/ 25 November 2010

‘England’s first lady of horror’ dies

Ingrid Pitt, who survived a Nazi concentration camp and dodged Communist police to become one of Britain’s best-known horror stars, died on Tuesday, her daughter said. She was 73.

Steffanie Pitt said her mother collapsed while on her way to a birthday dinner due to be held in her honor over the weekend. The cause of death wasn’t known, although Steffanie Pitt said her mother had recently been in poor health.

Known in Britain principally as the buxom bloodsucker in Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula, Ingrid Pitt’s acting career very nearly wasn’t.

Born to a mother of Jewish descent, Pitt was interned in a Nazi concentration camp at the age of five. She survived the war, but was forced to flee Communist Berlin on the night of her planned stage debut, plunging into the River Spree in a bid to escape East German authorities. In a twist which easily surpassed the drama of the camp horror films in which she starred, she was rescued by an American soldier who would go on to become her husband.

Movie career
Her movie career was jump-started by her role in the 1968 action-adventure movie, Where Eagles Dare. The World War II drama would eventually lead to her being taken on by Britain’s Hammer Films — home to Christopher Lee’s Dracula. She would play alongside the horror legend in 1971’s The House That Dripped Blood and 1973’s The Wicker Man.

Steffanie Pitt told the Associated Press that her mother was a determined woman and that “acting was in her blood from the word ‘go'”. It seems her mother would have agreed, writing in her autobiography, Life’s a Scream, that she had a “strong sense of the dramatic even before I was born.”

Indeed, Ingrid’s birth interrupted her parents’ attempts to flee Nazi Germany via Poland in 1937, delaying their attempt to escape to Britain.

Snared by the Germans, Pitt and her mother were interned at the Stutthof concentration camp. She survived the war and joined the Berliner Ensemble, where she worked under actress Helene Weigel, the widow of German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

But the political climate in East Germany didn’t suit her, and her outspoken criticism of the Communist officials didn’t suit the government there either.

She left Berlin on the night of her planned stage debut, diving into (and nearly drowning in) the Spree, which runs through the German capital. Pitt was rescued by a handsome US lieutenant, who she would later marry.

Moving on
Pitt moved to America, and — following the breakup of her marriage — to Spain, where she starred in her first movies despite a limited command of the language. Discovered while watching a bullfight, a career in Hollywood and British horror would follow.

Although Pitt had a series of other roles in film and on television, it was her 1970s vampire films which drew a cult following, with fans crowning her “England’s first lady of horror”. Pitt embraced it, writing occasional columns for websites such as Den of Geek and making frequent visits to conventions and festivals.

“It’s great meeting the fans,” Pitt was quoted as saying on her fansite, Pitt of Horror. “They tell me that I am more beautiful now than when I was making films a quarter of a century ago. All lies, of course, but sweet.”

Pitt is survived by her second husband, her daughter Steffanie, and a granddaughter. Funeral arrangements were still being worked out Tuesday. — Sapa-AP