St. Louis, Missouri, 27 May 1911.
Attended Community School and Country Day School, both in St. Louis; Yale
University, New Haven, Connecticut, B.A., 1933; University of London,
Married 1) the actress Edith Barrett, 1938 (divorced 1948), son: Vincent;
2) Mary Grant, 1949 (divorced 1973), daughter: Victoria; 3) the actress
Coral Browne, 1974 (died 1991).
Apprentice teacher, Riverdale Country Day School; 1935—stage debut
in London; then in
in London and New York; 1938—in Orson Welles's Mercury
Theatre production of
The Shoemaker's Holiday
, New York; film debut in
Service de Luxe
; 1947—contract with Universal-International, then contract with
RKO, 1951; 1950–52—panelist on TV program
; 1953—in stage production of
, and later in
, 1955, and
, 1975; Art Consultant for Sears Roebuck; 1960—host, TV series
The Chevy Mystery Show
; 1979—actor in TV series
; 1980–88—host, TV series
In Los Angeles, 25 October 1993.
Films as Actor:
Service de Luxe (Rowland V. Lee) (as Robert Wade)
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz) (as Sir Walter Raleigh); Tower of London (Rowland V. Lee) (as the Duke of Clarence)
Green Hell (Whale) (as David Richardson); The Invisible Man Returns (May) (title role); House of Seven Gables (May) (as Clifford Pyncheon); Brigham Young—Frontiersman (Hathaway) (as Joseph Smith)
Hudson's Bay (Pichel) (as King Charles II)
The Song of Bernadette (Henry King) (as Dutour)
Wilson (Henry King) (as William McAdoo); Laura (Preminger)(as Shelby Carpenter); The Keys of the Kingdom (Stahl) (as the Reverend Angus Mealy); The Eve of St. Mark (Stahl)(as Pvt. Francis Marion)
A Royal Scandal ( Czarina ) (Preminger) (as Marquis de Fleury); Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl) (as Russell Quinton)
Shock (Werker) (as Dr. Cross); Dragonwyck (Mankiewicz)(as Nicholas Van Ryn)
Moss Rose (Ratoff) (as Inspector Clinner); The Long Night (Litvak) (as Maximilian); The Web (Gordon) (asAndrew Colby)
Up in Central Park (Seiter) (as Boss Tweed); Rogue's Regiment (Florey) (as Mark Van Ratten); Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Barton) (as voice of The Invisible Man); The Three Musketeers (Sidney) (as Cardinal Richelieu)
The Bribe (Leonard) (as Carwood); Bagdad (Lamont) (as Pasha Al Nadim)
Champagne for Caesar (Whorf) (as Burnbridge Waters); The Baron of Arizona (Fuller) (as James Addison Reavis); Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (Lamont) (as Tracy Holland)
Adventures of Captain Fabian (William Marshall) (as George Brissac); His Kind of Woman (Farrow) (as Mark Cardigan)
Las Vegas Story (Stevenson) (as Lloyd Rollins)
House of Wax (de Toth) (as Prof. Henry Jarrod); Pictura (as narrator)
Dangerous Mission (Louis King) (as Paul Adams); The Mad Magician (Brahm) (as Gallico); Casanova's Big Night (McLeod) (title role)
The Story of Colonel Drake (Pierson—short) (title role); Son of Sinbad ( Nights in a Harem ) (Tetzlaff) (as Omar Khayyam)
Serenade (Anthony Mann) (as Charles Winthrop); While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang) (as Walter Kyne); The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille) (as Baka); The Vagabond King (Curtiz) (as narrator)
The Story of Mankind (Irwin Allen) (as the Devil)
The Fly (Neumann) (as Francois)
The House on Haunted Hill (Castle) (as Frederick Loren); The Big Circus (Joseph M. Newman) (as Hans Hagenfeld); The Bat (Wilbur) (as Dr. Malcolm Wells); The Return of the Fly (Bernds) (as Francois Delambre)
The Tingler (Castle) (as Dr. Richard Chapin); The House of Usher ( The Fall of the House of Usher ) (Corman) (as Roderick Usher)
Master of the World (Witney) (as Robur); The Pit and the Pendulum (Corman) (as Nicholas Medina); Nefertite—Regina del Nilo ( Queen of the Nile ) (Cerchio); Gordon, il Pirato Nero ( Rage of the Buccaneer ; The Black Buccaneer )(Costa) (as Romero); Naked Terror (Brenner—doc) (as narrator)
Confessions of an Opium Eater (Zugsmith) (as DeQuincey); Convicts Four (Kaufman) (as Carl Carmer); Tower of London (Corman) (as Richard of Gloucester); Tales of Terror (Corman) (as Locke/Fortunato/Valdemar)
The Raven (Corman) (as Dr. Erasmus Craven); Chagall (Venturi—short) (as narrator); Twice-Told Tales (Salkow); Diary of a Madman (Le Borg) (as Simon Cordier); Comedy of Terrors ( The Graveside Story ) (Jacques Tourneur); Beach Party (Asher)
The Haunted Palace (Corman) (as Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen); The Masque of the Red Death (Corman)(as Prince Prospero); L'ultimo uomo della terra ( The Last Man on Earth ) (Salkow)
The Tomb of Ligeia (Corman); City under the Sea ( War Gods of the Deep ) (Jacques Tourneur); I tabù ( Taboos of the World ) (Marcellini—doc) (as narrator); Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (Taurog) (as Dr. Goldfoot)
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (Bava) (as Dr. Goldfoot)
Das Haus der tausend Freuden ( House of a Thousand Dolls )(Summers) (as Felix Manderville); The Jackals (Webb)
Witchfinder General ( The Conqueror Worm ; Matthew Hopkins—Witchfinder General ) (Reeves) (as Matthew Hop-kins); More Dead Than Alive (Sparr) (as Dan Ruffalo); Histoires extraordinaires ( Spirits of the Dead ) (Fellini and others) (English-language version only) (as narrator)
The Trouble with Girls (Tewksbury) (as Mr. Morality); The Oblong Box (Hessler) (as Julian Markham)
Cry of the Banshee (Hessler); Scream and Scream Again (Hessler) (as Lord Edward Whitman)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Fuest) (title role); What's a Girl Like You . . . ? (Paris—for TV)
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (Fuest) (title role)
Theatre of Blood (Hickox) (as Edward Lionheart)
Madhouse (Clark) (as Paul Toombes); The Devil's Triangle (TV doc); Percy's Progress ( It's Not the Size That Counts )(Thomas) (as Stavos Mammonian); Journey into Fear (Daniel Mann) (as Dervos)
The Butterfly Ball (Klinger) (as narrator)
Days of Fury (as narrator)
The Monster Club (Baker) (as Erasmus); Romance in the Jugular Vein
The Thief and the Cobbler (Williams) (as voice)
House of the Long Shadows (Walker) (as Lionel); Bloodbath at the House of Death (Cameron); Vincent (Burton) (as voice)
Michael Jackson's Thriller (Landis—short) (as narrator)
The Great Mouse Detective ( Basil the Great Mouse Detective )(Mattinson) (as voice of Professor Ratigan); From a Whisper to a Scream ( The Offspring ) (Burr) (as Julian White)
The Whales of August (Anderson) (as Mr. Nikolai Maranov); The Little Troll Prince (Paterson) (as voice); Escapes (Steenland) (as Mailman)
Dead Heat (Goldblatt) (as Arthur P. Loudermilk)
Backtrack ( Catchfire ) (Smithee [Dennis Hopper]) (as Lino Avoca)
Edward Scissorhands (Burton) (as the Inventor); Once . . . (Williams) (as voice)
The Heart of Justice (Barreto—for TV) (cameo)
Arabian Knight (Richard Williams) (voice of Zigzag)
By PRICE: books—
I Like What I Know , New York, 1959.
The Book of Joe , New York, 1961.
A Treasury of Great Recipes , New York, 1965.
A National Treasury of Cooking , New York, 1967.
The Come into the Kitchen Cook Book , New York, 1969.
The Vincent Price Treasury of American Art , Waukesha, Wisconsin, 1972.
Monsters , with V. B. Price, New York, 1981.
By PRICE: articles—
"Mean, Moody, and Magnificent," interview in Films and Filming (London), March 1965.
"Black Cats and Cobwebs," in Films and Filming (London), August 1969.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1982.
"Tim Burton and Vincent Price," interview with Roddy McDowall, in Interview (New York), December 1990.
On PRICE: books—
Beck, Calvin Thomas, Heroes of the Horrors , New York, 1975.
McAsh, Iain F., The Films of Vincent Price , London, 1977.
Vincent Price, Actor and Art Collector , edited by Raul A. Lopez and Alan Curl, Riverside, 1982.
McAsh, Iain F., Vincent Price: A Biography , Farncombe, Surrey, 1982.
Master Drawings from the Vincent Price Collection , Bloomington, 1987.
Old and Modern Master Drawings and Watercolors from the Personal Collection of Vincent Price , Los Angeles, 1988.
McCarty, John, The Modern Horror Film , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1990.
McCarty, John, The Fearmakers , New York, 1994.
Williams, Lucy Chase, The Complete Films of Vincent Price , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1995.
Price, Victoria, Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography , New York, 1999.
Svelha, Gary J., and Svelha, Susan, Vincent Price , 1999.
On PRICE: articles—
Current Biography 1956 , New York, 1956.
Marill, Alvin H., "Vincent Price," in Films in Review (New York), May 1969.
L'Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 17 and no. 18, 1981.
Buckley, Michael, "Vincent Price," in Films in Review (New York), May and June/July 1988; also letter in issue for November 1988.
"Vincent Price Issue" of Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), vol 19, nos 1–2, 1989.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 15 November 1993.
Obituary in New York Times , 26 October 1993 and 27 October 1993.
Corman, Roger & Dante, Joe, "Memories of Vincent Price," in Sight & Sound (London), December 1993.
Obituary in Current Biography 1994 , New York, 1994.
Corman, Roger, "Vincent Price tel que je l'ai connu," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.
* * *
Like Boris Karloff, his predecessor as the American cinema's best-loved horror star, Vincent Price never disdained the genre slot into which he had been typecast. In fact, he relished it, a relish that came through clearly on screen, and turned his back on the genre only when the FX masters took over and bloodletting rather than barnstorming became the order of the day.
Throughout his career, Price's calling card had been the raised eyebrow and the sardonic smile, either sinister or ironic, and frequently both at the same time. Before House of Wax introduced him to his horror metier, he had been used in a variety of secondary leads, taking feckless noir roles that would have done for George Sanders if they had been any meatier ( The Long Night , The Bribe ), and playing a variety of historical personages (Walter Raleigh, Joseph Smith, the Duke of Clarence, Charles II, Cardinal Richelieu, Casanova, Omar Khayyam). After a few smiling hero roles, notably The House of Seven Gables opposite George Sanders's villain, he snared the occasional bizarre lead that presaged his destiny: the title character in The Invisible Man Returns (reprising the role voice-only for a gag in the later Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein ), as the drug-addicted patron in Dragonwyck , as an early (for him) mad scientist in the cheap Shock , or as the megalomanic schemer trying to steal a large portion of the United States in The Baron of Arizona . In other roles ( Curtain Call at Cactus Creek , Champagne for Caesar , His Kind of Woman ), he demonstrated a facility for crazed, hammy comedy that would feature prominently in his horror roles. A spell as a Twentieth Century-Fox contract player in the 1940s had dropped him a few plums—the gutless playboy in Laura —but mainly stranded him amid the glossy, stifling "quality" of Brigham Young , The Song of Bernadette , The Keys of the Kingdom , and The Eve of St. Mark , so he entered the 1950s with an interesting, but somewhat spotty, curriculum vitae.
Price's casting as the kindly sculptor concealing his hideous scars behind a mask in House of Wax , a 3-D remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum , changed all that. He followed it up with a stereoscopic variation, The Mad Magician , and was stuck with the role of the Devil in the unbelievable Story of Mankind before landing in three horror films whose seminal popularity did much to bring the waning horror genre back, and Price with it. The Fly , widescreen sci-fi, plays more like a Universal picture of the 1930s with its hooded mutant, the victim of a mistimed experiment in teleportation. Price did not take the lead, but the concerned, Lionel Atwill-type secondary figure (a situation that was rectified in the sequel, The Return of the Fly ). The House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler , both directed by gimmick master William Castle, virtually created a modern American horror tradition with contemporary settings, cynical murder-twist storylines (courtesy of Clouzot's Les Diaboliques ), jokey revivals of old horror clichés, and dead-straight grue. They set the pace for Price for years to come.
The House of Usher brought Price together with Roger Corman, Edgar Allan Poe, and American-International Pictures. Corman and AIP were looking to move away from the grade-B, black-and-white shockers that made them a small fortune toward something with a touch of class in the vein of the Gothic horrors being turned out by their British counterparts at Hammer Films. In Poe they found a bankable, homegrown source of Gothic material, and in Price they found an American actor on a par with Hammer stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Price's neurasthenic Roderick Usher in the team's first effort is as colorful and decaying as his house, and he relishes his over-the-top dialogue and puffy-sleeved outfits, cringing perfectly when the whole edifice collapses on his head in the finale.
The Price-Corman-Poe-AIP combo would continue for most of the 1960s ( The Pit and the Pendulum , The Raven , Tales of Terror , Masque of the Red Death , Tomb of Ligeia , and others) and make Price a top-of-the-line horror star, allowing him to branch out in such imitation efforts as the Hawthorne-derived Twice-Told Tales , the de Maupassant-derived Diary of a Madman , the Verne-derived Master of the World , such international oddities as The Last Man on Earth (unclassically adapted from Richard Matheson's classic vampire novel I Am Legend ) and The House of a Thousand Dolls , and self-parodying vehicles like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine .
Price eventually left the Poe series to appear in Michael Reeves's Matthew Hopkins—Witchfinder General , retitled The Conqueror Worm in the United States to make it appear Poe-like. Reeves demanded that Price play it thoroughly straight for a change, and he added a chilling touch of mercy to the pitiless monster at the center of the icy period piece. In the Dr. Phibes pictures, director Robert Fuest demanded that he play the ultimate incarnation of a comic-horror tradition, a mad vaudeville organist who favors unwieldly slapstick deathtraps to dispose of his victims, and again Price rose to the challenge. Dr. Phibes was a dry run for Price's bravura comic-horror performance in Theatre of Blood , where he is a crazed Shakespearean who slaughters his unsympathetic critics using disgusting methods of murder derived from the Bard's plays.
Price curbed his frenzied film schedule from 1977 through 1982 to go on the road for a 200-city tour of his one-man show Diversions and Delights (written by John Gay) in which he played the dying Oscar Wilde. He returned to the screen with several feeble monster rallies ( The Monster Club , From a Whisper to a Scream , Dead Heat ) and one gem, House of the Long Shadows , in which he joined forces, memorably, with fellow horror icons Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and John Carradine. His lone "serious" credits before his death were Lindsay Anderson's octogenarian mood piece The Whales of August (appearing opposite Lillian Gish and Bette Davis) and the superior made-for-cable drama The Heart of Justice , where he provided a noteworthy cameo in the film's opening scene.
Price's unbilled bit as "Big Daddy" in AIP's Beach Party confirmed another aspect of his persona—his status as an honorary kid, a mod parent figure, either benevolent or malevolent, whose interests are aligned with the juveniles in the pictures and the audiences. This led to his becoming a minor hero to the younger generation, even appearing on the Batman show as Egghead, with Elvis Presley in The Trouble with Girls , and with Michael Jackson on his Thriller album. The culmination of this eventually came in an oddly touching association with Tim Burton, first in the short cartoon Vincent , about a boy who wants to be Vincent Price when he grows up, and then, in an extremely moving flashback, as the inventor in Edward Scissorhands , teaching his creation etiquette, poetry, and love of art (Price's great passion in real life).
—Kim Newman, updated by John McCarty