BY JEREMY LUNT

 

Vincent Leonard Price Jr. was born on May 27, 1911, in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of the National Candy Company's president, and the youngest of four children. He was educated and spent his childhood in the city, going, for many years, to a school that his own mother had helped found. Unlike his other contemporaries, he was not immediately smitten with the idea of becoming an actor. Far from it; his original goal was to be an artist; however, he quickly learned that he had little talent in such a field, and concentrated then on becoming an art historian. A loner for much of his childhood, he often visited the St. Louis Museum and stared at the various works of art, inspiring him to hoard money, and he eventually built up a small private collection of minor sketches by the time he was a teenager. It was the beginning of a life-long love of the "world of man's creation - art". During these formative years, young Price also developed interests in everything from cooking to Native American culture. As he so aptly put it, "A man who limits his interests, limits his life." 

Since many of his family members at had either attended the prestigious university of Yale, or had married into Yale families, it was not surprising that the young Vincent Price ended up there as well. Graduating in 1933, he took a minor job teaching art appreciation, coaching dramatics, and, believe it or not, occasionally driving a bus at the Riverdale School in New York. There, while playing one of the leads in a three-act production of "H.M.S. Pinafore", he realized that his true calling in life would be the stage. Besides that, the teaching experience had taught him that - surprise - college had taught him very little! With a $900 tuition check from his parents, Price finally received a Masters Degree from the Cortauld Institute in London, slightly furthering his education.

In 1935 he made his first professional appearance at the Gate Theatre in London, playing a policeman and judge in the play "Chicago". His acting work was making him much happier than teaching anyways, now. Soon after, he was cast in the role of Prince Albert in Laurence Houseman's "Victoria Regina". Positive reviews ensued, and Price was even mistaken for a European! The role soon brought him to the attention of his fellow citizens back home, when he was asked to re-create the role of Albert in New York in an American version starring actress Helen Hayes. It made Price an instant star. "Victoria Regina" ran for several years, and he spent his spare time during the play's "recesses" on other stage work, and occasionally screen tests. He then briefly joined Orson Wells' Mercury Theatre, although left the company soon after. Price also found time to romance actress Barbara O'Neill. However, it was not to be; O'Neill wouldn't commit, so Vincent ended up marrying actress Edith Barrett in a large ceremony on April 23, 1938, who would turn out to be his first of three wives. 


"House of Wax" (1953)

"The Fly" (1958)

"House on Haunted Hill" (1958)

After signing a contract with Universal, Price made his screen debut in 1938 in "Service De Luxe". After that, he went on to a number of showy parts in movies like James Whale's "Green Hell", "Laura", "The Song of Bernadette", "Hudson's Bay", "The House of Seven Gables" and "Brigham Young - Frontiersman" through the decade. On August 30, 1940, he became the proud father of one Vincent Barrett Price. However, by 1944, he and Edith had become legally separated, and, after a brief reconciliation, they divorced in 1948. Only about a year later, he revealed that he was now married again, this time to costume designer Mary Grant. Together the two would found the Vincent Price Gallery on the campus of the East Los Angeles College in 1951. The gallery still operates even to this day, and has done much to introduce it's founders' love of art to new generations.


"Return of the Fly" (1959)


"The Tingler" (1959)


"The Bat" (1959)

The 1950's brought Price to the attention of, of all things, the United States government and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His affiliation with organizations that later turned out to have Communist influences, a snafu involving passports, and then the mysterious, unexplained dropping of him from a TV program called "Pantomime Quiz", made him suspect to a scandal. He voluntarily requested a meeting with the FBI, where he firmly denied any knowledge or sympathy towards Communist parties or causes. The G-men found him to be candid and forthright, and confirmed his denial of any wrongdoing. 

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"The Fall of the House of Usher" (1960)

The Pit & The Pendulum (1961)
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"The Raven" (1963)

Throughout the decade he appeared in a variety of films, television programs and plays, including "The Ten Commandments", but in 1953 he accepted a role that would change the course of his career - "House of Wax", about the sculptor Jarrod, hideously deformed in an act of arson, returning from supposed death for revenge. The picture was a huge success, and he followed it up with "The Mad Magician" the same year. However, it wasn't until later in the decade that he started making horror pictures in full-force. Beginning in 1958, he starred in five horror/sci-fi films in the space of just two years (in William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill" and "The Tingler", Fox's "The Fly" and "Return of the Fly", and "The Bat"). With that, he went on to star in the famous Edgar Alan Poe chillers of AIP, with such minor classics as "House of Usher", "Pit and the Pendulum", "The Raven" and "The Haunted Palace", and in camp items like "Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs". It was these films that stamped him as a "horror star", even though he continued to accept a variety of different roles (of his total screen output, only about 30% is horror).

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"The Comedy of Terrors" (1963)
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"Tomb of Ligeia" (1965)
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"Witchfinder General" (1968)

On April 27, 1962, Price was blessed with a second child - a girl by the name of Mary Victoria. The birth seemed to rejuvenate him, but the quality of his film work was beginning to deteriorate. His contract with AIP prohibited him from horror pictures with other companies, and the studio was increasingly casting him in disappointments like "War-Gods of the Deep", "Cry of the Banshee" and "Madhouse". Despite creating some of his most memorable roles as Dr. Phibes in "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", Edward Lionheart in "Theater of Blood" and Matthew Hopkins in "The Conqueror Worm", he was getting rather fed up with not only American-International, but with Hollywood itself. After taking refuge in England briefly, and when it was revealed that he was madly in love with actress Coral Browne, Mary Grant sued for divorce and got it. Shortly thereafter, her ex-husband wed Coral at a county courthouse. 

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"Scream and Scream Again" (1969)
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"The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (1972)
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"Theater of Blood" (1973)

In his later years, Price continued to act regularly, but he also found a new interest in rock 'n' roll, helping with music videos like Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Price himself was a big fan of "good" rock 'n' roll. He was also a chef on television for many years, and wrote and published quite a few books, including "Joe", "The Michelangelo Bible", "Drawings of Delacroix", "The Come Into the Kitchen Cook Book" and "A Treasury of Great Recipes". Even when diagnosed with the Parkinson's disease that would eventually help end his life, Price kept working. Coral Browne died in 1991 from breast cancer; her husband was so sick he couldn't even attend the funeral service. Vincent Price, the "King of the Grand Guignol"  finally succumbed to a combination of Parkinson's and lung cancer on October 25, 1993. He was given a warm farewell at a memorial service nearly a month later, with hors d'oeuvres from his favorite restaurant and an emotional reminiscence from 
friend Roddy McDowall, and his ashes were scattered off the California coast.

Vincent Price Page                                          Vincent Price's Filmography 

 

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