Alpha Sigma Phi’s 170th with a Price

Alpha Sigma Phi was founded on December 6, 1845, at Yale University (it was then known as Yale College). The Yale of 1845 was worlds away from the Yale of today. In 1845, only a very small percentage of American young men (and a minuscule amount of young women) were enrolled in any form of higher education. Alpha Sigma Phi’s founders are Louis Manigault, Horace Spangler Weiser and Stephen Ormsby Rhea.

One of Alpha Sigma Phi’s famous alumni belonged to the Alpha chapter at Yale. Vincent Price, although known primarily for his acting roles, was an art historian and advocate for the arts. He gave countless lectures on art, amassed a large collection of works, and used any opportunity, including appearances on Johnny Carson’s show, to promote the arts.

Price was born on May 27, 1911 and grew up in St. Louis. His father was a Yale alumnus and his grandfather invented baking powder. It made his grandfather quite wealthy for a time, “and then he lost all his money in the crash of ‘92 (1892). I’ve never forgiven him for this, never. Because I should have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” quipped Price.

After college, Price’s father began and was president of the National Candy Company in St. Louis. His family was quite musical. Price’s interest in the visual arts was fostered because he “couldn’t tell what my right hand was doing to my left hand on the piano. They didn’t work together. And so I developed a love for the visual arts, and theirs was entirely musical. We had no pictures around the house at all, except one horrible sort of picture of some cows in a landscape and a couple of family portraits. My family apparently had no taste in who painted their portraits at all, and they were dreadful.”

In 1929, he traveled from St. Louis to New Haven. Price entered Yale “with a real interest and a real sort of feeling that college was going to give me a wonderful visual education. It really didn’t do that very much. Yale was at that time the old Yale, academic and scientific. And I went to academic, my father went to scientific, my brother went to scientific. And there wasn’t much interest in the arts, in letting the undergraduate really into the arts, because you had to be on the dean’s list to be able to elect courses. I finally was so discouraged that I made an effort and got on the dean’s list, so that the last two years I took almost entirely art courses. And in my art history course I think I got a ninety-eight or something, which is not bad. But it’s a game that I’ve always played all my life, of identifying art.”

In speaking of the professors who had an influence on his life, he mentioned “a man who taught a course in Shakespeare who was a very big influence on my life, and sort of put me in touch with the theater, which I didn’t really have. . . . St. Louis is a good theater town, but really being near to New York, and being in New Haven where shows were tried out, was very important to me, and certainly aimed me towards the theater, though I didn’t know how to get in. But two years after I got out of Yale I was starring on Broadway, so it worked out all right.”

After graduating from Yale, he taught at the Riverdale Country School and had quick access to the theaters in New York. Price said, “because I could go in for very little money and see all the plays. And then I went to the Courtauld in London and there I fell in love with the theater, and that was that.”vincent price

Price’s quotes are from an oral history interview with Vincent Price, 1992 Aug. 6-14, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

© Fran Becque,, 2015. All rights reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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