Magazine article The Spectator

All Ghouls Together

Magazine article The Spectator

All Ghouls Together

Article excerpt

VINCENT PRICE:

A DAUGHTER'S BIOGRAPHY

by Victoria Price

Sidgwick & Jackson, L16.99, pp. 498

I'd never given Vincent Price much thought, to be honest. His viola-da-gamba profile, the natty moustache, the sinuous, sing-song voice with campy inflections, his venerable stoop, like a magistrate or a magician gone to the bad - Price was self-- consciously an old-style actor, foppish, faded, full of gracious gestures (Vincent Price was Vincent Crummles); and I never found him very frightening. In all those horror movies - and have you seen Dr Goldfoot and the Sex Machine, Scream and Scream Again, or Bloodbath at the House of Death? - he enjoys himself too much. He doesn't have any of the affecting presence of Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill or Bela Lugosi, the heroes of the classic monochrome-cum-sepia shockers. Price is light and airy; there's no darkness and desolation. So how much of a paradox was it that in his best film, Theatre of Blood, he plays a third-rate old thesp, Edward Lionheart, who romps around London declaiming Shakespearean soliloquies and killing off the critics who'd been beastly about his talent?

Perhaps Price didn't possess high ambitions as an actor; what he wanted to be was a showman-connoisseur, like Lord Duveen or Henry Frick. His daughter Victoria, in this doting memoir, convinces us that his chief energies went into advertising affordable works of art - unlimited edition Picasso etchings, dodgy Dali prints - for Sears, Roebuck, giving cookery demonstrations on cruise ships to peddle A Treasury of Great Recipes, which is now a collector's item ('fetching up to $500 at book auctions'), and overseeing The Michaelangelo Bible, 'sold at a cost of $30 in a presentation box that depicted the Sistine Chapel ceiling'. You can just picture the pants-suit-- rhinestone-clad retiree market Price was after. (Joan Rivers later became one of his best friends.)

He fancied himself as an arbiter of taste, wandering his mansion, attired in a satin smoking jacket, fondling his fine-bindings; and his daughter points out that Price studied fine arts at Yale and took a masters in modern history in London. But we have no idea what his expertise ran to. French Impressionists? Dutch Old Masters? 'Whenever Vincent was filming on location, he used his free time to scour whatever city he might be in for new pieces for the collection'. But pieces of what? Inuit carvings? Man Ray lithographs? This is an infuriating lapse, and I for one have no intention of going to the Vincent Price Gallery at East Los Angeles College to make good the omission. But my suspicion is that he was a bit of dilettante whose idea of a masterpiece would be that portrait of an oriental girl with a green face or a poster of a soft-focus tennis girl scratching her bottom.

How else to explain the dozen upon dozen of fatuous cheapo horror pics? (He didn't seem depressed by his typecasting as a wafty Roderick Usher flitting about Roger Corman's cardboard castles.) How else to account for his infatuation with Coral Browne, the very doyenne of the phrase all-fur-coat-and-no-knickers? This book finally comes alive (on page 372) with her sulphurous grand entrance, on the set of Theatre of Blood. Browne was 60, Price 62. 'It was a wildly sexual relationship,' according to Diana Rigg. 'When you saw these absolutely shagged out people on the set, it was really quite funny.'

Not so funny for Victoria and her mother, who were summarily dumped. A father who'd always been 'fun and funny, handsome, enveloping, full of joy and his infectious love of life' stood revealed as selfish and treacherous - and his daughter is still bewildered by the betrayal, she's still smarting, and this animates the last part of the book. …

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