Ingrid Pitt is simply known as the Queen of Hammer Horrors. It’s a neat tag that does little to explain what really makes this multi-talented lady tick. I have little doubt that Ingrid is a woman of so many parts that only her family gets to relish the sum total of this enigmatic woman. Today, Ingrid remains as outspoken as always, and suffers fools not at all. Her numerous articles and many books show a rare dry wit that slices through any hint verbosity when nailing her own succinct thoughts. Miss Pitt is not afraid of a little bloodletting and her career in horror personifies many of her own personal traits. And I mean this kindly.
To understand the Ingrid Pitt of today, you need to know something of her past. The best place to find that is in her autobiography. However, Miss Pitt regards this tome with some degree of ambivalence; mostly for having revealed too much of herself to the reader. So instead let us picture a beautful young woman who, as an outspoken critic of the Communists, has fled eastern Europe and is building a new life in the west. With some knowledge of acting and a prefectly arid sense of the dramatic, movies may not be a bad place to begin her new life.
Twenty-three films in 39 years is hardly prolific, but Ingrid has built a huge cult following and this has been due to a combination of her great films and, in the last half of her career, to her wonderful writings on the horror genre. While Ingrid’s film roles have varied wildly from Where Eagles Dare to the brilliant mini-series Smiley’s People, it is her Hammer films and the amazing The Wicker Man, which have proved the mainstay with her fans. The advent of video and now DVD has given new impetus to the survival of such cult films, and in turn has bouyed autograph collecting.
This and the fact that Ingrid has one of the best websites at:
The site was voted #3 by the brilliant FilmFax magazine. Here you can find a huge collection of photos, fan stuff and also get acquainted with Ingrid Pitt the writer. If you want to understand something of Ingrid’s strength of personality then read her reply to “Letter from America” on her website.
Or better still, read what Ingrid has to say below…and then check out her cool website.
David: During the late 50s you worked with Mrs Berthold Brecht (Helene Weigel) before fleeing to the world of film. Obviously this step was neither easy nor simple for you. Could you tell us a little about how your life changed during this crucial period in your life?
Ingrid: Leaving the Berthold Brecht theatre was not something I chose to do. I had been in trouble with the Communist authorities before. I had, and I guess still have, a propensity for shooting off my mouth. Not healthy in a Communist community. But good does come out of bad. Running away from the theatre when the police came to pick me up I accidentally fell into the river when I tried to hide. Luckily a patrol boat from the Allies side picked me up. I later married the Lieutenant who fished me out and went to live in America. I joined the Pasadena Playhouse company until that went bust then sold my car for a ticket to Europe.
David: Can you tell us about how you came to be cast in the Spanish horror film, El Sonido Prehistorico?
Ingrid: In Madrid I lived in a well known actors retreat in Calle DR.Fleming. Another resident was a photographer, Caesar Lucas. He took me to a bullfight and got me a seat right up the front. When I saw the bull being killed I had mild hysterics. Which my snapper mate photographed. Next morning the pic was all over the front page of El Pueblo. A film director, Ana Mariscal, spotted it and decided she wanted me for a part. The film was called Los Duendes de Andalucia. At the wrap party I heard about El Sonidad Prehistorico being cast. Next day I went to the office of the director Nieves Confe, with my three year old baby on my hip and convinced him I was just right for the job. I think it was the baby that did it.
David: At what stage were you asked for your first autograph and do you remember the details and how you felt at the time?
Ingrid: First autograph? That honour must go to my Uncle Tosh. I was always a bit of a show-off. When I was about 11, I appeared in a school play. When I came out afterwards Uncle Tosh was waiting with a bunch of flowers and a brand new autograph book. I cringe when I think what I wrote in his book. 'By hook or by crook, I be first in this book'. I still remember it and a still wonder why I wrote that.
David: Did you ever sign any photos with Richard Burton or Clint Eastwood after the release of Where Eagles Dare? And have you signed photos with many other actors over the years?
Ingrid: Yes, I think we did sign a few photographs and things together, but mainly for the crew. After the film I was the one that did the publicity tour. A bit daft. I should have been barn storming production offices for more work. I didn't see either Clint or Richard anywhere. They had more sense and were off working.
David: What was your reaction when you were asked to test for The Vampire Lovers, and how did you feel about making (what was then) such a sexually ambivalent film? Did this lead to any interesting encounters with your fans? And if so were these moments positive or confronting?
Ingrid: I wasn't asked to test for Vampire Lovers. I was at a dinner party at the Savoy, I think, after the London premiere of Alfred. I sat next to Jimmy Carreras. He had just seen Where Eagles Dare and asked me if I would be interested in doing a film for him. I wasn't too sure about getting involved in a low priced horror film. I had just done a block buster for MGM. Actors tend to think like that. Luckily sense returned the following morning. Producers hadn't been exactly hammering the door down since Eagles. So I went to the Hammer offices in Wardour Street and came away with the lead in Vampire Lovers. Nudity has never bothered me. I knew I had a good body and was willing to flaunt it. I knew it added to the picture and the box office potential. I hate those scenes where actors get out of bed and coyly hide behind the sheet. If you are in bed and the action calls for you to get up - you get up - basta! Occasionally when I'm doing an autograph stint I have fans embarrassed to ask me to sign photographs of me in the nude. As if I would be flogging them if I had any problem with them. But that's about all. I have never had any real problems.
David: Did you find that your autographs were more in demand after making your three great horror films of the early 70s culminating in the brilliant The Wicker Man? What are your fondest memories of working on this film?
Ingrid: Memories of Wicker Man begin and end with the word: COLD. The time of the year was supposed to be spring. We shot in November. Even the apple blossom on the trees had to be imported. And you have to remember that there was a lot of politics going on behind the scenes. It was a surprise to everyone when it was actually finished. Stories are still circulating about huge chunks of it that were buried in the concrete under the M1 motorway. The company was sold three times during production and nobody could see a future for the film. Then it began to appear on American campuses. Gradually it became a cult favourite until now it is often cited as the best Cult movie of all time. So of course they are now preparing to remake it -in America.
What was nice about the film was that it was made on location with the locals filing in as extras. And they were wonderful. The downside was that three women; Britt Ekland Diane Cilento and me had, shall we say, contrasting viewpoints of our worth to society. Which did cause some friction! Now happily long in the past.
David: When you attend movie festivals and autograph signings what question do your fans ask most often?
Ingrid: The most asked question is easy. "What is Clint Eastwood like to work with and did he...." Clint was great and the second half of the question is for me to know and you to guess; and you'd probably be wrong. I think there is a greater appreciation for, Where Eagles Dare because it never seems to be off the small screen - which ever country you're in. I've even heard myself speaking the lines in Japanese.
David: What movie do you think your fans love the most and which is your personal favourite and why? Also what do you consider to be the greatest horror film of all time? And what is your own favourite movie of all time?
Ingrid: Of the horror films it is probably Wicker Man and Vampire Lovers although some people do get quite intense about Countess Dracula. And the best selling photograph is from The House That Dripped Blood. I think my favourite is probably El Sonido Prehistorico. It's so camp and of another world. And my favourite movie of all time has got to be War and Peace directed by Bondachuk - just because it is so long and involving - but I'm also a fan of the Terminator movies.
David: Did you ever decline making a film that you wish you hadn't or missed out on a role that you really wanted?
Ingrid: The only film that I was upset at losing was Le Mans with Steve McQueen. I was asked to do the film but I was working on Countess Dracula at the time and the films overlapped by a couple of weeks. Neither producer would yield so I had to let it go. Another that didn't exactly enchant me was the way the casting for Hannie Caulder was done. Raquel Welch was originally cast for it but at the last moment got cold feet for some reason. I was asked to do it. I agreed and signed a contract. Then Raquel decided she wanted to do it anyway so I was paid off with a paltry sum. The film bombed. Most critics agreed that that fault lie in the casting of Raquel. So I guess there was a little bit of spite there for me to relish.
David: You have been quoted as saying that one of the main reasons why you took up writing was because good movie roles dried up. Do you think this was because you had been stereotyped as the Queen of Scream and that these roles had virtually died out in Britain by the late 70s? Have you ever contemplated writing the screenplay for a horror film based on your own expertise and experience in the genre? And what writing project do you have planned for 2004?
Ingrid: Film roles in the seventies were certainly hard to come by. I bought an option on a script to shoot in Argentina. When I arrived there the country, as usual, was in political turmoil. And the military junta running the country didn't take to my story of a women overthrowing a military junta. So I tried to get several other projects agreed but they were all turned down. In desperation I wrote a script called Gaucho Girl. This was accepted. It got me started on serious writing and while I hung around during shooting I wrote a book called Cuckoo Run. This was published by Futura. Since then I have churned out 14 books of one sort or another. My latest writing project is the definitive Hammer book entitled The Hammer Xperience. This has been contracted by Hammer Films and should hit the shelves in time for Christmas 2004.
David: Soon you are to begin making your second film with your daughter, Steffie. How do you find it working with your daughter and will you encourage your beloved grand-daughter to pursue an acting career as she grows up?
Ingrid: I never encourage anyone to take up either acting or writing. Both are disciplines that can only be driven by desire. Two things everyone thinks they can do is act and write a best seller. Maybe they can but it isn't easy. 99.9% of those who try never make it and those who do find it hard to make a living. I never encouraged Steffie. She wanted to be an artist. She still combines her painting with acting to ensure a continuity of work. The end of September we are supposed to start work on Death's Door taken from one of Graham Masterton's books. It's great working together. We've always been very close and it is magic being on the set with her. But we're keeping the baby well in the background.
David: I entitled this piece, The Pitt & the Pendulum because, for me, both your life and career have seemed to swing back and forth between life's great extremes. And, too me, you seem to possess such a wonderfully dry sense of humour that it often seems lost on some of the people who have interviewed you. Do you think that some writers and even many of your fans have become so engrossed in your movie identity that they often forget what a very complex person lurks beyond those sexy 10x8s? Do you think that your sense of humour is a double-edged sword, working both as a defence and a weapon for you when you deal with various members of the public?
Ingrid: Have we drifted into metaphysics? I can't answer any of those questions. A long time ago I found that I lack a filter between my brain and my tongue. I think it, so I speak it. I often see my husband wince when I get set on some fiery cause or blurt out something that would best have been locked away. I can't do anything about it. I try to write the same way. I was once told that it doesn't matter how clever you are, you can't please everybody. The trick is to write what you enjoy reading. Then there is a chance that somebody of a like mind will find it interesting. So that's what I do. If the reader doesn't like it - tough!
David: Have you ever collected signed photos of people you have worked with or people you admire? If you had the chance to have anyone in history sign for you, who would it be, and what would you have them say in their dedication?
Ingrid: I really don't understand why people want autographs. But millions do and I'm always grateful when they want mine. If I did want a autograph then it would definitely be from Winston Churchill. I have several pictures, and half a dozen or so books, and I never miss a TV programme that has Winston in it. I think it is Winston that encouraged my passion for Spitfires and Lancaster bombers. "Never in the field of human endeavour...." and all that!
David: Can you share with us one or two of your funniest or most bizarre autograph requests? Have you ever had any unpleasant moments with autograph hunters? How did you handle these situations?
Ingrid: Perhaps I'm lucky. Most people who write to me are civilised. I have only had one nasty moment with an autograph hunter. I was having dinner with the director Fred Olen Ray and the actress Michelle Bauer when this geek came up and started being offensive. Michelle ignored it but I had to have my say and told him to sling his hook. He didn't take that too kindly and what might be described as a melee started. Fortunately my husband is big and, with the help of Fred they manage to bundle the guy out.
And the funniest request? Not particularly funny but I did have a bloke want a signed photograph and a clipping of pubic hair. He didn't get it. Once you start that sort of thing it's not long before you are seeking the services of a wig-maker.
David: Before we say goodbye, Miss Ingrid could you tell us how you see your future unfolding, and do you have any last messages for your many fans around the world?
Ingrid: My only long term project is to get old. Really old and filthy. It would be nice to hang around to see my grand daughter Sofia growing up. I would also like to do a film as a geriatric James Bond character. But nobody's got the bottle for that sort of thing these days.
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