Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth.
- Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality
It's a set-up tailor-made for Myron Fass, that could have leapt complete from the depraved frames of an Eerie Publication...
Neighbours near a small, largely boarded Los Angeles home become apprehensive at the complete lack of activity visible on the property. Closer inspection reveals cobwebs in the undisturbed mailbox.
Finally, they force an entry... and discover a mummified body.
Determining the cause of death is virtually impossible, even its identity will only be made certain after much scientific testing. It might have laid there for almost a year...
Of course, in a Myron Fass magazine, this would be where the story starts.
For Yvette Vickers, it's how it all ended, a strangely apposite last stop on her private roller coaster tour of B-Hollywood.
Ah, but she was a bonny thing...
Her parents were jazz musicians. She originally aspired to be a screenwriter. She met Billy Wilder in 1949 and he liked her enough, and thought she had enough of the right stuff, to give her a showy cameo in Sunset Boulevard.
Wilder had been around long enough to see through Hollywood's self-regard and out the other side where they dump the leftovers. He knew its wolves can turn savage when they're cornered, and his film is a knowing knife in Tinseltown's back. For Yvette it might have served as a prescient reminder, not that she was listening, that Hollywood is rarely what it's cracked up to be. She jumped in anyway; auditioned for the big shows, nearly got a few, landed upright but far from target in Reform School Girl and Juvenile Jungle.
Film-makers took one look at her and saw the word 'trampy' above her face like a neon halo. Her two shots at immortality both use her as a demonstration of the dangers of unchecked libidinous desire, as proof that adulterous liaisons invariably lead to death by mutant.
She is Honey Parker, whose fling with married William Hudson kick-starts the Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. Then she's Liz, a frustrated Baby Doll in leopardskin underwear, trapped in the Florida swamps, who cuckolds Bruno VeSota, her obese husband, and ends up the victim of man-size bloodsuckers in Attack of the Giant Leeches.
Two utterly unforgettable performances; two certain guarantees of drive-in immortality.
Leeches is my favourite. I just love the way she torments her poor, tub of lard sap of a husband, and that whole extended scene of him threatening murderous revenge, as her supposedly burly lover collapses into whining, begging cowardice while she spits in his face and curses them both... it goes on and on, and is dramatically riveting, ending magnificently when the monsters show up.
This is where the filmmakers were, in the fifties.
But drive-in immortality is a positive encumbrance when you're up for a role in This Earth Is Mine (1959). Director Henry King - who knew what he was looking for - okayed her, big lunk lead-with-co-star-approval Rock Hudson - who didn't, obviously - said no.
From hereon, whenever she was linked with Lee Marvin and Cary Grant it would be strictly in the gossip columns. Screen work was more or less all small screen work, and lucky to get that, from Leeches on. Howard Hughes called her up a few times, too: it was the high life for an hour or two, but strictly taxi-fare back home.
Her 1959 Playboy pictorial ended her second marriage, to writer Leonard Burns. Three months after the wedding he learned of the photographs and walked out.
"He was kinda square," Yvette explained.
She lived long enough to enjoy her rediscovery by cult movie fans, and went to the conventions, and did the DVD interviews.
But behind the bolted shutters, where she never threw anything away and lived amidst mountains of junk, she was becoming increasingly paranoid, convinced she was being pursued and watched. And so we end where we begin, in the Sunset Boulevard twilight of faded Hollywood dreams, and with a fifty foot woman laid low by movieland's giant leeches.
Her body was positively identified on May 13th, 2011.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
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.