In support of National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, the members of the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) were asked to write on the topic of “big stars on the small screen.” I decided to write about one of my favorite big stars who appeared on many small screens over his impressive 60+ year career–Vincent Price. Price is best known for his horror films, such as The House on Haunted Hill (1959), Theatre of Blood (1973), and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) to name just a few. He was also a known “foodie” and gourmet cook as well as a major art collector. Price’s love of acting and celebrity as an icon of horror films coincided nicely with his hobbies. Since obviously, he could pay for fancy food and artwork with the money earned from his acting.
Vincent Price appeared on every type of television show under the sun. His voice made a very early television appearance in 1949 when he narrated a version of “The Christmas Carol.” In the 1950s, he appeared in numerous episodes of dramatic series, such as Robert Montgomery Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Price’s great voice and presence definitely lent itself well to drama, however, he was also adept at comedy. He had a great sense of camp and the absurd, I never got the sense that he took himself too seriously. In 1966, Price appeared in seven episodes of the cult classic television series, Batman, as the villain, Dr. Egghead. He also appeared in multiple episodes of Laugh-In as a guest performer. In 1975, Vincent Price made a memorable appearance on Johnny Carson where he taught Johnny how to cook an entire dinner in the dishwasher. I recommend watching this clip on You Tube, you won’t regret it.
However, it was in 1972 when Vincent Price made his greatest television appearance–Professor Whitehead in the second and third episodes of the classic 3-part Hawaii episodes in The Brady Bunch. In the first episode of the fourth season, “Hawaii Bound,” Mike is sent by his architecture firm to check on the status of a construction project. And because Mike’s boss, Mr. Phillips, is apparently the greatest boss ever, he allows Mike to take all six of his kids, his wife, and his housekeeper with him to Hawaii for vacation. When the Bradys arrive in Hawaii, it doesn’t take long for hijinks to ensue. While accompanying Mike to the construction site, Bobby finds a cursed Tiki idol. ::cue Tiki music:: (You know you hear it). Bobby, Peter and Greg later take the Tiki ::cue Tiki music:: to a local man, Mr. Hanalei, who tells the boys that the idol is cursed and brings bad luck to whomever has it in their possession.
The boys are skeptical about the superstition but begin to believe the legend when multiple members of the family have bad luck wearing the tiki ::cue Tiki music:: . Bobby sits on his ukulele and crushes it. Later, a heavy wall decoration almost crushes Bobby when Greg accidentally hits it when throwing a pillow. The next day, Alice is wearing the idol and throws her back out during a hula lesson. Then, Bobby inexplicably gives the tiki ::cue Tiki music:: to Greg to wear during the surfing contest he’s entered. During the contest, Greg is doing well, until he’s not. He wipes out and is nowhere to be seen.
Oh no! Is Greg dead? No of course not, this is The Brady Bunch! In the second episode of the arc, “Pass the Tabu,” Mike finds Greg and helps him to shore. He recovers, though presumably lost the surfing contest. The tiki ::cue Tiki music:: has fallen off Greg during his wipe-out. But never fear, it washes up on shore and Jan finds it. She places it into her bag. Later, while out sightseeing, a giant spider crawls into Jan’s bag. Jan returns the tiki ::cue Tiki music:: to Bobby. The spider also ends up in the boys’ room. At this point, Bobby is completely creeped out by the idol, convinced of its unluckiness. Peter puts the idol on and says “bad luck come and get me.” Right at that point, the giant spider has made its way out of Jan’s bag and onto Peter’s chest.
Deciding that they’ve had enough, the boys decide they need to return the tiki ::cue Tiki music::. The boys return to Mr. Hanalei to find out how to dispose of the idol and absolve themselves of its curse. Mr. Hanalei tells them that they’ll need to return it to the ancient burial ground where the idol was originally found. Greg, Peter and Bobby confide in Marcia, Jan, and Cindy about the idol and where they need to go. The next morning, they board a bus and head to the other side of Oahu. At this point, one has to wonder how much free reign the kids have on this vacation that they can literally get up and get on a bus and not expect their parents to wonder where they are, but I digress. That is not important, because it is at this point where we meet the Special Guest Star–Vincent Price!
Price is only featured briefly at the end of the second episode, but is fully featured in the third and final part of the Hawaii trilogy, “The Tiki Caves.” Price plays Professor Whitehead, a disgruntled archaeologist who was cheated out of recognition a few years prior after finding a major treasure in Egypt. When he happened upon this ancient burial cave in Hawaii, he was determined to not let that happen again. However, his paranoia has led to him becoming a bit eccentric, as well as lonely. His only companion is an oversized tiki statue whom he has named “Oliver.” When the Professor first hears the boys walking about, he stalks them and tries to scare them out of the cave, but to no avail. There’s a funny scene where the Professor puts on some feathers and a mask and pops out of a casket in front of the boys, which startles them and they take off running. However, they run further into the cave, not out.
Eventually the Professor catches up with Greg, Peter and Bobby and captures them. He ties them to tikis to try and force them into explaining why they’re in the ancient burial ground. The boys explain that they were only in the cave to return the tiki idol ::cue Tiki music:: . Professor Whitehead accuses them of finding a find he didn’t find. Throughout all of this discussion, he continues to confide in Oliver who seemingly offers him advice and consolation. Greg finally manages to wriggle free; but their escape is thwarted by Professor Whitehead and his spear.
At this point, Mike and Carol have finally realized that their children are missing and have managed to coax the truth out of the girls. While they close in on the cave, Greg, Peter and Bobby have managed to convince Professor Whitehead to free them, so that they can show him where they found the idol. Obviously this is just a ruse, and the Professor figures it out when the boys obviously do not know their way around. He finally believes their story and says that he will tie them back up and escape with all the treasure he can, so that his claim isn’t usurped. Being the nice guy that he is, the Professor says he’ll send someone back for them. Before he can finish tying up the boys, Mike and Carol walk in, understandably upset that their children were kidnapped and held hostage. The tiki idol ::cue Tiki music:: is returned to the cave and all is well again.
THEN. Mike tells Professor Whitehead that not only does he forgive Professor Whitehead for kidnapping and holding his children hostage, but all five of them will serve as witnesses and corroborate the Professor’s claim on all the treasure. And if that wasn’t enough, ALL the Bradys attend a luau being held in Professor Whitehead’s honor. Unbelievable. Mike really lives by his advice, “a wise man forgets his anger before he lies down to sleep.”
However, this wasn’t the end for Vincent Price and the Bradys. In 1977, Price would make an appearance on what might be simultaneously the worst show and the greatest show I’ve ever seen–The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. In this episode, Greg (who has got to be in his early 20s at this point) decides that he needs to move out of the family home. The Brady Bunch’s house by the way is not their iconic home, it is this random house set constructed for the show. It is explained that Mike moved them closer to the beach after the family accepted the variety show offer. Yes. Anyway, Greg is trying to write a new song (unfortunately, it was not a reprise of his “clowns never laughed before, beanstalks never grew” song) and keeps being interrupted. He dramatically announces his intention to move and with the help of the Bradys’ neighbor, realtor Rip Taylor, Greg has a new pad.
Unfortunately for Greg, his new apartment is really tacky and rundown. However, FORTUNATELY for Greg, one of his neighbors is none other than Vincent Price. It’s unclear whether Price is playing himself or playing a character named “Vincent Price,” but nonetheless he warns Greg about his apartment being haunted by the spirit of Kitty Sheehan. Despite the absurdity of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Vincent Price is awesome per usual. This only proves how great an actor and personality Vincent Price was. It doesn’t matter what the project is, whether it’s Shelby Carpenter in Laura, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, providing the voiceover in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” playing Dr. Egghead in Batman, acting as The Inventor in Edward Scissorhands, Edward Lionheart in Theatre of Blood, or cooking fish in the dishwasher, Vincent Price is always worth watching.