Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Late, Great Ingrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt, often referred to as "the Queen of Horror," passed yesterday at the age of 73. The cause was heart failure.

Ingrid Pitt was born Ingoushka Petrov on 21 November 1937 in Poland. It was in 1943 that Miss Pitt's family was captured by the Nazis. Miss Pitt and her mother were separated from her father and sent to the Stutthof concentration camp. In 1945 the Nazis forced the concentration camp survivors to march towards Germany. Miss Pitt and her mother escaped into a woods. When they were finally discovered by the Red Cross, the war had been over for several weeks. Young Ingrid Pitt was diagnosed with tuberculosis and not expected to live. Fortunately, she survived and was reunited with her father. In the Fifties he took Miss Pitt to movie theatres, where she fell in love with the world of film. Once Miss Pitt had graduated school, she enrolled as a probationer at Berlin's medical school. She was expelled after she refused to dissect a rat. Miss Pitt then studied bookkeeping, shorthand, and typing.

It was in the early Sixties that Miss Pitt joined the Berliner Ensemble. She studied under Helen Weigel, Bertolt Brecht's widow who had founded the ensemble in 1948. Unfortunately, Miss Pitt's political views did not endear her to the East German government, so that she fled Berlin by diving into the River Spree. She was rescued by an American Army lieutenant, Laud Pitt, whom she later married. The two would move to Fort Carson, Colorado, where Ingrid Pitt joined a local theatrical company. She later acted at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.

After divorcing her first husband, Ingrid Pitt moved to Spain. It was there that she was discovered by a Spanish producer. Miss Pitt made her film debut in El sonido de la muerte (1964). Over the next few years she appeared in Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight (1965),  Doctor Zhivago (1965, in an uncredited role), Un beso en el puerto (1966), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). After she moved back to Los Angeles, Ingrid Pitt guest starred on Dundee and The Culhane (1967) and Ironside (1967). In 1968 she appeared in the films The Omegans and the World War II classic Where Eagles Dare.

It was in 1970 that Ingrid Pitt was established as a horror actress, starring as Carmilla in Hammer Films' The Vampire Lovers (based on  the J. Sheridan Le Fanu novella Carmilla). In 1971 she starred in Countess Dracula, a Hammer film based on the historical figure of Countess Elisabeth Bathory. In the Seventies Miss Pitt starred on such films as The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Nobody Ordered Love (1972), and the cult classic The Wicker Man (1973). She guest starred on Jason King, The Adventurer, The Zoo Gang, and the British series Thriller.

In the Eighties Miss Pitt appeared in the films The Final Option (1982), Bones (1984), Wild Geese II (1985), Transmutations (1985), and Hanna's War (1988). She was the voice of the gallery mistress in Octopussy (1983). She guest starred on Smiley's People, Dr. Who, and Bulman. Miss Pitt appeared on television in Artemis 21, The Comedy of Errors, and The House. Miss Pitt would continue to appear on the stage. She acted for some time in a company founded by Bill Kenwright and later founded her own company with her second husband.

Inspired by novelist Alistair MacLean, Ingrid Pitt began writing in the late 1980's. She published the novel Cuckoo Run in 1980. It was followed by such novels as The Perons (1984), Eva's Spell (1985), and Katarina (1986). Miss Pitt also wrote nonfiction. Besides her autobiography, The Autobiography of Ingrid Pitt : Life's A Scream (1999), she also wrote The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers (1998), Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Ghosthunters (1999), and The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity (2000). Her last book The Hammer Xperience, on the history of Hammer Films, is due out next year.

Ingrid Pitt returned to the screen in 2000 in The Asylum. Over the next few years she appeared in Green Fingers (2000) and Minotaur (2006). She appeared in Hammer's online serial Beyond the Rave in 2008. In 2008 she made her last appearance on screen in Sea of the Dust.

Ingrid Pitt was a talented actress who appeared in film, on television, and on stage. She was also a talented writer who wrote over ten books and wrote columns for magazines and web sites. What many may not know, whoever, is that Ingrid Pitt was not simply a talented actress and writer, but a woman who cared deeply about others. When the climax to The Wicker Man was shot, it was on a cold November day in Scotland, even though the scene called for everyone to be dressed as if it was May Day (when the climax took place). Coats were brought out to the three lead actress to put on between takes. Actress Britt Ekland eagerly took her coat. Actress Diane Cilento graciously took her coat and said, "Thank you."  Ingrid Pitt, professional that she was, refused her coat, stating flatly, "If the extras don't have time to put on their coats, then neither do I!" While I never had the honour of meeting Miss Pitt, I do know people who have and their stories are always the same. She was very gracious to her fans. With the passing of Ingrid Pitt, we have not only lost a great actress and talented writer, but a woman who was also a true lady. She truly was the Queen of Horror.

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