Podwit Profile: Vincent Price

Posted: January 6, 2012 by Dion in Art, Celebrities, Film, History, Literature, News, Podwit Profile
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I know what you are thinking… A Podwit Profile on Vincent Price? Will we just rehash what everyone already knows about his film career and more, specifically his horror catalog? Haven’t we heard that before?

Well, as I do think his acting career deserves an in-depth look, I will instead focus on 2 parts of his life that are not very well known, but I think everyone should be aware of.

First, Mr. Price was an extremely well known art collector, lecturer, and gallery owner. He started at the age of 12 in his hometown of St. Louis, where he worked various summer jobs to be able to pay for an original rare etching, which he had put on a payment plan.

He later went to Yale, graduated with a degree in Art History, before teaching for a few years in Riverdale, New York. He then went overseas and entered a graduate program in London at the renowned Courtauld Institute of Art. While there, he innocently auditioned for a role in a stage play in 1935,  and his acting career was off and running.

But Mr. Price only considered acting a means to supplement his greater love: acquiring art.  Over his life, he amassed a vast collection, consisting of paintings, etchings, pottery, statues, vases, dishes… even a totem pole he had positioned on the front lawn of his house.

His home, with his wife Mary, became almost a museum of sorts, showcasing his enormous collection. They would travel the world (usually using his film roles and locations as “excuses” for vacations), and ship back scores of interesting artifacts they would find along the way, be they centuries-old pieces or a modern day painting by an up and coming artist; it didn’t matter to Mr. Price, as long as he saw something in it that attracted him.  In 1947, Mr. Price helped organize the Modern Institute of Art, in Los Angeles, which was to be the the West Coast MoMa.

Vincent & Mary Price, circa the 1950’s

In the infant years of television and quiz shows for that matter, Mr. Price was a contestant on the $64,000 question and answered every question about art so flawlessly, that the following week they had him return and pinned his knowledge of art against,the only contempary in the field who might be able to beat him—Edward G. Robinson. An hilarious story (certainly not at the time), conveyed in his daughter Victoria Price’s book, “Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography”, is what happened when California wildfires threatened his home one summer night in the 1950s. The neighbors came over, and together with Mr. Price and Mary, went at removing all the art from the house with a calm calculation, as if they had done it a hundred times before, everyone going to various pieces as if previously assigned. They took the art outside to the driveway to load into the assorted cars Suddenly who shows up but none other than Edward G. he knew that with the wildfires threatening the Price home, they would need all the help they could get evacuating artifacts. There was just one problem: the police had put up barricades and were not letting anyone up the street toward the impending danger. This supposedly was the only time that the extremely learned Mr. Robinson ever used the fame of his name, so he could get past and help his friend. They let him pass and Mr. Robinson managed to get there and help out, though luckily, the flames only ever got as close as the front driveway.

It was around this time that Mr. Price began touring the country on the lecture circuit, going from college to college, speaking on art and the different periods in art history, fulfilling his passion to educate the layman. He continued doing this for the rest of his life, until his health prevented him from doing so. In 1951 Mr. Price was asked to speak at an East Los Angeles College Graduation Ceremony, he and his wife were smitten by a tour of the campus. When they became aware of the lack of art in the area Mr. Mrs. Price began donating works from their collection to the college, which culminated with the opening of the Vincent Price Art Gallery and Museum in 1957. It was the first “teaching art collection” owned by a community college and the first public museum in East L.A.

In 1962, Mr.Price and the store Sears & Roebuck realized that except for a handful of major cities, fine art was virtually inaccessible to the general public on a whole. They set out to change this, and help the average person be able to buy an affordable, and original piece of artwork to hang in their homes. Mr. Price was tapped to head the program, being given complete authority to acquire any works he considered worthy of the collection.

Vincent Price Collection Catalog Page

So on October 6th of that year, the first exhibit and sale of “The Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art” took place at the Sears store in Denver. Original works of art from masters like Picasso, Rembrandt, Whistler, and many others were offered for sale, ranging in price from $10 to $3000. Customers could purchase as little as $5 down, and bring the work of art home and be put on a payment plan. The program was hugely successful. That first day in Denver, so many works were sold that they had to bring in an emergency shipment, so the walls wouldn’t be bare the next day. The program then expanded to 10 additional cities, and after the first sale of 1,500 pieces, it was expanded nationwide to all the Sears stores. In 1966 the “Sears Vincent Price Gallery of Fine Art” was open in Chicago, showcasing less well-known artists to the public.

1967 Sears Catalog Page of the Vincent Price Collection

Mr. Price’s program with Sears lasted until  a change in management in 1971, when Sears decided not to continue the selection. Overall, more than 50,000 pieces sold over the 9 year span.

So that was the first thing I wanted to speak of, his love of art. The second is another little-known fact, but no less important. Mr. Price was a gourmet chef and a huge fan of cooking.

First for a little history: Mr. Price’s father, Vincent Leonard Price, founded the National Candy Company at the end of the 19th century, and his grand-father, Dr. Vincent Clarence Price, actually created the first commercially manufactured baking powder in the United States. So one can see where he developed his palette.

Mr. Price and Mary, while traveling the world searching high and low for art, also collected thousands of recipes and menus, from various restaurants around the globe. All this culminated with them releasing four cookbooks over a ten-year period (my fiancé and I own them all).

The first—A Treasury of Great Recipes, published in 1965—is an exquisite example of how a luxurious cookbook should be, with leather-binding, gold leafed paper and a sewn-in bookmark. It is a collection of the recipes they’d compiled up to that point, including complete re-printings of various menus from the top restaurants they had visited around the world.

It showcases foods and menus from Mexico, across the United States, and Europe.  Not only that, it has beautiful full-color pictures of the dining-rooms of the various eateries, along with the Prices dining and cooking as well. There’s even a quite comical picture of Mr. Price in the bleachers of Dodger Stadium, handing out hotdogs (he was a huge baseball fan his entire life, and he used to say there was nothing quite like the first bite into a juicy frankfurter).

It is an incredibly well-done book, one which can easily be found on Amazon or eBay and if one looks hard enough, it can even be obtained for a very reasonable price (I purchased it as a birthday gift for my fiancé, and it’s actually autographed by the legend himself!!!).

The second is a five-volume set: Recipes of Early America, Recipes of the Young Republic, Recipes of the Westward Empire, Recipes of Ante Bellum America, and Recipes of Victorian America. They are smaller books (about 4″ X 8″ in diameter) published in 1967. They are again full of beautiful pictures, each relating to the specific time-frame and era they represent; interiors of log cabins, Victorian home kitchens, etc.

Though some of the recipes were duplicated, another great volume was released in 1969, Come into the Kitchen, a larger volume in terms of physical size but not as dense in pages.

Mr. Price even went to host a cooking show in Britain in the early ’70s, smartly entitled Cooking Price-Wise, and a small paperback companion followed which shared its title with the television show.

Mr. Price on set of the British show “Cooking Price-Wise”

Along with these publications and his cooking program, he also released several vinyl LP tutorials that can be found here (along with any other audio you may want from him, including ghost stories he narrated on vinyl, radio plays, and even a recording of his legendary performance as Oscar Wilde in the one man show Diversions & Delights, which he toured the world doing from the late ’70s, into the mid ’80s).

In these “International Cooking Courses”, he discusses “Exotic Delights of the Far East”, “La Cocina Mejicana”, “Delights From the Sultan’s Pantry”, “Classical Spanish Cuisine”, “Cuisine Italia” and even a lesson on “The Wok”. There are many others, and all are quite involved, and it is like Mr. Price is there with you, ready to cook and most importantly, interject his wit and make it fun. I absolutely love these recordings, and cherish having them to learn from.

So there you have it. When you think of Vincent Price now, I would hope you do not just think of the horror icon and gifted thespian, but also the art connoisseur and master chef.

These are facts that may fall by the wayside, but not at the Podwits. We strive to show people things they may not have known, even if it is involving people you thought you all knew so well.

The Vincent Price Art Museum

So next time you sit down to watch a Gothic thriller like Drayonwyck or Poe’s Tomb of Ligeria, a horror classic like The House of Wax or The Tingler, or even a religious drama like The Song of Bernadette or a classic film noir like Laura, you can remember not only who the man played, but also, who the man was.

Bon Appetit~

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