Vincent Leonard Price, Jr. (1911 – 1993) was an American actor, well known for his distinctive voice as well as his serio-comic performances in a series of horror films made in the latter part of his career.
Price was born in St. Louis, Missouri, youngest of the four children of Vincent Leonard Price, Sr., president of the National Candy Company, and his wife Marguerite Cobb Wilcox. 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. In 1933, he graduated with a degree in art history from Yale University, where he worked on campus humor magazine The Yale Record. After teaching for a year, he entered the University of London, intending to study for a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. Instead, he was drawn to the theater, first appearing on stage professionally in 1934. His acting career began on stage in London in 1935, and he performed with Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre.
In 1936, Price appeared as Prince Albert Victor in the American production of Laurence Housman's play Victoria Regina, starring Helen Hayes in the title role of Queen Victoria.
Despite his lasting association with the world of horror, Price started out as a character actor. 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 in the movie Brigham Young (1940) and William Gibbs McAdoo in Wilson (1944) 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. Price's 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, one of his favourite film roles. He was active in radio, portraying the Robin Hood-inspired crime-fighter Simon Templar in The Saint, which ran from 1947 to 1951.
In the 1950s, Price 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. His next roles were The Mad Magician (1954), the monster movie The Fly (1958) and its sequel Return of the Fly (1959). Price starred in the original House on Haunted Hill (1959) as the eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren. He played Dr. Warren Chapin, in The Tingler, a 1959 horror-thriller film by the American producer and director William Castle. Price also appeared to great effect in the radio drama "Three Skeleton Key," the story of an island lighthouse besieged by an army of rats. He first performed the work in 1950 on Escape and returned to it in 1956 and 1958 for Suspense.
Outside the horror realm, Price played Baka (the master builder) in The Ten Commandments. About this time he also appeared on NBC's The Martha Raye Show.
In the 1955–1956 television season, he was cast three times on the religion anthology series Crossroads, a study of clergymen from different denominations. In the 1955 episode "Cleanup", Price portrayed the Reverend Robert Russell. In 1956, he was cast as Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas in "The Rebel" and as the Reverend Alfred W. Price in "God's Healing".
In the 1960s, Price had a number of low-budget successes with Roger Corman and American International Pictures (AIP) starting with the success of House of Usher (1960), which earned over $2 million at the box office in the United States and led to the subsequent Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of 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 starred in The Last Man on Earth (1964), the first adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend. In 1968 Price portrayed witchhunter Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General (released in the US as The Conqueror Worm). He starred in comedy films, notably Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and its sequel Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966). In 1968 he played the part of an eccentric artist in the musical Darling of the Day opposite Patricia Routledge.
Price 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 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.
Besides Batman, Price made guest star appearances in many shows of the decade, including Get Smart, F Troop, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Additionally, in 1964, he provided the narration for the Tombstone Historama, in Tombstone, Arizona, which is still in operation as of 2014.
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 Canadian children's television program The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (1971) in Hamilton, Ontario, 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 appeared in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), and Theatre of Blood (1973), in which he portrayed one of a pair of campy serial killers. That same year Price appeared as himself in Mooch Goes to Hollywood, a film written by Jim Backus. Price recorded dramatic readings of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and poems, which were collected together with readings by Basil Rathbone.
Price greatly reduced his film work from around 1975, as horror itself suffered a slump, and increased his narrative and voice work. 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 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 spring of 1976, Price recorded a 45rpm single, a cover of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's, "The Monster Mash", putting his voice to a backing track laid down in London by two record producers, Bob Newby and Ken Weston. It was released on both sides of the Atlantic later that year without much success, but it is believed that his performance inspired Michael Jackson to use his voice on Thriller. In October 1976, Price appeared as the featured guest in an episode of The Muppet Show.
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. The original tour of the play was a success in every city it played except for New York City. In the summer of 1979, Price performed the role of Wilde 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 her biography of her father, Victoria Price stated that several members of Price's family and friends thought that this was his best acting performance. In the spring of 1979, Price starred with his wife Coral Browne in the short-lived CBS TV series Time Express. In 1979, Price hosted the hour-long amusement park & roller coaster television special "America Screams", syndicated world-wide, riding on many of the roller coasters himself and recounting their history.
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, Price performed a sinister monologue on the title track of Michael Jackson's Thriller album. Price appeared as Sir Despard Murgatroyd in a 1982 television production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore (with Keith Michell as Robin Oakapple). 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. Though, Price had worked with each of the actors at least once in previous decades, this was the first time all had teamed up. 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, Price hosted the PBS television series Mystery! In 1985, he provided voice talent on the Hanna-Barbera series The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo as the mysterious Vincent Van Ghoul. A lifelong rollercoaster fan, Price narrated a 1987 30-minute documentary on the history of rollercoasters and amusement parks including Coney Island. During this time (1985–1989), he appeared in horror-themed commercials for Tilex bathroom cleanser. In 1984, Price appeared in Shelley Duvall's live-action series Faerie Tale Theatre as the Mirror in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and the narrator for "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers." In 1987, he starred with Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, and Ann Sothern in The Whales of August, a story of two sisters living in Maine facing the end of their days. His performance in The Whales of August earned the only award nomination of his career: an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. 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).
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. He also authored several cookbooks, in particular A Treasury of Great Recipes (with his second wife), and hosted a cookery TV show, Cooking Pricewise.
Enjoy Vincent Price’s aristocratic style!
The Muppet Show (Halloween Special)