Long before her ascendancy to the Hammer horror throne
in the mid-70s, Ingrid Pitt struggled through a series
of B films and bit parts that sorely tested her thespic
mettle. But much like her vampiric counterparts, her spirit
simply couldn't be stifled. On an early excursion to Hollywood,
a B movie white knight of sorts rode to her rescue. B
filmmaker W. Lee Wilder, director of Killers From Space,
Man Without a Body and many others, provided invaluable
inspiration. "I just loved the man," Ingrid
sighs. "He saved me.
"I was brought to America to do a screen test
for 20th Century Fox," she says ruefully. "I
realized once I got there that there were lots of 'foxes'
in the cupboard. It was all a great big put on by a
stockholder at Fox. I was homeless, moneyless and friendless
in a country where I didn't know anyone. I had to sing
for my supper. I went to a spaghetti house on Sunset
Boulevard and cooked. Willie came in one night and,
because he's Austrian, went potty about my plum cake
-- and I must say it's quite fantastic. On the third
night that he came in he said, 'I've got a film for
you.' He didn't give me a contract or anything at all.
He just said, 'We're making it in the Philippines.'
He told me the date. He took my address. He said, 'You
can go home now -- back to Madrid -- and wait for my
air ticket.' We shook hands. He smiled. I smiled. I
didn't sleep all night and I went home the next day.
Wilder was as good as his word. "Six weeks later,
I had my air ticket, my script and my contract. And later,
while sitting in the jungle, [filming The Omegans],
I found out lots of things about Willie. He had a brother,
Billy Wilder. Both of them lived in Austria under the
Nazis. They only had one passport. Willie left Austria
and, through messengers, sent the passport back to Billy.
When I met Billy Wilder and told him that I'd made this
incredible movie with his brother, he was quite shitty.
He wasn't nice at all about his brother. He said, 'You're
here to audition for me and not to tell me fables about
my brother.' I said, 'I'm so sorry. I didn't realize you
didn't love him -- because I do.' I didn't get the job."
The world's best-known vampire lover has played opposite
an astounding variety of performers and she's most generous
when it comes to citing favorites. "Everyone you
work with you love at the time. Peter Cushing was heaven
to work with, as were Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward."
Ultimately, she leaves little question as to which she
remembers the most fondly. "Clint Eastwood was really
fantastic. He was so incredibly cool. He's such a normal
person. He doesn't go around drinking himself to death
like Richard Burton did. I think Clint is one of the greatest
men I've ever met. He's a fantastic sportsman. He's a
health freak. He's a fabulous artist. He directs his own
films. He's a great actor -- though he always says he
doesn't have to act, his wrinkles do it for him. His acting
seems to be effortless, but I'm sure he works like hell.
I've never seen him give a bad performance."
Even as she maintains an upbeat, positive professionalism,
in the course of such a varied career even this endearing
Queen of Horror must have knocked heads with an insufferable
co-star or two. "Gene Barry," she sneers.
"God, he was an asshole to work with. He was disgusting.
He never stayed for his off lines. This bloody man would
go and sleep in his Winnebago. He'd have some runner
do the lines. Richard Burton never, never, never did
that. Every proper actor reads his off lines. But that
cretin just went and slept in his Winnebego. I think
the guy was out of his mind."
The bulk of her schedule is devoured by the fandom
she lives to please, but Pitt maintains an array of
interests that seem to energize her in the midst of
merely discussing them. "I love writing -- and
cricket, obviously. You can't live in England and not
be taken up by cricket. And of course, Spitfires. I'm
completely besotted with flying. I just love this extra
dimension that humanity has been able to develop into
something quite perfect."
Though her energies are divided among several ongoing pursuits,
there is one recent project that Ingrid seems especially
anxious to promote -- one that seems a fitting coda to a
career that predated the trendy gothic craze of the '90s
by two decades. "I've written nine books" she
declares, "and I've just delivered another called --
and listen to this -- The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion
For Vampire Lovers."
WITH INGRID PITT