What could be better worth celebrating than a hundred years of the suavest star that ever swung a pendulum or baked a poodle pie?
Vincent's next stop was the Uffizi, where he saw "so many famous pictures that I was lost. The best was Madonna of the Harpies by Del Sarto."
Indeed, decades later he still vividly recalled the momentous instant when he came face to face with the favourite painting of his youth:
"Suddenly, I came upon a room and there she was. My own personal Madonna... She is beautiful, and she's in love with all mankind. Especially with me. And there I was, standing in the Uffizi with a watermelon in my throat and two painful jets of warm salt water spurting out of my eyes. Then I heard a soft voice, over my shoulder, say: "Come over here, I'll show you the one that makes me cry."
I blew my nose, blotted my eyes, buried as much of my face as I could in my handkerchief, and blurted out a feeble: "Sorry... something in my eye."
The voice said: "Yes ... beauty."
- from Vincent Price: a Daughter's Biography, by Victoria Price Everyone knows what a serious, intelligent, cultivated and sensitive man Vincent Price was. That he spent the first few decades of his acting career not as a bogeyman but a greatly respected stage performer, and one of the smoothest supporting actors in Hollywood. Have you seen Laura lately? How great is he in that?
And while it is true he was never quite bland enough for leading man heroism, he could pastiche it effortlessly, in His Kind of Woman, or as The Saint on radio.
So when the cull did come, when fifties Hollywood cleaned out its locker and consigned its greatest stars to the scrap heap - a foolish enough thing to do by any standards, plain barking when you recall the planks of wood it was all done to make room for - the only salvation was genre. That Price found his safe haven in horror, first by default in House of Wax and The Fly, then beyond doubt for Corman and Castle and American International, might have been a tragedy, had he chosen to see it that way.
Because I happen to love horror movies, I always feel uneasy watching actors I love being obviously uncomfortable in them. And that's the best thing about Vince. He never felt hard done by. He loved the fact that he had been given a second career when so many of his more famous and more successful peers did not, and he loved playing scary roles. You don't need me to tell you how much energy he put into them, how much obvious fun they gave him.
If it was a decline, it was the happiest, worthiest, most welcome (and welcomed) decline in the movies. In the Poe series, in House on Haunted Hill, in Witchfinder General, self-pastiching in Phibes and Madhouse and Theatre of Blood and as the classiest elder statesman you could ask for in House of the Long Shadows, he had no master.
Was he the greatest horror star in movie history? All things considered, I think I'd say yes, he was.
"... suddenly in the fifties a whole new group of actors came out: Marlon Brando, James Dean and Paul Newman, who were very moody and realistic. So actors like myself and Basil Rathbone and so on didn't really fit into those realistic dramas and we began to do costume pictures. This was really the only place we could go on working if we wanted to survive as actors. Most of the things of my later career have been costume pictures. They require a certain knowledge of the language, they require enunciation and a poetic approach to the language. Really, the one thing we have over the apes is our language, isn't it? That's about all."
- Quoted in Vincent Price, edited by Gary J Svehla and Susan Svehla I'm so jealous I didn't get to go to Jenny's Vincentennial Party, where several of his recipes were lovingly reproduced, including the immortal cucumber crocodile, and Theatre of Blood was projected on the wall. (She's making a Vincent recipe every week for the length of his centenary year and documenting it here, so do look in and cheer her on!)
Here at Carfax, we'll also be doing our bit over the coming year, starting with the favourite film poll at the top of the page on your right.
Do please take the time to vote, and look out for more to come on the most purely enjoyable performer in horror history.