Friday, October 19, 2012

THE OTHER SIDE OF VINCENT PRICE

I usually do not publish stories on this blog on social issues. After all this is a classic Hollywood blog, but I found this article on Vincent Price, originally published by his daughter, to be very interesting and informative...

Victoria Price, now a television writer, shares the father she knew in Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography (St. Martin's $27.50). In the book she explores the many gay rumors about Vincent. Now, exclusively for The Advocate, Victoria reveals a personal memory not included in the book--the story of how she came out to the "scariest" man in the world. 

I was standing at the bar in West Hollywood, Calif.'s club of the moment one night in the spring of 1989, talking with a group of hip Hollywood women I hardly knew, when a blond woman with a wry expression came over to me and said, "You're Vincent Price's daughter. Your father's gay, isn't he?" I don't remember my mumbled reply--except that, sadly, it wasn't very witty--"I don't know" or "He was married three times." But I do remember that I was shocked. Not because it was the first time someone had suggested that he might be gay or at the very least bisexual, but because, until that moment, I hadn't really understood the degree to which my 78-year-old father's sexuality, whatever it might be, had become public property to be discussed, analyzed, bandied about, as one might share a recipe or chat about the weather. I found it a discomforting revelation.

Vincent Price became a Broadway star in 1936, when he was 24 years old, playing Prince Albert to Helen Hayes's Queen Victoria in the hit play Victoria Regina. Success came overnight, and Helen took it upon herself to counsel her inexperienced young costar. "An actor is a public servant," she told him. "Never forget that." My father followed this advice assiduously throughout his more than 55-year career. He was unendingly generous to his fans, never refusing an autograph or declining an interview, and answering every fan letter personally. He led his life as an actor cum public servant with exemplary grace, even treating his occasional presence in the gossip columns with equanimity. And when his camp horror films or his superb portrayal of Oscar Wilde in an acclaimed one-man show or his marriage to the sexually adventuresome British actress Coral Browne raised idle chatter about his sexual orientation, he took it in stride. So why didn't I?

I came out to my father in my early 20s. We were driving down the hill from his house and I blurted it out in the car, eager to get to the other side of my uncomfortable announcement. "Oh, I know," he said, calmly negotiating a hairpin turn. "Coral already told me." My stepmother had, it seemed, guessed.

My father treated my bombshell with unruffled elan, tenderly solicitous of my well-being. He asked me about my partner, my lifestyle, my feelings. And after I had nervously delivered a heartfelt soliloquy, he quietly said, "I know just what you mean. All three of my wives were jealous of my friendships with men. But those friendships have always been very important to me. There can be a wonderful connection between two men or two women." Then he reached over and held my hand.


Shortly after my father told Coral the news, she presented me with a coming-out gift--a box of 40 silk bow ties! After spending most of World War II as the toast of the Savoy Theatre in London, my stepmother fled the Blitz during the last months of the war, taking refuge on the coast at Land's End. There she met Radclyffe Hall and her partner, whom Coral referred to as "the dreaded Una Troubridge." Coral's lesbian fashion sense remained stuck somewhere around D-Day.

After I came out my father and stepmother were nothing but supportive. Vincent was asked to join the honorary board of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and accepted; Coral lent a sympathetic ear to my romantic troubles. Both were eager to meet anyone I brought home, though my stepmother rarely missed an opportunity to flirt outrageously with my girlfriends or to comment on their looks or style. One woman, she told me with a very knowing smile, "does it very well." I took that as some kind of compliment. In fact, my lesbianism was probably my most salient quality as far as Coral was concerned. My stepmother and I had always had a rocky relationship. Although she loved me, she was extremely jealous of my close bond with my father and often made all of our lives quite miserable as a result. When she tumbled to the fact that I was gay, suddenly she felt much better. In her mind, I was no longer a threat.

When Vincent Price met Coral Browne in 1972, he was 61 and she was 59, but they fell in love like two teenagers. It wasn't just Coral's beauty, talent, or sexual abandon that seduced my father, it was also her reputation as a "scarlet woman," her famously bawdy humor, and her easy acceptance of other people's sexual preferences and proclivities that he found so appealing. They became known as a stylish, sophisticated couple, epitomizing the best of show business glamour and panache. When some suggested that their marriage might be one of convenience, they just laughed. They knew better.


I have sometimes wondered whether, if my father had not been married to Coral when I came out to him, his response would have been different. Would he have worried about me or, like many parents of gay children, felt responsible in some way? But Coral's laissez-faire approach to sexuality had had a liberating effect on my dad. Born in 1911 to an upper-middle-class family in St. Louis, he was raised in a society still clinging to late Victorian manners and mores. As he made a life for himself in the London and New York City theater and later in Hollywood, he gradually shed the constrictions of his upbringing and moved through the world with an openness that was remarkable for his era. But it was not until he met Coral that he flung his last remaining inhibitions to the wind.

When Coral died in 1991, my father was alone for the first time in more than 40 years. But he was also ill, his body succumbing to Parkinson's disease and emphysema, though his mind remained as vital as ever. So my father's secretary and caretaker, Reggie Williams, and I organized a circle of my mostly gay male friends into a group that Roddy McDowall took to calling "the angels." Attractive, interesting, and talented all, the angels took turns with Reggie and me in caring for my dad. We cooked him dinner and looked after his physical needs. But mostly we helped keep his mind and his interest in the world alive. As the months turned into years, my father found in all of us a new family. Increasingly, as he looked forward to a future he would not see, he began to envision a world not bound by the artifice and rigidity against which his generation had had to fight. And he felt a great sense of hope.

In the spring of 1993, my friends and I decided to go to the march on Washington. On our second night in D.C., we gathered around a pay phone and called my dad. We described the festivities and the fun we were having, and then we laughingly said that we wished he could have paraded down the streets with us, all waving our rainbow flags. His voice already ravaged by the illness that would take his life, he said, "I wish I was there."

After my father's death in 1993, I was asked to write his biography. I agreed, but with much trepidation, because once again I found myself facing other people's myriad theories about my father's sexuality. "Are you going to discuss your father's relationships with men?" one old friend asked me. "I know someone who has proof that your father was gay," said another acquaintance. But after a year of reluctantly chasing paper trails and interviewing supposedly airtight sources, not only had I uncovered nothing, but I also realized that I was searching for an answer that I did not wish to find.

My father once told me that he had had a passionate relationship with a man that was "like a love affair without the sex." He treasured his friendship with this cultured academic, who shared his enthusiasm for language and the arts, but my stepmother grew jealous of the time my father and his friend spent together and threatened an ugly divorce. The dissolution of that friendship, my father told me, had broken his heart.
In the end, it was Roddy McDowall who best summed up the "question" of my father's sexuality. "What we don't know," Roddy mused, "is what sex meant to him. If we don't know that, we don't know anything." Roddy was right. I will never know the most intimate details of my father's sexuality and, to tell the truth, I'm glad. Because what I do know is so much more important. I know, for example, that he cherished friendship and love between two people, whatever their gender or sexual preference; that he never judged people on the basis of their sexual choices; and, most important, that he accepted me, my partner, and my friends for who we were--with nothing but love. That was the father I knew; that was his legacy to me. That is the life I have written. And in doing so, I can only hope I have treated his life with as much understanding and compassion as he treated mine.


SOURCE

22 comments:

  1. David, what a fascinating article about one of my very favorite people, Vincent. His daughter's words showed her deep love and acceptance of whatever her father was, as he did for her. I loved what Roddy McDowall had to say. It couldn't be better said. And boy, was I mad when I read about that idiot who asked the daughter if her dad was gay. MYOB and get over it! What a nasty voyeur! I love Vincent, and everything he was made him the person I love. Thanks for this picture of a true gentleman!

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  2. This is a fantastic post, deeply heartfelt and really enlightening. Thanks so much!

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  3. A Diamond has many facets, and sexuality is only one of them. Vincent was that Diamond...a rare and gifted soul who shared his love of beauty with all of us.

    I'm glad we had him as long as we did.
    Thank You, Sir....You Are MISSED.

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  4. Thank you for this honest and lovingly written post.

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  5. i loved hi, aswell a great actor of our times......rip vicent

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  6. I was a teenage girl in the sixties and grew up watching Vincent Price in movie theatres. I fell in love with him and was afraid of him at the same time. I just finished watching the Vincent Price Marathon on MGM TV. It brought back so many memories of him. His daughter has written the most beautiful biography of her father.

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  7. Beautifully written. Thank you for this! Xx

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  8. What a beautifully touching and heartfelt article. Thank you.

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  9. He was a great man who respected people and culture and knowledge and understanding. His preference was for heterosexual marriage during the times that he lived through. What that had to do with sex was for him to know, and what he had acted on will quite apparently never be known. But the life he lived worked well for him and for everyone who ever knew him. His daughter appears to be evidence of that.

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  10. no one else will ever be .... "The FLY"! ( 8^0

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  11. Wow! Fantastic article. This is one to keep.

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  12. The enormous folly of it all!

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  13. How wonderful to have been able to share such a special relationship with a father of sweet love, tender caring, exceptional wisdom, and extraordinary talent! From my youth I admired him as an actor; it is a wonderful gift to be able to be able to deeply respect him as a person.

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  14. This is such a beautiful story, thank you so much for sharing it. It makes me appreciate Vincent Price even more. He was such an amazing actor, it is so great to read about what a loving, understand person he was as an individual. Like the perfect icing on an already beautiful cake.

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  15. What a wonderful tribute to her father, the great Vincent Price...Much loved and, much missed. RIP dear sir

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  16. This was just wonderful. I have loved your father's work since I was a young child. He was so very elegant, funny and just scary enough. I am so glad that he was so very understanding to you. It seems to me that this makes sense. Roddy was right and really it makes no real difference to me because I loved him for his gift! His last role in Edward Scissorhands seemed so appropriate a way for him to go out. BTW He was really very handsome too!

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  17. Thank You for sharing your love for your Father so eloquently. I recently lost my Daddy, and have yet to find the strength

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  18. Great article. I have been a fan of Mr. Price's since I first saw Dr. Phibes at the tender age of 6. Even as a small girl, deep down, I recognized a kind, talented and caring man (even if I was too young to consciously understand those things). He had class, charm and didn't use the press with salacious stories for attention. He was a true Hollywood star. Celebrities today could learn a thing or 2 from him.

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  19. One of my most favorite actors. He had such class and seemed to genuinely care about his fans and life.I too had a jealous step mother. It made my relationship with my father difficult. It sounds like Vincent cared about his relationship with his daughter Victoria. Such a sweet article about her father. At the end of the day all that matters is the love he had for her and his joy of life. Miss him very much. Watching one of his old horror movies right now.

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  20. What a great story. Victoria is a very lucky girl to have had such an understanding and loving father. Have always been a fan of his movies, they are on TV frequently, maybe more than ever...love them all.

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  21. Great and open story. I hope our people get a real sense of hope and consolation with this story. I met Vincent as a 15 year old boy at a college lecture on art. He was gentle and kind. Thank you for your great message in your story !!!

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