Vincent Price (1911 – 1993):
“I played so many gentlemen at the beginning of my career that I certainly wanted to play some villains and so I got kind of stuck in villains.“
Price will always be famous for his performances in horror films including my favorites The Fly (1958), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), and artful The Masque Of The Red Death (1964); yet his career included other genres: film noir, dramas, mysteries, thrillers, and comedies. He appeared on stage, television, radio, and more than 100 films. Starting in 1977, he played Oscar Wilde in the one-man stage play Diversions And Delights by John Gay, touring around the world for years to great acclaim.
The flamboyant 6-foot-4-inch Price possessed a silken voice and a mocking air. He helped start a major revival of science-fiction and horror films in 1953 with his portrayal of a cruelly scarred sculptor in The House Of Wax. He went on to play a series of macabre characters in director Roger Corman‘s film adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, including The Pit And The Pendulum (1961) and Masque Of The Red Death. Both favorites from my childhood.
Price appeared in nearly 100 films, more than 2,000 television shows and occasionally on stage. In his early films he frequently played historical figures: Sir Walter Raleigh in The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex (1939); Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, in Brigham Young- Frontiersman (1940); England’s King Charles II in Hudson’s Bay (1941) and Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers (1948).
The versatile Price played the caddish gigolo in Laura (1944), a cynical cleric in The Keys Of The Kingdom (1944), and a murderous aristocrat in Dragonwyck (1946.)
Still, he joined other excellent actors in finding work in the Horror genre, such as Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. His specialty was tongue-in-cheek fiends, demented scientists, inventors and doctors, whose talents had been corrupted and turned to evil ends.
“The best parts in movies are the heavies. The hero is usually someone who has really nothing to do. He comes out on top, but it’s the heavy who has all the fun.
Horror movies don’t date because they were dated to begin with, they were mannered and consciously so Gothic tales with an unreality, they have the fun of a fairy tale.
To me, films that deal with drug addiction, crime and war are the real horror films. In a world where slaughter and vicious crimes are daily occurrences, a good ghoulish movie is comic relief.“
He loved acting and dismissed people who looked down on his horror film roles. Price:
“I like to be seen, I love being busy and I believe in being active. I know some people think I’ve lowered myself as an actor, but my idea of ‘professional decline’ is ‘not working’.“
He may seem British, but Price was born in St. Louis, His father was the president of a candy-manufacturing company. He attended private schools, made the grand tour of Europe’s museums as a teenager and earned degrees in art history at Yale and the University of London.
He won praise as Prince Albert in the play Victoria Regina in London, and repeated the role opposite Helen Hayes in an 18-month run on Broadway and on tour and then portrayed a first-rate villain, the maniacal husband in Angel Street in 1941.
His own favorite film role was in Theater Of Blood (1973), where he plays a deranged actor who gleefully kills drama critics in ways inspired by William Shakespeare. I especially love him in Whales Of August (1987) as a Russian nobleman charming two elderly sisters, played by Bette Davis and Lillian Gish), and in Edward Scissorhands (1990), as the bizarre inventor of the film’s surreal title character.
The irrepressible Price famously did the monologue for Michael Jackson‘s Thriller (1983) and for eight-years was the host of Mystery, a fun anthology series on PBS.
Price lived for decades on a hilltop overlooking Los Angeles. He was a member of many arts organization, a former president of the Art Council of the University of California at Los Angeles.
Price was an art collector and consultant, with a degree in Art History, lecturing and writing books on the subject. He was the founder of the eponymous Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles. He was also a noted gourmet cook, publishing four bestselling cookbooks.
While filming Gods And Monsters (1998), someone in the cast asked, “Was Vincent Price gay?”. Sir Ian McKellen quipped: “Well, he was married to Coral Browne, wasn’t he?!”
Although Price had affairs with many men, he married three times. His last marriage was to Browne, who appeared as one of his victims in Theatre Of Blood. When they were first engagement, the Australian born Browne confided to critic Bernard Drew: “We’ve both decided to give up boys“. To marry, Price converted to Catholicism, and Browne became an American citizen.The marriage lasted until Browne’s death in 1991. Browne and Price both enjoyed the occasional assignation with someone of the same sex.
Price denounced racial and religious prejudice as: “… a form of poison and claimed Americans must actively fight against it because racism within the United States fuels support for the nation’s enemies“. He was appointed to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board under the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration; he called the appointment: “…kind of a surprise, since I am a Democrat“.
Price was supportive of Gay Rights. When his daughter Victoria Price came out of the closet, Price was open in his criticism of Anita Bryant‘s anti-gay campaign in the 1970s. He was a board member of PFLAG and among the first celebrities to appear in public service announcements about HIV/AIDS.
Victoria Price published Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography (1999), a frank and detailed book about Price where she writes that she is:
…as close to certain as I can be that my dad had physically intimate relationships with men.
He married a bisexual woman [Browne] and everybody assumed their marriage was a fraud. It wasn’t a fraud. It was a totally sexual relationship but they were two people with very open minded approaches as to what life should look like. And that to me – people who lived this truth in all aspects of their lives – they should be heroes to every community.