Sources: Baltimore Post – Examiner | Edited By All Things Michael
Behind the Mustache: The Lives of Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe gave fans a chance to honor Poe on the eve of his 206th birthday and to remember the life of actor Vincent Price, who passed away twenty-one years ago. On hand to honor Poe was John Astin, best known for playing Gomez in The Addams Family. And remembering Price was his daughter Victoria, author of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography. The celebration took place at Westminster Hall and Burying Grounds, 519 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, Maryland.
Victoria Price spoke first, and in a presentation which lasted close to an hour, fondly recalled memories of a man whose life was immersed in art, movie-making and burlesque.
“St. Louis had a beautiful art museum,” Victoria explained, “but they didn’t have a first rate theatre. They were, however, first rate in burlesque, so my dad developed quite a fondness for burlesque. His nickname in high school was Carrie, because he had a crush on a stripper named Carrie. My mother told me that burlesque remained such a part of my dad’s life, that at very inopportune moments at parties, he could be heard yelling, ‘Take it off! Take it all off!’”
Price also enjoyed sports, including baseball and deep-sea fishing. But it was in acting he lived his dream, despite the early advice of a famous friend.
“At Yale, dad studied art history, English, and poetry. And he also sang in the glee club. But he had a secret ambition to become an actor, so he sought out the advice of a famous friend – James Thurber, the great American humorist, essayist and cartoonist. Now, dad had never been cast in anything at Yale; he had never been cast in high school. He told Thurber about his secret ambition, and Thurber laughed at him and said, ‘Are you kidding me??? You don’t have a chance at becoming that.’ So my dad decided he would pursue artistry and went off to study at the University of London. However, dad did have the last laugh, because in a 1944 New Yorker essay about giving young people advice, Thurber wrote, ‘Ever since I told Vincent Price not to become an actor, I never give young people advice.”
Better advice would come from the first lady of the American stage, Helen Hayes.
“In 1935, while appearing on Broadway, my father was offered a million dollar contract to come out to Hollywood. But Dad was very humble and he always wanted to learn. So he went to Helen Hayes to ask if he should accept the offer. She asked him, ‘Do you feel you know your craft?’ and he said, ‘Well, no, how can I? I’ve only been in one and half plays!’ And she said, ‘Exactly. If you don’t want to be a flash in the pan, you turn down that contract and you learn your craft,’ and he did.
Price would learn his craft by doing summer stock and then returning to Broadway, and while working with Orson Wells’ Mercury Theatre. But it would be in Hollywood, and in the sinister roles he is best known for today, that he truly found his niche.
“The first time he knew the audience hated him, he felt at home.”
Only Vincent Price, she said, could sit quietly behind two terrified teenaged girls in a darkened movie house – watching one his horror films – and then at the climax of the picture, lean forward and with his distinctive voice ask, “Did you like it?”
Victoria concluded her reflections with a short glimpse of Vincent’s appearance on the Dean Martin roast of Bette Davis, and by recognizing two people – Tim Burton and Michael Jackson – for bringing her father’s unique persona to a new generation of fans.
“As long as there is Halloween, there will be Thriller,” she said.
“Quite a few people have suggested that my dad may be more famous now than he was twenty years ago at the end of his life and career. And that’s because of his scary movies; because of people like Tim Burton and Michael Jackson, who loved those scary movies; and because of fans like you. Thanks to you, my dad not only has never been forgotten, but he has been introduced to new generations of fans. And, for a daughter who loved him, that makes me happier than you can imagine.” (Source)
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