Updated: July 14, 2022
IN MEMORY OF ACTOR VINCENT PRICE
Vincent Leonard Price Jr. (May 27, 1911 – October 25, 1993) was an American actor, well known for his distinctive voice and performances in horror films. His career spanned other genres, including film noir, drama, mystery, thriller, and comedy. He appeared on stage, television, radio, and more than one hundred films. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures, and one for television. Born and raised near St. Louis, Missouri, Price also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Price was an art collector and consultant, with a degree in art history, lecturing and writing books on the subject. Additionally, he was the founder of the eponymous Vincent Price Art Museum in California. He was also a noted gourmet cook.
Price was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the youngest of the four children of Vincent Leonard Price Sr. (July 30, 1871 – June 18, 1948), president of the National Candy Company, and his wife, Marguerite Cobb (née Wilcox) Price (October 28, 1874 – September 12, 1946). His grandfather, Vincent Clarence Price, invented "Dr. Price's Baking Powder", the first cream of tartar-based baking powder, and secured the family's fortune.
Price was of English descent and was a descendant of Peregrine White, the first White child born in Colonial Massachusetts, being born on the Mayflower while it was in the harbor of Massachusetts. Price had some Welsh ancestry as well.
Price attended the St. Louis Country Day School, as well as Milford Academy in Milford, Connecticut. In 1933, he graduated with a degree in art history from Yale University, where he worked on the campus humor magazine The Yale Record. After teaching for a year, he entered the University of London, intending to study for a master's degree in fine arts. Instead, he was drawn to the theater, first appearing on stage professionally in 1934. His acting career began in London in 1935, performing with Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre.
In 1936, Price appeared as Prince Albert in the American production of Laurence Housman's play Victoria Regina, which starred Helen Hayes in the title role of Queen Victoria.
Price started out in films as a character actor. He made his film debut in 1938 with Service de Luxe and established himself in the film Laura (1944), opposite Gene Tierney, directed by Otto Preminger. He played Joseph Smith in the movie Brigham Young (1940) and William Gibbs McAdoo in Wilson (1944) as well as Bernadette's prosecutor, Vital Dutour, in The Song of Bernadette (1943), and as a pretentious priest in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944).
His first venture into the horror genre, for which he became famous, was in the 1939 Boris Karloff film Tower of London. The following year Price portrayed the title character in The Invisible Man Returns (a role he reprised in a vocal cameo at the end of the 1948 horror-comedy spoof Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein).
In 1946, Price reunited with Tierney in two notable films, Dragonwyck and Leave Her to Heaven. There were also many villainous roles in film noir thrillers like The Web (1947), The Long Night (1947), Rogues' Regiment (1948) and The Bribe (1949), with Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner and Charles Laughton.
His first starring role was as conman James Addison Reavis in the 1950 biopic The Baron of Arizona. He did a comedic turn as the tycoon Burnbridge Waters, co-starring with Ronald Colman in Champagne for Caesar, one of his favorite film roles.
He was active in radio, portraying the Robin Hood-inspired crime-fighter Simon Templar in The Saint, which ran from 1947-51. In the 1950s, Price moved into horror films, with a role in House of Wax (1953), the first 3-D film to land in the year's top ten at the North American box office. His next roles were The Mad Magician (1954), the monster movie The Fly (1958) and its sequel Return of the Fly (1959).
That same year, he starred in a pair of beloved thrillers by producer-director William Castle: House on Haunted Hill (1959) as eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren, and The Tingler as Dr. Warren Chapin, who discovered the titular creature. He appeared in the radio drama Three Skeleton Key, the story of an island lighthouse besieged by an army of rats. He first performed the work in 1950 on Escape and returned to it in 1956 and 1958 for Suspense.
Outside the horror realm, Price played Baka (the master builder) in The Ten Commandments in 1956. About this time he also appeared on NBC's The Martha Raye Show. In the 1955–56 television season, he was cast three times on the religion anthology series Crossroads, a study of clergymen from different denominations. In the 1955 episode "Cleanup", Price portrayed the Reverend Robert Russell. In 1956, he was cast as Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas in "The Rebel", and as the Rev. Alfred W. Price in "God's Healing".
In the 1960s, Price achieved a number of low-budget filmmaking successes with Roger Corman and American International Pictures (AIP) starting with the House of Usher (1960), which earned over $2 million at the box office in the United States and led to the subsequent Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Tales of Terror (1962), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).
He starred in The Last Man on Earth (1964), the first adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend. In 1968, Price portrayed witchhunter Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General (released in the US as The Conqueror Worm). He starred in comedy films, notably Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and its sequel Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966). In 1968 he played the part of an eccentric artist in the musical Darling of the Day, opposite Patricia Routledge.
Price often spoke of his pleasure playing Egghead in the Batman television series. One of his co-stars, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl), said Price was her favorite villain in the series. In an oft-repeated anecdote from the set of Batman, Price, after a take ended, started throwing eggs at series stars Adam West and Burt Ward, and when asked to stop, replied, "With a full artillery? Not a chance!", causing an egg fight to erupt on the soundstage. This incident is re-enacted in the behind-the-scenes telefilm Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt.
In the 1960s he began his role as a guest on the television game show Hollywood Squares, becoming a semi-regular in the 1970s, including being one of the guest panelists on the finale in 1980.
Price made guest star appearances in many TV shows during the decade, including F Troop, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. In 1964, he provided the narration for the Tombstone Historama in Tombstone, Arizona, which is still in operation as of 2016. He also starred as the host of the Australian TV series If These Walls Could Speak, in which a short history of a historical building (supposedly narrated by the building itself) was covered, and as the narrating voice of the building.
During the early 1970s, Price hosted and starred in BBC Radio's horror and mystery series The Price of Fear. Price accepted a cameo part in the Canadian children's television program The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (1971) in Hamilton, Ontario, on the local television station CHCH. In addition to the opening and closing monologues, his role in the show was to recite poems about the show's various characters, sometimes wearing a cloak or other costumes.
He appeared in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), and Theatre of Blood (1973), in which he portrayed one of a pair of campy serial killers. That same year Price appeared as himself in Mooch Goes to Hollywood, a film written by Jim Backus. Price was an admirer of the works of Edgar Allan Poe and in 1975 visited the Edgar Allan Poe Museum (Richmond, Virginia), where he had his picture taken with the museum's popular stuffed raven.
Price recorded dramatic readings of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and poems, which were collected together with readings by Basil Rathbone. In 1975, Price and his wife Coral Browne appeared together in an international stage adaptation of Ardèle which played in the USA as well as in London at the Queen's Theatre. During this run, Browne & Price starred together in a BBC Radio play Night of the Wolf first airing in 1975.
Price greatly reduced his film work from around 1975, as horror itself suffered a slump, and increased his narrative and voice work, as well as advertising Milton Bradley's Shrunken Head Apple Sculpture.
Price's voiceover is heard on Alice Cooper's first solo album, Welcome to My Nightmare from 1975, and he appeared in the corresponding TV special Alice Cooper: The Nightmare. He starred for a year in the early 1970s in a syndicated daily radio program, Tales of the Unexplained. He made guest appearances in a 1970 episode of Here's Lucy showcasing his art expertise and in a 1972 episode of ABC's The Brady Bunch, in which he played a deranged archaeologist. In October 1976, Price appeared as the featured guest in an episode of The Muppet Show.
In 1976, Price recorded a 45rpm single, a cover of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's, "The Monster Mash", putting his voice to a backing track laid down in London by two record producers, Bob Newby and Ken Weston. It was released on both sides of the Atlantic later that year without much success.
In 1977, he began performing as Oscar Wilde in the one-man stage play Diversions and Delights, written by John Gay and directed by Joe Hardy. The play is set in a Parisian theatre on a night about one year before Wilde's death. The original tour of the play was a success in every city it played except for New York City. In the summer of 1979, Price performed the role of Wilde at the Tabor Opera House in Leadville, Colorado, on the same stage from which Wilde had spoken to miners about art some 96 years before. He would eventually perform the play worldwide. In her biography of her father, Victoria Price stated that several members of Price's family and friends thought that this was his best acting performance.
In 1979, Price starred with his wife Coral Browne in the short-lived CBS TV series Time Express. In 1979, Price hosted the hour-long amusement park & roller coaster television special "America Screams", syndicated worldwide, riding on many of the roller coasters himself and recounting their history. During 1979-1980, Price hosted the "Mystery Night" segment of the radio series, Sears Radio Theater, renamed Mutual Radio Theater, originally broadcast on the CBS Radio Network, moving to the Mutual Broadcasting System.
In 1982, Price provided the narrator's voice in Vincent, Tim Burton's six-minute film about a young boy who flashes from reality into a fantasy where he is Vincent Price.
That same year, Price performed a sinister monologue on the title track of Michael Jackson's Thriller album. A longer version of the rap, sans the music, along with some conversation can be heard on Jackson's 2001 remastered reissue of the Thriller album.
Part of the extended version can be heard on the Thriller 25 album, released in 2008. Price appeared as Sir Despard Murgatroyd in a 1982 television production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore (with Keith Michell as Robin Oakapple). In 1983, Price played the Sinister Man in the British spoof horror film Bloodbath at the House of Death. He appeared in House of the Long Shadows, which teamed him with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and John Carradine. Although Price had worked with each of the actors at least once in previous decades, this was the first time all had teamed up. One of his last major roles, and one of his favorites, was as the voice of Professor Ratigan in Walt Disney Pictures' The Great Mouse Detective in 1986.
From 1981-89, Price hosted the PBS television series Mystery! In 1985, he provided voice talent on the Hanna-Barbera series The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo as the mysterious "Vincent Van Ghoul", who aided Scooby-Doo, Scrappy-Doo, and the gang in recapturing 13 evil demons. A lifelong rollercoaster fan, Price narrated a 1987 30-minute documentary on the history of rollercoasters and amusement parks including Coney Island. During this time (1985–1989), he appeared in horror-themed commercials for Tilex bathroom cleanser.
In 1984, Price appeared in Shelley Duvall's live-action series Faerie Tale Theatre as the Mirror in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", and the narrator for "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers". In 1987, he starred with Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, and Ann Sothern in The Whales of August, a story of two sisters living in Maine facing the end of their days. His performance in The Whales of August earned the only award nomination of his career: an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
In 1989, Price was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. His last significant film work was as the inventor in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990).
Price, who studied Art History (along with English) at Yale University, was a noted art lover and collector. He was a commissioner of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.
In 1957, impressed by the spirit of the students and the community's need for the opportunity to experience original art works first hand, Vincent and Mary Grant Price donated 90 pieces from their private collection and a large amount of money to establish the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, California, which was the first "teaching art collection" owned by a community college in the United States. They ultimately donated some 2,000 pieces; the collection contains over 9,000 pieces and has been valued in excess of $5 million.
Price also spent time working as an art consultant for Sears-Roebuck: From 1962 to 1971, Sears offered the "Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art", selling about 50,000 fine art prints to the general public. Works which Price selected or commissioned for the collection included works by Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dalí. Public access to fine art was important to Price, who, according to his daughter, Victoria, saw the Sears deal as an "opportunity to put his populist beliefs into practice, to bring art to the American public."
Price amassed his own extensive collection of art, and in 2008, a painting bought for $25 by a couple from Dallas, Texas was identified as a piece from Price's collection. Painted by leading Australian modernist Grace Cossington Smith it was given a modern valuation of AU $45,000.
Price was a noted gourmet cook and he authored several cookbooks with his second wife, Mary. These include:
A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965)
Mary and Vincent Price present a National Treasury of Cookery (1967)
Mary and Vincent Price's Come into the Kitchen Cook Book: A Collector's Treasury of America's Great Recipes (1969)
Cooking Price-Wise with Vincent Price (1971)
Mary and Vincent Price present a National Treasury of Cookery was a five-volume series, packaged in a boxed set and published by the Heirloom Publishing Company. These five books were combined into a single book two years later and published as Mary and Vincent Price's Come into the Kitchen Cook Book: A Collector's Treasury of America's Great Recipes. Most of the Prices' cook books were kept in print throughout the 1970s. After being out of print for several decades, two of Mary and Vincent's books have been reprinted; A Treasury of Great Recipes (in August 2015 by Calla Editions) and Mary and Vincent Price's Come into the Kitchen Cook Book (in November 2016 by Calla Editions), both featuring new forewords by their daughter Victoria Price. Cooking Price-Wise with Vincent Price is scheduled to be repressed by Dover Publishing in October 2017 under the updated title Cooking Price-Wise - The Original Foodie.
In 1971, Price hosted his own cooking program on British TV, called Cooking Price-Wise, aired on Thames Television in April and May 1971. This show gave its name to Price's fourth and final cookbook later that year. Price promoted his cookbooks on many talk shows, one of the most famous instances being the November 21st 1975 broadcast of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, when he demonstrated how to poach a fish in a dishwasher.
Price recorded a number of audio cooking tutorials titled International Cooking Course. These were titled Bounty of Paradise, Classical Spanish Cuisine, Cuisina Italiana, Delights from the Sultan's Pantry, Diner at the Casbah, Dining at Versailles, Exotic Delights from the Far East, Food of the Gods, Foods from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, La Cocina Mejicana, The Bard's Board and The Wok. In addition to those, he recorded an audio wine course titled Wine Is Elegance. These audio recordings were released on 33? LPs by Nelson Industries in 1977 and were also packaged in a twelve-cassette boxed set titled Beverly Hills Cookbook - Cookbook of the Rich and Famous, Your Host Mr. Vincent Price.
In August 1982 he co-hosted A Taste of China which aired on Thames Television in Britain for five episodes. He also prepared a fish recipe on Wolfgang Puck's Cooking with Wolfgang Puck VHS, released in October 1987 by Warner Home Video.
Price married three times. His first marriage was with former actress Edith Barrett; they had one son, Vincent Barrett Price. Price later married Mary Grant Price, and they had a daughter, Victoria Price, on April 27, 1962. She was named Victoria after Price's first major success in the play Victoria Regina. Price's last marriage was to Australian actress Coral Browne, who appeared with him (as one of his victims) in Theatre of Blood (1973).
One example of his outspoken political action came when he concluded an old-time radio episode of The Saint, entitled "Author of Murder", which aired on NBC Radio on July 30, 1950. He denounced racial and religious prejudice as a form of poison and claimed Americans must actively fight against it because racial and religious prejudice within the United States fuels support for the nation's enemies.
Price was later 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 his daughter, who came out as a lesbian, and was critical of Anita Bryant's anti-gay campaign in the 1970s. He was an honorary board member of PFLAG and among the first celebrities to appear in public service announcements discussing AIDS with the public.
His daughter has stated that she is "as close to certain as (she) can be that (Price) had physically intimate relationships with men."
Price suffered from emphysema, a result of being a lifelong smoker, and Parkinson's disease; his symptoms were especially severe during the filming of Edward Scissorhands, making it necessary to cut his filming schedule short.
His illness also contributed to his retirement from Mystery! He died of lung cancer on October 25, 1993, at UCLA Medical Center at the age of 82. His remains were cremated and his ashes scattered off Point Dume in Malibu, California.