Fantastic news everyone! Into The Velvet Darkness: A Celebration of Vincent Price is one of the nominees for Best Book of the Year in this year’s Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, which honour the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservations.
But in order for it to win, it needs your vote.
Can you please send off an email to email@example.com with – I vote for Into the Velvet Darkness: A Celebration of Vincent Price for Book of the Year – in the both the subject and message lines, and include your name in the message.
In rich husky tones, English actress Elizabeth Shepherd (Tomb of Ligeia, Damien: Omen II) brings a chilling sensuality to her reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic romance on this brand new CD.
Published in 1838, the haunting tale revolves around an unknown narrator who is married to the enigmatic Ligeia – a woman with whom he is so in love with that she seems almost unreal in both appearance (her eyes are described as orbs, her hair like ravens, her lips blood-red) and intellect (she knows all about ‘forbidden’ wisdom, the metaphysical, and has a proficiency with classical languages).
But their love is suddenly cut short when Ligeia falls ill and dies. Grief-stricken, our narrator turns to opium and marries again – to the Lady Rowena. But Ligeia is always on his mind. And when Rowena also falls ill and dies, the painful memories of Ligeia come back to haunt him – so much so that he is horrified to witness Rowena coming back to life, now transformed as Ligeia…
There’s a wonderful androgynous quality to Elizabeth’s deeply rich tones as she take on the role of Poe’s ‘male’ narrator, and the way she describes the qualities of the titular character: a beautiful, passionate and intellectual woman, raven-haired and dark-eyed, feels quite sensual. Elizabeth also masterly brings out all of the anxieties and fears that our opium-smoking narrator endures, and it all comes to a chilling climax when he has his drug-induced hallucination, wherein he believes Ligeia has returned from the grave.
Taking on Ligeia as her first spoken word project is great idea, especially as Elizabeth originally played both the Lady Rowena and the wilful Ligeia in Roger Corman’s final Poe adaptation, Tomb of Ligeia, starring Vincent Price.
In the film (which was released here in the UK on 6 December 1964), future Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne expanded on Poe’s recurring themes about death and resurrection by incorporating elements of mesmerism and necrophilia; but he left in Poe’s fabricated quote attributed to the philosopher Joseph Glanvill, which fans of the film will be familiar with:
‘Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.’
Hearing Elizabeth utter those lines again is a real thrill – and will certainly send shivers down your spine. But there is more…
Poe’s tale also includes The Conqueror Worm, his five stanza allegorical poem about how mankind’s fate is controlled by unseen forces. The title was erroneously used by American International Pictures for the US release of 1968’s Witchfinder General in a bid to link the film to their Poe cycle, but Vincent Price did go on to perform it during his many college lecture tours and presentations – and one of those recordings can found on The Core’s 12″ green vinyl record (check it out here) alongside a super electronic score.
Recently, I had the honour of meeting with Elizabeth at the famed theatrical restaurant, Sardi’s, in New York. She was a special guest at a private dinner celebrating Vincent Price organised by myself and Victoria Price as part of our week-long ESC Tours Spooky New York programme. It was during this dinner that Elizabeth officially launched her CD release and, as a treat, she performed the poem to our dinner guests. Here it is in full.
If you love the works of Edgar Allan Poe, spoken word, or are a fan of the Price/Corman Poe films, then this CD is a must-have for your collection. It also includes readings of the poems Annabel Lee, Romance and Elizabeth.
The Vincent Price Legacy UK has a handful of CDs signed by Elizabeth and these are available (to UK and European residents only) on our Vincent Price Store (click here to order).
Last year, my foodie friend Jenny Hammerton, who curates Silver Screen Suppers, published the Columbo cookbook featuring recipes from all the show’s guest stars. It was great fun to be asked to contribute by taste testing some of the recipes.
I naturally chose the Vincent Price episode, Lovely but Lethal, which featured Vera Miles as that week’s guest villain. Her recipe, Mexican Casserole, was super cheesy but a little disappointing , but I also chose to test out Roddy McDowall’s poached pears, which has since become a firm favourite.
Jenny’s next book will be based on Murder, She Wrote and she’s hosting a cookalong to get everyone to sample the recipes she intends to feature in the forthcoming book. Now, being a huge Batman fan (in which Vincent egg-celled as Egghead), I’ve chosen Cesar Romero (aka the Joker) and his Arroz con Pollo, a traditional dish of Spain and Latin America, closely related to paella, that he came across in Havana when he was a little boy.
ARROZ CON POLLO: THE RECIPE
MY VERDICT: So how did the dish turn out? Rather good, I must say. This is a really simple one-pot dish, but with tasty flavours. I’d never used lard before, but it works a treat in giving the chicken a nice golden colour, and making this recipe did give me a chance to use up some of the saffron I bought on my last trip to Spain.
As for the small can of pimientos (red, heart-shaped sweet peppers ), I had the devil of the time tracking that down – only to find it readily available at Lidl and Waitrose. I had been looking for tiny ones (like those you see stuck in olives) – duh!
THE MEASUREMENTS: And as for the chicken, I opted to use my local butcher and boy that really made a difference. It was so plump I ended up keeping one breast to make one of my faves (yellow curry with potatoes). If you do end up trying this recipe yourself, there’s enough here for four servings.
As with most vintage US-based recipes, I had to revaluate the weights and measures. So for 1/2 can tomatoes, I used 0.88mls (as the standard US measure is 355ml); 1 pound of rice became two cups; the wineglass of sherry (I used Tesco’s Jerez-Xeres’ Fino Sherry) worked out to be 2/3 US cup; and I used 59g of Pimientos, which I sliced. The whole thing cost around £16. I’m certainly trying this again, but next time I might add more of the pimientos and a bigger pinch of saffron.
Interestingly, Batman isn’t the only thing that links Cesar Romero and Vincent Price. Just the other day, I was re-watching Irwin Allen’s all-star 1956 epic, The Story of Mankind, and who should pop up but Cesar playing the Spanish envoy to Philip II opposite Agnes Moorehead’s Elizabeth I (Agnes of course was in The Bat with Vinnie and worked with him on the touring stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell in the early-1950s). To bad they didn’t have any scenes together though. But here’s Cesar’s bit in the film.
Now, here’s something you don’t see every day. My friend Robert Taylor in the US was good friends with Cesar and he’s sent me this hilarious picture (see below) of his personalised travelling bag. It’s rather camp, don’t you think and screams the 1970s?
Well, the story goes that it was custom-made by some artisans in the Mexican village that Cesar used to vacation at and they gifted it to him – along with a couple of other items. Robert’s not sure if Cesar ever actually used them, but he was gracious enough to accept them. They now reside alongside Robert’s other film memorabilia of Hollywood’s golden age.
The Murder, She Wrote episode in which Cesar appears in, Paint Me a Murder, is chock full of famous faces, including Ron Moody, Stewart Granger, Robert Goulet, Cristina Raines, Judy Geeson and Capucine. Cesar plays a famous painter who thinks someone is planning to kill him so they can make a fortune from his paintings (which could triple in price once he’s dead).
It’s just a shame that Vincent never appeared on the long-running show, and being an art expert in real life, he would have been perfect for this episode, which would have not only giving him the chance to team up with another Batman alumni, but also to work once again with Angela Lansbury, who played Queen Anne in 1948’s The Three Musketeers opposite villainous Richelieu.
Now, if you want to know more about Cesar, here’s a wonderful tribute courtesy of A&E.
What better way to celebrate Friday the 13th and the Harvest Moon than with a tour of London’s iconic Highgate Cemetery, followed by a weekend in Wales exploring haunted locales, classic castles, and the real-life locations used in An American Werewolf in London.
On the morning of Friday 13 September, 20 of us joined Victoria Price and expert guide Peter Mills for a private tour of Highgate’s West Cemetery Highgate where we heard about the history of Victorian burials, the famous and infamous people resting there, and the classic horror movies filmed there — including, of course, The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
The two-hour tour was followed by a fun scavenger hunt devised by Victoria in which everyone paired up with someone they didn’t know and, armed with eight clues, searched the East Cemetery for the answers to Victoria’s cryptic quiz (which we’ve included at the bottom of this post).
Then it was off to lunch at the nearby 17th-century pub, The Flask , where the likes of Dick Turpin, and Keats and Shelley were regulars — and where the first public autopsy was performed! Luckily, the only incisions made today were on our veggies and roasts.
After lunch, Victoria and I loaded up the Mystery Machine (aka our rental van) with a small group of fans and headed out to Wales for our weird weekender adventure.
Our first stop on Saturday was Raglan Castle. Built and occupied between the 15th and 17th century, this impressive ruin is steeped in local legends and spooky apparitions, with visitors reporting sightings of a man in a Shakespearean garb, the ghost of the castle’s former librarian, and a ghostly figure of a man with hollowed out eyes. But for one our group, film location fan Andy Ellis, it was particularly special, as it was also used in Terry Gilliam’s 1981 fantasy Time Bandits (for the Napoleonic War sequence).
Next up, lunch at the Mountain Skirrid Inn, said to be the most haunted pub in Wales. Standing for over 900 years, the inn is built on a mountain that once ‘shivered’ and Shakespeare himself is said to have taken inspiration from this place. It also claims to be the home of several ghosts or spirits as well as the scene of numerous supernatural occurrences or paranormal activities. We didn’t find any spirits ourselves – except for the ones poured into our glasses of course!
Back on the road, we stopped off at the ruins of Llantillo Castle (aka the White Castle), which was established by the Normans in the wake of the invasion of England in 1066, and ended up playing a key role in defending the region for several centuries. Then we explored the magnificent Tintern Abbey, which was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, in 1131 and was the first Cistercian foundation in Wales. Unfortuntately it fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the England’s religious houses in the 16th century.
Newport came next, where Victoria gave everyone a big challenge – to find the grave of her maternal grand-parents at Saint Woolos cemetery. And thanks to an eagle-eyed Roni, Victoria was able to take some snaps of the grave where Marianne Grant (1825-1913), William John Grant (1850-1930) and Alice Diana Grant (1865-1958) are all buried together.
With the full moon on the horizon, we ended the day at the Riverfront performing arts theatre, where Victoria gave a heartfelt presentation about her dad, followed by a screening of The Abominable Dr. Phibes to a full house of local VP fans. Thanks to everyone who came along. You were a fantastic crowd, and hope you all enjoyed the books and records that we brought along.
Sunday was all about An American Werewolf in London. First, we headed to the Black Mountains through the Brecon Beacons National Park for the tiny village of Crickadarn, which stood in for the Yorkshire hamlet of East Proctor in John Landis’ 1981 horror classic.
It was here that a small cottage was dressed up in the film to become The Slaughtered Lamb pub where David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) get a not-so warm reception from the locals.
No pints were ever pulled here (the interiors were actually shot in The Black Swan in Cobham, Surrey), but our gang did take the opportunity to recreate all the scenes shot that were shot around here. Check out the Vincent Price Legacy UK and The Abominable Crypt that Dripped Blood Facebook pages, for more now and then snaps.
Then it was a short drive to Hay Bluff, where the opening scenes were shot. This a truly stunning place, with some spectacular vistas, and it was packed with people out hiking and taking pony rides – (Now, I wonder how many of them knew of the area’s horror film heritage?).
Our weekend concluded with a super lunch at the 17th-century tavern, The Old Black Lion, in Hay-on-Wye, which is book heaven and famous for its annual literary festival. Safe to say, I came away with quite the haul – as well as some fantastic memories. Thanks everyone for making it such a fabulous time – and to Victoria and Sarah who took on the driving and navigation duties. And also thanks to Joni Rogan, Stu & Roni, Simon Flynn and Andy Ellis for letting me use some of your pics in the montages I’ve created here. And finally, a big thank you to Graham Humphreys for the fantastic poster you designed especially for our guests. Cheers!
TRY VICTORIA’S QUIZ – HOW MANY CAN YOU GET? 1) She said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” She took that to heart — and became one of the greatest writers in England. . .though many thought he was a she. So don’t be fooled by her name!
2) He wrote, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.” Mark my words: That certainly proved true for the way his philosophical manifesto manifested in the 20th century!
3) He hated being thought of as a Pop artist, but his gravestone certainly reflected the witty gimmicky ethos of Pop Art in pronouncing this artist deceased AKA DEAD.
4) Critics confounded this pop punk impresario his whole career. They continue to hound him after death, wondering whether his headstone is a spectacular failure or a benign success.
5) The daughter of a famous composer, this woman became a famous sculptor in her own right. But many of her most famous subjects were musicians like her father. Her grave sculpturally reflects her talent.
6) If you’re hitchhiking through the galaxy, be sure to donate a pen to the writer who helped you find your way there!
7) Vincent Price’s third wife gave this actor — himself the son of a famous actor and brother to two famous actresses — his start in acting.
8) Though the Lumiere Brothers might believe otherwise, on his grave at least, this man was the father of movie technology!
7) Vincent Price’s third wife gave this actor — himself the son of a famous actor and brother to two famous actresses — his start in acting.
8) Though the Lumiere Brothers might believe otherwise, on his grave at least, this man was the father of movie technology!
Each year, I participate in an annual Pieathlon with a host of food bloggers from around the globe so that I can share some of Vincent Price’s own recipes from his repertoire.
This year, however, I thought I’d go a bit surreal and select a dish from Salvador Dali’s decadent 1973 gastronomic tome Les Dîners de Gala. Devoted to the pleasures of taste, it comes with a warning from the legendary artist: ‘If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you.’
The basic principal of the annual Piethon organised by Yinzerella (who runs dinneriserved1972.com) is for everyone to send in a recipe, whereby we are then assigned a pie of her choosing. Now, I think she’s making me pay for my choice: which was Dali’s Oasis leek pie, a very rich dish filled with bacon, cheese, heavy cream and leeks.
For me, she selected a 1970s Weight Watches recipes for Cherry Pies sent in by Surly over at VintageRecipeCards.com. It’s pretty simple to make, but has some ingredients I truly dislike: white bread, artificial sweetener and gelatin. And aside from the gelatin (I went for a vegan version), I played by the rules. The results were – very stodgy indeed.
There are no sizes given as to how big the pie dish should be and when I crumbed up the 2 slices of bread, it didn’t reach the ends of the apple pie dish that I normally use. So I opted to make 12 mini-pies instead. For this first effort, I ended up crumbing 6 pieces of bread and added 5 teaspoons of the crumb mixture into each case before pressing them down. Then I popped the tray in the fridge to cool down for 10-minutes.
Next, I made the cherry mixture using 250g of Tesco’s Sweetheart cherries from Kent (you get 32 in a box, just perfect for this recipe). Now, I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I had to cut them up a bit (unlike in the picture, where they are most full). The recipe called for one envelope of unflavoured gelatin, so I used one packet of Dr Oetker Vege-Gel. There’s no indication as to how long to stir this over a low heat (just ‘until dissolved)’. So I did it for 5-minutes to allow the cherries to break down a bit. Big mistake, the resulting mixture came out thick and rubbery.
I certainly had the right amount of mixture for the 12 cases, though, and used Olive Oil margarine (the recipe calls for imitation or diet margarine, but I couldn’t find that). Into the oven they went and I had to extend the 10-minute baking time to 25-minutes to get a pale golden colouring on the pies.
The test taste proved hilarious – everyone agreed they were just eating warm bread with something tasteless on top. The pies lacked any flavour from the cherries, and they missed the sweetness.
So, for the second batch, I replaced the artificial sweetener with some Caster Baking Sugar, reduced the Vege-Gel to just 3g, and made the cases thinner, with just 3 teaspoons of crumb. I also used a US measure of water instead of a UK measure. The result: more flavour in the cherry mixture, but the base was still bready and now too soft. None of my tasters liked them.
If you have ever seen Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher and wondered who did those haunting portraits of Roderick Usher’s disreputable ancestors – then wonder no more, for it was the magic realist Los Angeles artist Burt Shonberg (1933-1977).
I have just finished reading a terrific biography, Out There: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Shonberg, by author Spencer Kansa, and it’s a real eye-opener, not only about this psychedelic artist, but also about LA bohemia in the 1960s and 1970s.
From the late-1950s until his death in 1977, Shonberg was the premier psychedelic artist of Los Angeles. His surreal murals adorned the facades and interiors of hip coffee-houses and clubs (including his legendary Café Frankenstein in Laguna Beach); which brought him to the attention of actor Mel Welles and his Little Shop of Horrors director Roger Corman.
It was while working on project for the 7 Chefs restaurant on Sunset Boulevard that Shonberg was hired by Corman to create the ancestral portraits that hang in the Usher mansion in his 1960 Gothic horror. Corman felt Burt’s work had a ‘mystical, mysterious quality that would be perfect to capture the evil inherent in the faces of the ancestors’ – and he gave the artist a series of character histories to interpret.
‘He captured their tormented spirits and the spirit of the film perfectly,’ said Corman in a later interview; while art director Daniel Haller, who oversaw the artist’s progress, said, ‘he was unique and produced such great work for us’.
Shonberg conceived five family portraits and two pieces that Vincent Price’s aesthete character, Roderick Usher, paints – a colourful figure and a landscape featuring the Usher mansion.
According to Kansa, the blacked-out eyes in the Vivien Usher painting were eerily similar to a self portrait created by Shonburg’s lover, Marjorie Cameron, entitled The Black Egg.
Cameron’s story is also somewhat amazing, and the subject of another Kansa-penned biography, Wormwood Star. The occult artist – who later appeared in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide – introduced Shonburg to the teachings of Aleister Crowley and to the mind-warping properties of peyote; which helped inform his unique artistic style, as did his participation in Dr Oscar Janiger’s ground-breaking study into the effects of LSD on the creative process.
For the depiction of Bernard Usher, Shonberg used his friend Ray Shevin as his model. Shevin was an adherent of George Gurdjieff, the Sufi-inspired mystic who developed the Fourth Way system to help people became fully conscious to every unfolding moment in their lives. Meanwhile, Francis Usher is a self portrait, but there’s no info as to who the subjects were for Anthony Usher or Captain David Usher.
Being an art connoisseur and a champion of young artists, Vincent Price was intrigued to meet Shonberg, who was later invited to the set, where the two of them had a long conversation about art.
In the fiery climax of the film, the family portraits appear to perish in the flames. However, Shonberg’s paintings survived as they had been sprayed by a flame retardant beforehand.
Now this is where things get interesting. According to Kansa’s book, Vincent was said to have been given the portrait of David Usher, while Corman took two others, including the Usher mansion paintings. Unfortunately, they were stolen from Corman’s office at Amco Studios, shortly afterwards, a theft that still stings to this day (according to Corman).
The whereabouts of all the other pieces is today unknown – and that includes the one that Vincent took because, according to his estate, no Shonberg paintings were ever recorded in his collection. So did he ever have possession of it – even for a brief time? And will the missing paintings ever be found again? Only time will tell.
Shonberg’s association with Corman didn’t end with Usher. He was later employed to create several new canvases for 1963’s The Premature Burial. Like Roderick Usher, Ray Milland’s aristocrat, Guy Carrell, enjoys dabbling in painting, and the two share similar techniques – probably due to their individual torments (Guy suffers from taphephobia, the fear of being buried alive, while Roderick suffers acute sensibilities).
One of the pieces is entitled Sin Consummations Devoutly to be Wished, which Guy keeps in his tomb. In this piece, Baphomet looms over a grisly hell-scape, where condemned souls are nailed to crosses; beheaded by guillotines; burnt at the stake; and over flaming cauldrons. It’s a powerful piece, that could very well have been influenced by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, but Kansa doesn’t say what happened to the piece after filming wrapped on the production.
As for Shonberg (who died in 1977, aged 44), his life story was a heady fusion of ‘magical inspiration, psychedelic experience and artistic production’, all the while ‘walking the thin and dangerous between dimensions’.
His artwork was all about beckoning us onward into the realm of our dreams, and Kansa’s book goes along way into helping us understand Shonberg’s artistic mindset. I so recommend you get your mitts on this and also Wormwood Star.
It was back in 1928 that a 17-year-old Vincent Price first stepped foot on European soil as part of his Grand Tour, where he finally got to see the great works of art that he was so passionate about. His tour took in seven art capitals, beginning in the UK on 14 July and ending in France on 26 August.
Recently, ESC Tours – which is run by his daughter Victoria Price and Vincent Price Legacy UK curator Peter Fuller – put together a series of bespoke tours in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, that not only followed in Vincent’s footsteps, but also paid homage to his life philosophy – to be forever curious about the world around you. Here’s what happened…
On Tuesday 21 May, our first port of call was the historic Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk, where Vincent Price stayed with his tour group in 1928. It was here that, according to his personal diary, he had a transcendental connection with his mother back home in his home town in St Louis, Missouri. We took a bracing walk along the beach, attempted a little ESP connection to those who had gone or lived apart from us – just as Vincent did – then toured the hotel where Vincent’s group stayed 91 years ago. Much has changed of course — lots of renovation and extensions have taken place on the historic hotel (where the Dutch royals once resided alongside the upper classes here) — but it was a great start to our journey.
We then headed off to Delft, famous, of course, for the Dutch Baroque Period painter Johannes Vermeer and its iconic blue and white tiles. Our tour of the city mainly centred on the town square, which was featured in an iconic sequence in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre.
On Wednesday 22 May, we headed into Wallonia, famous for its ancient castles, fortresses and beautiful scenery, where we visited a museum dedicated to the Belgian cartoonist Hergé (of Tintin fame), took lunch at Maredsous Abbey, where they produce their own beer and cheese, and toured some castle ruins in Montaigle. We also happened to chance upon a film shoot taking place at remote property that looked ever so spooky — we think it may have been for a horror film.
Thursday 23 May and it was time to board our Mystery Machine again for the drive to Ghent where we strolled through the famous ancient city, visited St Bavo’s Cathedral to see the famed Ghent Altarpiece, Het Lam Gods, and took a self-guided tour Gravensteen Castle (where we were rather disappointed to find that its dungeon was no more).
After some retail therapy and a rest-up at a local cafe, we headed to the coast, to Oostende, where we checked into the glorious Thermae Palace hotel — a real gem and reminder of the past — where Harry Küme’s classic Belgium vampire horror, Daughters of Darkness (aka Les Lèvres Rouges), was filmed (check out my now and then shots below). During our walk on the beach at sunset we couldn’t resist recreating our own version of the Ghent Altarpiece when we chanced upon a steel sculpture inspired by it.
Our road trip concluded on Friday 24 May with us heading back to Schipol via the abandoned city of Doel. Now this is not on any normal tour, but is a must. It’s a ghost town that’s turned into living art – and the total antithesis of the other attraction we visited – Kinderdijk, a picture postcard Dutch village filled with windmills and coachloads of tourists (which the locals hate BTW).
Saying goodbye to our Mystery Machine, and to some of our group, we took the train into Amsterdam, where we met up with a new group of campers for a welcome dinner at De Kas, a fab farm-to-table restaurant located in a set of greenhouses that date back to the 1920s. This would be the first of three elaborate meals that we would have during our stay. The Dutch love their taster menus — and boy do they know how to do them.
Our Amsterdam adventure kicked off properly on Saturday 25 May with a visit to the Rijksmuseum, home to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (one of the key works of art that Vincent saw for the first time – up, close and personal – in 1928).
We also visited the All the Rembrandts Exhibition, which presented 22 paintings, 60 drawings and more than 300 best examples of Rembrandt’s prints. Interestingly, Vincent’s first piece of art that he bought was a Rembrandt etching. Unfortunately, it was never recorded as to which piece it was — so we shall never know what became of it.
One of the activities we do on our tours is pick our favourite piece from each art collection that we visit and then discuss it later. This piece, Saul and the Witch of Endor, attracted the attention of three of us in the group — probably on account of its occult themes and its fantastical creatures.
We were also treated to a mammoth three-hour five-course lunch at the Michelin-starred Rijks restaurant, which had ‘traded spaces’ with a farm-to-table restaurant in Bali called Locavore. The quality was excellent, and the quanity bountiful — but no room for dinner this evening.
The Museum Quarter in Amsterdam was a great place to start our city break, and some of our group took the opportunity to visit the new Moco Contemporary Art Museum, which was dedicated to the works of the street artist Banksy, as well as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Daniel Arsham. I think I loved the setting, the historic Villa Alsberg, as much as the artwork.
Sunday 26 May found our group splitting up to visit Rembrandt’s House and the Amsterdam Dungeon (which was whole lot of fun), then we all met up to tour the Anne Frank House, where Anne, her family and four other people who hid from the Nazis in rooms in the secret annex during World War Two. This was truly a sobering, educational visit, and is a must-do when in the city.
The evening was all about Vincent Price as we headed to Lab 111 for a presentation by Victoria about her dad’s legacy, followed by a screening of House of the Long Shadows starring Vincent alongside Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing — which was perfect as it was Peter’s birthday today, while Vincent and Chris’ birthday is May 27.
And speaking of birthday’s, on Monday 27 May, we celebrated what would have been Vincent’s 108th birthday by doing the things he would have done – we headed to an art museum, of course. In this case, it was the Van Gogh Museum, which was a true delight and a place I could happily return to time and again.
You can’t not head to Amsterdam without doing a canal cruise, which took in the well-known districts of the Pijp, the Jordaan and the Red Light District, as we sailed past iconic bridges and the picturesque merchant houses — including ones that featured in the Bondclassic, Diamonds Are Forever, starring Sean Connery.
We ended the day with a meal at the Restaurant La Rive in the Amstel Hotel, where Vincent and Mary Price also visited and included in their acclaimed culinary tome, A Treasury of Great Recipes. This was another gastromonic affair where we got a true taste of haute cuisine.
On Tuesday 28 May, we had planned on a day trip to of Haarlem before taking the train to Paris — but misfortune struck in the form of a public transport strike. So we ended up on a Eurolines coach — which took many hours. Not a great start to the final part of our European adventure, but we are all laughing about it now.
Vincent Price ended his Grand Tour of 1928 in Paris, where he visited so many of Paris’s justly famous cultural sites. We planned to do the same — and added in a few more that have since become part of the pantheon of the City of Lights.
So, on Wednesday 29 May, we began with a morning tour of the Musee d’Orsay art gallery set in a stunning converted Beaux Arts railway station, followed by lunch at 1.30pm at the Eiffel Tower’s 58 Tour restaurant (which has the best views of Paris in my book). In the afternoon, we cruised the Seine, and concluded with dinner at Café de l’Empire, where confit duck was the speciality. A big day indeed… and much needed after that long journey the day before.
For horror fans, visiting Notre Dame and the Palais Opera Garnier is a must when in Paris — especially regarding their links to those classics of the horror genre, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. While Notre Dame was closed due to the recent devastating fire, when we visited on Thursday 30 May, some of the group took a tour of the Opera House while others explored the nearby Galleries Lafayette, for a bit of retail therapy.
Then it was off to the Louvre – unquestionably one of the finest art galleries in the world with some 380,000 objects from pre-history to the 21st century with 35,000 works of art over 8 departments on display. After a good few hours there, we finished the day with dinner at La Grande Mosquée de Paris — which was so relaxing after the hussle and bustle of the Louvre and its many tourists.
On Friday, 31 May, we had a couple of different options. Some went off to explore some obscure sites of Paris, others wanted to rest, and another group headed to Fontainebleau to visit the historic town and take in an equestrian fair.
On Saturday 1 June, Victoria lead an EverWalk excursion through the Marais, while I took a group to visit the Catacombs — but a yellow vests demonstration resulted in the police closing it for most of the day.
But all was not lost as we headed to Père Lachaise Cemetery for the rest of the afternoon and ended the day with one of the most touristy things ever — dinner and a show at the Moulin Rouge.
Our adventures ended on a real high on Sunday 2 June with a trip to Disneyland Paris. Yes, I know its for kids and families — but we were guests of Disney because they have reintroduced Vincent’s original narration into the Phantom Manor attraction.
This was a fantastic opportunity to accompany Victoria as she listened to her dad’s voice again after so many years. We also got a personal guided tour of the park and were first in line for all the classic rides. It was, without doubt, a day to remember — and the perfect end to such an adventurous tour. Until next time, that is!
Did you know a play has been created celebrating the life of Coral Browne (aka Mrs Vincent Price No.3)?
Making its London debut recently at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, London, This F***ing Lady! stars Amanda Muggleton as the Melbourne-born actress who lit up the London stage from the late-1930s to the 1960s (her Lady Macbeth is legendary) and became pals with the likes of Alec Guinness and Robert Morley, as well as Joe Orton, Barry Humphries and Cecil Beaton (one of her many lovers before Vincent came along).
But her crowning achievement was the 1983 BBC TV drama An Englishman Abroad – about her real-life encounter with Cambridge spy Guy Burgess – which was written for her by Alan Bennett, and scored her a BAFTA in 1984.
A great wit and supremely stylish, Coral fell head over heels in love with Vincent Price after he electrocuted her in the cult horror classic Theatre of Blood. But what she didn’t know was that their affair ended his 24-year marriage to his second wife Mary.
I attended the opening night of the play with Vincent and Mary’s daughter, Victoria and while she admitted it was slightly surreal to be sitting in a theatre watching someone playing her ‘wicked stepmother (as she affectionately called her), Victoria felt Amanda really captured Coral’s charisma and expletive-laden wit – and there were a couple of moments when she thought it was actually Coral telling one of her own anecdotes.
Although the show only had a short run (over three weekends), I just had to return for the final performance. And I must say that Amanda (who played one of my favourite characters – Chrissie Latham – in the Oz TV drama Prisoner Cell Block H back in the 1980s) shone even better than her first night (which she admitted was a little under-rehearsed). But the good news is that the show is set to return (but nothing is confirmed as yet). And when it does, I do encourage you to go see it.
In the meantime, our guest reviewer, Ali Pye (who lives for the London stage), gives her take on this vivid portrait of the unapologetically lusty woman that Barry Humphries described as ‘magnificently Melbourne’…
ALI PYE REVIEWS CORAL BROWNE: THE F***ING LADY!
1984 – The BAFTA TV Best Actress Award looks like a photo finish between stage Dames Maggie and Judi. The surprise winner on the night, pipping them at the post in an Alan Bennett Cold War spy two hander in which the dramatic highlight is the measuring of an inside leg, and actually portraying herself twenty years previously with little more than light foundation and a series of startling hats, the name in the golden envelope elicits a playful chorus of “Who the **** is Coral Browne…?!”. If asterisks trouble you, this may not be the show you’re looking for.
An overnight sensation for her victory turn in “An
Englishman Abroad”, Coral had in fact been sensational on stage and screen for
over 50 years.
Amanda Muggleton’s one-woman tour de force of nature
performance launches in this moment. Rising from the audience like Aphrodite
from the waves, if Aphrodite wore a white satin pant suit and low-strung double
pearls, to accept the accolade, turn to the audience and start the regale.
Flamboyant, fabulous, formidable, feisty, flirtatious, other
words starting with “F” fly across the intimate little set in the snug back-bar
Kings Head Theatre.
Coral by the mid 1980’s resides in Santa Monica as the
adored Mrs Vincent Price, an inseparable Hollywood couple since “The Theatre of
Blood” film some decade earlier in which he murdered her.
If the BAFTA award acceptance speech was the pinnacle, then
the first clamber up the theatrical foothills was coming second in the Ballarat
Eisteddfod, reciting Longfellow’s Hiawatha, as a 12-year-old Australian
schoolgirl. Coral was bitten early by the performance bug.
Up ‘em, at ‘em and frequently among ‘em, Muggleton sashays across
the stage and through at least four rows of audience, fearless, forthright, her
platinum mane a frosted crest, She slouches shyly into the girl from the
genteel Melbourne suburb of (Far) Kew, just some days off the London-bound boat
in 1934 knocking tentatively on the door of a magnificently indifferent Dame
Sybil Thorndyke. Through three decades of theatrical star turns and finally to
stride triumphant across the West End blasted heath storming all the great
Shakespeare heroines against Gielgud, Redgrave, Richardson and Guinness.
Coral’s command of Lady Macbeth became so authoritative that
younger actress regarded her as a go-to-guide (“Keep your eyes open during the
sleepwalking scene, dear…”). An early foray on screen saw her cast as a sassy
spy attempting the unlikely seduction of George Formby. The position of his
little ukulele is not recorded in the annals of film history. But Coral’s career
trajectory was sealed as the flirty friend and slinky adulteress and dipsy
devil-may-care girl about town.
Maureen Sherlock’s punchy little seventy five minute drama
‘This F***ing Lady’ promotes some nuanced playing. The jump from Lady Macbeth
famously “giving suck” to a lost infant segues nicely into the reflective dip
of the head as Coral confesses to her maternal failings, an admitted “wicked
stepmother” to her real-life step-children. Her relationship with her own needy
parent, comfortably contained in a domestic arrangement that veers towards the
“high security twilight home” of Coral’s fellow exile from Melbourne, Dame Edna
Everage, seeps sadly through later scenes.
Pre – #Me Too, the young actress abroad embraces the
theatrical bed-hopping, post-matinee trysts and torrid marital affairs with a
“Why not?” pragmatism. The quality of the writing shines through the fog of
wartime bunk-ups. Coral’s delicious self-depreciation never sharper than in
defining herself, involved in an extensive dalliance with theatre impresario Firth
Shephard four storeys up in the bombed out Savoy Hotel, as “Shephard’s Bush”.
Beneath the glitter and the glam, and the name-dropping of
top end labels when it comes to undies gifted by the studios (Balmain a
favourite), shines the flinty business woman.
Spotting the potential of, and securing the rights to, ‘The Man Who Came
to Dinner’ in 1940 brought in steady royalty cheques for the rest of her life.
The throwaway line and accompanying wink that she improbably borrowed £3000
from her dentist to do so is practically a play in itself.
Muggleton’s ferocity never falters, mimicking the bravery of
Coral, never less than a trooper. Lead actress in the 1969 production of Orton’s
‘What the Butler Saw’, set in a madhouse and requiring at least two of the cast
to entirely remove their clothes, cautiously opening in Brighton she was
deserving of a medal at the very least. Her great friend’s Alan Bennett’s
assessment of the south coast harridans never truer than when presented with an
innuendo-laden smutfest climaxing (in every sense) with an over-sized model of Winston
Churchill’s phallus raised heavenwards.”The sleek Sussex matrons
sit poised in the stalls like greyhounds in the slips. The first ‘f***’ and they’re a mile down the sea front,
streaking for Hove….” recites Muggleton, perched giggling on the very edge of Row B,
conspiratorially certain that theatre punters in 2019 Islington are
considerably less fragile.
It is a glorious life lived onstage, backstage and with
gleeful outrage and this work serves the subject well. Quibbles with the
staging amount to the comparative unlikeliness of regal Coral Browne packing
her own suitcases, although the notion frames the reminiscences, allows the flicking
through of photo scrapbooks and reading aloud of boxed love letters. As likely
frankly as abandoning the London stage while the Blitz rained down to tinker
with an ambulance, plant turnips or tap out semaphore at Bletchley.
She is part of a lost generation, here celebrated with
vibrancy and enthusiasm. It is fitting that the last scene of An Englishman
Abroad shows a debonair Alan Bates as Guy Burgess striding through wintery
Moscow, a prisoner in all but name, resplendent in the Saville Row threads that
Coral Browne has facilitated for him. The show is going on.
They have left the stage now, the roaring crowd filed out.
Coral died in 1991. The eulogy famously delivered at her funeral service by
Barry Humphries encapsulated not only this f***king lady but the times through
which she passed.
To paraphrase, they leave behind emptiness, a gap, a void, and
a trough… The World is indeed a good deal less.
This cracking little one-woman show f***ing rocks.