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My Favorite Week – Conclusion

April 19th, 2010 No comments

 

When we last left our intrepid heroes… they were ‘trapped’ in the projection booth of the newly-renovated 1984 Yale Art Gallery Auditorium. A throng of 400 ardent fans circulated outside, and Mr. Vincent Price was overwhelmed and remained inside…

Like Mark Linn Baker‘s Benjy Stone in “My Favorite Year,” I probably lived ‘My Favorite Week’ as I was the ‘handler’ (personal assistant is a much nicer term) for Mr. Vincent Price, Yale Class or 1933, when he returned to our alma mater to attend a retrospective of his films.

 

My Favorite Week: Conclusion

Being stuck inside a narrow projection booth with a nervous Vincent Price wasn’t my idea of a good time, even if it meant increased time with the man I had grown to know and respect. For one thing, there were probably 5 or 6 of us in the small booth, and we had a GREAT view of all the people (his loving audience, really), who had remained in hopes of getting Vincent Price’s autograph after seeing “House of Wax” with him. To keep Mr. Price distracted, I showed him a copy of the current Yale Alumni Magazine; it contained a feature I’d written about the new Yale Film Study Center; he skimmed the article, then peered eagerly at the byline and turned to me and said: “Your name is Barrett?” I nodded, and he responded “But your friends call you ‘Barry.'”

“Your college pals call you ‘Vinnie,” I replied. “It’s just a nickname.” Mr. Price leaned into me and smiled. “I named my son ‘Barrett.’ ‘Vincent Barrett Price.'” Not knowing this at all, I simply smiled. And Mr. Price smiled back. It was undoubtedly a ‘moment’ between us. Especially when you look into those blue eyes. Even my wife agrees – the guy was suave.

I exited the projection booth and, with the help of students and others, got Mr. Price’s most faithful fans to depart through the main doors. Some lingered for a few minutes, but eventually we got everyone out of the auditorium and closed the main doors. Moments later we emerged, out the fire exit, onto High Street. Although it was cold (after all, we’d sat through an entire feature film, and it was now evening), Mr. Price and I headed up Chapel Street, towards his hotel. As we neared the hotel, Mr. Price expressed a preference for a drink (a preference I shared), and we descended into the “Old Heidelberg” restaurant. As we walked down its steps, Mr. Price suggested the place had been declared by his older brothers as a a ‘speakeasy’ during Prohibition; I told him that my dad, Yale Class of ’48, had declared the place a ‘passion pit.’ In spite of (or perhaps because of) its various reputations, we spent a very warm and hospitable evening there mainly due to the generosity of the restaurant staff and its patrons.

At the time, Mr. Price was the host of “Mystery” on PBS; his current assignment was to introduce episodes of the great BBC spy series “Reilly, Ace of Spies.” More than one ‘Reilly’ fan arrived at our table and asked Mr. Price “How will it end?,” only to be met with an autograph, a thank-you and his sweetly suggested “Watch it next week…” As we drank our beers and enjoyed tremendous fried calamari courtesy of the establishment, Mr. Price and I had the times of our lives. As one of the last autograph-seekers left before I escorted Mr. Price back-up to his hotel, I asked him the question that had been lingering for me: Why was it that HE thanked autograph seekers, rather than the other way around? He smiled, laughed his ‘Vincent Price laugh,’ and responded, very sincerely “Without THEM, you see… I wouldn’t BE Vincent Price!” I guess he always knew where his fan base was… and where his next meal was coming from.

What impresed me about Mr. Price was his memory: he recalled not only all kinds of minutae about his favorite films, but some of the stuff he did ‘for the money,’ as he readily admitted. Where the two intersected was interesting: to do the voice-over on Michael Jackson’s multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning album “Thriller,” Mr. Price was paid A FLAT FEE of $5 thousand dollars – AND Jackson never thanked him at the multi-Grammy winning ceremony. But, while explaining that, Mr. Price very proudly admitted being cast in his ‘first’ animated voice-over role as ‘Ratigan’ in Disney’s “The Great Mouse Detective.” The movie wouldn’t come out for a few years… and I think that suited Mr. Price quite well. Because, unfortunately, both he and his wife were sick…

To Be Followed by: My Favorite Week – Epilogue

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…