– Submitted by Irene Leland
I was sixteen when I met the man whom my mother could have married. It was January 31, 1964, in St. Louis, Missouri. He was in town for a professional engagement, and my parents had invited him over to our house that evening for cocktails before a party. I was so excited to be included! It was my father Pete Leland’s 57th birthday. It had been twenty-nine years since our guest had proposed to my mom, Dottie. I thought it was unique that my dad and this man were able to cut through jealousy and engage each other in light-hearted fun – displaying their similar qualities of respectful manners combined with wit and humor.
This man of 52 years, who was a year younger than my mother, was tall, elegant, and handsome. I was struck by his statuesque yet graceful presence. I was even more impressed by his warm and gentle demeanour, which was very unlike the many roles he played as the “King of Horror.” The man was Vincent Price. And I was a very enchanted young lady. I was finally getting to meet the famous man who many years before had captured my mother’s heart but not her hand in marriage. Mr. Price had fallen deeply in love with her then, and it was very obvious that his feelings hadn’t changed. It was also obvious that she still adored him but felt secure in her decision not to marry him.
Even though they had both grown up in the very fine, cultured environment of St. Louis society, and had experienced a thrilling romance together, my mother had a strong sense of the standards which had been passed down to her from her family. Marrying into the life of the theatre was considered too unpredictable and unstable. This was definitely a mind over heart situation. Knowing my mom and her ways, I was never surprised that she said no, and she definitely made a fantastic choice in my wonderful dad. He treated her beautifully and provided for her well by taking over his father’s well-established publishing business.
At the time that Vince proposed to her in January 1935, he had just been cast in a prominent role as Prince Albert in Victoria Regina in London. The following May his premiere performance brought rave reviews and launched Vincent Price into stardom. Not long after, he reprised this role on Broadway opposite Helen Hayes. The stage was set and “Uncle Vinny,” as he let me call him, had his feet solidly planted on it. It was a solid footing which would lead him into a solid career. Would it have been a solid life for my mother? Who knows? She met Dad, and that was solid enough for her.
I’ll never forget that night when I met this marvellous man. Mother had told me all about him, and of course I’d seen him in the movies.
I even made up a fun pun which I told my friends: “Mom ended up marrying Daddy, and that’s why I’m so priceless!” I was active in drama at school and was infatuated with acting. So on that special night, I was not only exhilarated to meet Vincent but also to talk with him about his profession. On March 3rd, after his return to Los Angeles, he wrote to my mother and summed up the event perfectly:
Many thanks for sending me the clip – and for being the same beautiful, delightful, luscious you! Show that to Pete – good for husbands.
I loved meeting Irene – she’s a dear and I hope she either does it, the theatre, or gets it out of her system – anyway she can only learn from it how better to communicate with her fellow man –
All Love to you all.
(I did go on to have a career in commercial acting, industrial films, and voiceovers. On Vinny’s visit in 1978, he expressed how pleased he was that I had found a satisfying niche.)
I also remember during that eventful evening that he proudly showed me a picture of his then two-year-old daughter, Victoria. She looked just like him! I remember wondering who her mother was and what it was like living in their world in California.
During the Christmas of 1999, I was thrilled to receive the biography Vincent Price by Victoria Price. I was ecstatic when I read what Victoria wrote about Dottie and what a significant development their relationship was in Vincent’s life. She quotes from his letters to his parents about his intense feelings for Dottie: “I love her more than anyone I’ve ever met. She has all those qualities of dignity and poise which my three womenfolk have brought me up to look for – you Mommy, Hat, and Lol.” He also describes the lovely ring he bought her. Then two months after he proposed to her, he shared in his letters that he was very upset. In the book, Victoria talks about how nothing else was known regarding the mysterious Dottie including where she came from, who she was, or what had happened to her.
Needless to mention, I could hardly wait to contact Victoria. Thanks to some good local contacts, I was given her phone number in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On January 28, 2000, I made the call, and it was spellbinding. When I said, “I know who the mysterious Dottie is,” an electrifying force charged the conversation! We were both jubilant! On top of the basic facts, I told her that the ring he sent her was an exquisite, huge golden sapphire and arrived baked inside a cake. He was in London. She was in Paris. She accepted the ring and saved it; he had insisted that she keep it.
The Mysterious Dottie. Well, she’s not so mysterious any more. Now Vincent’s daughter has an answer to the mystique. And, Victoria provided information that I hadn’t known either. Happily, the unfolded mystery brought two women together in a phone call. After that call, I couldn’t help but think what is so obvious and yet so eerie: if Dottie had married Vinny, Victoria and I would not be here!
What’s even more eerie, and even symbolic, is how closely together my mother and Vinny died. On October 9, 1993, Mom, along with my stepfather Bob, were murdered by a yard-man in their home. Besides being a major story here in St. Louis, it really shook up the fine community in which they lived as there hadn’t been a murder there in forty years. Vincent was contacted by friends here, and I was told that he was absolutely devastated. Sixteen days later, Vincent Price died from cancer.
All those years and all those horror movies later, Vincent’s first true love and forever friend, Dottie, was tragically killed in a real life horror story, and Vinny died soon after. They now rest always in peace.
It was my utmost pleasure to meet Victoria Price in April 2011 when she came to St. Louis for the big “Vincentennial” ten-day celebration marking her father’s birthday one hundred years earlier. There were many memorable events at various venues including showings of famous Vincent Price movies, performances, speeches, and exhibits. I was happy that my story, “The Mysterious Dottie,” was published in the Globe-Democrat special issue about Vincent Price! And I was thrilled that during Victoria’s remarkable verbal/video presentation at the History Museum she talked about her dad’s engagement to my mother, showed a photo that he made for Dottie that ended up being on a commercial billboard in London, and was kind enough to mention that I was in the audience.
*Read Vincent Price’s obituary