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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…

April 9th, 2010 No comments

Most film fans are familiar with Richard Benjamin’s wonderful direction of Dennis Palumbo’s script of “My Favorite Year,” which chronicles a young writer’s experience on a “Your Show of Shows”-type live 1950’s television comedy show. In the film, young writer Benjy Stone (played with manic glee by Mark Linn Baker) is charged with the task of ‘babysitting’ (‘handling’ is the preferred term in Hollywood these days) drunkard and former matinee idol Alan Swann (portrayed by Peter O’Toole, nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the role). As the story unfolds, young Benjy (a thinly-veiled Woody Allen/Neil Simon-type character) grows in his understanding of the ‘real world,’ while Swann, in glorious denial, finally comes to grips with his estranged child, his movie reputation, and the pressures of live TV. The result is nothing short of delightful, and I urge you to see it if you haven’t already.

BUT – that’s not why I am writing about ‘my favorite week.’ Personally, I had my own Benjy Stone/Alan Swann experience when I was able to recommend to my alma mater that they invite one of their most illustrious (auspicious?) cinema star alumni back for a retrospective of his work.

 ‘Back in the day’ in Los Angeles, as a member of the Yale Club of Southern California board of directors, I went to an event that was also attended by Mr. Vincent Price, Yale Class of 1933; as a film devotee and big Vincent Price fan, I made a beeline to talk with Mr. Price. He was very warm and social, and we exchanged contact information.  Within hours, I must confess, I got in touch with a former college film professor who currently ran the Yale Film Study Center, and I related the eagerness Mr. Price expressed to be recognized by his university- something which hadn’t occurred in the 50 years since he had graduated, and which we all felt was well past due.

That was the genesis of ‘my favorite week.’ Within a few days, my old professor was lobbying his History of Art colleagues to host a week-long Vincent Price film retrospective, and, shortly after, they extended the invitation to Vincent Price. He was delighted – as was I, since it was agreed that, as a recent transplant to New York City, I’d head up to New Haven as well and be Vincent Price’s ‘handler’ while he was present at the retrospective for approximately four days. Things pulled together rather quickly, and Mr. Price arrived in New Haven in the spring of 1984.

Picking Vincent Price up at the New Haven train station  was an ordeal, because the place was undergoing renewal and Mr. Price was not at his best, healthwise. To be honest, I led the ‘welcoming party’ directly past Mr. Price; fortunately, he recognized me, and waved to gain my notice. Boy, was I embarrased! But we ultimately connected, and it was a truly fun experience from that point on…

To be continued…