Scene: 7:00 AM, your alarm goes off. You reluctantly drag yourself out of bed, thinking, oh, great — another dreary day of high school. And that afternoon, when you’re called out of class for an assembly, you’re still counting down the minutes until home-time.
And then it happens. The greatest moment of your life so far. You get seated in the auditorium with your friends, and suddenly, the principal introduces…..
I can not even begin to imagine what I would have done if I had been a 16-year-old student in Elizabethtown, Kentucky in 1980.
Horror master extraordinaire Vincent Price spoke to students at the Elizabethtown High School on the afternoon of September 25, 1980, and gave a presentation at the T.K. Stone Junior High auditorium later that evening.
The following is an article about the event from the Elizabethtown, Kentucky newspaper The News-Enterprise on September 26, 1980. In it, Price shares his love for playing the villain, what it takes to be a successful villain, as well as imparting some true words of wisdom to the students about life.
You can click on the image to enlarge and read it, or scroll down and read my transcript of it. I did, of course, correct the writer’s unforgivable slip of putting Edgar ALLEN Poe instead of Edgar ALLAN Poe. ;P
HISSES FOR THE VILLAIN DELIGHT PRICE, The News-Enterprise, September 26, 1980
Vincent Price related the story line of a play he did early in his career titled “Angel Street”.
He sought the title role as a sort of testing ground for the future of his career. He said it was opening night in New York and finally the climax of the play revealed him as the murderer – the villain.
At the play’s end, he said, all the actors were applauded until he came on stage, when the whole audience stood up and hissed.
“It was wonderful.”
“Angel Street” was the beginning of his identification as a famous villain in the theater and film that has spanned nearly 40 years.
Price brought an hour and a half lecture, complete with choice readings, on “The Villain Still Pursues Me… A History of Villainy”, to Elizabethtown Thursday to open the 1980-81 Lively Arts Series. He appeared in the T.K. Stone Junior High auditorium with an audience that filled three-fourths of the seats.
Price said that he has always found playing the villain more challenging. He said a villain’s function in a play or film is to keep up the suspense, create a conflict between good and evil, and make the unbelievable believable.
“Acting is a kind of double make-believe where I have to make myself believe I am the character I am supposed to be,” he said. “Then I can make you believe it.”
During his lecture, filled with reminiscences, he did readings from an aria from the opera “Othello” by Verdi, Shakespeare’s “Richard III”, “Don Juan in Hell”, and a poem, “Alone” by Edgar Allan Poe.
Price’s day in Elizabethtown included a real Kentucky home-cooked fried chicken dinner and a stop at Elizabethtown High School.
“Would you quote from ‘The Raven’?” a student asked.
“Would I quote from ‘The Raven’, sure. Nevermore.”
The response was one of many times the high school students applauded Price. They even gave him a standing ovation before and after his presentation.
Price gave a brief talk and then fielded questions from the audience. He said that art included everything we do. However, he said the public accepts too much junk today. He suggested students begin to be more critical and refuse to accept it. He recommended revolt through positiveness.
“You’d be amazed at the power of your positiveness,” Price said. He said that a letter praising the kind of television the students like can have an affect on future programming.
Price said he never lost his excitement doing the same show night after night in the theater. He said the audience is the excitement because every night it is entirely different. After four and a half years, Price said he still gets excited doing the one-man performance of Oscar Wilde.
Asked if he were ever in any flops, Price said, “Oh-boy, oh-boy there are a lot of flops.” He said one he remembers most was a musical comedy for which he took singing and dancing lessons to no avail. He said the show just didn’t come off and closed on Christmas Eve, which was even more depressing.
Price said he watches some of his old movies “if I can stay up that late,” but said it depresses him sometimes because many people he worked with have died.
Reading off a list of 106 movies, 7,000 radio shows and 5,000 television shows, Price said one of his accomplishments most straight actors do not attain is a gold record. It’s a copy of “Welcome to My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper on which he read a poem.
He suggested that students serious about acting should take every acting job that comes along first because experience is so important.
He ended his visit quoting “The Conqueror Worm” by Poe and with a big wave and a smile, quickly left a mesmerized audience with the exception of a couple of admirers who ran after him.
After his car pulled away, one of the students in pursuit said he had “laid tracks” to try to get Price’s autograph.
“My heart’s going a hundred miles a minute,” he said.
By Patti Denton
I’m not surprised that Price enjoyed the challenge of playing a villain, as I consider him to be possibly the greatest on-screen villainous-actor of all time. And it’s precisely because he was so believable. And likable. There’s the clincher right there: Is your villain still likable irregardless of how evil or bad he is?
As Price secretly plots his wife’s demise whilst proverbially twisting his villainous mustache as the diabolically vengeful Frederick Loren in 1959’s “House on Haunted Hill“, I can’t not adore him. I care what happens to him. I want to know what he’s up to. I’m invested in him as a believable character… even though he also happens to be a premeditated murderer. His real-life charm translates into unmatched on-screen charisma, and shines through whether he’s the Good Guy or the Villain, and it endears him to the viewer unlike any other.
Price’s always-mischievous grin, distinguished demeanour, and gentlemanly visage help him sell any villainous role, I dare say even better than he sells as a protagonist.
“Angel Street” (mentioned in the article as Price’s true beginning as a villain) was an adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s “Gas Light”, and in it, Price’s character, Jack Manningham, is described by Price as “one of the meanest men ever written” but a “damned attractive one”. (From the book “Vincent Price: “The Art of Fear”)
Honestly, those two phrases could be used to sum up many of the characters that Price would go on to play in his long, illustrious career. And once again, this sums up what, to me, makes the perfect villain: Someone you can’t help but love despite the bad things they do.
Price said, “A villain’s function in a play or film is to keep up the suspense, create a conflict between good and evil, and make the unbelievable believable.” And making the unbelievable believable is no easy feat. Entertainment is all about straddling the line between fantasy and reality, no more so than in the horror genre which Price dominated. A thing is only truly scary when it possesses some level of realness for the viewer to relate to. But go too far into reality and it’s no longer entertaining.
I’ve always admired the way that Price approached every single role, regardless of how absurd or unimportant, as if he were starring in a Cecil B. DeMille Hollywood blockbuster. And I believe it was this attitude (and a very unique one in the film business) which made Vincent’s performances sing so beautifully. He believed it, so we believe it.
Whether he was playing an historical witch hunter, a disfigured organist, deranged doctor, mad magician, an evil prince, or the Devil himself, Vincent Price is an actor who is often imitated but never duplicated. And any young, impressionable student who had the honour of hearing him speak that September day in 1980, well, I hope you appreciate what a privilege that was. And if given the opportunity to switch places with you for that one day? Well, I’d say… name your Price.
Note: I do not own or claim any rights to the newspaper clippings in this post. While I was originally sent the newspaper article from a friend who found it online with no context or originating source, my own research to find a date for the article, etc., unearthed the following personal article from someone who was actually in attendance at Price’s school talks: https://hunter.goatley.com/concerts/1980-09-25-price.html
Credits for these images belong to Hunter Goatley. Hunter was able to get Price to autograph his lecture flyer, so visit the link above to see that, ahem, Price-less treasure, as well as to see some candid photographs from the event and read Hunter’s personal recollections of it.