Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Pretty Alpine Rose

A fair few years back I had the very good fortune to interview the utterly delightful Ingrid Pitt. Dubbed the “Queen of Horror” thanks to her starring roles in Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula, and Amicus Production’s portmanteau movie The House That Dripped Blood, she was born Ingoushka Petrov in Poland, the daughter of a Polish–Jewish mother and Prussian father.

At the age of five she was shipped off to Stutthof concentration camp, east of Gdańsk, with her mother, while her father, a scientist who refused to assist in the development of the V2 rockets, was interned at Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Escaping during the evacuation of Stutthof due the Red Army’s advance, the pair were taken in by local partisans. After the war’s end her mother was treated for typhus and she was hospitalized with tuberculosis. Once recovered, they scoured the displaced persons’ camps, walking from Warsaw to Berlin where the family was reunited when they eventually discovered her father living in a cellar.

Enrolled at medical school because most of her ancestors had been doctors, Ingrid wanted to be an actress. Although living in West Berlin she was accepted into The Berliner Ensemble run by Helene Weigel, the widow of Bertolt Brecht, located in the East. Outspoken of the Communist regime when the compulsory political schooling ate into her rehearsal time, she was tipped off that the Volkspolizei, who had previously cautioned her, were coming to the theatre to arrest her. As officers marched into the auditorium she bolted for the stage door and, once outside, threw herself into the Spree. Luckily an American patrol on the western bank heard the gunshots and she was pulled from the water by Laud Pitt a marine lieutenant who immediately took her to a nearby whorehouse where she was given brandy and a hot bath.

Married to her saviour, she eventually relocated the America, spending time on the Navajo Reservation at Window Rock, Arizona. With the marriage failing, when the American theatre company she joined went bankrupt she drove to the airport, sold the car and booked herself on the first flight to Europe, pitching up in Spain. Photographed at a bullfight, the picture caught the attention of a well–known filmmaker, learning her lines phonetically for the ensuing screen test. By the time Ingrid established herself as a member of the Teatro Nacional de Espana she was cast as an extra in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, which helped kick start her film career.

Although we would discuss her famous roles, including a part in Robert Hardy’s celebrated The Wicker Man, I had to begin with Where Eagles Dare. Before we moved on she drew my attention to the final scene of the movie where the quartet of agents finally relax in the passenger compartment of the Junkers Ju 52, with Richard Burton and Mary Ure – who had since passed away – sitting together on one side of the aircraft, while she and Clint Eastwood, both very much alive, sat on the other. Alas, as of Tuesday afternoon, Eastwood sits in the “Iron Annie” alone.