April 18, 2011

Ingrid Pitt: “These Are The Things That Dreams Are Made Of”

Ingrid Pitt died in London on her way to a birthday dinner hosted by her fan club. When this news finally reached me via face book, after the initial shock, my first thought was she has died far too soon, but at least she was on her way to yet another party populated with Hammer fans who never ceased to tell her how beautiful and sexy she still was at 73. This is the way she would have wanted to go out…still in demand and in full party mode, much like a Hammer version of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS.

Ingrid Pitt as our favorite sexy vampire.
My relationship with Ingrid Pitt was complicated, to say the least. We met for the first time around 1995 during Kevin Clement's Chiller Theater convention in New Jersey when I was still managing Barbara Steele's collector show appearances. I was already a fan of Ingrid’s, having seen THE VAMPIRE LOVERS at the local drive-in in Sacramento. I remember how odd it was at the time coming to terms with exactly when nudity and sex played into the Hammer landscape of gothic tropes and good old solid British production values. I mean, there was always a hint of perversity in Hammer films like BRIDES OF DRACULA and KISS OF THE VAMPIRE but this was something else altogether…still corny and dated even in 1970 with soft core titillation. The slightly controversial lesbian encounters failed to raise an eyebrow since by then European Cinema was well on to it and then some with directors like Jess Franco and the vampire films of Jean Rollin.

I had no idea what to expect, arriving at the Meadowlands Hilton with Barbara that first night. Ingrid and her husband Tony Rudlin had already checked in and were holding court in the hotel lounge. I took Barbara up to her suite before going down to introduce myself. Ingrid, by this time, had allowed her screen persona to overwhelm whatever she must have been like before Hammer made her reputation as the Queen of British horror. I liked her straight away since she obviously liked to drink and so did I, and we toasted to our mutual success at Chiller. Ingrid asked after our first round, "Is your lady Barbara going to join us?" I said, “She was indeed coming down” and soon after we were joined by, what horror fans refer to as, The Queen of Italian Horror.

Barbara Steele giving you the "Look".
The initial meeting of the two Queens went without issue or at least that is what I thought. On the elevator ride back up to our rooms, Barbara gave me one of those looks that she usually reserved for her Horror pictures, remarking, "Well, at least we know Ingrid Pitt need nevah worry about drowning." I had to think for a moment to realize Barbara was making light of Ingrid's ample cleavage. “Don't tell me for one moment you thought they were real, David!" The Queen of Italian Horror went on to question her accent and just about everything else about Ingrid until I finally got to my door and said to Barbara, "I am done in for tonight so let's begin again in the morning.” Now in defense of Barbara Steele, she did not know anything about Ingrid or her films when she made these comments. I think had she known about Ingrid's background with the war and the Nazi’s, she might have held back….perhaps not. Kevin had made such a fuss over Barbara's appearance at Chiller, telling her she was the one and only Queen of Horror, only to arrive in New Jersey to find there was already another Queen in attendance as well. Not exactly the best way to begin a show.

The two ladies seem to have parallel careers, if you take into account they were both about the same age and both came into prominence playing vampires (Barbara as Princess Asa in BLACK SUNDAY with Ingrid matching her with Carmilla and then COUNTESS DRACULA). It has always amazed me that Barbara could be so British and yet was never approached to do a Hammer Horror film.

Ingrid Pitt, by this time, had really embraced her horror persona to the max. She ordered Bloody Mary's at the bar, much to her fans delight, playing the diva of the undead for all it was worth. I, on the other hand, could not coax Barbara downstairs for her panel discussion, which put me in the doghouse with Kevin on more than one occasion during our stay.

It was during this convention that I felt Ingrid Pitt and I really connected and I found myself spending more and more time with her after the convention closed down for the day. Husband Tony relaxed in their room most of the time allowing Ingrid and I to enjoy our evening Brandy. I told her about my friendship with Ferdy Mayne who worked on two films with her, WHERE EAGLES DARE and of course THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. He gave me a note to give her and she seemed pleased to hear from him. Before I left Los Angeles, Ferdy had described his first encounter with Ingrid during the making of EAGLES. "She arrived at out hotel dressed like Marlene Dietrich, complete with cigarette holder and when she realized that none of us were having any of that, she went up to her room and changed into civilian attire. After that, she was down to earth and charming."

Ingrid and I.
My personal experience with Ingrid was so delightful that I made a promise that we must do something like this again and soon. The convention was a success for Barbara with lines going out the door of the ballroom with fans waiting for an autograph and that was as it should be, considering that this was her first appearance at a convention anywhere. I have mentioned this before regarding these kinds of venues, not to make the mistake of overexposing yourself and this still holds true in today's conventions.

It would be at least two years before Ingrid Pitt and I would meet again and this time in Los Angeles. The centennial of Bram Stoker's DRACULA was approaching (1897-1997) with a convention in the works out by LAX. Gordon Melton was in charge of the affair and he was the perfect choice since he was an academic with many books to his credit on the subject of the undead.

Gordon asked me to create something for the event and I came up with the idea of having the two Carmilla's of Hammer films meet each other for the first time on stage. My friend and colleague David Skal was also doing a panel on Dracula with Bela Lugosi Jr. so we seem to have covered the waterfront, at least for the moment.

Ingrid Pitt reveals her inner TOM & JERRY.
My first panel with Ingrid was set to go on the second day of the Draculacon and I was looking forward to seeing Ingrid again after having so much fun with her in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I was late for this first panel as my car died on me half way to the hotel. When I arrived, Veronica Carlson and Ingrid were nearly done chatting away to a room filled with Hammer fans. I had never met Veronica before and was simply charmed by this warm and lovely lady. Ingrid was decidedly different from what I remembered in New Jersey. She refused to shake my hand and scolded me for missing her panel by saying, "Well, you must have found a better venue for yourself." I was so stunned by her behavior that I just stood there holding this gatefold I brought for her to see that contained my liner notes for the first laserdisc pressing of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. Veronica kissed me on the cheek as she was leaving telling me not to worry, as Ingrid was not herself this morning.

This particular convention was not without its problems, but all in all, everybody seemed to enjoy themselves. I had the evening panel after David Skal's with not only Ingrid Pitt but the two ladies from DARK SHADOWS, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Laura Parker. Yutte Stensgaard was making her first convention appearance and I for one wanted to make the best of it. We all meet for an early dinner before going onstage, then I had to run back to the house to get a recording of LUST OF A VAMPIRE so Yutte could make her grand entrance to the music from the film. Perversely, I chose “Strange Love”, the pop song that plays over the one scene of heterosexual love making in the film.

Ingrid was in a foul mood during all of this and without going into details she did not interact with the other ladies on the panel nor did she want to answer any of my questions. At one point she informed the audience in response to a question about Hammer nudity that, “I have given my breasts individual names. This one is to be called TOM and the other one is JERRY.” Apparently this was something she felt strongly about because she told this to many other people over the years.

"David, you're so bloody vain."
The show ended and we all survived. A bit of time went by and then I discovered that Ingrid had written about her convention experience in SHIVERS magazine. She singled me out for being a self centered egoist and so on and so forth. Now at the time this really pissed me off and we went back and forth on the magazine, having at each other. Finally I made the remark that at this point in time I would gladly sell all my Ingrid Pitt photos out of the Del Valle Archives for one copper penny. A tempest in a graveyard…what a waste of time as I look back on all of it now.

A few weeks later I received a hand written letter from Ingrid Pitt. In it taped to a card was one copper penny. She then wrote, "Expecting a package from you shortly." She signed it three times…CARMILLA---MIRCALLA---MARCILLA.

I realized at that moment just how silly it all was and sent her back a card with pictures of my three cats, each titled accordingly to her above names. I would like to think she and I were back to our old selves with all this and I never really had a chance to make proper amends with her, which is my loss.

Ingrid Pitt was a remarkable lady with great poise and humor. She brought pathos to her character in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS that Tudor Gates could only dream of and she performed with such conviction and grace that she owned the screen when she was on it. I feel privileged to have had the time with her that I did. She embraced her cult following and they loved her for it.

"Mirror mirror on the wall....I'm the Queen of Horror, damn it!"

Somewhere in Beverly Hills, Barbara Steele is looking in her mirror asking the specter within, "Who is the Queen of Horror now?“ I think we all know what the mirror’s reply would be.


  1. Poor Ingrid was having a very bad day. Such is life!

  2. WOW!!! What a very honest and open article. Thank you for sharing it with us, David. I'm sorry that you were never able to get back in touch with her. However, it seems that at least you are at peace with it.

  3. I remember that weekend as well David. What a blast we had! Breakfast with Mary Woronov. Lunch with Barbara. Dinner and cognac with Ingrid and Tony. Thanks for the memories. I stayed in touch with Ingrid via email up until she died. I will miss her terribly.

  4. Wow - what an awesome soapy read. Glad to see these two ladies were as bitchy, moody, difficult and capricious as their legends and on-screen personas. Love them both - However Barbara Steele is the undisputed Queen of Horror. A title it took many decades for her to finally embrace, even now, sometimes reluctantly.