It was in September of 1993 when Pearl Wexler, the top talent agent at the Paul Kohner Agency where I was an intern (gopher) sent me to see Vincent Price.
I suppose he had been a Kohner client since the golden era, but during the year I’d been there he hadn’t been accepting work, so I was slightly confused when Pearl handed me a fat contract with day-glo sticky arrows throughout it. I was instructed to wait for him to sign it and bring it right back.
Pearl’s assistant Betty, who was the kind and gentle heart of the office, told me on my way out that Mr. Price was in very poor health. I believed she was implying I’d be waiting outside in the hall as someone took the contract into his sick room to sign.
You would not have said “a movie star lives there,” but it was impeccable.
He lived in a sleek mid-century modern house in the hills right above the Sunset Strip. It wasn’t large or ostentatious. You would not have said “a movie star lives there,” but it was impeccable. White gravel and some low palms, I believe, lined the front walk.
The front door was opened, before I even reached the threshold, by a manservant. I had never encountered a manservant — or any servant, actually — ever before. He wore a white shirt and bow tie (honest!), but his sleeves were rolled up and he was slightly rumpled on account of the horrible Indian summer heat we were having. He apologized for this as he ushered me in.
I believe I replied something to the effect of “You? I’ve driving around with no air conditioning.” I was a much lowlier servant than he, and didn’t I know it.
I remember being able to see across the living room through the back wall, which was glass, to a lovely cactus garden beyond. The living room itself was all clean modern shapes and neutral tones punctuated with African art. I was not surprised by that because I was aware of the Vincent Price Art Museum, but the pieces were breathtaking: large, ebony, abstract.
That Voice — that completely unmistakable voice so associated the Edgar Allan Poe and Tim Burton and all things macabre and awesome…
I only got to stand there for a moment though as the manservant called into another room, and That Voice — that completely unmistakable voice so associated the Edgar Allan Poe and Tim Burton and all things macabre and awesome — called back that he should bring me into the kitchen.
“Have a seat. We’re having tea and toast. Would you care for some?”
There He was, sitting at a round table in the kitchen, in his white terrycloth robe and leather slippers.
He was old, yes, and thin and pale, yes, but he was as suave as ever, and as I sat down across from him and took in how tall he was, he struck me as downright majestic.
…I could clearly see the garters he wore, holding up his black socks.
The robe might have hung to the ankles of a shorter man, but on Mr. Price it fell to just below the knees, so I could clearly see the garters he wore, holding up his black socks. It also fell open a bit at the collar, as robes are want to do, revealing his thin, old-man chest and downy white hair.
I thought: “Oh my god, I am looking at Vincent Price’s bare chest!” It was only a little sliver, but still.
Mind you, he was not the least bit disheveled or sloppy. He managed to be pure class in that robe-socks-slippers ensemble, and he didn’t give one wot what I could or couldn’t see. He was clearly beyond all that. He exuded warmth and wry humor. I fell in love with him right then and there… melting into that kitchen table like the butter on his wheat toast.
I didn’t partake in toast myself. I think I had a glass of water while he chatted about the heat and being a humble pair of old bachelors — meaning himself and the servant, whom he called by his first name and apparently regarded more like a roommate. (Mrs. Price had died in 1991). He was so charming.
“Only Pearl could squeeze a penny out of Disney.”
Then he put on his reading glasses and turned to the contract, flipping to each day-glo arrow to sign. He paused at one section, laughing as he read with that deep, magical laugh of his. He shook his head, “Ha! Only Pearl could squeeze a penny out of Disney!” He handed me the signed contract with a flourish.
That was it. They wished me a good day, and I got a big charming smile from him before I left him sipping his tea.
He died less than a month later, right before Halloween.
What an honor it was to have met him up close.
And another honor that I didn’t fully realize until years later…
That contract pertained to Mr. Price’s work in The Great Mouse Detective (1986). At the time the standard SAG contract didn’t cover residuals for all the various cross-platform “new media” purposes to which an actor’s likeness or voice might be used. Gremlin Graphics had released the (Atari) video game, Basil, the Great Mouse Detective, in 1987 featuring the voice of Vincent Price. He had been completely uncompensated for it.
I am not sure how long Pearl had been fighting that battle. I vaguely recall that she hadn’t known about the game until long after it had come out, at which point she was rightly outraged and went after Disney for those back-residuals. And she got them. Ha, indeed! Pearl could be downright terrifying when she wanted to be. She didn’t even have to raise her voice. In retrospect I would love to have been in on those negotiations.
It’s not only amazing that Pearl got him residuals on that video game, but that she got that back payment from notoriously stingy Disney-under-Eisner is nearly unbelievable.
It wasn’t until 2009 (according to the SAG/AFTRA timeline) that SAG contracts pertaining to “new media” were ratified, twelve years later. My knowledge of recent SAG history is weak, but I do know there was a lot of turmoil over residuals in those ancillary markets all through the 1990s. It’s not only amazing that Pearl got him residuals on that video game, but that she got that back payment from notoriously stingy Disney-under-Eisner is nearly unbelievable. That contract I delivered was an unsung historic victory. Go, Pearl!
No wonder she made sure I brought it right back, before Disney could scheme a way to back out of it.