The annual Santa Barbara Fiesta play which debuted at the Lobero Theatre on August 1, 1939 was especially rich in pageantry and drama. 20 singing señoritas filled the entrance loggia to greet arriving guests who had come to see the classic melodrama The Mistress of the Inn.
In the audience were 12 couples representing the city’s oldest families. And commanding the stage in the role of the nefarious, women-hating Caballero De Rippalda, was a new Hollywood star a lanky 28-year-old actor named Vincent Price.
Vincent Price was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1911. After graduating from Yale University, Price moved to London, where he intended to study for a master’s degree in fine arts. Instead, he was drawn to the theater and made his first stage appearance at the age of 24. In 1938 Price had his cinema debut, and just months after his Lobero appearance Price appeared in his first leading role in the 1940 horror film The Invisible Man Returns.
There was something about Vincent Price’s demeanor and voice which made him a perfect villain. As the website Rotten Tomatoes explains, “everything about Price suggested malice, with each line reading dripping with condescension and loathing.” But rather than complain about being type-cast, Vincent Price relished his career portraying creepy, ghoulish, and murderous characters.
From the 1940s to the 1970s Vincent Price was known as the “master of the macabre” and ruined the peaceful sleep of a generation of teenagers with memorable performances in horror films like 1953’s 3-D hit House of Wax, The Fly, House on Haunted Hill, and The Pit and the Pendulum.
Price also continued to do theater, and in 1951 he returned to the Lobero for several nights to perform in the role of the debonair (and non-murderous) doctor Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly in T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party.
Special thanks to the Santa Barbara Public Library and Jace Turner, Community Relations Librarian.
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