Actors and directors associated prominently with horror movies often sufer from Rodney Dangerfield syndome ” Don’t get much respect.”Vincent Price was a highly talented, theatrically trained actor who was never even nominated for a Hollywood award, in spite of working in and starring in many serious and acclaimed films. He did get two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for film and one for television. As a self-confessed workaholic he was perfectly happy to take horror film rolls to keep working and really didn’t care what anyone thought.
Film historian David Delvalle, a longtime friend of Price, says the actor didn’t mind being typecast in horror films. “He wasn’t a snob,” says Delvalle, who has produced a DVD called “Vincent Price — The Sinister Image,” which features a 1987 conversation with the actor. or this horror fans are eternally grateful
As a boy, Price attended the St. Louis Country Day School, as well as Milford Academy in Milford, Connecticut. In 1933, he graduated with a degree in art history from Yale University, where he worked on the campus humor magazine The Yale Record. After teaching for a year, he entered the University of London, intending to study for a master’s degree in fine arts. Instead, he was drawn to the theater, first appearing on stage professionally in 1934. His acting career began in London in 1935, performing with Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre.
Price started out in films as a character actor. He made his film debut in Service de Luxe (1938) and established himself in the film noir Laura (1944), opposite Gene Tierney, directed by Otto Preminger. The film is considered one of the ten best mysteries of all time by the American Film Institute, not a bad start for any actor.
His first venture into the horror genre, for which he later became best known, was in the Boris Karloff film Tower of London (1939). The following year Price portrayed the title character in The Invisible Man Returns.
He was open in his choice of roles and willing to adapt to both changes in the movie business and in the culture. When he discovered Gothic villainy in the 1940s, he loved it,” said his daughter Victoria Price, pointing to his first foray playing the high-handed landowner to Gene Tierney’s ingénue in “Dragonwyck” (1946), which reunited Tierney and Price just two years after Otto Preminger’s film-noir classic “Laura” (1944). Once filmmaking began to transform with the Hollywood renaissance of the ’60s, the old studio system gone and counterculture setting in, Price, like everything else, embraced it. This was no more evident than in his brilliant voice-over for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in 1982, introducing a new generation to his talents. Quincy Jones, Jackson’s producer said Price recorded his portion of the song in only two takes, noting recording voiceover work is notoriously difficult, and he praised Price’s work and accuracy as “fabulous.”
Price made so many appearances it would take a book to run them all down, but we are here to credit his enormous contribution to horror. His enduring appeal is shown in Tim Burton’s desire to have him in Edward Scissorhands, his last majot role, a fiiting end to his careere in that genre. Beginning with his turn as the vengeance seeking wax sculptor in the classic “House of Wax” (1953) he went on to “The Mad Magician” (1954) before appearing in mainstream studio fare like “While the City Sleeps” (1956) and “The Ten Commandments” (1956). Then he took a walk on the science fiction side often linked to horror, with “The Fly” (1958) and its sequel “Return of the Fly” (1959). In those same two years he did “House on Haunted Hill” (1958) “The Tingler” (1959). I remember staying up way past normal bedtime with my brother and beig scared witless as a kid sitting in the dark by that movie. Price then began what many know him for, a collaboration with low-budget producer Roger Corman on a series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, including “House of Usher” (1960), “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961), “Tales of Terror” (1962)and “The Raven” “The Haunted Palace “Twice Told Tales” (1963) . He made “The Comedy of Terrors” (1963) directed by Jaques Tourneur another famous name in horror, who was specifically asked for by Richard Matheson, the writer and author of the original “I Am Legend”. In 1964 he starred in a film version of that same Matheson story, under the title “Last Man on Earth”. He then went back to working with Corma for “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964) and “The Tomb of Ligeia” (1965).
During the early 1970s, Price hosted and starred in BBC Radio’s horror and mystery series The Price of Fear. This show stands out in Price’s radio career as some of the episodes are based on fictional adventures of Vincent Price himself, in which Price plays himself, while others have him merely introducing the macabre tale of the week. Twenty-two episodes were produced. If you ever get a chance, they are well worth listening to, Price had such a great voice and was a consumate narrator. And of course from 1981 to 1989, Price hosted the PBS television series Mystery! He was definitly my favorite host.
Price never lost his interest in art. He was a voracious art collector. He founded the Vincent Price Art Museum in 1957 deliberately in East Los Angeles to promote art to the less advantaged. Price’s daughter is a board member at the museum, which holds more than 9,000 works in three buildings and provides an arts program for students at East Los Angeles College each year, including a new performing and fine arts center.
He was also a noted gourmet cook and has several cookbooks to his name. Two of note are Cooking Price-Wise, a book of Price’s favorite recipes is based on the Thames Television series he hosted in the 1970s, which showcased timeless international cuisine and A Treasury of Great Recipes, now a classic, and not just for the recipes. This book captures a lifestyle and period of history, the Postwar, globe-trotting, Pan Am, waiters in bow ties, gourmet lifestyle. No quick and easy microwave meals here.
Anyone who can span the gap form Orson Welles Mercury Theater to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and work successfully with directors as diverse as Otto Preminger, Tim Burton and Roger Corman is a truly unique individual. The art and cooking are frosting on the cake. If anyone fits under the category Joys of Life it’s the priceless Vincent Price.