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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.”

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

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Hear Classic Readings of Poe’s “The Raven” by Vincent Price, James Earl Jones, Christopher Walken, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee & More

It can seem that the writing of literature and the theory of literature occupy separate great houses, Game of Thrones-style, or even separate countries held apart by a great sea. Perhaps they war with each other, perhaps they studiously ignore each other or obliquely interact at tournaments with acronymic names like MLA and AWP. Like Thomas Pynchon’s characterization of the political right and left, scholars and writers represent opposing poles, the hothouse and the street. That rare beast, the academic poet, can seem like something of a unicorn, or dragon.

…Or like the ominous talking raven in Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous of poems.


The divide between theory and practice is a recent development, a product of state budgeting, political brinksmanship, the relentless publishing mills of academia that force scholars to find a pigeonhole and stay there…. In days past, poets and scholar/theorists frequently occupied the same place at the same time—Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Shelley, and, of course, Poe, whose perennially popular “The Raven” serves as a point-by-point illustration for his theory of composition just as thoroughly as Eliot’s great works bear out his notion of the “objective correlative.”

Poe’s object, the titular creature, is an “archetypal symbol,” writes Dana Gioia, in a poem that aims for what its author calls a “unity of effect.” In his 1846 essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe the poet/theorist tells us in great detail how “The Raven” satisfies all of his other criteria for literature as well, such as achieving its intent in a single sitting, using a repeated refrain, and so on.

Should we have any doubt about how much Poe wanted us to see the poem as the deliberate outcome of a conceptual scheme, we find him three years later, in 1849, the year of his death, delivering a lecture on the “Poetic Principle,” and concluding with a reading of “The Raven.”

John Moncure Daniel of the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner remarked after attending one of these talks that “the attention of many in this city is now directed to this singular performance.” At that point, Poe, who hardly made a dime from “The Raven,” had to suffer the indignity of having all of his work go out of print during his brief, unhappy lifetime. Moncure and the Examiner thereby furnished readers “with the only correct copy ever published,” previous appearances, it seems, having contained punctuation errors.

Nonetheless, for all of Poe’s pedantry and penury, “The Raven”‘s first appearances made him semi-famous. His readings were a sensation, and it’s a sure bet that his audiences came to hear him read the poem, not deliver a lecture on its principles. Oh, for some proto-Edison in the room with an early recording device. What would it be like to hear the mournful, grief-stricken, alcoholic genius—master of the macabre and inventor of the detective story—intone the raven’s enigmatic “Nevermore”?

While Poe’s speaking voice has receded irretrievably into history, his poetic voice may live close to forever. So mesmerizing are his meter and diction that many great actors known especially for their voices have become possessed by “The Raven.”

Likely when we think of the poem, what first comes to the mind’s ear is the voice of Vincent Price, or James Earl Jones, Christopher Lee, or Christopher Walken, all of whom have given “The Raven” its due.

And so have many other notables, such as the great Stan Lee, Poe successor Neil Gaiman, original Gomez Addams actor John Astin, and venerable Beat poet/scholar Anne Waldman (listen here). You will find those recitations here at this round-up of notable “Raven” readings, and if this somehow doesn’t satiate you, then check out Lou Reed’s take on the poem, the Grateful Dead’s musical tribute, “Raven Space,” or a reading in 100 different celebrity impressions.

Finally, we would be remiss not to mention The Simpsons’ James Earl Jones-narrated parody, a worthy teaching tool for distracted young visual learners. Is it a shame that we now think of “The Raven” as a Halloween yarn fit for the Treehouse of Horror or any number of enjoyable exercises in spooky oratory—rather than the theoretical thought experiment its author seemed to intend? Does Poe rotisserie in his grave as Homer snores in a wingback chair? Probably. But as the author told us himself at length, the poem works! It still never fails to excite our morbid curiosity, enchant our gothic sensibility, and maybe send a chill or two down the spine. Maybe we never really needed Poe to explain it to us.

You can find other literary readings in our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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

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Hear Vincent Price, Horror Film Legend, Read 8+ Hours of Scary Stories

vincent_price_in_laura_trailer

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a good way to inject a little fright into your Halloween celebration. Below, we’ve pulled together a playlist featuring Vincent Price, the icon of so many classic horror films, reading 8+ hours of scary stories. The readings, available for free on Spotify, come from albums recorded decades ago. The collection includes:

  • Tales of Witches, Ghosts and Goblins (1972)
  • Witchcraft – Magic: An Adventure In Demonology (1969)
  • A Hornbook For Witches, Stories And Poems For Halloween (1976)
  • Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone Read Edgar Allan Poe Stories & Poems (1954)

 

If you don’t have Spotify’s software, download it here. This Vincent Price playlist will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Vincent Price Reads the Poetry of Shelley; Ralph Richardson Reads the Poetry of Coleridge

Many of us today think of Vincent Price as the face, and an even more so the voice, of modestly budgeted midcentury horror movies. But over his long and prolific career, he showed just what multitudes he could contain. Price could elevate schlock, of course, but he could also rise to the challenge of masterpieces: here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured his readings, on record and on camera, of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, the original master of the psychologically troubling tale. Today, we have for you a set of recitations well outside the realm of the scary: Price reading the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, free on Spotify (whose software you can download here).

Shelley, as anyone interested in 19th-century English poetry knows, didn’t have a long career, but the candle that burns quickly, as they say, burns bright. Before his death at the age of 29 in a storm on the Gulf of Spezia, he managed to write such immortal works as Music, When Soft Voices DieOzymandiasTo a Skylark, Ode to the West Wind, and the drama Prometheus Unbound, all of which we hear Price read whole, or in part, in this playlist. And for its final four tracks, we hear famed English stage actor Ralph Richardson deliver four poems from the equally enduring legacy of Shelley’s rough contemporary Samuel Taylor Coleridge, including Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The vividness of the imagery and the timeless resonance of the themes in both poets’ work hold up well on the page, but no matter how many times you’ve read it, hearing it interpreted by performers like Price and Richardson can let you experience it in a new way. Their dramatic backgrounds empower them to bring out levels of emotion you might never have felt in your own reading; certainly Price’s world-weary yet faintly arch tone does well with Ozymandias‘ gaze-into-the-abyss evocation of hubris, impermanence, and the ultimate fate in oblivion of all things great and small. Maybe the man who starred in The Pit and the Pendulum never really strayed far from horror after all.

The Price/Richardson reading will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Watch Vincent Price Turn Into Edgar Allan Poe & Read Four Classic Poe Stories (1970)

Can you have a Halloween without Edgar Allan Poe? Sure you can — but here at Open Culture, we don’t recommend it. So that you need not go Poe-less on this, or any, Halloween night, we’ve featured not just his complete works free to download, but other material like the animated adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart” as well as animations of his other stories; Poe readings by the likes of Christopher Lee, James Earl Jones, and Iggy Pop; and Orson Welles’ interpretation of his work on an Alan Parsons Project album.

We also believe that you shouldn’t have to endure a Priceless Halloween — that is to say, a Halloween without Vincent Price. Though he proved his versatility in a wide variety of genres throughout his long acting career, history has remembered Price first and foremost for his work in horror, no doubt thanks in large part to his possession of a voice perfectly suited to the elegantly sinister. It also made him an ideal teller of Poe’s ingeniously macabre tales, which you can experience for yourself in the recordings we’ve posted of Price reading Poe, a playlist which also includes readings by Price’s equally versatile Basil Rathbone.


Rathbone may also have got to read Poe, the work, but despite his huge number of roles on stage and screen, he never actually played Poe, the man. But Price did, in the special An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, the closest any of us will get to an audience with the troubled, brilliant, and terrifyingly inventive writer himself. In it, Price-as-Poe takes the stage and, over the course of an hour, weaves into his performance four of his most enduring stories: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Sphinx,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Go on, join Edgar Allan Poe in his drawing room this Halloween by having Price bring him to life on your screen — it will guarantee you a memorable holiday evening.

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Watch Vincent, Tim Burton’s Animated Tribute to Vincent Price & Edgar Allan Poe (1982)

If you put together a list of the world’s greatest Vincent Price fans, you’d have to rank Tim Burton at the top. That goes for “greatest” in the sense of both the fervency of the fan’s enthusiasm for all things Price, and for the fan’s accomplishments in his own right. Burton’s filmmaking craft and his admiration for the midcentury horror-film icon intersected early in his career, when he made the six-minute animated film Vincent for Disney in 1982, three years before his feature debut Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

The short’s title refers not to Vincent Price himself, but to its seven-year-old protagonist, Vincent Malloy: “He’s always polite and does what he’s told. For a boy his age, he’s considerate and nice. But he wants to be just like Vincent Price.” Those words of narration — as if you couldn’t tell after the first one spoken — come in the voice of Price himself. Vincent Malloy, pale of complexion and untamed of hair, surely resembles Burton’s childhood self, and in more aspects than appearance: the filmmaker grants the character his own idolatry not just of Price but of Edgar Allan Poe, and it’s into their macabre masterworks that his daydreaming sends him — just as they presumably sent the seven-year-old Burton.


Burton and Price’s collaboration on Vincent marked the beginning of a friendship that lasted the rest of Price’s life. The appreciative actor called the short “the most gratifying thing that ever happened,” and the director would go on to cast him in Edward Scissorhands eight years later. Price died in 1993, the year before the release of Ed Wood, Burton’s dramatized life of Edward D. Wood Jr. In that film, the relationship between semi-retired horror actor Bela Lugosi and the admiring schlock auteur Wood parallels, in a way, that of the more enduringly successful Price and the much more competent Burton.

Vincent also drops hints of other things to come in the Burtoniverse: Nightmare Before Christmas fans, for instance, should keep their eyes open for not one but two early appearances of that picture’s bony central player Jack Skellington. This demonstration of the continuity of Burton’s imagination underscores that, as both his biggest fans and biggest critics insist, he’s always lived in a world of his own — probably since Vincent Malloy’s age, when teachers and other authority figures might have described him in exactly the same way.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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5 Hours of Edgar Allan Poe Stories Read by Vincent Price & Basil Rathbone

price reads poe
Record label Caedmon Audio specialized in spoken-word recordings, pairing great literary works with great actors. They got James Mason to read the poetry of Robert Browning, multi-Oscar winner Walter Brennan to read the works of Mark Twain and Sir Laurence Olivier to read Winston Churchill.

But there were a couple releases, later compiled into one glorious CD set, that is so head-slappingly perfect that it requires special attention: Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price read the works of Edgar Allan Poe over the course of 5 hours. Rathbone was, of course, a South African-born Shakespearean actor who is most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes in a string of films (watch one here) and radio plays, though he was also a veteran star of low-budget horror films like The Black Sheep and Tales of Terror. Vincent Price was, well, Vincent Price – the iconic cackling villain in dozens of horror flicks including Roger Corman’s campy cinematic adaptations of Poe – The House of Usher, The Raven and The Masque of the Red Death.


The Caedmon recordings, which are now available on Spotify (download the software here) and can be heard below, are pretty much Poe’s greatest hits – from “The Tell-Tale Heart” to “The Pit and Pendulum.” Poe’s gothic gloominess pairs brilliantly with Rathbone and Price’s sinister baritone.

So get into your favorite smoking jacket, get a fire started, pour yourself a stiff glass of absinthe, set aside a good block of time, and have a listen.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” Read by Christopher Walken, Vincent Price & Christopher Lee

Of the many readings and adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic moody-broody poem “The Raven,” none is more fun than The Simpsons’, in which Lisa Simpson’s intro transitions into the reading voice of James Earl Jones and the slapstick interjections of Homer as Poe’s avatar and Bart as the titular bird. Jones’ solo reading of the poem is not to be missed and exists in several versions on Youtube.

But Jones is not the only classically creepy actor to have mastered Poe’s diction. Above, we have Christopher Walken, whose unsettling weirdness is always tinged with a certain wry humor, perhaps an effect of his classical New York accent.


Accompanying Walken’s reading are the standard eerie wind sounds and the unusual addition of some distorted metal guitar: perhaps an intrusion, perhaps a unique dramatic effect. The visual component, a montage of expressive pencil drawings, also may or may not work for you.

You may wish to contrast this production with what may be the locus classicus for televisual interpretations of “The Raven.” Of course I mean the hammy Vincent Price reading (above), which lent so much aesthetically to The Simpsons parody. One of my favorite little in-jokes in the latter occurs during Bart and Lisa’s introduction. Bart whines, “that looks like a school-book!” and Lisa replies, “don’t worry, Bart. You won’t learn anything.”

Lisa’s rejoinder is a sly reference to Poe’s contempt for literature meant to instruct or moralize, a tendency he called “the heresy of the Didactic.” Poe’s theory and practice grew out of his desire that literature have a “unity of effect,” that it produce an aesthetic experience solely through the author’s skillful use of literary form. Poe may have anticipated and directly influenced the French symbolists and other aesthetes like Oscar Wilde, but his assured place in high culture has thankfully not gotten in the way of pop appropriations of his more oddball tales, like “The Raven.” A perennial favorite reading of the poem is classic horror actor Christopher Lee’s (below), which may be the most straightforwardly creepy of them all.

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

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4,000 Priceless Scrolls, Texts & Papers From the University of Tokyo Have Been Digitized & Put Online

The phrase “opening of Japan” is a euphemism that has outlived its purpose, serving to cloud rather than explain how a country closed to outsiders suddenly, in the mid-19th century, became a major influence in art and design worldwide. Negotiations were carried out at gunpoint. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry presented the Japanese with two white flags to raise when they were ready to surrender. (The Japanese called Perry’s fleet the “black ships of evil men.”) In one of innumerable historical ironies, we have this ugliness to thank for the explosion of Impressionist art (van Gogh was obsessed with Japanese prints and owned a large collection) as well as much of the beauty of Art Nouveau and modernist architecture at the turn of the century.

We may know versions of this already, but we probably don’t know it from a Japanese point of view. “As our global society grows ever more connected,” writes Katie Barrett at the Internet Archive blog, “it can be easy to assume that all of human history is just one click away. Yet language barriers and physical access still present major obstacles to deeper knowledge and understanding of other cultures.”


Unless we can read Japanese, our understanding of its history will always be informed by specialist scholars and translators. Now, at least, thanks to cooperation between the University of Tokyo General Library and the Internet Archive, we can access thousands more primary sources previously unavailable to “outsiders.”

“Since June 2020,” notes Barrett, “our Collections team has worked in tandem with library staff to ingest thousands of digital files from the General Library’s servers, mapping the metadata for over 4,000 priceless scrolls, texts, and papers.” This material has been digitized over decades by Japanese scholars and “showcases hundreds of years of rich Japanese history expressed through prose, poetry, and artwork.” It will be primarily the artwork that concerns non-Japanese speakers, as it primarily concerned 19th-century Europeans and Americans who first encountered the country’s cultural products. Artwork like the humorous print above. Barrett provides context: 

In one satirical illustration, thought to date from shortly after the 1855 Edo earthquake, courtesans and others from the demimonde, who suffered greatly in the disaster, are shown beating the giant catfish that was believed to cause earthquakes. The men in the upper left-hand corner represent the construction trades; they are trying to stop the attack on the fish, as rebuilding from earthquakes was a profitable business for them.

There are many such depictions of “seismic destruction” in ukiyo-e prints dating from the same period and the later Mino-Owari earthquake of 1891: “They are a sobering reminder of the role that natural disasters have played in Japanese life.” 

You can see many more digitized artifacts, such as the charming book of Japanese ephemera above, at the Internet Archive’s University of Tokyo collection. Among the 4180 items currently available, you’ll also find many European prints and engravings held in the library’s 25 collections. All of this material “can be used freely without prior permission,” writes the University of Tokyo Library. “Among the highlights,” Barrett writes, “are manuscripts and annotated books from the personal collection of the novelist Mori Ōgai (1862–1922), an early manuscript of the Tale of Genji, [below] and a unique collection of Chinese legal records from the Ming Dynasty.” Enter the collection here.

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

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Vincent: Tim Burton’s Early Animated Film

Back in 1982, Tim Burton worked as an apprentice animator at Disney. Burton’s style didn’t quite fit with the Disney aesthetic. And so he independently created a short, stop motion animated film simply titled “Vincent.” The style of the storytelling has been called “Dr. Seuss meets Edgar Allan Poe,” and it tells the story of a young boy who wants to be Vincent Price, the Yale-educated actor who became a fixture in American horror films starting in the late 1930s. The film runs six minutes and features Price himself providing the narration. (Read a transcript of the narrated text here.) Notably, Price later appeared in Burton’s blockbuster Edward Scissorhands. Animation World Network takes a much closer look at this early Burton work, and we have now added Vincent to our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

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