By Augustine Ugalde
This month marks the 20-year anniversary of the death of iconic horror-film actor, author, art aficionado and philanthropist Vincent Price. Price is by far the most notable person ever associated with East Los Angeles College. His legacy, and love for the school, live on today at the Vincent Price Art Museum.
The building that bears his name, on the southeast corner of the campus, opened in 2011, but traces its roots to the ’50s when Price donated 90 pieces of his personal art collection to the school.
His daughter, Victoria Price Ph.D., credits her mother Mary Grant Price, for swaying Vincent to donate to ELAC after attending a graduation ceremony in the ’ 50s.
Mary Price was greatly influenced by the diversity of the student body at the time, and in 1957 the Vincent and Mary Grant Price Museum was officially opened.
Vincent Leonard Price Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 27, 1911. His interest in art was a life-long passion, studying art history at Yale
University, graduating in 1933.
He then studied fine arts at the University of London before returning to the U.S. where he began his acting career at the famous Mercury Theater in New York City, there he became an acclaimed Broadway actor.
This was the same theater that gained notoriety on Halloween 1938, when founder Orson Wells aired the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast that caused panic and created controversy throughout the country.
Price began his Hollywood career as a dramatic actor starring in films such as “Laura” (1944), directed by Otto Preminger and two years later in “Dragonwyck,” but one of his favorite movies, according to biography.com, was a 1950s comedy, “Champagne for Caesar.”
Price will always be associated with the horror film genre having starred in more than 100 horror films.
His horror films include “House of Wax” (1953), “The Fly” (1958), “House on Haunted Hill” (1959), Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964), “The Tower of London” (1969), “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1971) and 1973’s “Theater of Blood.”
When Price made the transition from Broadway to Hollywood in the 30s, he was hesitant to move to Los Angeles, according to Victoria Price.
She said her dad missed the museums and galleries of New York and abroad, and thought Los Angeles was “a cultural wasteland” devoid of visual arts.
This played a big part in his motivation to bring art to the city and to ELAC.
During the next 10 years, he played a major part in the developing L.A. art scene.
Price accepted an invitation from former ELAC art instructor Judith Miller to visit her art program and to meet her students.
Victoria Price said her father felt that art should not be exclusively for the wealthy, opting to donate to ELAC, and not to UCLA where some of his friends had suggested.
The museum became one of the first public art institutions in L.A., predating the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the J. Paul Getty Museum.
It is also the first teaching art museum established at a community college.
In her 1999 book “Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography,” Victoria Price wrote how she thought her father was the most interesting person she had ever known.
“The reason I like to talk about him is that he did something really well, and that he lived his life really well.”
“He loved life. He loved art. He loved people. He loved adventure. He loved laughing. He loved giving back,” Victoria Price said.
In 2010, she visited the unfinished museum on campus, and was impressed by its design and architecture, but what she remembers most about her visit was thinking how much her father would have loved it.
When her father first laid eyes on ELAC in the 30s, he described it as “two Quonset huts on a mudflat,” and had he been alive to see the new museum, he would have “grinned from ear-to-ear” before rolling up his sleeves to get to work, wrote Victoria Price.
VPAM now boasts a permanent collection of more than 9,000 art pieces, with about 2,000 of them being donated by Price.
Vincent Price was a well-rounded individual that had many interests beyond acting and art, according to Victoria. He was an avid culinary connoisseur who wrote “A Treasury of Great Recipes,” along with several other books he co-wrote.
His life was not without controversy though.
During the McCarthy era in the 50s, Price was gray listed, which meant being singled-out as a possible subversive because of his association with other artists who had been blacklisted by the fanatical Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Price was soon taken of the list and resumed his acting career.
One of his final films was the cult-classic, “Edward Scissorhands,” where he played a gentle and compassionate, Dr. Frankenstein-type who creates Johnny Depp’s unusual character.
Victoria Price wrote that it was difficult watching her dad in the 1990 film because he was in ill health, but noted that he still gave it his best effort, as always.
His working relationship with ELAC spanned decades as Price worked closely with former museum director Thomas Silliman.
Silliman recounted the actor’s contributions to the school in a 1993 issue of Campus News during Price’s memorial celebration.
“Vincent Price’s commitment to the gallery, the collection and our students’ education and art has been remarkable,” Silliman said.
Silliman died in 2006 after a 49-year career at ELAC.
Former ELAC student and acclaimed actor Edward James Olmos was positively influenced by Price, saying that it was here, as a student from 1964-66, where he gained an appreciation for the arts.
From a Campus News story dated Nov. 2, 1995, Olmos was quoted as saying that “The gallery definitely shaped and molded my career.”
He said his time at ELAC was his first exposure to, not only rare artworks, but also to artistic genius and individual potential.
Price died Oct. 25, 1993, and was survived by his daughter Victoria Price, who serves on the VPAM board and son Vincent Barrett Price.