You know him first and foremost as the creepy, sinister, campy B-movie actor, but the real Vincent Price developed deep and diverse passions that fueled that very over-the-top personality displayed in many of his infamous characterizations. His friends knew he had three true passions - art, food and films. An accomplished art collector, gourmet cook, writer, actor, philanthropist and all-around badass, Vincent Price would have turned 101 today.
I think now is as good of a time as any to delve a little deeper and discover some little-known facts about this Renaissance man. Vincent was born St. Louis Missouri and raised in a very affluent household. I find it hard to imagine him being from the midwest as his persona seems so worldly and exotic. He certainly played his share of exotic characters in movies like The Tingler, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and The Fly.
Even though he's known as the master of the macabre, the man had a well-developed sense of humor and of having fun - as demonstrated in this classic 1976 Muppet Show clip where a befangled Kermit turns the spooky tables on VP. Take a minute (literally, that's all it takes) and watch it. I'll wait for you....
Alrighty then... enjoy that? I thought so. Well let's get on with these random facts, shall we? I've got ten of them all lined up for you, in no particular order of importance or chronology. It's called "Random" facts, people... let's allow a little chaos in this list, Vince would like it that way. Loosen up!
10 Random Vincent Price Factoids - in no particular order of chronology or importance
1. Vincent Price's father was a childhood friend of Orson Welles' father. Evidently, the two were school chums together. It seems that Vince's father was a bit of a ham like his son. Can you figure out that amazing floating head trick from their school play? Pretty tricky special effects for 1889. Inevitably, the younger Price and Welles briefly found themselves working together at Orson's Mercury Theater.
In 1978, the two thespians reunited and reminisced on The Tonight Show about their father's previous provenance as friends. Price recalled his father serving up Orson's father's head on a platter and the startling (and unfamiliar) story left the usually quick Welles a wee bit speechless. Score one for Vince.
2. In the 1970s, Vincent had his own mail order book business. It specialized in mysteries and thrillers. Big surprise! It also has the awesome distinction as being "as seen on tv", the true connoisseur's mark of quality! Price, a writer himself, also endorsed other literary works including the Enchanted World Series of Time-Life Books and this collection of works by Agatha Christie.
3. Vincent shares a birthday (May 27) with Dolores Hope, Sam Snead, Siousie Sioux, Christopher Lee, Paul Bettany, Peri Gilpin, Todd Bridges, Andre 3000, Chris Colfer, Jamie Oliver, Joseph Fiennes, Henry Kissinger, and Louis Gossett Jr.
4. Vincent Price has continued to inspire artists to express themselves in all types of media, including music. For decades, a wide variety of musicians have been writings songs about the iconic Mr. Price or his memorable characters. "Vincent Price" by Faust'o Rossi (1979), "Return of the Fly" (1995) and "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" by The Misfits (2001), and "Vincent Price Blues" by ZZ Top (1996) are just a few examples. In addition, his voice was featured in Michael Jackson's iconic anthem "Thriller" (1983) where he recited the poem featured at the end. He also narrated the opening to Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" (1982).
5. Vincent was a gourmet cook and the author of several cookbooks. In 1971 he hosted 6 episodes of a British television cooking show called "Cooking Price-Wise". According to Vincent Price in the introduction to his corresponding cookbook, the producers took a lot of trouble to devise a series of exotic recipes based on ingredients that could be bought in any local UK supermarket.
We lived in the UK in the early 70s and it was hard to come by much variety in grocery ingredients. My dad begged the local shopkeeper to import Dr. Pepper and Doritos for him - he paid an arm and a leg for it, but didn't care. That was the gourmet reality in England circa 1974.
I have a beautiful hardbound copy of Vincent and (his second wife) Mary's iconic A Treasury of Great Recipes, a collection of recipes from the most famous restaurants around the world. I can only imagine how inspirational this book was in the days before the 24-hour food channel and endless food blogs on the internet. Where else could you sample delicacies by world-renown chefs far and wide? It was when I found my copy at a Half-price Books in my local suburban strip-center, that I discovered this whole other side of Vincent Price. Well worth the $18.50 I paid for it. A bargain if you ask me. A mega-awesome-bargain, really.
6. Vincent had two children, Vince and Victoria. In 1940, his first wife Edith Barrett gave birth to Vincent Barrett Price, the fourth Vincent in a row - named after his father, grandfather and great grandfather. 22 years later, his second wife Mary gave birth to a little girl, Mary Victoria Price. She was named after (her mother, of course, and) the title character in the play Victoria Regina. Price played Prince Albert opposite Helen Hayes as Queen Victoria in the part that essentially launched his acting career.
7. Vincent Jr, our actor, was the son of Vincent, a business man and candymaker. His father used his wealthy lot-in-life as a launch pad to purchase a successful St. Louis candy company, the National Candy Company, where he subsequently served as the President. Their famous confection was the "Bobcat Bar". His grandfather, yet ANOTHER Vincent, attended medical school in 1958 and ultimately invented Dr. Price's Baking Powder. He secured the family fortune long enough to fund another successful generation before losing the bulk of it to bad investments.
It's interesting that all three generations of Vincents all had a passion that revolved around food. If nothing else, they certainly had a knack at exploiting that passion for a profit!
8. Vincent graduated from Yale University with a degree in art history. After his graduation from prep school, Vincent toured Europe and fell in love with the arts. This trip sparked a life long obsession with collecting and discovering new and ancient works of art. He famously did sub-par schlocky films to nobly fund his incredible personal art collection. A portion of his eclectic collection was donated to the Vincent Price Museum at the East Los Angeles College.
The mission of the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College is to serve as a unique educational resource for the diverse audiences of the college and the community through the exhibition, interpretation, collection, and preservation of works in all media of the visual arts.
In the 1950s, Vincent Price was a frequent visitor, a speaker at graduation ceremonies and a classroom guest who eagerly engaged with our students and faculty. As he got to know ELAC, Mr. Price noticed a lack of opportunity for students on this campus–and in East LA in general–to have first-hand experiences with art. Vincent, together with his wife Mary Grant, took the initiative to remedy this shortcoming and donated 90 pieces from their personal collection in 1957 to establish the first “teaching art collection” housed at a community college. In recognition of this extravagant gift, ELAC renamed the art gallery in the Prices’ honor.
9. Vincent Price converted to Catholicism shortly after marrying his third wife, Australian actress Coral Browne, herself a devout Catholic. In turn, Coral became an American citizen.
10. In 1962, Vincent Price was approached by Sears & Roebuck Co. to curate a collection of original artwork to be offered to the general public down at their very own neighborhood department store. As an avid collector himself, Price jumped at the chance to put this project of ultimately 50,000 pieces together and launch his "Vincent Price Collection" for Sears.
Did you know there was actually a time when you could buy a real Rembrandt from Sears? A Picasso? Mondrian? Seriously! The prices in the collection ranged from $10 to $3000 - including layaway options - with literally something for everyone. Man, now all you can get is some Kardashian lingerie at Sears. What happened to our world??
Anyways, below is a 15 minute video of Price introducing the Collection to Sears employees. He highlights some of the original artwork and explains his philosophy when pulling the project together. The Vincent Price Exhibit has a catalog of the original collection for download as well. Original Daumiers and Toulouse Latrec's? Amazing. Those were the glory days, eh?