Published on July 19, 2016
Vincent Leonard Price, Jr.
(May 27, 1911 – October 25, 1993) was an American actor, well known for his distinctive voice and performances in horror films. His career spanned other genres, including film noir, drama, mystery, thriller, and comedy. He appeared on stage, television, radio, and in over one hundred films. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures, and one for television.
Price was an art collector and consultant, with a degree in art history. He lectured and wrote books on the subject. He was the founder of the Vincent Price Art Museum in California. He was also a noted gourmet cook.
Despite his lasting association with horror films, 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 Bernadette’s prosecutor, Vital Dutour, in “The Song of Bernadette” (1943), and as a pretentious priest in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). His 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 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.
His 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 favorite film roles He was active in radio, portraying the Robin Hood-inspired crime-fighter Simon Templar in The Saint, which ran from 1947-51.
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). That same year, he starred in a pair of beloved thrillers by producer-director William Castle: House on Haunted Hill (1959) as eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren, and The Tingler as Dr. Warren Chapin, who discovered the titular creature. He 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 in 1956. About this time he also appeared on NBC’s The Martha Raye Show. In the 1955–56 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 Rev. Alfred W. Price in “God’s Healing”.
In the 1960s, Price achieved a number of low-budget filmmaking successes with Roger Corman and American International Pictures (AIP) starting with the 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 an often-repeated anecdote from the set of Batman, Price, after a take was printed, started throwing eggs at series stars Adam West and Burt Ward, and when asked to stop, replied, “With a full artillery? Not a chance!”, causing an egg fight to erupt on the soundstage. This incident is reenacted in the behind-the-scenes telefilm Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt. In the 1960s, he began his role as a guest on the game show Hollywood Squares, becoming a semi-regular in the 1970s, including being one of the guest panelists on the finale in 1980.
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. In 1964, he provided the narration for the Tombstone Historama in Tombstone, Arizona, which is still in operation as of 2014.