Best creepy actor of all time, filling a plethora of roles over the decades spanning everything from the Mad Scientist in the Brady Bunch episode to the creator of Edward Scissorhands to the proprietor at the House of Frightenstein to the voice-over guy in the middle of Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Singlehandedly responsible for the high media penetration of Edgar Allen Poe.

The Undisputed King of Grand Guignol

Vincent Price was born in St Louis, Missouri. He travelled in Europe, studied at Yale, and eventually became an actor. He made his screen debut in 1938, and after many minor roles he began to perform in low-budget horror movies such as House of Wax (1953), achieving his first major success with House of Usher (1960).

Famous for his atmospheric voice and his quizzical, mock-serious facial expressions, he went on to star in a series of acclaimed Gothic horror movies, such as Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). He abandoned films in the mid-1970s, going on to present cookery programmes for television.

However, he always maintained a sense of humour, portraying Vincent Van Ghoul, a cartoon version of himself in the 1984 cartoon series, "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo and even starring as "The Spirit of Nightmare" in an Alice Cooper TV Special.

In 1951, Price founded the Vincent Price Gallery and Art Foundation on the campus of the East Los Angeles Community College.

He wrote A Treasury of Great Recipes in 1965 with his second wife, Mary Grant.

Eventually, he returned to cinema for two last roles in The Whales of August in 1987 and Edward Scissorhands in 1990.

He was also the voice of the Phantom of Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris, but unfortunately, complaints about his English narration led to his eerie voiceover being replaced by a French-speaking phantom.

Obviously, most kids still remember him best for the final "Horror Rap" on the end of Michael Jackson's single, Thriller.

He died on the 25th October, 1993 and his ashes were scattered at sea.

Price was famous for his roles in horror films such as "Wichfinder General", but in real life, his only real hobby was, reportedly, cookery, and did not have any real interest in the supernatural. However, in 1958, something happened to Price which would change his opinion on the paranormal forever.

Price was a good friend of the Hollywood heartthrob Tyrone Power, who often looked to Price for guidance, viewing him as an older brother more than a friend. One day, as Price was flying into Newyork airport, the weather conditions were so bad his plane had to circle. Price suddenly felt the overwhelming feeling that he should look out of the window. He drew back the curtain and saw, to his horror, in huge glowing red letters, burned into the night sky, the words "Tyrone Power is dead". Price woke the passenger next to him and asked her if she too could see the writing, but she couldn't-it had gone. When the plane landed, Price asked members of the airport police if they had seen the writing, but they simply laughed and said that they hadn't. Price checked the headlines on a local newspaper stand, but saw nothing about the death of his friend.

When Price checked into a hotel, an old casting agent whom he had worked with previously approached him and informed him, to his horror, that Tyrone Power had died of a heart attack half an hour ago-the same time that Price had seen the crimson writing in the sky. He was reportedly haunted by the memory of that eerie glowing memory for the rest of his life.

‘It's as much fun to scare as to be scared’ - Vincent Price

Beginnings

Vincent Price is best known as one of a group of actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who shaped the genre of Horror movies, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. Too often however, Price is reduced to just this identity when in fact he was multi-talented and something of a ‘Renaissance Man’. Price was born in St. Louis, Missouri, USA on May 27, 1911; his father, Vincent Leonard Price owned the National Candy Company in St. Louis and his mother, Marguerite Wilcox helped create the St. Louis Community School. As a result of his father’s occupation, Price received the nickname ‘The Candy Kid’ as a young child. Not that his parents’ wealth did not have its advantages; he followed in his father’s and brother’s footsteps, attending Yale where he studied both Art History and English. His love of art cannot be understated. He became an art collector at the tender age of twelve when he purchased a Rembrandt etching and desired to become an art historian. After finishing Yale he taught for a year before leaving the US for Europe to pursue further studies.

Price travelled to and studied in several European countries, eventually taking a Masters degree in Fine Arts at the Courtauld Institute in London, England around 1934. It was at this time that his interest in acting really began and Price became an avid theatregoer, leading him to attempt to audition for some roles. His first break of significance came when he was cast for several parts in a production of ‘Chicago’, apparently favoured for his American accent, a rare commodity in London at that time. More significant still was his casting in the play ‘Victoria Regina’ where he was cast in one of the lead roles, that of Albert. Gilbert Miller, the show’s producer decided to take the show to Broadway in New York and retained Price in this role whilst casting one of the leading American actresses of the time, Helen Hayes, opposite him. The play opened at the end of 1935 and ran for three years. By this time Price must have made a decision that acting was to be his career in place of art. In 1938, he married his first wife, Edith Barrett, a fellow Broadway actress and two years later in 1940 they had a son together, Vincent Barrett Price.

The Move into Movies

Price’s film debut came in 1938 as ‘Victoria Regina’ came to an end on Broadway and he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. Prior to this he briefly joined Orson WellesMercury Theatre, but as with most of the actors there, failed to get along with Welles. His first film appearance was in ‘Service De Luxe’ and he proceeded to star in a series of unremarkable movies during the 1940s with the possible exception of ‘Laura’ in 1944, a superior film noir. Contrary to the horror image he is most famous for, the studio initially saw him as a type of heart-throb who could play ideal and charming leading men, presumably due to his class background, silken voice, his height (he was six foot 4 inches) and refined features. His personal life had its problems during the 1940s and in 1948 his marriage ended in divorce. A year later he married his second wife, Mary Grant. Meanwhile, his love of art and learning had not diminished. The house he bought with his second wife they decorated with vast amounts of paintings and antiques and in 1951 they founded the Vincent Price Gallery together on the campus of East Los Angeles College. He also donated around ninety pieces of art to create a ‘teaching art collection’ that would be owned by the college. He was a leading benefactor of this collection along with several other actors. He said of the collection, in 1991, ‘We just wanted it to serve the community. We didn’t want to make publicity out of it, since everything actors do is suspect! We just shut up and let it grow’.

1953 brought a role for Price that began his association with horror when he was cast in the lead role of Professor Henry Jarrod in ‘House of Wax’, the first major film to be made in 3D. Price’s trademark campness had not emerged at this stage however, perhaps due to 15 years of playing relatively straight roles. The 1950s themselves saw Price taking a mixture of roles, the films that stand out being ‘The Ten Commandments’ in 1956 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille) in which he player Baka, and more horror, most notably ‘The Fly’ in 1958, its sequel ‘Return of the Fly’ and ‘House on Haunted Hill’ (both 1959). In ‘The Fly’ it is clear that Price’s horror persona is yet to emerge and the studio did not necessarily see him at that point as a villain. He plays an extremely likable gentleman who is more of an observer of the events in the film, rather than a protagonist of any sort. His performance in ‘House on Haunted Hill’ is more of a revelation however and marks the realisation of his hyperbolic side. The plot is the now famous one of a millionaire, Frederick Loren, offering cash to anyone who can stay a night in his haunted mansion. Price plays Loren and puts all his co-stars in the shade.

Horror

A year later Price stared in ‘House of Usher’, the first of several films he made with director Roger Corman based on the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Price had left 20th Century Fox and signed with America International Pictures creating a new direction for his career. His collaboration with Corman spanned several films and Poe tales, making ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ (1961), ‘Tales of Terror’ (1962), ‘The Raven’ (1963), ‘The Haunted Palace’ (1963), ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (1964) and ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’ (1965). In ‘House of Usher’ Price played Roderick Usher and his performance shows a new assurance in this type of role as the aloof and mysterious Usher heir. Combined with the costumes and make-up he wears he appears to be in his element and one can forgive the changes made to the original Poe story. Indeed, in most of the Corman’s Poe films, the original text is significantly altered, but Price shows an understanding of the essential horror that is implicit in Poe’s writing. Thus, although things may happen slightly differently in the films, Price maintains the feelings they represent. Years later, when Price was acting in ‘Edward Scissorhands’, Johnny Depp went to Price’s trailer to show him a first edition of Poe’s stories. Price was enraptured with it and proceeded to reel off the entire story of ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’ word for word and making a deep impression on Depp. Price’s enthusiasm and dedication to the text demonstrates the depth and passion of his character. There are few actors one can think of that could show the same level of connectivity to the art and literature they wish to represent. By the mid-1960s, the Corman films had succeeded in embedding Price’s persona firmly in horror and his face and voice were well known to the American public.

Outside of the movies, Price’s life had plenty going on. In 1961 he was asked to join the White House Art Committee that was under Jackie Kennedy and he was also the chairman of the US Department of the Interior’s Indian Arts and Craft Board. His interest and support of Native American was yet another of his passions, stating ‘I have an enormous respect for the American Indian. I think we shut them off, at a period when they might have become the most creative people on the face of the earth. But we killed them off’. Also in 1961, Price wrote and published a book, ‘Joe’, that recounted his relationship with his dog and also how he had defended the dog in court. His dog had run into the street, knocking a 60-year-old man off his bike causing a broken collarbone. The man sued Price for $13,193 in compensation. In court, Price made an impassioned defence of the character of his dog(!). In 1962, Price’s wife gave birth to his second child, Victoria Price. A further of Price’s loves was that of cooking, so much so that in 1965, with his wife, he published a cookbook, ‘A Treasury of Great Recipes’ and later in his career he even had a cookery show on television that would run for three series.

As a result of the new level of fame he had attained, Price began to make more appearances of television. He would make a long line of advertisements and endorsements for a broad variety of products, often using the money to fund art acquisitions or donations to his favoured organisations. In 1966 he was offered a guest spot on the television series of ‘Batman’ which he accepted. He appeared as the villain ‘Egghead’ and had a farcical egg-fight with Batman. Quality film roles started to dry up though as the affliction of typecasting severely limited the offers he received. More horror did come his way though. In 1968 he played Matthew Hopkins, the infamous ‘Witchfinder General’, giving perhaps his most chilling performance due to removal of all his characteristic camp mannerisms. In 1971 he stared in the title role in ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’, a role written for him. The film exploited his over-the-top and comedic sensibilities to the maximum. Price clearly revels in the roles. A year later he reprised the role in ‘Dr. Phibes Rises Again’ in a more than adequate sequel. His last horror role of quality came a year later in 1973, in ‘Theatre of Blood’. Price plays a Shakespearian actor overlooked by critics, but exacts revenge on them. Price’s love of Shakespeare, but lack of opportunities to play Shakespearian roles meant he made the most of this role.

Later Life

In 1973, Price’s wife divorced him and a year later he married his third and final wife, Coral Browne. Movie appearances began to decrease, but he still made many television appearances, including his cookery series. In 1975, Alice Cooper asked him if he’d appear in one of his music videos and on his television special, ‘Alice Cooper: The Nightmare’. Price accepted and eight years later made another entry into music when he was asked to speak on the Michael Jackson single, ‘Thriller’. Price felt no embarrassment about these contributions and indeed, seems to have enjoyed them. He said;
‘I have a great admiration for rock’n’roll, but not when it’s done badly. My God! You know, I have a theory about how I get selected for these things. I think they’ve based a lot of their stuff on my movies. They go out and do the rock’n’roll, and they’re all high and making the noise and flying around, and then they go back to their hotel room, turn on the TV, and there I am! Alice and I met a couple of times, and I liked him, then he asked me to do ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’. Then one time I got a call and they said would I come and do a recording with Michael Jackson, called ‘Thriller’. I said, ‘sure, I’ll do anything’. So I went and did it, and I didn’t think anything would happen with it, then it came out and sold 40 million copies. I didn’t do it for the money, because I didn’t have a percentage of it. It was just fun to do. You know, to be identified with the most popular record ever made is not just chopped liver!’
As Price aged, his acting appearances declined and he hosted a couple of television shows (one on roller coasters, and another called ‘Mystery!’ which he hosted for ten years). He also used hired out his distinctive voice. In 1982, a young Tim Burton made an animated film called ‘Vincent’. It was a semi-autobiographical film about Burton’s obsession with Price and to Burton’s delight, Price agreed to provide his voice as the narrator. His voice also featured in cartoons, including the voice of ‘Vincent Van Ghoul’ in ‘The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo’ and in ‘The Great Mouse Detective’. Famously, his last movie role was in ‘Edward Scissorhands’, another Tim Burton movie, which was a most apt final role as he played the Inventor, who created Edward, but dies before he can complete his creation.

Towards the end of his life, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. On May 29th, 1991, his third wife died of breast cancer, two days before his 80th birthday, devastating Price, who was himself not in the best of health. On October 25th, 1993 he died in Los Angeles of lung cancer and emphysema. He was cremated and his ashes scattered off the Californian coast along with his favourite gardening hat.

Filmography

  • Service DeLuxe (1938) – Robert Wade
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) – Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Tower of London (1939) – Duke of Clarence
  • The Invisible Man Returns (1940) – Geoffrey Radcliffe
  • Green Hell (1940) – David Richardson
  • The House of the Seven Gables (1940) – Clifford Pyncheon
  • Bringham Young – Frontiersman (1940) – Joseph Smith
  • Hudson’s Bay (1941) – King Charles II
  • The Song of Bernadette (1943) – Vital Dutour
  • The Eve of St. Mark (1944) – Francis Marion
  • Wilson (1944) – William Gibbs McAdoo
  • Laura (1944) – Shelby Carpenter
  • The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) – Rev. Angus Mealey
  • A Royal Scandal (1945) - Marquis de Fleury
  • Leave Her to Heaven (1945) – Russell Quinton
  • Shock (1946) – Dr. Richard Cross
  • Dragonwyck (1946) – Nicholas Van Ryn
  • The Web (1947) – Andrew Colby
  • The Long Night (1947) - Maximilian
  • Mss Rose (1947) – Inspector Clinner
  • Up in Central Park (1948) – Boss Tweed
  • Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – Voice (uncredited)
  • Rogues’ Regiment (1948) – Mark Van Ratten
  • The Three Musketeers (1948) - Richelieu
  • The Christmas Carol (1949) (TV) - Narrator
  • The Bribe (1949) – Carwood
  • Bagdad (1949) – Pasha Ali Nadim
  • The Baron of Arizona (1950) – James Addison ‘The Baron’ Reavis
  • Champagne for Caesar (1950) – Burnbridge Waters
  • Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (1950) – Tracy Holland
  • Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951) – George Brissac
  • His Kind of Woman (1951) – Mark Cardigan
  • The Las Vegas Story (1952) – Lloyd Rollins
  • House of Wax (1953) – Prof. Henry Jarrod
  • Dangerous Mission (1954) – Paul Adams
  • Casanova’s Big Night (1954) - uncredited
  • The Mad Magician (1954) – Don Gallico
  • Born in Freedom: The Story of Colonel Drake (1955) – Edwin L. Drake
  • Son of Sinbad (1955) – Omar Khayyam
  • Serenade (1956) – Charles Winthrop
  • While the City Sleeps (1956) – Walter Kyne
  • The Vagabond King (1956) - uncredited
  • The Ten Commandments (1956) - Baka
  • The Story of Mankind (1957) – The Devil
  • ”Half Hour to Kill” (1958) (TV) – Gene Wolcott
  • Collector’s Item (1958) (TV) – Henry Prentiss
  • The Fly (1958) – Francois Delambre
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959) – Frederick Loren
  • The Big Circus (1959) – Hans Hagenfeld
  • The Tingler (1959) – Dr. Warren Chapin
  • Return of the Fly (1959) – Francois Delambre
  • The Bat (1959) – Dr. Malcolm Wells
  • ”The Chevy Mystery Show” (1960) (TV) - Host
  • House of Usher (1960) – Roderick Usher
  • The Three Musketeers (1960) (TV) - Richelieu
  • Nefertiti, regina del Nilo (1961) - Benakon
  • Gordon, il pirata nero (1961) - Romero
  • Master of the World (1961) - Robur
  • Pit and the Pendulum (1961) – Don Nicholas
  • Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962) – Gilbert De Quincey
  • Tales of Terror (1962) – Fortunato/Valdemar/ Locke
  • Convicts 4 (1962) – Carl Carmer
  • Tower of London (1962) – Richard of Gloucester
  • The Raven (1963) – Dr. Erasmus Craven
  • Diary of a Madman (1963) – Simon Cordier
  • Beach Party (1963) – Big Daddy
  • The Haunted Palace (1963) – Charles Dexter Ward
  • Twice-told Tales (1963) – Alex
  • The Comedy of Terrors (1964) – Waldo Trumbull
  • The Last Man on Earth (1964) – Dr. Robert Morgan
  • The Masque of the Red Death (1964) - Prospero
  • The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) – Verden Fell
  • The City Under the Sea (1965) – Sir Hugh
  • Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) – Dr. Goldfoot
  • The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot (1965) (TV) – Dr. Goldfoot
  • Spie vengono dal semifreddo (1966) – General Willis
  • The Jackals (1967) – Oupa the Prospector
  • Casa de las mil munecas, La (1967) – Felix Manderville
  • Histoires extraordinaires (1968) - voice
  • Witchfinder General (1968) – Matthew Hopkins
  • More Dead Than Alive (1968) – Dan Ruffalo
  • Scream and Scream Again (1969) – Dr. Browning
  • The Oblong Box (1969) – Sir Julian Markham
  • The Trouble with Girls (1969) – Mr. Morality
  • The Heiress (1969) (TV) – Dr. Austin Sloper
  • Cry of the Banshee (1970) – Lord Edward Whitman
  • Cucumber Castle (1970) (TV) – Wicked Count Voxville
  • ”The Hilarious House of Frightenstein” (1971) (TV) - Narrator
  • Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971) (TV) - voice
  • The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) – Dr. Anton Phibes
  • What’s a Nice Girl Like You…? (1971) (TV) – William Spevin
  • An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972) -Narrator
  • The Aries Computer (1972)
  • Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) – Dr. Anton Phibes
  • Theatre of Blood (1973) – Edward Lionheart
  • Columbo: Lovely But Lethal (1973) (TV) – David Lang
  • Percy’s Progress (1974) – Stavos Mammonian
  • Black Day for Bluebeard (1974) (TV) – Michael Bastion
  • Madhouse (1974) – Paul Toombes
  • Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975) (TV) – The Spirit of the Nightmare
  • Journey Into Fear (1975) -Dervos
  • The Butterfly Ball (1976) - voice
  • Lindsay Wagner: Another Side of Me (1977) (TV)
  • Ringo (1978) (TV) – Dr. Nancy
  • The Strange Case of Alice Cooper (1979) - voice
  • Once Upon a Midnight Scary (1979) (TV) - Host
  • ”Time Express” (1979) (TV) – Jason Winters
  • Scavenger Hunt (1979) – Milton Parker
  • The Monster Club (1980) - Eramus
  • Pogo for President: ‘I Go Pogo’ (1980 - voice
  • Freddy the Freeloader’s Christmas Dinner (1981) (TV) – Prof. Humperdo
  • ”Mystery!” (1980) (TV) - Host
  • Vincent (1982) - voice
  • Ruddigore (1982) (TV) – Sir Despard Murgatroyd
  • House of the Long Shadows (1983) – Lionel Grisbane
  • Thriller (1983) - voice
  • Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984) (TV) – Sinister Man
  • ”The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” (1985) (TV) - voice
  • The Nativity (1986) - voice
  • Escapes (1986) (TV) - host
  • The Great Mouse Detective (1986) (voice) – Prof. Ratigan
  • Sparky’s Magic Piano (1987) – Sparky’s Dad
  • The Whales of August (1987) – Mr. Maranov
  • The Offspring (1987) – Julian White
  • Dead Heat (1988) – Arthur P. Loudermilk
  • Catchfire (1990) – Mr. Avoca
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990) – The Inventor
  • The Heart of Justice (1993) (TV) - Shaw
  • Arabian Knight (1995) - voice

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