Friday, May 27, 2011

The Vincentennial

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vincent Price.

Out of all the actors who have been associated with horror over the years, Vincent Price has always been my favorite. This is because of a few factors. Growing up in the 1970s, he was ever present on television, not simply in broadcasts of the vast number of movies he'd starred in, but also by his guest appearances on so many television shows, commercials, and his regular place on Hollywood Squares, so he was a very familiar face and name, and I associated him equally with humor and horror which meant that even though I saw him in numerous sinister roles, I thought of him more as someone who was really kind and funny who just happened to like pretending he was devious and evil. He was one of a trio of actors who I followed from appearance to appearance and can honestly say I've seen him in almost everything he's ever done. The other two actors, incidentally, were Kirk Douglas due to his role as Ned land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Steve McQueen thanks to The Great Escape.

Vincent Price, like Bela Lugosi and John Carradine, also had a policy of saying "yes" to just about every role offered to him. Unlike Lugosi and Carradine, both of whom I think are fine actors, Price almost always seemed able to elevate the quality of any movie or tv show he did simply by being in it. He brought a professionalism, sense of grace and elegance to all of his roles, even the ones he was clearly not giving his all and simply falling back on a selection of mannerisms and deliveries that seem to define the camp side of his performances as exemplified by Michael McKean's impersonations of Vincent Price on Saturday Night Live. Even his campiness had a real charm to it, with his peculiar cadences of delivery completely distinct so that you know who it is speaking right away. Lugosi and Carradine may have brought fine performances to otherwise awful material, but I'm a lot more selective about what I'll watch with them in it.

In my youth, Vincent Price was one of a handful of genre actors that I wrote to via Forrest Ackerman. I think all of them wrote back to me, or at least sent an autograph, but Vincent Price's was my most prized one. Somehow during the years I went away to college and tucked it away somewhere safe, the letter itself was lost, but the autograph he sent me I still have. I'd rather have the letter though. It was brief and I'm sure he wrote hundreds more just like it, but he made it seem like the letter I wrote to him was very special to him, and as a kid, getting that letter from such a familiar face that existed only on tv and in ads in TV Guide for cheese slices, or in the pages of Famous Monsters was almost like being invited to his house for lunch.

I also feel great affection for him because out of all the actors tied to the genre, Vincent Price is the only one that I associate with Halloween. Like Ray Bradbury, the headless horseman, or It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Halloween season just doesn't feel complete to me without the presence of Vincent Price.

So, today, I raise my glass to Vincent Price, and will make sure to watch at least one of his movies on this day.

Take a look at some of the events lucky residents of Vincent Price's home town of St. Louis, MO got to partake in here at the official Vincentennial website and make sure you order one of their t-shirts to commemorate the occasion. I'll be wearing mine today.

If you're in the St. Louis area also be sure to stop by the gallery at Star Clipper Comics. They have a great exhibit of original artwork featuring Vincent Price. The show runs through the end of June, and I'll be eagerly looking forward to the piece I bought once the show closes. Star Clipper has also been a supporter of Xombi, so if you've been enjoying it, be sure to let them know.



lordcornsyrup said...

Hi Mr. Rozum,

First let me say I am enjoying Xombi very much. Its a good read and there can never be enough on that.

Also, have you seen "Collector's Item" pilot? Though it was unaired, I take a certain delight that a tv show starring Price and Peter Lorre as mystery solving antique dealers exists.

Shawn Robare said...

I'm not married to the idea yet, but I'm kind of thinking of dedicating the whole Branded in the 80s Halloween countdown this year to Mr. Price and his huge body of work. I'm thinking of breaking out the VP cookbooks and making some dishes, looking at the movies, etc.

It's really cool that you received a response from him back in the day, btw. I'll bet one of the really cool things about getting a letter from Price was instantly being able to hear him narrate it in your head since his voice was so distinct...

Stephen said...

Thanks for marking this day, which would otherwise have gone unnoticed. You're absolutely right - Mr. Price was able to turn even mediocre projects into quality ones.

John Rozum said...

I will check out the Collector's Item pilot. I knew it was made, but never thought to look for it on youtube.

Shawn, I think that is an excellent idea, and would prove to be quite popular.

Stephen, happy to have brought this to your attention. I'm still trying to decide what to watch tonight.

Todd Franklin said...

Great post John! I got hooked on VP thanks to 70's TV. He was the first celeb I ever wrote to get an autograph from. Unfortunately this was in 1993 and he was too ill to make the request. An amazing actor and an amazing person!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, Shawn, that *is* a great idea.

"He brought a professionalism, sense of grace and elegance to all of his roles"

Yes, this. Vincent Price could be eerie, campy, funny, or genuinely threatening, but he was always, always, class.

Michael Jones said...

I too am all for a VP Countdown. I watched Collector's item and a few other Youtubes. You must see his roast of Bette Davis!