1950: the title role in Samuel Fuller's drama BARON OF ARIZONA and the comedy CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR, which he is truly hilarious in.

Also got to see him on Broadway as Oscar Wilde in DIVERSIONS AND DELIGHTS...one of a kind.

Rinaldo said...

My father directed TV commercials in Chicago. Of the various celebrities whom ad agencies would get to sell products, the one for whom he had the warmest words was Vincent Price. (My mother also remembers she and Dad being invited to a nice dinner in the city with the Princes.) Once when I was in my 20s I called home to see how everyone was doing, and Dad said "It's going to be horrible. I have to shoot 15 spots for [whoever] in two days. The only thing that's going to make it bearable is that it's with Vincent, who is a gentleman and a pro. He'll know his lines, hit his marks, and do everything that's needed. His only request is that we have a supply of clean shirts on hand so he can change often, and that's reasonable and easy. He's the greatest."

tb said...

Such a great voice. I remember my mom was so excited, he came into her little joint and had a cheeseburger. Said he was just a sweetheart

D. McEwan said...

Stoney, a quick glance at Lucy Chase Williams's indespensible book The Complete Films of Vincent Price (Which sits beside three other books on Vinnie on my living room book shelves) tells us that Edward Scissorhands was not Vinnie's last role. He made two more after it: a TV movie titled The Heart of Justice, co-starring with his old friend Dennis Hopper (They'd bonded over their shared love of art back when they both appeared in the incredibly awful The Story of Mankind, and remained close friends ever after), and his final role was a cartoon voice in an animated movie titled Arabian Nights.

It was said of Vinnie that he could make friends with anyone, though that would force one to ignore Robert Quarry and Michael Reeves, both of whom he failed to get on with.

Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff are my three favorite actors (In no particular order). My love for Vinnie is immense. Never got to meet him, though once, at a red light on Santa Monca Boulevard at 2 AM, I saw that he was driving the expensive car stopped next to mine. Master of subtlety that I am, I rolled down my car window and screamed: "I LOVE YOU! YOU'RE WONDERFUL!" at him as loudly as my stage-trained voice could. The light turned green. He lifted his hand and waved those long fingers at me with a friendly smile and drove off while I made a left turn.

A friend of mine saw him play Captain Hook at the Valley Music Theater. I'd have sold my mother to gypsies to see that.

His movies, even some very obscure ones, fill my DVD collection. His photos adorn my walls, and a large poster for Diversions and Delights is on the wall above the computer on which I type this, just above a smaller framed photo of he and Peter Lorre in Comedy of Terrors. A night without Vinnie is a night without moonlight.

Vinnie recorded the ride narration for Phantom Mansion, the much-spookier version of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion found in EuroDisney. Unfortunately, they found that actual French people could not understand Vinnie's French,so they had to junk it and have someone who spoke French French rerecord it. But Vinnie's demoniacal laugh still graces the ride's soundtrack.

I love Vincent Price with all my heart.

Bill O said...

Price didn't get along with Robert Quarry because the younger actor was being groomed to replace Price. And Michael Reeves directed VP in Witchfinder General, riding herd on him to force Price into a chilling, no-frills performance. But so impressed with the final result, Price planned another movie with Reeves.

Tom Wolper said...

Pizzagod mentioned that Vincent Price was The Saint on radio. Those shows are available for streaming or download at https://archive.org/details/TheSaintVincentPriceOTR

jbryant said...

Fun trivia: Price's WITCHFINDER GENERAL co-star Ian Ogilvy also played The Saint in the TV series THE RETURN OF THE SAINT. Several years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Ogilvy play the lead in a reading of a script I wrote, and he was most gracious and talented. And he's still looks great, too, at age 70.

Rosariorose9 said...

No one has mentioned that, in addition to his many other talents, he was an accomplished chef. The term is thrown about too easily, but in his case it is well deserved - he was a true Renaissance man.

Mike said...

Vincent Price and the Horror of the English Blood Beast (here) is a radio play on the making of the UK classic Witchfinder General (here). During the English civil war, women are maliciously accused of witchcraft. Relations are fraught between the film's visionary young director and the old ham. But Vinnie just wants to be liked. Excellent play.

Theatre of Blood (here) is Price's other UK classic. A Shakespearean ham avenges himself on his critics, invoking scenes from the bard's plays. And the bard wrote some violent plays.

Price recorded numerous "twist-in-the-tale" radio plays for the BBC: The Price of Fear (eg. most here).

jbryant said...

Craig Edwards: I greatly enjoyed your pictorial overview of Vincent Price's career, especially the behind-the-scenes stills.

By the way, I saw that you mentioned Southern Illinois in a reply to a post, so I'm thinking you might be the same Craig Edwards I knew at SIU-Carbondale when I was in grad school (I'm Jerry Bryant, but usually go by my nickname, Jay). If so, small world!

RCP said...

"Don't panic, but scream for your lives!"

What a wonderful story about Vincent and your grandfather reciting lines in the kitchen. I love Vincent - most especially in such black comedies as 'Dr. Phibes' (see :39 where he delights in a flower as one of his victims meets a ghastly fate).

D. McEwan - I enjoyed reading about your sighting at the stop light. VP waved at you!

Michael - Another joke VP told on Hollywood Squares:

Peter Marshall: "Vincent. What is Kate Smith's favorite song?"

VP: "'Welcome to My Nightmare, by Alice Cooper.'"

Vincent was the best part of that album, by the way.

gottacook said...

I was a big fan of the NBC series Night Gallery in my high-school years, and made a point of watching the 1972-73 season* premiere, "The Return of the Sorcerer" with Vincent Price, Bill Bixby, Tisha Sterling, and a goat. Possibly it was the first time I saw Price. The episode was both a perfect role for him and a mockery of everything he stood for; I liked it and still do.

*1972-73 turned out to be its final season, and because it was reduced to a half-hour, it's the only season not totally distorted by the awful half-hour Universal syndication package that includes Gary Collins' unrelated series "The Sixth Sense" with Night Gallery-like introductions by Rod Serling. It was unfortunate that what turned out to be the last year of his career was marred by his having to do this (without which Night Gallery couldn't have gotten into syndication at all), Mazda pickup truck commercial voice-overs, etc.

Sally said...

One of a kind, indeed.

DBenson said...

Vincent Price also voiced the villainous Rattigan in "The Great Mouse Detective." He also got two of the three songs in the film. Check it out.

Barry Traylor said...

He also did an excellent job on the classic radio ESCAPE in 1950 doing Three Skeleton Key. The plot involves three men tending a lighthouse on an island off the coast of French Guiana. An abandoned ship, overrun by thousands of ferocious rats, makes landfall. A life-and-death struggle ensues as the men attempt to save themselves from the hungry horde. I was nine years old when I heard this on the radio and I didn't get much sleep that night. Vincent Price is one of my favorites.


Dana Gabbard said...

Tim Burton did a stop moition film early in his career while at Disney, titled Vincent which Price narrates (superbly, of course).


Rockgolf said...

How is it no one has mentioned Vincent Price's finest hours: star of The Hilarious House of Frightenstein!

It was an exceedingly cheaply-made one-hour 5-days-a-week childrens made by an independent TV station in Hamilton, Canada. Probably around 1970-73.

Price would introduce each episode as a mad scientist type, reciting some corny horror/poem, and IIRC 2 or 3 of these would be in each episode. The rest of the show had the actor Billy Van dressed as a variety of horror-characters (vampire, werewolf) and performing even worse comedy. The highlight for me of each show was the vampire and his assistant Igor dancing to some recent pop tune while psychedelic special effects were on screen.
I've posted a link to Frightenstein.com so you too can savor the show in half its glory.

Johnny Walker said...

Great story and great video. John Waters on Vincent Price... perfect!

Thad said...

Vincent Price didn't get along with Robert Quarry because the younger actor was being groomed to replace Price.

In Robert Quarry's imagination, maybe. Quarry had starred in COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, which did well on the drive-in circuit, and decided he was destined to be America's next big horror movie star, which he obviously wasn't since his career as a horror lead petered out pretty quickly.

Kirk said...

D. McEwan cited Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as his three favorite actors. This probably comes as no surprise to him since he authored a book on horror movies, but to anyone else interested, all three actors appeared in the very funny 1963 horror-comedy A COMEDY OF TERRORS

Griff said...

A wonderful post about one of my favorite actors, Ken. The comments are also swell -- D. McEwan's little essay is a thoughtful, touching remembrance of the great Vincent.

Bill O said...

Not to swerve this thread further, but Robert Quarry was intended as Price's successor, having co-starred with VP in two films. The fact that VP was irreplaceable doesn't make that statement less true. At a celebration at his home studio, Aip. they were looking for a knife to cut the cake. Price said "Why don't you use the one in my back???".

Greg said...

I guess the fact that I know who Vincent Price is but have never heard of Robert Quarry and don't have a clue who he is says all there is to say about that.

Bill O said...

Not really. More that you're unfamiliar with '70's horror, including Price's Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Yorga was the big non-Dracula of that period. But like I say, Vinnie was irreplaceable.

Daniel said...

Price is a hoot in Champagne for Caesar. Whenever I see it, I find myself wishing he'd done more comedy. He certainly had a flare for it. Most of his comic turns later in life were via television variety shows, and are largely inaccessible these days. Two or three of his appearances on The Carol Burnett Show are out there on DVD, as well as material from The Red Skelton Show, though personally, I have too much trouble sitting through Skelton to be able to get as far into his shows as his guest stars.

Oh, and a guest shot Price did on Lucille Ball's Here's Lucy series is available. The script is idiotic, but Price gives it his all.

Robert Quarry expressed some bitterness toward AIP in later years, suspecting that the studio had used him as a threat to keep Price in line and affordable. Certainly that's an old studio trick. Never let a star think he's irreplaceable.

If AIP really was grooming Quarry to be Price's "replacement," they weren't doing much to help him achieve that goal. Quarry is quite good in Dr. Phibes Rises Again, but he can't really compete with Price, who has the much showier role. Price gets to look like a living skull, Price gets to murder his adversaries in grotesque, bizarre ways, and Price gets to raft down the River of Life, singing, "Over the Rainbow." Likewise in Madhouse, Price gets the showier role. He gets to suffer and be tormented and suspect his sanity. If AIP was interested in replacing Price with Quarry, they certainly weren't showing it by giving Quarry much of a chance to show what he could do.

It didn't really matter, anyway, with old style horror films falling out of fashion by the mid '70s, there wasn't much room for either of them in that genre, certainly not in a starring role, though I suspect Price could have landed a gimmicky cameo appearance in one of the several hundred slasher movies that glutted theater screens in the late '70s and early '80s, if he'd wanted.

D. McEwan said...

"Thad said...
Vincent Price didn't get along with Robert Quarry because the younger actor was being groomed to replace Price.

In Robert Quarry's imagination, maybe."


And in AIP's. he was being groomed by the studio to replace Vinnie when his AIP contract was up, and Vinnie was well-aware of it. That he utterly lacked Vinnie's charisma doomed the effort, but that is what AIP was up to. Frankly, I find the Count Yorga movies dreary.

Not terribly long before he died, I found myself in a room with Robert Quarry. I didn't even cross the room to meet him.

"Kirk said...
D. McEwan cited Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff as his three favorite actors. This probably comes as no surprise to him since he authored a book on horror movies, but to anyone else interested, all three actors appeared in the very funny 1963 horror-comedy A COMEDY OF TERRORS."


Thanks for plugging my book, The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies. A Comedy of Terrors is one of my favorite movies. But it was a follow-up. That triumpherate of Terror had previously all appeared together in Roger Corman's horror comedy Edgar allen Poe's The Raven, which is also a favorite film of mine. They were going to do a third horror-comedy together, since both of the first two did well; Richard Matheson, who wrote them both, had completed the script for the third, but Peter Lorre died and the project died with him.

Lovely bit of irony: Karloff & Lorre were known as highly scarey actors, yet the four movies they appear in together, the aforementioned two with Vinnie, and You'll Find Out (with Lugosi) and The Boogieman Will Get You are all comedies.

Griff, thank you.

Daniel, I agree that Vinnie was a hoot in comedies. Note that most of the Price movies I've cited in my remarks are comedies, without even mentioning the heavenly Champagne For Caesar, (Which was understandably Art Linkletter's only attempt at a romantic role). He was known for his wicked wit offscreen. When I think of out-of-character photos of Vinnie, almost always either he's laughing, or someone else is laughing at something he's said. His friendship with Tallulah Bankhead (Not to be confused with my Tallulah Morehead), was due in large part to their shared humor.

Several have cited his Hollywood Squares appearances. While, let's be frank, most of his bon mots on that show were scripted, the fact remains that he shot 900 episodes of that show, a substantial amount of comedy work.

About his singing; I can't say that I care much for his singing, but the original cast album CD for Darling of the Day, the short-lived Broadway musical he starred in with Patricia Routeledge (which managed to run long enough for Patricia to win a Tony for it) is, of course, in my collection.

Anonymous said...

No one mentioned "The Fly" or "Laura". Loved VP. Like Tim Burton, he was a big part of my childhood. I will still stop and watch anything that comes on the screen that has him in it. I would love to see a bio done of him on the big screen with Alan Rickman playing VP. It's the voice!!
Jan B.

Claire said...

(Not to be confused with my Tallulah Morehead)

You know, I've wondered why dear Miss Morehead permitted the resemblance of Miss Bankhead's name to hers, unless they were chummy.

Tallulah Morehead said...

That Bankhead copycat has been a thorn in my side for centuries. (She had terrible aim.) But I've now outlived her by almost half a century, so I win!

Bill O said...

Don't remember Comedy of Terrors doing well. It ended the short-lived farcical horrors, probably even if Lorre had been around for a third.One review compared VP in Darling of THe Day to Shirley Temple. All his musical numbers were cut from Dr. Goldfoot for a similar reason.

Greg Ehrbar said...

In his memoir "Which One Was David?" David Frankham has nothing but affection for how kind and supportive price was to the younger actor in "Return of the Fly." Gracious courtesy in a business -- and a world -- in which it's in short supply.

I've heard some people say, "I take the work seriously, but not myself seriously." Price treated even the kookiest project like it was Chekhov. Remember when he wanted to dump a gigantic hallucinogenic tablet into the city water system on GET SMART? Ever wonder whether he really did?

My favorite role was when he voice Irontail in the Rankin/Bass special HERE COMES PETER COTTONTAIL. Unlike Rattigan in THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, which was a cultural, nuanced villain, Irontail was played to the balcony and it's obvious he's having a blast. But then, he always made it seem as if he was having a blast.

Another memory: Price guested on THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW and feigned abject terror when Little Richard appeared. He milked the laugh shamelessly. Guess what Merv said -- or rather uttered?

D. McEwan said...

Bill, A Comedy of Terrors did not do as well as The Raven did, but it did well enough to proceed with the third one. The screenplay was completed. Martita Hunt had been hired to make a fourth spooky player in it. (Along with her excellent Hammer picture, Brides of Dracula, and her classic Miss Havisham for David Lean, Hunt had co-starred with Karloff, Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr. on the classic Route 66 episode, "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing.") Only Peter Lorre's death stopped the third movie.

That was nice of David Frankham. He did at least three movies with Vinnie.

Laura said...

I've had his cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes, for years!