A few weeks ago I wrote about Halloween and how the streets of St Margarets were crowded with young ghouls, ghosties and goblins. Today I report that the Mistress of them all – the Queen of Screams and the Empress of the Undead is no longer with us.
Ingrid Pitt died last week just two days after her 73rd birthday. This well regarded actor, writer, former resident of St Margarets and star of such classic Hammer horror films as “The Vampire Lovers” and “Countess Dracula” was admired around the world. Her legions of fans included gentlemen of a certain age much taken by her stunning looks, her voluptuous figure and her frequent appearances as a “lusty, busty, predatory bloodsucker” and you don’t get many of those walking down Crown Road these days.
“I was born into the biggest horror show of the century – the brutality of the Nazi regime. I think that it is amazing that I do horror films when I had this awful childhood. But maybe that’s why I’m good at it!”
Ingrid Pitt was born Ingousha Petrov in Poland in 1937 to a Jewish mother and a German scientist. In 1942 Ingrid and her mother were sent to Stutthof Concentration Camp near Gdansk where they remained for 3 years. It was here in the squalor and brutality of the camp that Ingrid realised that if she ever made it to freedom she was going to act…
“I think that I first knew that I wanted to act in the camp. I used to lie on the straw and try to believe I was somewhere else.”
In January 1945, with the Russian Army rapidly advancing, the Nazis began evacuating Stutthof Camp. Ingrid and her mother were taken into the forest to be shot but with the help of partisans managed to escape. They eventually made their way to East Berlin where Ingrid got a job with the prestigious Berliner Ensemble Theatre under the direction of Bertolt Brecht’s widow Helene Weigel. Despite obligatory political schooling Ingrid was very critical of the Communist system. Tipped off one night in 1953 that the Volkspolizei were on their way to arrest her, she fled, still in the costume of mute Karin from “Mother Courage” and escaped to the west aided by an American officer Roland Pitt who she later married. After living for some time on a military base in Colorado Ingrid divorced her husband and returned to Europe with her daughter Steffanie. In 1968 Ingrid came to Britain to play a German double agent in “Where Eagles Dare” starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Afterwards she claimed that she pretended to be a German to get the part - something she wasn’t happy about. During this time she acquired a love of England and a new husband, the racing driver Tony Rudlin. They moved together into Kilmorey Gardens in north St Margarets where they lived happily for the next 20 years. Ingrid’s only complaint about our fine neighbourhood was that it probably “Wasn’t London enough!”
In 1970 came the film that gave Ingrid her first big break – “Vampire Lovers” in which she played Mircalla Karnstein - a 200 year old lesbian vampire who seduces her female victims by sucking their blood. Dressed in transparent, low cut gowns and displaying a spectacular cleavage Ingrid was a sensation…even though her vampire teeth kept falling out and she had to stick them in with chewing gum,
A year later she starred in “Countess Dracula” in which she played Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian aristocrat who maintained her youthful looks by bathing in the blood of virgins. Numerous other starring roles in Hammer horror films followed and in1973 she played against type as a librarian in the cult film “The Wicker Man”. She still finished up naked in a bathtub though which pleased the “gentlemen of a certain age.”
Ingrid also appeared in “Who Dares Wins” and on television in “Smiley’s People” and “Dr Who” as Dr. Solow. In between scaring people half to death she wrote her autobiography, “Life’s a Scream” (1999) and “The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity (2000). She was also a popular guest and speaker at horror conventions and fan meets. All of us - creatures of the night and gentlemen of a certain age - will miss her.
“My entire life was overshadowed by my childhood and the tormenting acts of violence and hate I had to witness. I survived the hell, but hardly anyone else did: 98 per cent of all deportees died. Surviving doesn’t made one special - but it does make one extraordinarily lucky.”
– from Martyn Day