Vincent and Me
By Garth Von Buchholz
I wanted to meet Vincent Price. In the late ‘80s, Vincent was in his ’70s but still famous to my generation as for all his kitschy horror cameos in music, movies and TV. His voice was heard in Alice Cooper’s music, he narrated the early Tim Burton animated film Vincent, and he even appeared on Scooby-Doo cartoons, Sesame Street and TV commercials, such as the one for the bug zapper device. His last major film role was the Inventor in Edward Scissorhands. Vincent was everywhere, and all his tongue-in-cheek, campy horror, carried off with a metaphoric wink of the eye and the chilling laugh, made him into an iconic pop culture personality.
To most people, Vincent was no longer scary. He didn’t start his career trying to be scary. In the ‘40s, he was a handsome leading man in gothic romance potboilers such as Laura (1944) and Dragonwyck (1946). By the ‘50s he was doing television roles and appearances, then began his descent into the maelstrom of pop horror by starring in such classics as The Fly (1958), Return of the Fly (1959), and, of course, the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman (1960-64). He brought his old world Hollywood gravitas to these sensational flicks, but even though he was creating a niche for himself, he was also losing credibility as a serious actor. Hollywood proper wouldn’t come calling until years later when Tim Burton wanted him.
By the ‘60s, Vincent was already becoming parodied, and in fact, he helped parody himself to the younger generation in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)and in his famous role as Egghead in the old Batman TV series (1966-67). By the ‘70s, Vincent was everywhere, a true journeyman actor. He appeared in the brilliant monologue series An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972), the black comedy Theater of Blood (1973) and even on an episode of The Brady Bunch (1972) and The Love Boat (1978). Clearly, Vincent liked to work, had no pretensions about himself as an actor, and had a very dry sense of humor. He simply wanted to pay the bills and earn enough money to support his two true loves: his wife, Australian actress Coral Browne, and his extensive art collection.
As a fan of Poe, I had tremendous respect for the work he did on An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, which you can still see in clips on YouTube. When I heard that he would be appearing in my city to perform poetry by Edgar Allan Poe on stage, accompanied by live music, I decided I had to meet him. As a young writer and journalist, it wasn’t difficult for me to arrange complimentary tickets and a backstage pass to meet him before the show.
On the night of the show, I was ushered backstage to his dressing room. He was sitting at his dressing room table applying stage makeup under the bright globe lights above the mirror. When he caught sight of me, he turned with a broad smile and stood up, like a gentleman, to shake my hand.
“Hello, I’m Vincent Price,” he said, as if an introduction was necessary. His skin pallor was very pale because he had not completed his makeup yet, but his eyes were remarkably clear, and he was a tall, elegant man who stood more than six feet in height (I am six feet tall). It was like meeting a crown prince or duke from Europe. He was the personification of noble grace and elegance. I felt like a thick-tongued commoner in his presence.
I gave him a copy of my own book of poetry as a gift and an introduction (how unembarrassed I was to do that shameless bit of self-promotion!) I explained that I had been a fan of his for many years, and loved his work in the Poe stories. He said that he very much enjoyed doing them as Poe was a wonderful writer. He told me he was looking forward to his performance that evening, although it would require some effort because he had to modulate his voice so the orchestra would not drown him out during some key moments.
As I knew he was preparing to go on stage soon, I thanked him profusely and bid him farewell so that I wouldn’t be in the awkward position of having the stage manager appear to shoo me away. His performance that evening was breathtaking, made even more voluptuous and dramatic because of the orchestra’s choice of atmospheric works such as the spooky Night on Bald Mountain. I can still recall him intoning the words from Poe’s Alone, The Raven and The Conqueror Worm, the last of which made the greatest impression on me. Whenever I re-read The Conqueror Worm, I can still hear his voice.
A few weeks later, the venerable Mr. Price sent me a postcard with a contemporary painting on the front and a few words on the back, thanking me for my book of poetry. This correspondence was an unexpected pleasure, a final goodbye from a famous acquaintance who had endeared himself to me not only for his talent, but for his gentility and generosity. Did he actually read the book or simply toss it on a pile in his library? I believe he did read it. There was an honesty and forthrightness in his reply.
Vincent Price died on October 25, 1993, after completing his final work—ironically, it was voiceover work for an animated movie called The Princess and the Cobbler. He never lived long enough to see how the World Wide Web would become a new medium to perpetuate his legacy as an actor, performer, entertainer, and pop culture persona.
No need to say goodbye. Your ghost is still with us, Vincent.
Garth Von Buchholz is an author of dark fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction. His new book of dark poetry, Mad Shadows, was published in June. Garth is the founder of the Dark Fiction Guild (http://DarkFictionGuild.com) and Poe International (http://PoeInternational.com). He is also the Editor and Publisher of Dark Eye Glances, the eJournal of dark poetry. Garth lives on Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast. Visit his website: http://VonBuchholz.com