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Pitt, Ingrid (1937-2010)


Main image of Pitt, Ingrid (1937-2010)

Self-styled 'Queen of Horror' Ingrid Pitt actually appeared in only four genre titles, although her performances in Countess Dracula (d. Roy Ward Baker, 1970) and The Vampire Lovers (d. Peter Sasdy, 1970) were certainly memorable. They were made at a time when Hammer was infusing its horror productions with a good dose of sex, and Pitt was well equipped to provide the necessary spice.

Born Ingoushka Petrov in Poland in 1937, Pitt was interned with her mother in a Nazi concentration camp due to their Jewish origins. The dramatic tale of her escape, living rough with partisans and, later, getting out of East Berlin, has been well told and she herself suggested a link between the horrors of her childhood and her affinity to the horror genre on screen.

Her escape from Communist Germany was aided by a US marine, Roland Pitt, whom she married. On her divorce, she and her daughter settled in Spain, where she began working in film, taking small parts in several Spanish titles. Her first major role was in American science-fiction film The Omegans (1967), about a river with mysterious powers. Pitt plays an unfaithful wife who bathes in the river and, in a curious reversal of her later role in Countess Dracula, begins to age due to contact with the water.

A small but important part as a German double agent in Where Eagles Dare (US/UK, d. Brian G. Hutton, 1968) brought her to England and to the attention of British producers. She then made three horror films in quick succession, the two Hammer vampire titles and the portmanteau movie The House that Dripped Blood (d. Peter Duffell, 1970) for Hammer's rival Amicus. All three were released between late 1970 and early 1971, and Pitt appeared to be taking British screens by storm. However, she couldn't sustain her rapid ascent, and most of her subsequent credits in the 70s were in television productions, the exception being a small but impressive appearance as the librarian on Summerisle in The Wicker Man (d. Robin Hardy, 1973).

Television credits ranged from Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-87) stories alongside both Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison, a part in Smiley's People (BBC, 1982) and a role in a BBC adaptation of The Comedy of Errors (tx. 24/12/1983). She returned to the big screen in 1982 in the SAS drama Who Dares Wins (d. Ian Sharp), followed three years later by Wild Geese II (d. Peter Hunt, 1985) and a small part in Hanna's War (US, 1988).

From then on, Pitt appeared mostly as 'herself', in documentaries on subjects ranging from Richard Burton to vampirology or in films made by enthusiasts of her earlier work in which her presence was a nod to her horror credentials. She also took up writing, contributing a regular column to genre magazine Shivers and publishing several books, and was a frequent guest at horror conventions, building a large fan base. She was on her way to a special birthday dinner organised by her fans in November 2010 when she suffered a collapse; she died a few days later.

Although perhaps not a particularly versatile actor, Pitt left behind some accomplished performances across different media and genres. Her skill at maintaining her profile through writing and personal appearances, along with her enthusiasm and gregariousness, made her an ideal ambassador for the horror genre.

Josephine Botting

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Selected credits

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David Lean's epic version of Boris Pasternak's novel

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Cult favourite about the pagan inhabitants of a remote Scottish island.

Thumbnail image of Comedy of Errors, The (1983)Comedy of Errors, The (1983)

BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation with Roger Daltrey

Thumbnail image of Smiley's People (1982)Smiley's People (1982)

The sequel to 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', again starring Alec Guinness

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