An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe
Kenny remembers Vincent...
I was first privileged to meet Vincent Price in 1967 when he made an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show where I was Executive Producer. From the very first moment it was clear what a charming, personable and witty guy he was. He returned to the show several times and we became fast friends.
For one of his appearances I gave him a copy of The Tell Tale Heart by Poe and suggested he read it for us. Standing at a podium in the darkened studio before a rapt audience he gave a mesmerizing performance.
When I moved to Hollywood in 1970 I called Vincent to suggest that we do a TV special in which he would enact the same story plus three others that Poe had written in the first person and which leant themselves to a one-man show.
He was very excited about the prospect and invited me to his grand old Spanish mansion with its cathedral ceiling on Beverly Glen Boulevard. He and his wife Mary had bought for a song in the early fifties and then spent two decades lovingly restoring. I was greeted by Vincent, Mary and their young daughter Victoria – who welcomed me like family.
Having tea in their fabulous gourmet kitchen I told him the other three stories were The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. We kicked around the possibilities and all got very excited. Mary, a talented costume designer, volunteered to handle the wardrobe. It was to be a family affair entitled Vincent Price in An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe.
He introduced me to Sam Arkoff, head of American International Pictures, who had him under contract and Sam agreed to finance the project. David Welch, my best friend from high school and a talented writer, helped me edit Poe’s stories and then Vincent and I started rehearsing. At first we worked in his cavernous living room surrounded by his museum-quality pre-Columbian artifacts. Later we moved to the Masonic Temple across Hollywood Boulevard from Grauman’s Chinese Theater to finalize the rehearsals.
We spent much time talking about the four different characters he would portray and finding nuances distinctive to each. He was a grand collaborator and despite his many years of seniority he was always eager to receive my directorial input. We had great fun “discovering” the characters and the rich, revealing moments inherent in the text. Vincent worked from cue cards, but by the time we were ready to tape the show he had all but memorized the entire text.
We taped the four stories in the order that they appear at the old ABC Studios on Prospect Avenue in East Hollywood over Easter Sunday weekend, 1970. Many photos of the production and us working behind the scenes can be found in the Photo Gallery on this web page.
The TV crew, seeing it for the first time was stunned by what they witnessed: Vincent’s work was nothing short of electrifying. Indeed, in all his interviews afterward he said that it was the best work he had ever done in his career. You can imagine how gratified that made me feel. It is available on DVD and to this day holds fond memories for me – as well as preserving forever Vincent’s extraordinary performance.
Another illuminating personal remembrance: before meeting Vincent I had once met George C. Scott and told him how intimidated I felt because of my admiration for his enormous talent. Scott laughed and told me how overwhelmed he had felt as a young actor finding himself at a gathering with Sir Laurence Olivier. And when Olivier walked over to say hello, Scott had been so flustered as he stood up that he spilled his drink all over Sir Laurence. – When I told Vincent that story, he laughed and recalled himself as a young actor being at a party with one of his idols: the great Dame Judith Anderson. When she came over to introduce herself to Vincent he had nervously taken a step backwards and sat in a punch bowl. He said Dame Judith had howled and they instantly became great friends.
The last time I saw my dear friend was many years later when my wife Susie and I flew up to San Francisco to join Vincent for opening night of his one-man show of Oscar Wilde. He totally inhabited Wilde’s persona, of course, gave an exhilarating performance and brought the audience to their feet for his curtain call.
When we went backstage afterward, Vincent called us into his dressing room and, meeting Susie for the first time, he gave her a huge kiss and the grandest of greetings – making her part of his family at once.
Susie and I have a daughter, Katie, who was born nine years after Vincent and I did the Poe Special. She discovered Vincent in Edward Scissorhands and became an ardent fan. She was so sad that he had died before I might have introduced her to him.
Katie has created a wonderful memorial to his work. The link is on this web page and I heartily recommend it to all those – like Katie, Susie and me – who appreciate the artistic work of this master actor, true gentleman and dear, dear human being whom I am so proud to have called my friend.