Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday, Vincent Price!

I'm currently composing a longer tribute to Vincent Price, one of my most treasured actors, on filmicability. I'm choosing to focus in on my favorite Vincent Price film performance, in 1973's Theater of Blood. However, in doing my research, I've been reminded of Price's warm, clever, and intelligent personality, often on display in guest shots on a variety of TV productions. So I thought I'd do a shorter twin tribute to the Price centennial by highlighting some of these appearances here on the Flaming Nose.

When I think of Vincent Price's TV appearances, one thing comes to mind: his tremendous sense of fun in spoofing his own fame as a horror movie icon. In many of his guest shots on narrative shows like The Brady Bunch, F Troop, and Love American Style, he traded upon this, but also showed he could play comedy just as well as the established pros. For instance, he has a memorable run-in with Lucille Ball on a 1970 episode of Here's Lucy, where Ball's Lucy Carter is visiting Price to have an art piece appraised, but is instead mistaken by Price as an actress auditioning for a role in a new horror film. Good stuff here!

But in earlier TV appearances, he was known less as a horror personality and more as a erudite character actor famed for largely villainous roles. In a 1953 appearance on The Jack Benny Program, he shares the screen with the master of the slow burn and also with the lovely Irene Dunne. Benny and Price find themselves as acting rivals for the lead in a production with Miss Dunne, and their interplay is extraordinarily hilarious (every time Benny stares into the camera, I can't help but lose it):

There were a lot of dramatic roles for Price on TV as well, on shows as varied as Lights Out, Climax!, Playhouse 90, Daniel Boone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun Will Travel, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It's particularly fun to see him as a typically evil Russian THRUSH agent in an episode of The Man From UNCLE, called "The Fox and Hounds Affair." Here, Price shares the small screen with another crowning character actor, Leo G. Carroll, who played UNCLE's wisened head officer:

And, though I find the show irritating, it would just simply be wrong to ignore Vincent's bald-pated appearance as the villainous Egghead in the 1960's smash hit show Batman. If I were going to watch an episode of this show again, it'd probably one of Price's episodes, even IF the egg-related puns get eggs-cruciating.

Even games shows and variety shows were far from off-limits for Price. For instance, you can see Price's wit and facility with both music and languages here on his 1956 appearance as the mystery guest on What's My Line?

As a stunt to promote his then current 1972 film The Abominable Dr. Phibes (still one of his greatest performances, if you ask me), Price made an unlikely appearance on The Dating Game. It's bizarre, having Price act as proxy to the dating girl in questioning her three prospects. It's clear that none of the guys are equal to Vincent's inestimable sophistication, but he takes it all in stride and barrels through like the pro he was. Dare I say that the girl would have been better off going out to dinner with Vincent himself?

In 1973, Price was invited to fete his friend Bette Davis on an "Celebrity Roast"episode of The Dean Martin Comedy Hour. Here, again, we get to enjoy Vincent's charm as he plays slightly (and appropriately) blue. You don't get to hear Price use the word "knockers" very often!

A totally charming clip here, from Price's 1976 appearance on The Muppet Show. The only thing that can rival my love for Vincent Price is my love for Jim Henson, particularly in the guise of Kermit the Frog. To have these two stars sharing the stage is pure joy to me, especially in the hilarious final moment here!

Vincent even did many smart commercials, for products as widely varied as Milton-Bradley games, Tilex, Time-Life Books, and Century 21! Here's an excellent 1985 spot for Polaroid VHS tapes:

Here's another 80s spot, this one more lovingly low-rent, for Easter Seals:

And, finally, another for Sun Country Wine Coolers. This one's REALLY unusual!

In 1984, Vincent acted as host to PBS' anthology show Mystery! Here, the actor gets to expound on one of his favorite subjects--the Victorian era--in introducing the first episode of Grenada TV's Sherlock Holmes series. I have to wonder how much Price contributed to the writing of this intro, as he was certainly an expert on the subject matter and could have easily penned the piece. It seems to have been written in his unmistakable voice:

The interesting thing about Price is that, though he was most famous as a horror movie icon, it was always clear that he was so much more than just this. For instance, his art history expertise was unsurpassed. He had an extensive personal collection of works with which he often toured, and was an outspoken advocate of Native-American art in particular. Even though this rare 1962 instructional film wasn't shot for television (it's basically an industrial film used to educate art auctioneers on the value of their pieces, made by Sears and Roebuck), I think it's a fascinating peer into this very personal, revealing side of Vincent Price. The man knows so much; he never ceases to astound me.

Even more revealing is his 1982 interview on British TV with Terry Wogan. Here the actor's charm and smarts are again center stage, and we get to hear more about his love of art, his puzzlement over the American and British ways of life, and a wonderful story about his playing pranks on unsuspecting fans (something that I understand was, for him, a favorite by-product of being famous). By the way: isn't it interesting that Price and Christopher Lee share the same birth date?

I think my very favorite Vincent Price TV moment, though, is his appearance on an obscure 1952 show called What in the World? In this game show/educational show mash-up, a crew of art experts get together and are presented with a series of unfamiliar art objects. Their task is to determine the age and the origin of these ancient pieces. Produced for WCAU-TV (the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia), the fourth episode of this rather strange but delightful series has Vincent on as a very knowledgeable expert, and his accuracy is quite impressive. This is a real interesting bit of TV history here--an artifact in its own right:

Well, I guess that about does it for my TV-based tribute! All that's left to say, once again, is Happy 100th, Vincent! Wish you were here!


Jane said...

Great piece Dean! I must say I was transfixed by the Dating Game footage. Alas, not because of Mr. Price, but for the weirdness of the (now seemingly) antiquated products they were offering as prizes. A 1973 audio cassette player with AM-FM radio. Why it was only 38 years ago and it looked positively pre-historic. I wonder if people will be looking at old video of an iPad in their hover crafts and thinking, "how quaint"!

Jane said...

So sorry, I hit send too soon and I can't seem to find a way to edit comments. Anyway...meant to say, I wonder if decades from now people will be looking at old video of an iPad from their hover crafts and thinking "how quaint"

Lisa said...

OMG! This is the best post ever! Price was a doll, and such a good sport, and a wonderful actor in everything he did. He went from high to low with equal aplomb and glee, didn't he? I'm trying to remember if I saw him in his "Diversions & Delights" stage show about Oscar Wilde; I seem to recall that I did, I know I saw him in something on stage. Such a trouper, such a pro!

This post is insanely great!

Toby O'B said...

Such a great post, perfect for such a great man, and an egg-cellent selection of clips!

Sorry, I couldn't resist......