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Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday, Vincent Price!


Today- May 27, 2011 marks the 100th birthday of that master of horror- Vincent Leonard Price, Jr.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Price had a father who was the President of the National Candy Company, and a grandfather that invented, "Dr. Price's Baking Powder"- the first cream of tartar baking powder, which secured the family's financial security.

During the 1930's Vincent Price became interested in the theater, and started performing on stage in 1935.  Soon, in 1938, Price made his film debut in the film, "Service de Luxe", but didn't start gaining recognition until 1944 when he starred in the Otto Preminger film, "Laura".

His first horror film was the Boris Karloff feature, "Tower of London" in 1939, which he followed up as the title character in "The Invisible Man Returns".  he would reprise this role vocally at the end of 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein".

Price was often cast as a villain in his films- such as "The Web", "The Long Night","Rouge's Regiment", and "The Bribe".  During this time, he was also active in radio work- portraying Simon Templar in "The Saint" from 1943 to 1951.

The 1950's saw Vincent Price star more and more in horror films.  The first of his in this decade was, "House of Wax", which was the first 3-D film to be in the top ten of the North American box office in 1953.  He also starred in "The Mad Magician", "The Fly", and William Castle's films "House on Haunted Hill" and "The Tingler".  Stepping from horror to a more religious genre, Price also starred in "The Ten Commandments", as well as the ABC series, "Crossroads" which explored clergymen from different religions.

During the 1960's  he teamed up with Roger Corman to produce several adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's works- such as:

  • "House of Usher" (1960)
  • "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961)
  • "Tales of Terror" (1962)
  • "The Comedy of Terrors" (1963)
  • "The Raven" (1963)
  • "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964) and
  • "The Tomb of Ligeia" (1965)
He also starred in the 1964 adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel, "I Am Legend", with the film's title being, "The Last Man on Earth".  In 1968, Price portrayed Matthew Hopkins, a witchhunter in "Witchfinder General".  This film is also known by the name, "The Conqueror Worm".

During this time, Vincent Price also made appearances on the "Batman" TV series as the villian, Egghead.  Reportedly, Price quite enjoyed the role, and Yvonne Craig (who played Batgirl) has been quoted as saying that he was her favorite villain in the series.  After a take was printed, he started tossing eggs at Adam West and Burt Ward.  When he was asked to stop, he replied, "With a full artillery?  Not a chance!"  At this point, an eggfight erupted on the set.  Fans can see a reenactment of this incident in the telefilm, "Return to the Batcave:  The Misadventures of Adam and Burt" which discusses the behind the scenes events. Price also began appearing on the famous game show, "Hollywood Squares"- often using his famous voice to answer questions in a sinister manner.

The 1970's saw Price hosting the BBC horror and mystery series, "The Price of Fear", and made appearances on the Canadian children's TV series, "The Hilarious House of Frankenstein" (which I watched as a kid, and absolutely loved).  He provided the opening and closing monologues, as well as red poems about the various characters on the show.  Movie wise, he starred in "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", "Theatre of Blood", and "Mooch Goes to Hollywood"- where he appeared as himself.

Since horror movies were suffering from a slump in the 1970's, Vincent Price started doing more voice work- recording with Basil Rathbone, dramatic readings of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and poems.  He can be heard doing a voice over for Alice Cooper's first solo album, "Welcome to My Nightmare" in 1975, and appeared on the TV special, "Alice Cooper: The Nightmare".  He starred in the radio series, "Tales of the Unexplained".  He also made quest appearances on "Here's Lucy", and "The Brady Bunch".  He also guested starred in an episode of "The Muppet Show", in which during one skit, he's attacked and bitten by a vampiric Kermit the Frog!

The summer of 1977 found Price performing in the one man stage play "Diversions and Delights" as Oscar Wilde.  This play found success in every city it played in, except New York City.  He even performed the play on a stage in Leadville, Colorado, where almost 100 years prior, Oscar Wilde himself had stood and spoke to miners about art.  Price would go on to perform "Diversions and Delights" worldwide.  Many of Price's family and friends thought this was was the best acting he ever did.

In 1982, Price lent his voice to Tim Burton's six minute film about a boy who switches from reality to a fantasy in which he IS Vincent Price.  The film was appropriately titled, "Vincent".  The same year, He once again dipped into the music world by performing a thrilling rap for Michael Jackson's, "Thriller".  The next year, he appeared in the horror spoof, "Bloodbath at the House of Death", and the film, "House of the Long Shadows" with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine.  He would also voice the character of Professor Ratigan in Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective".

During this time, he also hosted the PBS TV series, "Mystery!", and voiced the character of Vincent Van Ghoul on Hanna-Barbera's "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo".  Price also appeared in several horror themed commercials for Tilex bathroom cleaner.  Vincent Price made a couple of appearances on Shelly Duvall's live action series, "Faerie Tale Theatre" in 1984.  In 1987, he starred with Bette Davis in "The Whales of August", and followed it up in 1990 with Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands".

In 1987, Vincent Price was into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Price was often a guest on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson", and was a noted gourmet cook.  He once demonstrated to Carson how to poach a fish in the dishwasher.  He has written several cookbooks, and hosted a TV cooking show titled, "Cooking Pricewise".

During his life, he was married three times, and fathered a son, Vincent Barret Price with is first wife, and a daughter, Mary Victoria Price with his second wife.  His third wife, the Australian actress, Coral Browne starred with him in "Theatre of Blood", and became an American citizen to marry him, while he converted to Catholicism for her.

Vincent Price was quite outspoken politically- going so far as to end an episode of "The Saint" by denouncing racial and religious prejudice- declaring it a poison, and calling for Americans to fight against it since such prejudice only serves to support the country's enemies.

Emphysema and Parkinson's disease resulted in Price's role in "Edward Scissorhands" to be briefer than it had originally been planned, as well as led to him retiring from the TV series, "Mystery!".

On October 25, 1993, Vincent Price passed away from cancer.  His ashes were spread off Point Dume in Malibu, California.  Shortly after his death, A&E aired an episode of "Biography" honoring his horror career- but due to copyright problems, the episode has never been aired again.

Vincent Price left a lasting legacy behind him through various means.  Known for his fine art collection, Price donated 90 pieces from his own collection to East Los Angeles College in Montery Park, California- creating the first "teaching art collection".  The Vincent Price Art Gallery continues to present world class artists, containing over 2,000 pieces of art- and worth well over five million dollars.  Until his death, Price was also an Honorary Board Member of the Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum in Bristol Connecticut.  This museum features several life-size wax replicas of characters from his films- including, "The Fly", "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", and "The Masque of the Red Death". At Mary Institue and St Louis Country Day School (Vincent Price's alma mater), a black box theater is named after him. In addition, he's been lovingly parodied on "The Simpson", "Spitting Image", "Yacht Rock", and on "Saturday Night Live"

1 comment:

  1. I loved his rap in Thriller! Good article, my friend. Vincent would be pleased!

    ReplyDelete