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Vincent Price and The Vincentennial!

Written by: Marshall Ward

Vincent Price, in that unmistakable velvety tone, once said: “A man who limits his interests, limits his life.”

This year marks (what would have been) Vincent Price’s 100th birthday, and though he is no longer alive to celebrate, his legacy as one of the most enduring icons of 20th century horror cinema lives on.

House of Wax

His classic films, from House of Wax to The Fly to The Ten Commandments, are being screened in theatres and festivals across North America, as fans hail 2011 as “The Vincentennial.”

In celebration of her father’s 100th anniversary, Victoria Price has been traveling and promoting everything from rare cookbooks penned by her father to her own book, Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography.

Just in time for Halloween, Victoria Price sat down with Rock Cellar Magazine to share some personal insight into one of the silver screen’s most beloved and menacing villains of all time, Vincent Price.

Rock Cellar Magazine:  How has “The Vincentennial” year been for you emotionally?

Victoria Price:  It’s been really invigorating because it has helped me remember why my father is so special. The fact that he’s been gone almost 20 years and people still remember him so vividly, and with so much love, is very touching and makes me so proud. It also really reminds me that we need to all try harder to live our lives the way my father did. He was so open-hearted, so generous and kind, and he loved life so much. My dad truly saw every day as this incredible adventure waiting to happen. So “The Vincentennial,” as people are calling it, is a good reminder for me to get my life together and live life to the fullest, as I’ll be turning 50 next year!

RCM:  Your father was an author of several books, a gourmet chef, a wine connoisseur, an art expert and founder of The Vincent Price Gallery and Art Foundation at East Los Angeles College. Are there any hobbies or interests of your father’s that particularly resonate with you?

VP:  Seashells.  He collected seashells.  He loved anything to do with the ocean, and something that people don’t know is that he loved to go deep sea fishing. He absolutely loved it from the time he was a little kid.

When I was really young, he used to take me, and I hated the idea of touching the live bait. Then one day, he had me promise that when I turned 13, I would learn how to finally bait my own hook. But my parents got divorced right around then and we actually never went deep sea fishing again when I was 12 years old.

So before he died, he said that he wanted his ashes scattered in the Pacific, but not in Santa Monica Bay, he said, because it was already too polluted. So we had to take a boat quite a ways out, as my brother and I looked at each other and said, “We’re on a boat, and this is our dad, so what would be the best thing we could do?” To honor him, we decided right there to go deep sea fishing, and in deference to my dad, I finally baited my own hook. And every one of us caught our own fish that day. It was unforgettable.

The Masque of the Red DeathRCM: In the ’60s and ’70s, Vincent Price starred in such memorable, and terrifyingly poignant, films as The Raven, Theatre of Blood, and The Masque of the Red Death. As a child, were you very aware of your father’s celebrity and unique allure?

VP: Absolutely, I could feel it everywhere we went together. But I don’t think it was just because he was famous. It was because he truly was, larger than life. And that voice of his, everywhere we’d go, people would instantly recognize that voice the moment they heard it. I can remember one time when we were in a shopping mall, going up the escalator and we were chit-chatting about something. And I could hear people going down the other escalator saying, “Oh my God! That voice — I can hear Vincent Price!” Their heads were swinging around trying to catch a glimpse of him as we were getting off the escalator because they recognized him simply by his voice.

RCM:  Did your father mind being approached by fans when you were out in public with him?

VP: Not at all, because his fans were always very kind and very polite. And you know, he never once refused an autograph. I remember this one time at Yale, where he had gone to college, he attended a film festival and afterwards we were eating dinner together. The restaurant we were in had a plate glass window where you could look in to the dining area from outside. Somebody saw him through the window while he we were in the middle of the main entree, then all of a sudden, there were people coming in and asking for autographs. Within minutes, there was a 40 minute long line-up going through the restaurant and out the door. And like I said, he never said no to an autograph, and never complained that his dinner was getting cold. It never would have even occurred to him to say that.

Helen Hayes told him when he was a young man that if you are an actor, then you are a public servant. And what that meant to him was: If you don’t honor your fans…then what are you? He truly believed that, and genuinely loved and appreciated his fans.

RCM: The biography you wrote about your father is a vivid and candid one, shedding light on his family life, marriages, and sexuality. Twelve years have passed since you published your father’s life story. How do feel about the book today?

VP: I would love to rewrite a few of the chapters. It was a difficult book to write because at the time, my mother was alive, and there were things that I didn’t want to say. I remember agonizing over certain things I wanted to write, and I was reminded of this just recently while I was having dinner with a close friend. She was a close, personal friend of our family, and she told me that my mother said to her, “Don’t read Victoria’s book — she wrote terrible things in there. Just awful things.”  My mother never said such things to me when my book came out, but it was that kind of response that scared me while writing the book, initially. And now that my mom is gone, I figure, who cares? That’s why I think it would be fun to go back and rewrite some of it now, and say even more of the things I wanted to say.

RCM: Do you feel a certain responsibility, as Vincent Price’s daughter, to keep his memory alive by doing meet-and-greets at sci-fi and horror conventions such as these?

VP: When I was a little girl, my dad did this promotional thing for an art collection, and came home one day with a banner that read “The Vincent Price Art Collection.” My parents thought it would be hysterical — I must have been five years old — to drape the banner over me like I was Miss America. Of course, instead of saying “Miss America,” it said “The Vincent Price Art Collection,” which in hindsight represents the way I sort of felt. Not like a trophy or a piece of art, but that I was part of his whole life. And since he died, I want to play a part in conveying his legacy.

RCM: Before your father died at the age of 82, having suffered from emphysema and Parkinson’s disease, he quipped during an interview: “I hate being old and ill. Don’t get old if you can avoid it!” In the final stage of his life, did your father have much to say regarding death and dying?

VP:  Nobody has actually ever asked me that question, but it’s an interesting one, as I recently found myself thinking about his death and his perspective on it.  My father told me that he thought death would be like silence.  Everything would just go quiet.  I think what he meant by that was there wouldn’t be any fanfare or fuss, and that the dying process would be a very quiet experience, as his life would just quietly wind down until the end came.  And he said that sounded good to him.

Which I found very interesting, because this was a man who loved to be busy.  He loved to be active and actually wasn’t very good at being quiet. I think at the end of his life, one of the things that was profoundly moving to him was how much he got to do in this world.

I remember at the very end of his life, he said this beautiful thing: “You know, look at all the things that have happened over the course of my lifetime in the world, like man going to the moon.  And then I think about all the things that have happened in my life, with all the people I’ve loved and places I’ve seen.  It’s pretty incredible.”

 ~*~*~*

Everyone knows Elvira, the one and only Mistress of the Dark and the Queen of Halloween. [shhh...real name Cassandra Peterson.]  The iconic horror hostess of the charmingly campy late-night television show Movie Macabre – and quintessential sex symbol of all things spooky – took a moment to chat with Rock Cellar Magazine and share her memories of Vincent Price.

Mitch Markowitz  and ElviraElvira & Mitch Markowitz, Photo courtesy of Mitch Markowitz

Elvira: We ran into each other many times over the years, and came to be good friends. And I absolutely adored him. He is the funniest, nicest, sweetest person and such a dashing and distinguished gentleman. He was also one of my biggest childhood heroes, so when I first met him, it was a really big deal.

You can imagine what a thrill it was when I had the opportunity to present him with an award at an awards ceremony. And I remember telling him, time and again, that he should have been a comedian because he was just so witty, and absolutely adorable. He really should have been a comedian.

Someone told me that, apparently, one of the notes I wrote him when he was ill — when I was telling him about a treatment that I had heard of — is in the Smithsonian Institute. Go figure! I’ll have to check it out for myself some day.

RCM: Vincent Price once said: “I’ve come to believe remembering someone is not the highest compliment — it is missing them.”

Elvira: Well, we miss you, Vincent Price.

~*~*~*

Mitch Markowitz (Good Morning Vietnam, M*A*S*H, Van Dyke & Company), is a writer and producer who worked with Vincent Price on The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, an unforgettable off-beat and bizarre Canadian children’s show from 1971.

RCM: You had the opportunity to spend four days with Vincent Price in the summer of ’71, filming those fascinatingly creepy and campy monologues in The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. As the associate producer, what was that like?

Mitch Markowitz: Having Vincent Price as one of the stars of the show, with his cache and allure made for a magical four days while he was here. He was a major movie star, right up there with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney.

I remember vividly, the first thing he did when he came in to the studio was introduce himself to the entire cast and crew. And I’ll tell you, there were a lot of big shots who would come into town and say, “I don’t do crew introductions.” Cast, yes — crew, no.

But Price would put himself on a first name basis with each and every member of the crew — the technicians, sound people, everyone. He’d walk right up to a grip or lighting person and say, “Hi, I’m Vincent Price and I’m looking forward to working with you.”

So you can imagine that for the next four days, and for the ensuing 40 years, they were all floating on cloud nine because they worked with Vincent Price — who ended up being their friend.

RCM: One of the most memorable things about The Hilarious House of Frightenstein was Vincent Price’s insidious laughter that opened each show, with his sinisterly face superimposed over exterior shots of the dark and dreary castle.

MM: Oh yes, it’s timeless really. Like Vincent Price, himself, who was so suave and debonair, but at the same time had a real down to earthy quality about him. I feel so privileged to have made a friend with one of the top Hollywood horror icons of all time.

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