Hand color tinted photo of Vincent Price from the 1962 movie, Tales of Terror holding the severed head of Peter Lorre
Vincent Leonard Price II (May 27, 1911 – October 25, 1993) was an American actor, well known for his distinctive voice and serio-comic attitude in a series of horror films made in the latter part of his career.
Early life and career
Price was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Marguerite Cobb (née Wilcox) and Vincent Leonard Price, Sr., who was the president of the National Candy Company. His grandfather, Vincent Clarence Price, invented “Dr. Price’s Baking Powder”, the first cream of tartar baking powder, and secured the family’s fortune.
Price attended St. Louis Country Day School. He was further educated at Yale in art history and fine art. He was a member of the Courtauld Institute, London. He became interested in the theatre during the 1930s, appearing professionally on stage from 1935.
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 also played Joseph Smith, Jr. in the movie Brigham Young (1940), as well as a pretentious priest in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944).
Price’s first venture into the horror genre was in the 1939 Boris Karloff film Tower of London. The following year he portrayed the title character in the film 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 also did a comedic turn as the tycoon Burnbridge Waters, co-starring with Ronald Colman in “Champagne for Caesar”. He was very active in radio, portraying the Robin Hood-inspired crime-fighter Simon Templar in a series that ran from 1943 to 1951.
In the 1950s, he 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, and then the monster movie The Fly (1958). Price also starred in the original House on Haunted Hill (1959) as the eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren. In between these horror films, Price played Baka in The Ten Commandments. In the 1955-1956 television season he appeared three times as Rabbi Gershom Seixos in the ABC anthology series, Crossroads, a study of clergymen from different denominations.
In the 1960s, Price had a number of low-budget successes with Roger Corman and American International Pictures (AIP) including the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations House of Usher (1960), 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 (1965). He also starred in The Last Man on Earth (1964), a film based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend. In 1968 Price portrayed witchhunter Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General, which is also known as The Conqueror Worm.
He also starred in comedy films, notably Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965). In 1968 he played the part of an eccentric artist in the musical Darling of the Day opposite Patricia Routledge.
He often spoke of his pleasure at 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 often-repeated anecdote from the set of Batman, Price, after a take was printed, 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 eggfight to erupt on the soundstage. This incident is reenacted 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 game show Hollywood Squares, even becoming a semi-regular in the 1970s, including being one of the guest panelists on the finale in 1980. He was known for usually making fun of Rose Marie’s age, and using his famous voice to answer maliciously to questions.
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 children’s television program The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (1971) in Hamilton, Ontario Canada, 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 also appeared in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Theatre of Blood (1973), in which he portrayed a pair of campy serial killers. Price also recorded dramatic readings of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and poems, which were collected together with readings by Basil Rathbone.
He 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 also 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 also 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 the summer of 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. In an attempt to earn some much-needed money, he speaks to the audience about his life, his works and, in the second act, about his love for Lord Alfred Douglas, which led to his downfall.
The original tour of the play was a success in every city that it played, except for New York City. In the summer of 1979, Price performed it 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. Price would eventually perform the play worldwide.
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, he performed a sinister “rap” 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.
In 1983, Price played the Sinister Man in the British spoof horror film Bloodbath at the House of Death starring Kenny Everett, and he also appeared in the film House of the Long Shadows, which teamed him with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine. While Price had worked with each one of them at least once in the prior decade, this was the first actually teaming of all of them together.
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 to 1989, he hosted the PBS television series Mystery!. Also, in 1985, he was 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 thirteen evil demons. During this time (1985–1989), he appeared in horror-themed commercials for Tilex bathroom cleanser. 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 also appeared as Sir Despard Murgatroyd in a 1982 television production of Ruddigore (with Keith Michell as Robin Oakapple).
A witty raconteur, Price was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where he once demonstrated how to poach a fish in a dishwasher. Price was a noted gourmet cook and art collector. From 1962 to 1971, Sears, Roebuck offered the Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art, selling about 50,000 pieces of fine art to the general public. Price selected and commissioned works for the collection, including works by Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dalí. He also authored several cookbooks and hosted a cookery TV show, Cooking Pricewise.
Personal life Price was married three times and fathered a son, named Vincent Barrett Price, with his first wife, former actress Edith Barrett. Price and his second wife Mary Grant Price donated hundreds of works of art and a large amount of money to East Los Angeles College in the early 1960s in order to endow the Vincent and Mary Price Gallery there. Their daughter, Mary Victoria Price, was born in 1962.
Price’s last marriage was to the Australian actress Coral Browne, who appeared with him (as one of his victims) in Theatre of Blood (1973). He converted to Catholicism to marry her, and she became a U.S. citizen for him.
Price was a lifelong smoker. He had long suffered from emphysema and Parkinson’s disease, which had forced his role in Edward Scissorhands to be much smaller than intended.
His illness also contributed to his retirement from Mystery, as his condition was becoming noticeable on-screen. He died of lung cancer on October 25, 1993. He was cremated and his ashes scattered off Point Dume in Malibu, California.
The A&E Network aired an episode of Biography highlighting Price’s horror career the next night, but because of its failure to clear copyrights, the show was never aired again. Four years later, A&E produced its updated episode, a show titled Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain, which aired on October 12, 1997. The script was by Lucy Chase Williams, author of The Complete Films of Vincent Price (Citadel Press, 1995). In early 1991, Tim Burton was developing a personal documentary with the working title Conversations With Vincent, in which interviews with Price were shot at the Vincent Price Gallery, but the project was never completed and was eventually shelved.