In her father's book, Vincent Price: A
Daughter's Biography, Victoria Price refers to a mysterious woman with whom
her father was in love during the early 1930's. Until now, no one --
including Victoria -- knew who this woman was. But thanks to St.
Louis, MO author, Irene Leland, you're about to learn the identity of the
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. My parents had invited him over to
our house that evening for cocktails before we went to a party. I was so
excited to be included! It was the night of my father, Pete Leland's, 57th
birthday. It had been twenty-nine years ago that this man had proposed to my
mom, Dottie. I thought it was so unique that my dad and he were able to cut
through jealousy and engage each other in light-hearted fun - displaying
similar assets of respectful manners combined with wit and humor.
This man of 52 years, 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 with his warm and gentle demeanor, very
unlike the many roles he played as the King of Horror. This man was Vincent
Price. And I was a very enchanted young lady! ...finally getting to meet the
famous man who had captured my mother's heart (many years before) but not
her hand in marriage. He had fallen deeply in love with her, 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 both grew up in the very finest cultured environment of St. Louis
society and experienced a thrilling romance together, my mother had a strong
sense of standards that were passed on down to her from her family.
Dorothy at the time of her debut into society
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 who treated her beautifully and provided for
her well in taking over his father's well-established
publishing business. But I was always in awe over how she
could do it - turn him down and pull it off and still keep
up and be friends with him!
|At the time that Vince proposed to her in
January '35, he had just been cast in a prominent role as Prince Albert in "Victoria Regina" in London. He was very involved in extensive research,
studying and preparing for his role. That following May, his premier
performance brought raving reviews and launched Vincent Price into stardom.
Not long after, he went on to play the role on Broadway opposite Helen
Hayes. The stage was set, and "Uncle Vinny", as he let me call him, had his
feet solid on it. A solid footing that was to step 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 marvelous 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 as a slogan to 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.
Which we did. In the letter of March 3rd that he had written Mother from Los Angeles after his
trip here, he summed up the event perfectly:
Many thanks for sending me the clips – 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 men --
All Love to you all.
I also remember on that eventful evening of meeting Vincent Price that he
proudly showed me a picture of his two-year-old daughter, Victoria. She
looked just like him! I kept thinking . . .I wonder who her mother is and
what it was like living in their world in California.
In January 2000, a friend and I had our little late Christmas exchange. She
brought me the newly released biography, Vincent Price, by his daughter,
Victoria. Needless to say, I clutched this biographical treasure with glee!
When the timing became just right - I plunged into Vincent Price with
excitement and great curiosity! I wondered if Victoria ever knew about my
mother. And if she did not, while Vincent was living, I wondered if she had
discovered anything about it later during her research for the book.
There I was, sitting on the family room sofa ever intently devouring
Victoria's every word with extreme trepidation as my eyes arrived upon page
59 of chapter nine. By golly, there it was! She devoted the whole page to "The Mysterious Dottie"! Well, it's probably a good thing that I was alone
in the house at the time because I immediately burst into, not only talking
out loud, but jumping up and down and squealing with joy - not to mention
dancing around the room! My two sweet dogs looked at me as if to say, "Hey, Mom - have you lost it?"
Dorothy at the time of her engagement
to Vincent Price
|She writes about what a significant development this was in
Vincent's life. She quotes from his letters to his parents talking about his
intense feelings for Dottie - "I love her, and 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
tells them about the ring he sent her, "a lovely jewel, while not expensive,
does have great brilliance." She also mentions about the gag photo she found
of Vincent (which is reproduced in the book) and the note attached to it
that it was for his Fiancée. He agreed to have one photo taken for
commercial purposes, thereby saving expense. A month later, the photo
appeared three times life size in Piccadilly Circus as an ad for deodorant.
But then, Victoria talks about how nothing else was known regarding the
mysterious Dottie, where she came from, who she was, or what happened to her
... or whether or not Dottie accepted or refused the ring. The only hint was
in a letter he wrote to his family two months after he proposed in which he
states that he was very upset about something.
Needless to mention, I could hardly wait to contact Victoria! When I
discovered that her phone in Santa Fe was unpublished, I decided to write to
her - care of her publisher. Then, a few days later, I got a lucky break. I
was at a ladies' luncheon sharing my fun news about "The Mysterious Dottie".
One of the ladies, Anne McAlpin, told me she knew who could give me
Victoria's private number! Lo and behold, several months before, during her
book tour, Victoria had visited our alma mater, Mary Institute/Country Day
(where Vincent and Mother graduated), for a quick lecture/book-signing event
while she was here for a major bookstore signing. Anne suggested I contact
the administrator who organized the school event. Good heavens! She was here
in St. Louis promoting her book and I didn't know?! How did I miss it? My
head was in a spin. Then reality returned.
Interestingly enough, at the same time that Victoria Price was here
promoting her new book, I was enwrapped in promoting my new book,
A-Maze-in' St. Louis. With all of the whirlwind details of the
publishing, marketing and interviewing and my own book-signing at another
major book store, I was completely focused and somehow didn't get the word.
But after a brief disappointment in not having met her, I realized that
maybe it could turn out to be even more intriguing this way. The mystery of "The Mysterious Dottie." And I was about to make a phone call, a call that
would unravel a mystery.
The wedding portrait of Dorothy and Pete Leland
painting by Vincent Price, given to Dottie, which
Victoria says depicts his cottage in Ontario, Canada
|On January 28, 2000, 1 picked up my portable phone to call
Vincent's daughter, Victoria. Although I didn't expect her to come on the
line, I felt jubilant over the sheer fact that I was making a connection -
be it probably on an answering machine. My fingers pushed the buttons with a
zing that fired through me. One ring. I thought, "What if?" And then the
second ring... and then - pop - "Hello" - I heard a nice, relaxed voice.
"Victoria?" I asked. "Yes," she said. "Hi," I chimed, I'm Irene Leland in
St. Louis, Missouri." I then explained about how I had received her phone
number. "I have some information that I think you might find interesting. Do
you have a minute?"..."Yes, I do!" . . . "Oh great, well firstly, I want to
say that I think it's wonderful that you wrote this biography about your
dad. I started reading it the other day, and ... are you sitting down?"
"No," she said, "should I?" An amused lilt in our voices correlated. . .
"Well, you might want to" . . .I went on ... "I got to page 59 all about
Mysterious Dottie, and I started bouncing up and down! . .I know who the
Mysterious Dottie is!" . . . "Oh, my gosh, you do? Who?" she bubbled! I'll
never forget that next moment. I proclaimed, "She's my mother."
An electrifying force charged through the rest of the conversation! I told
her the main ingredients that I knew. Yes, Vincent was crazy in love with
Mom. And Mom simply adored him. They graduated from high school the same
year at sister/brother schools. The ring he sent her was an exquisite huge
golden sapphire, and it arrived baked inside a cake! He was in London. She
was in Paris. Yes, she accepted the ring and she saved it. From what I
remember, he insisted that she keep it. She later had the stone reset as a
pin and gave it to me when I made my debut. Mother, at some point, said no
to marriage due to the mindset at the time that life in the theatre was "shaky". Mom never mentioned details, but it seems that there was a brief
"on hold" period of time before she gave him her final answer. But they
stayed in touch through the years, and whenever Vinny would come to St. Louis, Dottie would invite him to come over for cocktails or dinner.
I told Victoria about the fabulous photo of Mom and Vinny that I took of
them in 1978 when he and his third wife, Carole, came to dinner at Mom's and
her second husband, Bob's house (my father had passed away in 1975). I said I'd make a photocopy to send her
along with one of Mom when she made her debut in 1930. This was from an
original portrait that truly depicts what a classic beauty my mother was.
Both my father and Vinny used to say how much she looked like Carol Lombard,
At one point, as I was talking with her, I exclaimed that I was in my family
room looking up on the cedar wall at a framed painting that Vincent had made
and given to Mom. I described it, and she said, "Oh my gosh, that sounds
like the cottage in Ontario!"
We chatted a bit about what things we were doing in our own lives. What fun
it was that we were both writers. We exchanged addresses and I gave her my
phone number. (I, by the way, did go on and pursue acting - not on stage,
but in TV and radio commercials and industrial films. The last time I saw
Vinny, he was telling me how he had just started doing TV commercials for
Creamette pasta and how very different, even difficult, it was from his
usual mode of acting. He was pleased that I had discovered a fun career and
he admired my doing so.)
The Mysterious Dottie. Well, she's not so mysterious any more. Now Vincent's
daughter has an answer to the mystique. And on that special page of her
book, Victoria provided information that I had not known. Yet there are
still many hidden secrets that we both don't know, many aspects about their
friendship and romance that are obscure. But happily, the unfolded mystery
brought two women together in a phone call. After that call, I couldn't help
but think what is so obviously distinct and yet so eerie. If Dottie had
married Vinny, Victoria and I would not be here!
What's even more eerie and symbolic is a fact of the aftermath. On October
9, 1993, Mom, along with my stepfather, Bob, was murdered by the yardman in
their home. Besides being a major story here in St. Louis, it really shook
up the fine community in which they lived, where there had not been a
killing in 40 years. Vincent was contacted by friends here, and I was told
that he was absolutely devastated. Ten days later, Vincent Price died from
Backstage at St. Louis's famous Fox Theatre,
following a performance of
Diversions and Delights in 1978. Irene Leland and her former
shown with a casual VP. Below is a recently-discovered photo from the
same evening, with
Vincent, Dottie, and her second
Irene Leland can be reached at the following email address:
She would be pleased to hear from you!
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All material on this page is copyright 2010 by Irene