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My Favorite Week – Part 2

April 10th, 2010 No comments

 

Much like Benjy Stone, the lead character of “My Favorite Year”, I had the privilege of ‘handling’ Vincent Price, Yale Class of 1933, while he visited New Haven for a retrospective of his films in the spring of 1984…

My Favorite Week: Part 2

When he showed up in New Haven after the start of a week-long retrospective of his films, Vincent Price was 73 years old, and showing his age. It was cold outside, and his cough sounded bad as we moved from the train station to the university. Once we were ensconced in the warmer History of Art Department office, “Mr. Price,” as I always referred to him, warmed up considerably and spirits rose as his cough seemed to fade. It was planned to show him the newly-installed 35 millimeter film projection equipment on which many of the prints of his films would be shown, so we walked over to the Art Gallery Lecture Hall and took a look around the recently-renovated 400 seat auditorium. A few days earlier, as his film retrospective began, one of Mr. Price’s favorite films was screened: “Dragonwyck”. “It was Joe Mankiewicz’s first film,” Mr. Price told me (although Mankiewicz – brother of “Citizen Kane” scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz – had directed one movie prior to “Dragonwyck,”). Mr. Price delightedly described it as “a gothic drama set in New York state.” Another film he specifically requested was 1950’s “The Baron of Arizona,” 

Baron of Arizona

in which Mr. Price plays a scheming forger who creates false deeds  granting himself and his wife

ownership of the state of Arizona. Again, his rationale for making the movie was that “It was one of Sam Fuller’s first films.” Actually, it was Fuller’s second film, too. Both films did well at the box office. Sophmore slump, indeed…

Time with Mr. Price was highly-structured. It became clear the Yale University Development Office had caught on and they were hard at work attempting to transform Mr. Price’s fame and reputation (previously ignored by the university) to bring in donor bucks. As a result, Mr. Price and I attended a series of events together designed to elevate his film retrospective’s status as an ad-hoc fundraiser. On his second day at Yale, we attended a luncheon held by the Development Office at Mory’s, the venerable (and currently bankrupt) eating ‘club’ that was such a part of Yale during the 1930s, when Vincent and his two older brothers attended the university. Lunch at Mory’s with Mr. Price was a fun and eye-opening experience. We gathered in a private upstairs room, and the lunch was attended by Mr. Price, several of his Yale ’33 classmates and their spouses (all in their 70s, of course), plus an executive from the Yale Development Office, a large film-industry related donor, my former film prof., Donald Crafton, and me. I did my best to soak it all in as “Vinnie,” as his buddies called him, held forth in a glorious amalgam of true Hollywood stories, Yale reminiscences and sonorous flattery.

What stays with me to this day is the unaffected friendship and honest merriment of Mr. Price and his peers. At one point, Mr. Price recalled and described a cartoon drawing he’d received during his college years from his Harvard pal James Thurber. In Thurber’s drawing, Vincent is greeted at the gates of heaven by St. Peter as several of his friends/classmates stand by sheepishly behind him… Later, during the luncheon, one of Mr. Price’s classmate’s spouses asked me about the food, some sort of chicken with a sauce. “I think it’s… Chicken Piccata,” I answered, trying to sound authoratative – or at least not completely ignorant. Mr. Price, sitting beside me, leaned in and said, very casually – and ingratiatingly- “Where I come from, this would be called pan-fried chicken… with gravy.”

We left the Mory’s luncheon and headed out into the cold spring weather. I lit a cigarette (a terrible habit I quit some years later), and Mr. Price put out his arm to stop me as we walked on the sidewalk in front of Mory’s. “I’m sorry, Mr. Price,” I said. “Is this smoke bothering you?”

“No.” Mr. Price replied, his blue eyes twinkling. “Give me a cigarette,” he responded cheerily. I handed over one of my menthol cigarettes, and he lit up. And he looked delighted, although I later learned he HATED menthol. And I also didn’t realize he’d already been diagnosed with emphysema. I was just having too good a time hanging out with such a neat guy…

To be continued…