Hear Vincent Price Star in a Classic Radio Adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984

Here are some things you may not know about Vin­cent Price:

He was once a young man.

Before becom­ing a hor­ror icon in the 1950s, he was a suc­cess­ful char­ac­ter actor. “Only a third of his movies that he made were actu­al­ly hor­ror films,” says his daugh­ter, Vic­to­ria Price. “He made 105 films. Peo­ple don’t real­ize he had an exten­sive career in the­ater and radio.”

He came from a wealthy St. Louis fam­i­ly and har­bored ear­ly anti-semit­ic views and a mis­guid­ed admi­ra­tion for Hitler in the 1930s.

He com­plete­ly changed his views after mov­ing to New York and was placed on Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s “Pre­ma­ture Anti-Nazi Sym­pa­thiz­er list” in the 1950s, along with Eleanor Roo­sevelt, notes Susan King at the L.A. Times, a list that “raised ques­tions about those who had been against the Nazis before the U.S. went to war with Ger­many.”

He was a gourmet cook, had a degree in art his­to­ry, and worked for nine years in the six­ties as an art con­sul­tant for Sears….

He was black­list­ed for being anti-Nazi too ear­ly….

After being denied work for almost a year, as Price’s daugh­ter writes in her 1999 mem­oir, Vin­cent Price: A Daughter’s Biog­ra­phy, he chose to sign a “secret oath” offered by the FBI to sal­vage his career. Per­haps not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, he took a radio part soon after­ward in Aus­tralia, as a split narrator/Winston Smith in a 1955 Lux Radio The­ater adap­ta­tion of George Orwell’s 1984, per­haps fear­ful of a future in which secret oaths became the norm.

Orwell him­self had made it per­fect­ly clear what he feared. “Rad­i­cal in his pol­i­tics and in his artis­tic tastes,” Lionel Trilling wrote in a New York­er review the year the book came out, “Orwell is whol­ly free of the cant of rad­i­cal­ism”; his tal­ent as a writer of fic­tion is to make “com­mon sense” polit­i­cal obser­va­tions serve plot and char­ac­ter. Per­haps the most chill­ing of these arrives in the first few para­graphs of 1984:

In the far dis­tance a heli­copter skimmed down between the roofs, hov­ered for an instant like a blue­bot­tle, and dart­ed away again with a curv­ing flight. It was the police patrol, snoop­ing into peo­ple’s win­dows. The patrols did not mat­ter, how­ev­er. Only the Thought Police mat­tered. 

We may be remind­ed of the dis­tinc­tions between what “Orwellian” means and what it does not, as Noah Tavlin describes in a recent explain­er: if someone’s “talk­ing about mass sur­veil­lance and intru­sive gov­ern­ment, they’re describ­ing some­thing author­i­tar­i­an, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly Orwellian.” Author­i­tar­i­an­ism is pure brute force. The Orwellian requires a con­stant mis­use of lan­guage, a vio­lent twist­ing of con­science, a per­pet­u­al shout­ing of lies as truth until the two are indis­tin­guish­able. No one is served by this but nihilis­tic oli­garchs, Trilling writes:

The rulers of Orwell’s State know that pow­er in its pure form has for its true end noth­ing but itself, and they know that the nature of pow­er is defined by the pain it can inflict on oth­ers. They know, too, that just as wealth exists only in rela­tion to the pover­ty of oth­ers, so pow­er in its pure aspect exists only in rela­tion to the weak­ness of oth­ers, and that any pow­er of the ruled, even the pow­er to expe­ri­ence hap­pi­ness, is by that much a diminu­tion of the pow­er of the rulers.

Orwellian soci­eties exist sole­ly to spread hatred and mis­ery, even to their detri­ment, a point Price made at the end of anoth­er radio broad­cast, a 1950 episode of NBC’s The Saint, in which the actor denounced racism and reli­gious prej­u­dice. Not long after­ward, his name appeared on McCarthy’s list.

Price learned that the gov­ern­ment could deprive him of his hap­pi­ness unless he swore feal­ty to an insane­ly non­sen­si­cal polit­i­cal moral­i­ty. His daugh­ter offers the expe­ri­ence as one rea­son for his love of play­ing vil­lains. “Most of the vil­lains that he played had been wronged in some way. There was a rea­son for their vil­lainy.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What “Orwellian” Real­ly Means: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son About the Use & Abuse of the Term

Hux­ley to Orwell: My Hell­ish Vision of the Future is Bet­ter Than Yours (1949)

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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