My dad was on the road for most of his adult life. After spending the last 10 days traveling from New Mexico to New Jersey, I have a new appreciation not only for his stamina but also for his seemingly unquenchable desire to do and see as much as he did on top of his very full work schedule. This past weekend, I did my best to emulate his enthusiasm, curiosity, generosity of spirit, omnivorous appetite for life. . .and, of course, his immense capacity for joy.
On what was to be my first day here in the Philadelphia area, I had purchased an advance ticket for the only time available to visit the famous Barnes Foundation at its new location in downtown Philadelphia--at 11:3O, which gave me precisely an hour in the building. I knew it wasn't going to be enough, but in the spirit of "a quick visit is better than never having gone at all", I plunged in and took myself on a whirlwind tour of both the permanent collection and visiting show, the library, the downstairs Native American pottery collection, and the gorgeous modern architecture--complete with a string quartet practicing in the main hall. Here are my quick impressions: Incredible space, amazingly eclectic collection, and one of the most idiosyncratically hung museums I have ever visited--which I loved.
I grew up in a home filled with an incredible art collection put together by an art collector and a designer. The way in which it was experienced by visitors to our home was never about recreating a museum-like experience, but rather about allowing people to really connect with the art in ways that would allow them to get to know it, and hopefully to fall in love with it as my parents had. The first thing that struck me about the Barnes collection is that Mr. Barnes clearly had his own methods for hoping to elicit a similar response.
Everything is placed in the room not chronologically, but according to Mr. Barnes' view of how each piece related to another. What that means is that you can have an early Renaissance annunciation in the same room as a Matisse, along with a grouping of Native American jewelry, with a few African masks thrown in for good measure. I immediately loved it. And--rather unusual for me--it made me wish that I had had time for a tour or to listen to the audio recording that was offered--something in which I generally am not interested in museums, preferring instead to develop my own relationship with a collection. So, instead I asked a young museum worker for an explanation of Mr. Barnes' approach. She enthusiastically told me that he saw a flow between the pieces and everything in the rooms was aimed toward helping the viewer understand that flow. From the ornate metal door latches and other architectural details that guide the eyes to what Mr. Barnes hoped we would see in a particular piece, to the chairs that relate to the subjects of the paintings (a large chair for a large lady--as though she might step right out of the frame and sit down to have a nice chat)--the hanging is clever, fluid and thought provoking. Once I understood that, it was fun to try to visually understand what Mr Barnes was hoping to elicit in our responses as viewers.
My favorite room was a smaller one filled with drawings, some of which were by artists that most people have forgotten, but about whom my father often spoke--most notably William Glackens. Mr Barnes managed to create an unlikely connection between the glib and clever sketches Glackens did of New Yorkers and the colorful drawings by Sisley of French marine scenes. It was an unexpected but delightful juxtaposition. Off course, the great Matisse paintings and murals, the phenomenal Van Gogh of the postman, the Picassos, Native American textiles and pottery were all more than worth the price of admission--even when viewed at breakneck speed. But my personal favorite may have a large painting by Honore Daumier. I mostly know Daumier's work through his drawings and cartoons, and so I was surprised by the fluidity and abstraction of this piece. . .and so interested to see how his drawing style translated into painting. It's always a joy to discover something new!
A few of the artistic juxtapositions created by Mr Barnes, however, were somewhat jarring. As I was taking in an unusually subtle Frans Hals portrait of a bearded man, I turned to my left and caught a glimpse of a rather garish Chaim Soutine portrait of what looked--on my initial glance--to be a clown. I swear that, at that moment, I heard my father say, "Oh look, the Barnes Foundation has an original Red Skelton." I almost laughed out loud. For all his reverence for the visual arts, his ever-present sense of humor never left him--even in the hallowed halls of a museum. I remember one visit to a small private museum in Seattle filled to the brim with one cloyingly hideous example of Munich School paintings after another--chiaroscuroed duck girls in ridiculous dirndls. My father's "art historical" commentary as we walked through the museum landed us in such giggles that we almost got thrown out. He managed to hold it together long enough to buy his usual spate of postcards at the museum gift shop--and for years afterwards, it seemed like, just when I needed it most. one would arrive to render me helpless with laughter.
After my whirlwind tour of the Barnes Foundation, I headed 20 minutes across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to set up for the three-day horror convention, Monster Mania. I was the first person to set up in the "celebrity room"--a large, light-filled pavilion draped with glamorous fabric and chandeliers. Ever the designer, it took me a while to get my area looking the way I wanted in order to display our cool Vincent Price "product"--particularly our gorgeous Vincent Price Gothic rings, which had just come in for this show!
Everyone always seems surprised that I have no handlers setting up for me--which always makes me laugh. It's a lot like people feel about the life of a designer--that it's all glamorous showrooms and cocktails with clients. A designer's life is really about schlepping--samples, tiles, bolts of fabrics, light fixtures, and the occasional large sofa. And though everyone likes to remind me that I am horror royalty, that tile would have made my mother and father laugh, and then say, "Oh, get over yourself." You see, I was brought up by parents who saw themselves as real people whose hardworking jobs just happened to be in Hollywood. I like it that way--and so, it seems, do the fans--with whom I'm able to connect in really meaningful ways.
For three days, there was a perpetual queue of at least 30 fans waiting to chat with me, to tell me their stories about my dad, and to share what he meant to them. How incredible that someone who has been gone for over 20 years can remain to alive to so many people! And these were people of ages and ethnicities, from all over the world. There were even four-year-old Vincent Price fans. I loved that!
Whenever I go to shows, I never charge for photos or autographs. Everyone seems astonished and grateful for that, because all the other guests charge for both of those things. But I spent my childhood watching my dad sign autographs and have his picture taken with anyone and everyone, never any hesitation or caveats! He did this because he believed that--as Helen Hayes told him when he began his career on Broadway in 1935--"actors are public servants". What that meant to him was that, without their audiences and fans, actors don't have a career. And so, his job as an actor was to be there for his public. And he always was!
Over the years, so many people have told me about my father's correspondence with them: When they sent him letters or photos, and he always responded! I am doing my best to try to live up to that legacy. So, if my father didn't charge for a photo or autograph, how on earth can I--who am merely here to represent the Price legacy! Whenever I come to these shows, I feel like my job is to channel my dad. It's a tall order (pun relating to my 6'4" father fully intended). As I am always told, no one has ever met anyone who didn't like Vincent Price. (I'm afraid the same cannot be said of me--though I generally do try to move through the world as an open-hearted and kind person.) Truly, my father was an extraordinary man, especially since he worked in a business built on ego. He loved loved loved people--loved meeting them, hearing their stories, encouraging their dreams, and being with them.
I am a sort of odd mix between my mom and dad--social to a point, but someone who has to shut the doors at home to quietly recharge. At the of three days of chatting with fans, hearing their stories, signing autographs and having my photo taken, I felt overjoyed, grateful to have been here, and uplifted, but also exhausted. I have come to realize that that wasn't true of my dad at all. For him, all human interaction was his fuel for living. He thrived on the energy of other people. Trying to continue my father's legacy has helped me understand and appreciate how extraordinary he was all the more.
Here are some of my favorite things that happened this weekend--along with some great photos!
Tattoos! When I first started traveling and speaking about my dad in 2011 for the Vincentennial--the worldwide celebration of what would have been my father's 100th birthday--people began coming up to me to show me their Vincent Price tattoos. I love tattoos a lot, but seeing tattoos of my own dad came as quite a shock at first. Now I just can't wait to see the artistry in ink that I discover.
Here are a few of my favorites:
It's a family affair! One of the things I love best about the horror conventions is that they are places where friends and families, people of all generations, come together to enjoy their passion--classic horror films, the contemporary slasher genre, vampire and Zombie culture, and the Goth scene in general. I know that people think of Goths as being dark and scary. In fact, everyone I have met at these horror conventions is incredibly polite, warm, friendly, funny, kind--and they are all about connecting with other people and creating a sense of community.
Here are some of the fun people I met:
The Vincent Price Family: A tall gentleman named, yes, Vincent Price--came up to me with his family bearing a gift--a tshirt proclaiming me a member of Team Price. I loved that! He is a second generation Vincent Price--the son of the eighth child of Irish parents who had apparently run out of other name choices. He loves being named Vincent Price, and was the high bidder at the Charity Auction for an incredible framed photo of my dad. It was so cool to get to spend time with a living breathing Vincent Price again. :)
Repeat Visitors: A few people made a point of coming every day to visit me. They said they were worried that I felt they were "stalking" me, but I loved it! When you meet thousands of people in one weekend, it is a great pleasure to see a familiar face and to get the feeling that they just want to reconnect. The Webbs came by to see me every day with their kids, and they always seemed to be having a blast. . .together! Not checking their cell phones or wishing they were anywhere but there. Really present and having a blast! How amazing is that!
The Fang Gang: On one of my first trips down the elevator, I met a great group of young people all wearing these amazing fangs! When I complimented them, they offered to make me my own custom fangs. People have always asked why my dad never played Dracula. And he would have been a great one! But after wearing my own custom fangs for an hour, I have a new appreciation for what it takes to enunciate with fans on. . .But I'm ready to learn. . .because I am the proud owner of a custom set of fangs, thanks to my new fanged friends.
Vincent & Victoria: Named after my father, Vincent was drawn to my father's movies from boyhood. But he took sharing his love of Vincent Price to a new level not only by sharing the films with his daughter, but by naming her after. . .you guessed it. . .me!
I love going to horror shows because the creativity is just overflowing. Of course, there are the costumes--people really go all out with blood, makeup, gore, instruments of torture. . .and of course, the scariest of all--the scary clowns. And the art community is well represented in the Goth world--and many of the artists were, of course, inspired by my father--whose love and patronage of the visual arts was legendary.
This piece was created as a commission--etched on glass. I know that my father would have really loved its Expressionistic style.
Among the many highlights of the weekend, there are three in particular that stand out.
My nephew Jody came down from North Jersey to spend Saturday with me. He is a talented musician who has his own following among Vincent Price fans after having appeared as a character on The Simpsons. He jumped right in and fans were treated to getting to meet two generations of Price's--albeit only six months apart in age. My father liked to say that his was the perfect example of planned parenthood--get one child through college and then have the second! Jody and I were able to sneak away and have lunch together and an amazing heart-to-heart conversation even in the crowded hotel restaurant--a rare treat for two people who live so far apart. We also began scheming about some fun creative opportunities together--and I can't wait to get started.
On Friday, a man came over to introduce himself to me. He looked as though he knew me, but I had never seen him before. He knew me because we have corresponded for years. His name is Donovon Talley, and he is one of the great Vincent Price collectors out there. Over the course of the weekend, he stopped by with some amazing memorabilia, including lots of things I had never seen--a manual for movie theater owners on how to rig their theaters with Percepto, my father's wig when he played Oscar Wilde in his long-running one-man show. My favorites were the letters from other people written about my dad--all of which managed to capture his kindness, grace, erudition, and generosity. I think Christopher Lee said it best when he wrote, "Vincent Price is what the Irish would call 'a darlin' man'."
I also had the rare treat of spending time with another of my longtime Vincent Price correspondents--Bryan Hewitt, who came all the way from England to hear my talk on Saturday afternoon. Bryan and I had been corresponding for years when we finally met and had dinner together in 2011 in Aberystwyth in Wales. We planned on sharing another meal on Saturday night of the convention so we could spent more time with one another talking about my dad, his mum--who had recently passed away--and our mutual love of the British theatre and film world.
Since this is, after all, a foodie road trip, I wanted to go to the restaurant recommended by my fellow B&B guests in New Orleans--Zahav. I had been told I didn't need reservations, but when i called about an hour before we were to arrive, they said that they were booked til 10PM. I took a chance and told them a bit about my blog and they were so kind and excited--and said that they would try to hold two seats at the bar for our arrival. And sure enough, about five minutes after Bryan and I arrived, we had the corner seats at the bar. It proved to be the perfect place to enjoy the extraordinary food and service at Zahav.
One of my favorite aspects of this road trip has been getting to understand the excitement my parents must have felt about discovering new places to eat--finding themselves in a new city or foreign country and being told about someplace wonderful. . .making the effort to get there, and then being rewarded with one of life's more memorable meals. That's exactly what happened at Zahav.
It is an Israeli restaurant--and while I have eaten as much Middle Eastern food as the next person, I can't say that I'd ever eaten specifically Israeli cuisine. I have one word for Zahav. WOW!
Bryan and I decided to splurge on the three-course meal with dessert--which, after not having eaten a real meal since Wednesday, I felt I could reasonably justify.
We began with five "salad" appetizers and a small sizzling hot skillet of humus with garlic and. . .BUTTER! It felt almost sinfully good to eat it on the laffa bread and cucumbers were were given. The salads were served in small tapas sized portions, included a celery salad that was perfectly seasoned, and my favorite--beats and feta that were to die for!
Our next three dishes were recommended by Luke, one of our servers at the bar. We opted for the Crispy Haloumi--fried squares of salty sheeps cheese served piping hot in a reduction of dates, apples and walnuts; the Fried Cauliflower, a signature dish pan fried with chive, dill, mint , and garlic that melted in your mouth; and the persimmon salad--a tribute to my father, who once made me climb over the wall of our old house on Beverly Glen to steal persimmons from the orchard, because he missed them so much! The chef also sent out grape leaves with beef and rice--not the usual soggy variety, but crispy grape leaves with a spicy rare ground beef inside.
Our main course is one of Zahav's signature dishes--the Whole Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Pomegranate and Chick Peas. Smoky, sweet, savory, tender beyond belief, it was the best lamb I have ever eaten.
The meal concluded with two desserts and tea--leaving me with the urge to swim home across the Delaware in an effort to work off the massive amount of food I had just consumed. . . utterly without regret.
Our servers, Tori and Luke, made the whole evening a delight--and the chef even came out to pay a visit. While the restaurant was elegant, everyone on the staff was utterly unpretentious and down to earth in both their demeanor, conversation, and attire. I felt so grateful to have been guided to Zahav, and to have recreated something for which my parents had an amazing knack--the ability to seek out memorable experiences in unusual places!
This morning I leave the Philadelphia area all the richer for having come. How extraordinary to have a chance to be living my parents' legacy in a way that far transcends their fame! They had a knack for finding joy in every encounter, an adventure in every meal, art at every turn, and deep connection with the people they met. Turns out that's a pretty great recipe for living!