There are a number of people who have become so associated with horror and the macabre that they become culturally associated with Halloween, a holiday that celebrates not only ghosts, vampires and monsters, but these kinds of celebrities as well. While he was most certainly not the first to achieve this kind of notoriety, Vincent Price managed to use this association to his advantage, building a career that spanned stage, screen, radio, television and LP. His singular looks, commanding voice, and overall sense of theater and drama made him perfectly suited to wear capes and speak knowingly about the undead and the midnight hour. While his dedication to the craft was always apparent in everything he produced, his sense of humor was always lurking just beneath, and one need only look at his appearance on The Muppet Show for proof of that. It is with no small amount of fanfare that we bring you an entire hour dedicated to the man himself, presenting his own voice reading stories and poems about ghosts, witches, goblins, and all things creepy as part of our annual Halloween Spook-tacular!
Beginning his career in the late 1930’s, Vincent Price’s horror film debut was with Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone in 1939 in The Tower Of London, but the role that really established his career was 1944’s Laura, a film noir by Otto Preminger, and adapted from the novel of the same name. In 1947 he took on the role of Simon Templar in the radio program The Saint, a heroic adventure program where he solved crimes in much the same manner of The Green Hornet, The Avenger, or The Whistler (a program that shared a similar introduction). He appeared in horror, film noir, and radio programs, and a comedy here and there, throughout the ’40’s and ’50’s. By the 1960’s he was known to many as the character of Egghead in the television adaptation of Batman. However, his work with Roger Corman not only made him permanently associated with horror films (and in particular, screen adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe short stories), but made him a go-to actor when filmmakers wanted to use his incredible voice, or lend a moody atmosphere to the production. Throughout the remainder of his career he worked for a number of director’s, lent his voice to animated films, and hosted endless programs, including PBS’s Mystery! from ’81 – ’89. He passed from this dimension in 1993, but his long career and spectacular command of drama has made him a Halloween icon, and one who I enjoy every year around this time.
One aspect of his career that is often overlooked is his work for Caedmon Records (now Caedmon Audio). Founded in 1952 by Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Roney, Caedmon focused on all manner of spoken word albums, which included authors and poets reading their own work, presentations of speeches or stage performances, poetry collections, children’s stories, and any number of literary works on LP (their slogan: “A Third Dimension for the Printed Page”). They managed to amass an impressive roster of artists, featuring albums by Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings, Richard Burton, Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave and Basil Rathbone just to name a few. These LPs were particularly popular among the hip college crowd in the ’60’s and ’70’s, and offered a new means for listeners to experience well known literary works, often read by the original writers, or at least, consummate performers. Caedmon still releases audio books and literary recordings to this day, though now on CD and in other digital forms, leaving behind the excellent LPs that made their work unique and popular, and today they are thought of as a merely an audiobook production company. It is with this organization that Vincent Price recorded several albums, reading a number of stories totally appropriate for the Halloween season. These albums contained stories about ghosts, goblins, monsters of all variety, and on one record, a series of spells for witches, with their ingredients described in detail. While he recited his share of Edgar Allen Poe stories too, today’s program features stories from his other recordings.
Ghost stories have a long and wonderful tradition that goes back to an time when people primarily heard them around the campfire, and there is something about hearing someone tell you a story that is absolutely mesmerizing. I have fond memories listening to a few scary stories on records when I was a kid, and when I hear recordings like this, I am easily transported to a time when a four minute ghost story would leave me in awe. Putting one of these records on is a fantastic showcase of the different kinds of literary thrills and chills that Vincent Price was so good at delivering, and it seemed appropriate to offer a sort of mix-tape of some well-known moments. I intentionally left out his renditions of Poe works, not only because we featured The Tell-Tale Heart last week, but I wanted to offer some of the other kinds of narratives heard on records like this. Accompanying these stories are the sounds of one of my favorite scary sounds LPs, Haunted House, an Italian record from 1985 with some hilarious typos on the back cover, and an excellent presentation on Side A.
It is sad that, now, both Vincent Price and stories like this are no longer popular, and have been replaced instead with the Horror Movie format as people primary source of Halloween scares. These stories seem permanently lodged in the past, somehow, and while I can easily become excited by work like this, it is every clearly a relic of the past. This show is a sort of snapshot of the way this holiday used to be celebrated, and one that I wish would come back. The real focus of today’s program are tales read by the immortal Vincent Price, and that should be something that is times.
So: light some candles, curl up in a blanket with your loved ones, and enjoy an hour of fantastic tales guaranteed to set the mood for any party. Let’s just hope that you live through the entire show!
An Evening With Vincent Price!
Part I: “Listen, Won’t You?”
01.) Take A Trip Through The Haunted House If You Dare! * Haunted House * Haunted House Music Co.
02.) All-Saints’ Eve * Vincent Price * A Hornbook For Witches * Caedmon Records
Published in 1950 by Leah Bodine Drake in a collection of poems entitled A Hornbook for Witches: Poems of Fantasy, this is perhaps one of the rarest collections of poetry published by a fairly large publisher, Arkham House Press. According to one story, Leah Drake had to shoulder the cost of printing the book, and just over 500 were pressed. 300 were given to the poet for her troubles, and the remainder were sent to distributors. While it is unclear if the book sold well at all when it was published, copies now go for over $500, mostly because of the spooky content and eerie quality to the verse. Most people know these poems from Price’s LP, A Hornbook of Witches, containing a few of the gems from this rare book.
03.) The Lone Grave * Vincent Price * Tales Of Witches, Ghosts, And Goblins * Caedmon Records
This story appeared in a 1956 collection of stories by Carl Carmer entitled The Screaming Ghost And Other Stories. Published as a collection for young adults and illustrated by “Irv Docktor” (a pseudonym if I’ve ever seen one), this is one of the many American folktales and stories Carmer collected and remade for kids. These stories have taken on a number of forms and versions over the years, and made its way into similar collections by other authors, but Vincent Price (and Caedmon Records) seemed to have a fondness for Carmer’s version. This particular story originates from Kentucky, and probably has some basis of fact buried within this frightening tale.
04.) The Phantom Merry-Go-Round * Vincent Price * Tales Of Witches, Ghosts, And Goblins * Caedmon Records
Another story from Carmer’s The Screaming Ghost And Other Stories collection, this one tells the story of the deadly hurricane of 1856, and how it destroyed the resort town of Isle Dernière, near New Orleans.
Part II: “Welcome To Gobbleknoll.”
05.) The Smoker * Vincent Price * Tales Of Witches, Ghosts, And Goblins * Caedmon Records
A story from A Book of Goblins, published in 1969 and edited by Alan Garner for young adult readers. On the Caedmon LP, this story is listed as “freely adapted from an Iroquois legend.” This is entirely possible, and Garner was merely the editor of this collection of stories. I have yet to track down a copy of this book, so tracing the origins of these stories is entirely dependent on the data available via the Inter-Web-A-Tron.
06.) Don’t * Vincent Price * A Hornbook For Witches * Caedmon Records
This piece was written by Maria Leach, author of the story collection The Thing At The Foot Of The Bed And Other Scary Stories. Originally published in 1959, it saw a number of young adult editions over the years, but is now out of print. Maria Leach, in this collection, took a number of classic folktales and campfire stories and re-told them (similar to the style of Carl Carmer). This was a popular tactic in the ’50’s, ’60’s and ’70’s, as people were less concerned with copyright and the origins of stories like this were never entirely clear anyway. Other stories from this book were often used for Halloween Records, but Vincent’s delivery usually sells the story.
07.) The Leg of Gold * Vincent Price * A Graveyard of Ghost Tales * Caedmon Records
Vincent Price liked his authors British, and Ruth Manning-Sanders was a popular fairy tale collector in the UK. Mostly known for her collections of children’s stories, Ruth would travel the world and collect a variety of stories from different countries, then retell them in her own style for English audiences. One collection in particular – A Book of Ghosts & Goblins – became rather popular in 1969 when it was published, an stories from it have been entertaining people this time of year ever since. This particular tale is of French origin, but the book is worth tracking down due to the wide variety of stories from all over the world.
08.) Gobbleknoll * Vincent Price * Tales Of Witches, Ghosts, And Goblins * Caedmon Records
Also known by the title “Gobble Knowll,” this story is also taken from A Book of Goblins, edited by Alan Garner (also known as The Hamish Hamilton Book of Goblins in the UK). On the Caedmon LP, this story is listed as being “Transposed from a Sioux legend,” which could very well be the case, but most sources agree that Garner’s writing draws from English folktales and stories near where he grew up in the English countryside. Part of the Gobbleknowll story seems to have been used in Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamenbook that he became famous for, and this fame most likely led to him getting the editing job, too.
Part III: “The Calamander Chest”
09.) The Calamander Chest * Vincent Price * Goblins at the Bath House and the Calamander Chest * Caedmon Records
Originally published in Weird Talesmagazine in January of 1954, this story by Joseph Payne Brennan became one of his more popular stories, and might be one of the few included in this presentation that was not originally written for young adults. (Though the audience for Weird Tales definitely skewed young.) Brennan’s work is largely out of print in the modern age, but his stories are considered classic pieces of horror among many authors, including Stephen King. Brennan often used strange and disturbed loners as characters in his work, and was a proponent of the paranormal detective character, which dominated much of his work in the ’60’s. This story is an excellent example of his work, and a great way to close today’s program.
10.) The Broomstick Train * Vincent Price * Tales Of Witches, Ghosts, And Goblins * Caedmon Records
This is a small excerpt from a longer poem by none other than Oliver Wendell Holmes, taken from his collection The One Hoss Shay, illustrated by Howard Pyle. Holmes was a physician and lecturer, and kept company with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among other well known luminaries and poets. This collection was originally produced in 1858, though it was revised a number of times during his life. While the poem is actually about the introduction of electrified street cars in US cities, Holmes strength was in his ability to draw comparisons and connections between the world around him and the supernatural world of the past.