Interview: Victoria Price

Cemetery Dance Interviews

Victoria Price (Photo Copyright Robert Cushing)
Victoria Price
(Photo Copyright Robert Cushing)

Decades before the Dos Equis commercials, Vincent Price was “the most interesting man in the world.” Or at least, in my world.

I think I was six or seven when I first saw him on TV. Was it his guest appearance as a sinister archaeologist on an after-school rerun of The Brady Bunch? Or maybe some Saturday afternoon when the late, lamented channel 48 in Philadelphia showed House of Wax as part of Creature Double Feature? I can’t say for sure.

All I know is that he made an impression. Having grown up in a working class family where the dial was set to pro wrestling more than PBS, I wasn’t introduced to that many examples of erudite sophistication. And while Price’s filmography is certainly rife with camp, that wasn’t clear to me as a kid. What was clear to me was that Vincent Price played educated characters. Often artistic or scholarly characters. His film personas may have given me the first examples of such people.

When I interviewed Victoria Price (daughter of Vincent), it became clear that this sophistication wasn’t part of the act. Her father truly was well-educated (Yale, 1933) and refined. He was a world traveler, an appreciator of fine art, and something of a gourmet. (Vincent Price and his second wife, Mary, co-authored the highly praised cookbook A Treasury of Great Recipes.)

Over the last couple of years, Victoria (we’re not on a first name basis, really, but I think it’ll be simpler if I refer to her that way) has appeared frequently on the horror convention circuit. You can see her chatting with her father’s fans in the dealers room, or in the hotel ballroom delivering her superb presentation Vincent Price: Master of Menace, Lover of Life.

If we think of Vincent Price’s career as a magnificent museum, Victoria is the ideal guide and interpreter.  But she also has a lot to say about the kind of man her father was away from the limelight. And she’s a bright, fascinating person in her own right. She’s someone who has lived a life in the arts and—as she discloses in this interview—she’s even flirted with writing poetry and fiction. Meanwhile, she’s also involved in a number of nonfiction projects involving her father, including her father’s recently released memoir of his life with his beloved pet mutt, The Book of Joe, and two other books with autumn 2016 release dates. (A new edition of Price’s 1959 autobiography I Like What I Know and another, previously-unreleased title, Conversations with Vincent: The Art of Living.)

Whenever I interview someone I try to avoid asking the same sorts of questions they’re asked all the time. So I started off this interview by asking Victoria about her career in interior design. But this quickly led to all kinds of wide-ranging discussion in which we talk about Tim Burton, Roger Corman, her father’s favorite works of literature, and perhaps the most important question of all: “Is Hollywood crazy?”

(Interview conducted by Nicole Cushing)

CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: Tell me a little about interior design. How did you get involved in it? What drew you to it?

VICTORIA PRICE: I became involved because I had, probably, one of the top Native American art galleries in the world. And that, of course, is a legacy of my dad. I was an art history major like he was, and had a great interest in Native American art just like my dad did. He was on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the Department of the Interior for fifteen years. And when I had that gallery, there was a design component to it and I always had a designer on staff. I did a TED Talk about this that people can see. It’s called “Tell Me: What Do You Have in the House?”

I apprenticed with my mom (costume designer turned architectural designer Mary Grant Price) growing up. And at a time when I needed it, those design skills saved my bacon. And design has been a wonderful gift for me. I think the primary gift has been that it’s allowed me to work with incredible people. I realize that what design and horror conventions have in common are the people—just truly wonderful people.

But it’s also wonderful, as a designer, to get to use all of my skills. I work with a lot of artists but I also get to design cool things. I work with an amazing rug maker in Nepal and I get to design my own rugs. I get to work with woodworkers and design my own furniture. So it’s a fun creative outlet for me, but it’s also been my bread and butter for many years.

I’m very fortunate in that the thing I really love doing—writing—is coming back into my life now. I’m getting to do that more, as well. I have a number of books coming out in the coming years, and my blog is picking up followers, so I’m getting to write more. And, of course, I think my greatest love is public speaking and getting to do about forty talks a year.

Now, with the books, do you have any interest in writing fiction or poetry? Do you write poetry? I noticed you cited a poem during your presentation (at WonderFest) and it seems to me that most people who read poems are interested in trying their hand at poetry, at some point. Is that something you do as a hobby, as an avocation? Do you ever imagine the possibility of putting your own fiction or poetry out there for publication?

My brother’s a poet. He’s an incredible poet, so I’ll put a plug in for my brother. He publishes under the name V.B. Price and his poems are amazing. I used to write poetry and my critical voice became too strong in my head to write it. I love writing fiction. It also scares the hell out of me….That said, I’ve been working on a novel for quite a while and I chip away at it as I write all the nonfiction. You probably have something similar, right?

Yeah. I do fiction writing and I do the nonfiction writing, in addition to that. You’ve already passed over one hurdle. Just to be creative in our society is something that’s so difficult. Because our society pressures people to do something functional. I’m glad that you’re working on a novel. I know some writers don’t like to talk about things that are in development. But can you give us any hints about the story?

What I want to say is that I was truly blessed to grow up with three parents—a mother, a father, and a stepmother—who had the opportunity to live creative lives and they encouraged everyone they met to live creative lives. So of course I was encouraged to live a creative life. I think my father really hoped I would make my living as a writer. And he always encouraged me in my writing. I wrote a lot of plays. And he was very, very positive about them. So that was a gift.

The idea (for the novel) came to me as I was flying home from Mexico. It’s about what would happen if somebody came into the world who discovered that they had the power to heal other people, but they didn’t want to be caught up in the whole celebritizing of anything that happens in our society. And so they came in and had this effect on all these people’s lives and yet completely avoided being deified…It has a Hollywood component, because one of the two main characters comes from Hollywood, and it’s part of her escape from that; from actually coming out of some really bad stuff that happened. And she, herself, doesn’t really understand the power…It has a lot of threads that for me are important. My spiritual path is the most important thing in my life. I’ve tried to make sense of how I grew up, my own Hollywood upbringing, for a long time. It’s a story of friendship, of how healing and love go hand in hand and that friendship is such an important part of that. And I hope that one day I can stop being a workaholic long enough to give myself some time to really work on it.

Victoria Price (Photo Copyright Nicole Cushing)
Victoria Price
(Photo Copyright Nicole Cushing)

Is Hollywood a crazy place?

You know, it’s interesting. I was telling somebody this recently. My two best friends growing up were twins, their names are Casey and Timolin Cole and they’re Nat King Cole’s daughters. And the reason we became friends is because I think we loved each other and they were too cool for school. I was so honored to be their friend. We were also the three tallest girls; we all ended up being 5’11”. But our real bonding was that we had these strict mothers. And, you know, it was not easy having strict mothers in totally permissive 1960s Hollywood. As much as we didn’t like it, I think if all three of us were sitting here talking to you we would say that we all went on to get Ivy League educations, we all went on to be as screwed up as anybody else, but we’re not dead. My brother keeps a file of kids of celebrities who’ve killed themselves. It’s sort of his cautionary tale of what can happen. There’s a lot of expectation and there’s a lot of opportunity and it can be scary. I think if Casey and Timmie and I were sitting here talking to you together we would all be saying: “Thank God for our disciplined mothers, because they saved our lives.”

Are any actors on the present-day entertainment stage that remind you, in some way, of your dad? Maybe one doesn’t match, element for element, with your dad’s personality. But I’m wondering if one person’s sense of humor reminds you of your dad, or if one person’s sense of menace reminds you of your dad? Or is that something that we just don’t see anymore, in an actor? To have your dad’s kind of approach?

I think a lot of people feel that there’s something about my dad that really no one is able to capture, because he was so much larger than life. But I will say that there are things in certain actors that I’ve noticed. When people have said to me: “Who would you get to play your dad?”, I’ve always said Kevin Kline.

I can see that.

They’re both from St. Louis, they have that similar sort of humor, but (with) dapperness. So Kevin Kline has always been my choice to play my dad. I used to know Johnny Depp. I don’t know him anymore. But I always felt it was no coincidence that Johnny met my dad…And in a way, he has kind of  modeled, I believe, his career (on my dad’s). He doesn’t take himself too seriously, he does all kinds of things, he’s willing to poke fun at himself and go way over the top. He’s also played against type. I mean, God, Johnny Depp was about as beautiful as any young man you’ve ever seen, right? And he’s willing to play ugly and be toothless and to just have fun in a role. So I think Johnny is an example of someone who is larger than life and has that adventurous spirit. Both Geminis!  

You mentioned not being in touch with Johnny at this point. What about Roger Corman or Tim Burton? Has there been any kind of correspondence between them and you? Any kind of continuing communication with those folks?

Whenever Roger and I are at the same event, I always am so grateful because I get to hear his stories. You know, Roger got to spend almost as much time with my dad during my childhood as I did. And he got to do it as an adult. So he got to really see who my dad was when I was a kid. So to me to hear Roger’s stories is kind of a way of connecting the dots of my childhood, which I love. And in terms of Tim Burton, he’s always reached out in really lovely ways. I was incredibly honored to be asked to write some pieces for the book that accompanied his show at the Museum of Modern Art, (a show) that has toured the world. That was an incredible honor for me. And Tim has absolutely, always, honored my dad’s legacy…That said, I wish the studios would find a way to make it affordable for Tim to be able to release Conversations with Vincent (Burton’s long-delayed documentary film on Vincent Price—not to be confused with the forthcoming book with a similar title), because it’s the cost for the clips that is holding him up from releasing it and honestly I think there should be some sort of loophole for that. There should be a way that the fans can be allowed to see that footage and that movie being made without the studios gouging him to make a documentary.

I think all the fans would definitely be in favor of that, too. Switching gears a bit, are there any directors that your dad, for scheduling reasons or some other reason, didn’t get a chance to work with but maybe would’ve liked to? Your dad never worked with Hitchcock, for example.

He did once, on TV. I think it would have been exciting for him to do a movie with Hitchcock. I can’t think of any off the top of my head but I do know that he was very aware of wanting to work with certain directors. I remember my dad telling me that when everyone heard that Cecil B. DeMille was coming out of retirement to make The Ten Commandments, everyone wanted to be in one of those movies. But you know, my dad got to make one hundred and five movies and he got to work with some amazing people. Some of them were bad. You know, he got to work with James Whale, who was a great director, on a truly horrific film called Green Hell. So he got to work with a lot of the greats.

I know he was a man who appreciated fine literature. He appreciated Poe. Did he have any favorite Poe stories? What were some of his other literary tastes?

My dad loved poetry. He loved Shakespeare. When I interviewed Diana Rigg, she said to me something that I was so happy to have her say. She said, “People don’t realize what an incredible reader of verse he was.” “Speaker of verse,” actually, is what she said. “People don’t realize what an incredible speaker of verse he was.” And that’s true. Oh my God, he had that mellifluous voice. A man named Leonard Slatkin wrote a symphony for my dad that was based on “The Raven” and so he got to recite that (poem for the symphony performance). He loved doing that. He loved all the Romantic poets. He was a beautiful, beautiful speaker of verse and I think I learned from my dad. And of course I can’t do it at all to the degree my dad did and I certainly don’t have his wonderful voice. But what I learned—and what I love that I learned—is that the voice is an instrument. I recently, for a ceremony, wrote a poem that was based on Dr. Seuss’s poem “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and I kind of did my own version of it. And I realized as I was reading it what fun it is to really, not speak words but kind of embody the words, step into the words, have the words become pictures as they come out of your mouth. And I learned that from my dad. He had such a capacity to do that. It was almost like he loved the word so much that the words took on the quality of his love. And that’s what poetry taught him. And opera, he loved opera. He loved Schubert Lieder. He just loved words. And I learned that from him. And I will be forever grateful to him for that.

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