the sinister and dreadful “yes”

Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)

Vincent Price (1911-1993)!

Erudite and eloquent, possessing a singular elocution that could make a three letter word like “yes” seem sinister and dreadful, or drip with lofty sarcasm. Yet with a range that—although exercised by filmmakers all too little—could project the utmost decency and sympathy, with a romanticism that would rarely, if ever, be applied to his generation’s other horror stars. Vincent Price was a true original.

Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design

Born into a wealthy St. Louis family—his father, Vincent Leonard Price, Sr. was the president of the National Candy Company, and his grandfather, Vincent Clarence Price, was the inventor of Dr. Price’s Baking Powder—the first cream of tartar baking powder—which secured the family fortune. Price attended both Yale and the Courtauld Institute, London, for the study of art and art history. But by his early-20s, he became interested in the theatre, making his professional stage debut in 1935. Three years later he migrated to motion pictures and in 1944 he starred with Gene Tierney in Laura, directed by Otto Preminger, establishing his career bona fides.

But Price had already began a presence in the horror genre, first with Boris Karloff in the 1939 film, The Tower of London, and in the title role of 1940′s The Invisible Man Returns (cheekily reprised in 1948′s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Add to that a string of villainous roles in several film noir thrillers and the type of character that most of us grew up associating him with became apparent. Though Price seemed to enjoy a little more career flexibility than his peers and managed to not get fully typecast—indeed, for seven seasons he was the radio voice of Leslie Charteris’s crime-fighting adventurer, Simon Templar, The Saint—the role that would later establish the star of Roger Moore on television. But Price had no qualms about diving deeply into the horror genre and the 1950s saw him in House of Wax (1953), the first 3D movie to crack the top ten in North American box office receipts; The Mad Magician (1954); The Fly (1958); and William Castle’s theatre-effects shocker, The Tingler (1959). In between all of this he managed mainstream roles in the Charlton Heston/Yul Brynner Biblical epic, The Ten Commandments (1956), and on television as Rabbi Gershom in the anthology series, Crossroads, and as a semi-regular on NBC’s The Martha Raye Show.

Still, as horror and monster films began to enjoy a renewal in popularity in the 1960s as the old traveling spook shows began to evolve into a part of the television landscape (where material like the Universal horror films became available and packaged as late-night television staples with regional television personalities like Vampira—who set the standard in the mid-1950s—Zackerley, Morgus, The Cool Ghoul, The Count, and dozens more bringing the old films to a newer, younger Baby Boomer audience) and with the networks developing original programming like The Addams Family and The Munsters, both 1964, demand for horror was at a high and horror stars had renewed interest in their careers. In this milieu, Price enjoyed a string of low-budget hits with Roger Corman and American International Pictures 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), based on the Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend (remade into the 2007 Will Smith film of the same name). In addition to other films and television work, he also portrayed the dreaded witchhunter Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General, also known as The Conqueror Worm (1968). A busy decade and all staples of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and its competitors.

Yet the role he spoke of most enjoying in that decade was of the supervillain “Egghead” on television’s Batman.

Poe’s Tales Of Terror
Lancer Books, 1962
Design: uncredited, but possibly Harry Chester (as the style of the cover design uncannily resembles Chester’s work and typographic touches on Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine)

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Cinema/Visual/Audio, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to the sinister and dreadful “yes”

  1. He didn’t do seven seasons as the Saint, just under four years in total…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>