I used to be a bit of a blood thirsty kid. I think I may have mentioned that before.
When I was growing up I was a huge fan of Hammer, and idolised the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Sir Christopher Lee, no less. I was gutted when I first heard of the death of Cushing. And, as a horror fan, films like The Vampire Lovers and Lust For A Vampire had everything that a teenage lad could want. If you know what I mean.
I recently read the autobiography of Countess Dracula herself, Ingrid Pitt, the Polish born actress who was regarded as the Queen Of Horror.
I wanted to read her book, in particular, as I knew that her story was not the usual Hollywood actress fare. And what a story it was.
The second part of the book included the usual name dropping anecdotes. How she played cards with John Wayne, rode a motorcycle with Clint Eastwood, and practiced karate with Elvis. But it is the retelling of the early part of her life that sets this book apart.
Her childhood coincided with the madness that consumed Europe in World War Two, and her early narrative tells of a last glimpse of her grandparents and (temporarily) her father, as she was led on a journey that eventually led to her being imprisoned in Stuthoff concentration camp along with her mother. A five year old girl, taken from everything familiar and suddenly surrounded by such cruelty and death, some of the memories related of this time in her life are harrowing. She remained imprisoned there, until, at the age of eight, both she and her mother escaped into the forest as they were being marched by the Nazis to face a firing squad.
They then lived in the wilderness among partisans, until the red army approached and the war came to its ignominious end.
What comes across in the book is the indomitable strength of her mother, who kept going on behalf of her child, with a strength and endurance she discovered because of her child. Together, they got through their hellish ordeal and eventually emerged on the other side.
Although her difficulties did not end there, I will leave it for you discover for yourself how she eventually became the famous actress and writer who was much celebrated by we Hammer fans. Suffice it to say that Pitt’s is a remarkable story of overcoming the odds in one of the darkest and shameful chapters in man’s history.
I read a comment about her autobiography, the original version of which is entitled Life’s A Scream, by a man who knew her. He said that she told him that she had wanted to call her book From Shit To Champagne, but was persuaded otherwise. I think that would have been a perfect analogy of her life journey. She herself said, in one interview, that acting in horror films was easy, because she had seen what real horror was.
R.I.P Ingrid Pitt 1937-2010