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My Favorite Week – Epilogue

April 28th, 2010 4 comments

To Recap:

In 1984, I was lucky enough to spend a few days as the ‘handler’ of Vincent Price at a retrospective of his films in New Haven, Connecticut, as Mr. Price was honored by Yale University. Like the fictional character Benjy Stone in “My Favorite Year,” I found my appreciation only increased – along with my respect – the longer I spent in the company of this tall, exceptionally suave and cultured movie star.

 

 

My Favorite Week – Epilogue

The Vincent Price Retrospective reached its conclusion with Mr. Price’s favorite film, the 1944 classic, “Laura.” After honoring his requests for more obscure or genre fare, it was great to see the actor at his youthful best. Before the movie started, Mr. Price stood on the stage in the Yale Art Gallery Auditorium and, predictably, thanked the crowd for honoring him in such a fashion. Then he launched into a Hollywood reminiscence about the film we were about to see.

“You may not know it,” Mr. Price began, “but the movie “Laura” was made twice. The first time was when Rouben Mamoulian directed it and Otto Preminger produced. It was a wonderful time,” he said. “I loved Gene Tierney, and Clifton Webb, Judith Anderson and Dana Andrews. And we all loved Rouben.” He paused for effect. “But Otto Preminger didn’t like it, fired Rouben, and decided to direct it himself. Well, once again, I got to work with all those wonderful actors. I loved Dana, and Dana loved Gene, and Gene loved Judith and…” his voice deepened, “we all ‘liked’ Otto.”

The retrospective eventually ended, and a fairly large group of faculty, staff and others had a ‘last night’ dinner with Mr. Price at a nearby Italian restaurant; there must’ve been 14 people squeezed into a circular table meant for 6 or 8, and everybody wanted Mr. Price’s attention. He held forth, telling stories and answering questions, all the while signing autographs and thanking his fans for their support over the years. Feeling warm in the throng and desiring a cigarette, I went outside as the meal wound down. A clearly tipsy fellow passed by walking a tiny dog, and I made a silly joke under my breath, but apparently the man overheard me and was instantly ‘in my face.’ We exchanged a few words, then he lurched on down the street. Exiting the restaurant, Mr. Price had seen the whole thing. Using a by-now familiar gesture for a cigarette, he asked me what had happened. I said “Gee, Mr. Price, I just made a dumb joke and he got all offended.” Mr. Price looked at me and said, “Barrett, don’t ever argue with a drunk!” Then he smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and added “Please. Call me Vincent.”

The next day I rode the train into New York City with Vincent and his daughter Victoria, who had come for the last days of the event. At the train station we said goodbye and wished each other well. I didn’t realize it, but it would be the last time I ever spoke to Vincent Price. We stayed in touch via letters and cards over the years, and after I moved back to Los Angeles in the late 80s, I looked for an opportunity to get together. Unfortunately, that opportunity came with the event of the death of Vincent’s beloved wife Coral Browne (“the actress,” I can still hear him say in his recognizable voice) a few years later, in 1991. I attended the memorial ceremony for Coral Browne, which was led by their close friend, Hollywood stalwart Roddy McDowall. Vincent was practically overcome, surrounded by friends and family; I left without speaking with him. One year later, some mutual showbiz friends tried to arrange a surprise ‘reunion’ by inviting Vincent to dinner the same night as my wife and me. Unfortunately, by that point Vincent was too ill with emphysema and the effects of Parkinson’s disease to join us.

Although we continued to correspond, and Vincent wrote he hoped for a ‘reunion,’ one never came. He passed away in October, 1993, one week shy of Halloween.

I’ve had lots of great weeks in my life. But my favorite week? I’m hoping it’s yet to come – but in the meantime, the time I spent with my friend Vincent in the spring of 1984… that’ll serve well as ‘my favorite week.’

My Favorite Week – Part 3

April 11th, 2010 No comments

In 1984, I was at Vincent Price’s side as he attended a retrospective of his films at Yale University; as his ‘handler,’ I was living out a dream like the Benjy Stone character in 1982’s “My Favorite Year.”

My Favorite Week: Part 3

Afternoons were a time for Mr. Price to rest – or pursue personal time, like when he arranged a tour of the-then new Yale Center for British Art, then snuck-in a quick trip through the Yale Art Gallery as well. As an art collector, he spoke fondly of his first purchase of art – a Rembrandt miniature at age 13; but he also spoke longingly of the faux-modern “Ham and Eggs” that graced the “Batman” TV series while he was playing the nefarious ‘Egghead’ on the show. But most days I’d walk him back to his hotel on Chapel Street, and he’d disappear into the elevator and head up to his room for a nap. Once I was turning to leave as the elevator doors closed, only to hear them re-open. And Mr. Price looked directly at me – with those blue eyes. Honestly, I thought he was about to yell at me. He strode up to me, then suddenly smiled and said “Give me a cigarette!” With more than a sigh of relief, I shared my bad habit with him once again, and it basically meant I became his cigarette-bearer for the rest of our time together, except one evening when he snuck off and bought himself a pack of (preferred) non-menthol cigarettes – and then offered them to me as an earnest ‘re-payment.’ I cringe to write about such detrimental habits… But it was something he and I shared during our time together in New Haven, and it gave us time alone together.

The Vincent Price Film Retrospective continued, and so did the meetings arranged by the Yale Development Office and History of Art Department. One evening we had dinner with students in a Yale College dining room, and the conversation was spirited and fun. Mr. Price talked about art, wine (to a bunch of college students!), his many films and television roles, but, more than anything else, he spoke of his wife. “My wife: Coral Browne – the actress,” he said each time he mentioned her. And whenever he spoke of her, he would smile and grow more charming. That was the night we headed over to the Art Gallery Auditorium and Mr. Price saw the large crowd that had assembled to watch the latest film to screen: a non 3-D copy of  “House of Wax.” Since we arrived just before the movie was to begin, Mr. Price thanked the crowd and related a quick story about the irony that the film director of this ‘sensational’  3-D film, Andre De Toth was incapable of seeing things in 3-D

Andre De Toth

because he had lost an eye earlier in life. As the film began, we sat down in the back of the theater. Our original plan was to leave once the picture had started, but once the credits rolled, Mr. Price said “Why don’t we stick around for a little while? I haven’t seen this in years.” (I know it sounds dumb, but if you can imagine Vincent Price saying this to you in his elegant baritone, you’ll totally understand why this was ‘My Favorite Week.’)

So the credits rolled – and the comments began… When Charles Bronson is credited, (as Charles Buchinsky), Mr. Price said “Oh, I’d forgotten he was in this…” And when the mad villian Professor Henry Jarrod (played by Price) readies to pour wax on squirming starlet Phyllis Kirk, Mr. Price leaned over and said with glee “Giving her cleavage was the best effect in the movie!” It was an incredible experience for me as a cinephile and a Vincent Price fan. And the audience felt it, too, because at film’s end the audience stood, turned and offered Vincent Price a standing ovation. For his part, he was touched – and a little freaked out by the throng of 400 adoring fans. The crowd pressed forward to shake his hand or seek autographs and Mr. Price was overwhelmed, seeking refuge in the projection booth. It kept him from having to deal with 400 rabid fans – but it presented another problem: there was only one way out of the projection booth: directly through all those fans…

To be continued…