Ingrid Pitt Interview (2001)

Posted: June 15, 2013 in Interviews (general), TV & Movies

Ingrid Pitt starred in “Where Eagles Dare” (1968) alongside Clint Eastwood, Mary Uhre and Richard Burton, and when I was old enough to see it at the cinemas I thought it was so good that I saw it twice in two days. I was 13 at the time (must have been back in 1974 then) and you were supposed to be 15 to be let in. I recall a teacher of ours spotting us but he looked the other way. In 2001, in May, I told Ingrid Pitt this story (via e-mail) as I contacted her asking if an interview would be possible. Her response was wonderful. Not only did she love that story, but she said I could send over my questions. At the time, she was writing books so I´m sure it must have messed up her day in one way or another, but she was a beautiful lady.

Her life (she died in 2010) was amazing, they could have shot a movie about her. As a child she survived a Nazi concentration camp, making her escape with her mother as they were to be shot in the woods, and they remained with partisans until the end of the war. More drama followed when she later escaped to the west. Still, most people remember her from “Where Eagles Dare” and from the Hammer horror movies that followed, but that was just a small part of her amazing story. She was also an author, a pilot (and a WWII airplane enthusiast), and she had a black belt in Karate. Not your average person, then. This is the interview, I hope you enjoy it.

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 Who in your opinion was the first female character in television or in the movies that had “girl power” (or just a ton of attitude) written all over her? The TV series The Avengers introduced strong female characters in the sixties. Do you remember how it was received back then?

– I guess that would have to be Honor Blackman. The “in yer face” half of the Avengers TV series. Of course there were others before her, Theda Bara, The original Vamp of the Roaring Twenties and Betty Hutton spring to mind although they are probably not good examples. But Honor did enough to have everyone wanting to be “cool” before cool. The Avengers had an interesting provenance. A friend of mine, Ian Hendry was the lead in it originally, when it was a much more serious thing than it became. Background politics and Ian´s fondness for the bottle saw him supplanted by the more amenable Patrick MacNee and a legend was born.

Did you have a role model, somebody that you looked up to and admired?

– That has to be Betty Davis. She was so cool and seemed to know exactly what she was doing. Not everyones cup of cocao now I guess but after the austerities of the Second World War it was wonderful to see TWO whole cigarrettes being lit at the same time. When I finally got to meet her she was very old. I gushed, sycophantically, “so wonderful to meet you”. She looked down her nose at me and said, “Of course it is”. I felt such a twit.

Did you ever work with Honor Blackman or Diana Rigg?

– Never worked with either of them but I´m on friendly terms with both. Well – at least we say “Hi” when our paths cross. My daughter, Steffanie, did a sitcom with Honor a few years ago – forget what it was called.

In your own experience, would you say that you would have welcomed a more female friendly attitude in scripts and so on?

– I´m not sure what that means? I would have preferred a more producer friendly environment. Whatever the script is, if the play is right you can work something out.

Was there ever a moment when you wished you could just hit some director in the head with something very hard?

– Not actually on set but… When I heard that my voice had been dubbed in “Countess Dracula”, Peter Sasdy was lucky to not be in range. I´m still not sure why he did it. I had appeared in half a dozen English speaking films at that point including “Vampire Lovers” and “Where Eagles Dare” without complaint. And when we had run the dailies there had been no complaints. He said that as the Countess was royalty she needed an English cut glass accent. In Hungary? And him with an accent that could explode bananas at fifty paces! I see him occasionally. After a rather tiresome period on a jury at a Spanish film festival, which culminated in me pushing him off the harbour wall, we tend to tread warily around each other.

When you did the Hammer movies, would they listen to opinions? Did you have some input?

– I can´t remember having any barn storming ideas sessions. Colonel Jimmy Carreras was in control and it was fairly relaxed but he was hot on keeping to the budget and could get quite sniffy if he thought time was being wasted.

What script was the best, and the worst, of the many you were offered?

– I think one of the best stories I did was “Nobody Ordered Love”. This was originally released through Rank. An argument with the producer Robert Hartford Davis blew up which resulted in Bob taking his picture and refusing to play anymore. He then went off to America, married a rich widow, died of a heart attack and the film has joined the passengers of the Marie Celeste and Lord Lucan.

– The worst was one of my own. But, I plead quickly, it was not my fault. I offered a nice taut story about a woman in an Asylum suffering from schizophrenia. It was bought by a producer who then wanted changes – and changes – and changes. It finished up as a rather grubby offering about Adolf Hitler´s body, preserved in a cryogentic state, being resurrected and paraded before his present day followers. Unfortunately the cryogenic capsule was not working properly and… you don´t want to know.

What was the best part that you did in your opinion?

– The Ghost? Or maybe she wasn´t a ghost, in Mike Figgis´s “The House That Dripped Blood”. All I had to do was walking around very slowly in a variety of wonderful gowns and look soulful. I do soulful very well.

When you portrayed a female vampire it created a very strong image. Could this have been followed up in a TV series back then or would that have been difficult? (in view of the times). Would you have done it if the opportunity had presented itself?

– Don´t think the times had anything to do with it. Nobody came up with a decent basis for a series. Anyway, TV was NOT considered suitable for a young lady of ambition in those days. Even the series I did appear in were considered a retrograde step by most afficinados. But it gave me the chance to work with such greats as Larry Olivier, Alec Guiness, John Mills, Ralph Meeker, Ida Lupino, Raymond Burr and many others. By the time I left Hollywood in 1968 I had crossed the line and would have done anything that dropped through my letterbox. I even had to stop myself acting out scenarios for lingerie catalogues.

You had a part in “Where Eagles Dare”. It is regarded a classic in every way. How do you recall being there today?

– It was wonderful. Lots of money and pampered to the hilt. Burton and Eastwood spent a lot of time ragging me but as both of them were mega stars I considered myself privileged. It also gave me a chance to ask Clint what had happened to Rowdy Yates in the episode where they were all set to hang him. I hadn´t seen the denouement because at the crutial moment Steffanie had decided to put in an appearance and I had tried to get to the hospital. Clint said “Don´t know, Dove”, and that settled it. Stories that circulated about a little extra curricula between Richard and me were disseminated by him to get Elizabeth´s dander up. With remarkable success.

Today movies are marketed with long tours for interviews and so on. How was it back then? What were you asked to do for “Where Eagles Dare”?

– Most stupid thing I did in my life! No, hold it! There was that… and… but we won´t go into that. Sufficent to say that when the promotional tour was on the road I went with it. Naively I thought I had cracked it. It didn´t occur to me as I was travelling the world in my little Heidi dress that Clint and Richard weren´t to be seen. They were off making other movies – leaving me to die the death.

Did you ever visit Sweden for any kind of promotion?

– Nope! Not on the promotional tour but I have visited Sweden for the motor races. There is an “Where Eagles Dare” fan club there which I was talking to about doing all sorts of things but I haven´t heard from them for about six months or so I guess I pissed them off in some way.

Do you still have an income from those movies?

– Another “nope”.

You retired from film and television and are now an author. Do you miss anything from the old days? Would you consider a part today if it came along? What would you be interested in doing if you had your choice?

– Retired? Who said anything about retirement? I usually manage to get two or three appearances in during the year. Last year I did “The Asylum”, “Green Fingers” and “Urban Gothic”. I´m doing another film in June and I have another horror film on the stocks which I hope will be ready for the cameras by the Autumn. I´m not fussy. I usually look at the cheque before looking at the script and if it´s worth getting out of bed for I´m away.

Looking back on your adventurous life, is there anything that you wished you had done differently as far as your career goes?

– I don´t think I can answer that question. I suppose if I had returned to LA after “Where Eagles Dare” it could have been a sensible career move. But living in London while it was being made finished me, I fell in love with the city and wanted my daughter to grow up there. It wasn´t a smart move career-wise – but Steffi grew up to be a smart, uncomplicated woman and I guess that justifies my descision.

In the nineties, the TV show Xena brought down a lot of barriers in Hollywood. Many shows now have very strong female characters. Are you aware that there has been a change and do you watch any shows today?

– It´s not something I think a lot about. Strong females have ruled the world since day one. I´m not familiar with Xena but the couple of times I´ve seen a snatch I didn´t think it was exactly opening up new vistas for women. Unless you are referring to the lesbian angle. And is that necessarily a good role model for women?

You stay in touch with your fans and this is something I respect you a lot for. How much time do you have to set aside to do that for them? Are they approaching you in a way that you feel is positive? Can a few positive mails in the morning make a difference even?

– I don´t set any time aside for fans. If anyone wants me and I have the time – I´m there. I think it´s wonderful. There are not many walks of life where an old bag can be lauded by the younger generation with flattering remarks like “You look the same now as you did twenty years ago”, and have people queue up for an autograph. And they are wonderful to talk to. I have yet to meet anyone who is ruder than me or is looking for trouble. At my annual birthday party it´s great to just float around and chat. I know who´s laying who, who´s having or just had, a baby. Who´s just thrown out their husband, who´s not too well, send postcards on birthdays and get them back a hundredfold. The way I see it, the more friends I have the bigger the Requiem when I´m gone.

You are writing books now. The fantasy genre is getting bigger. Is that a field that you would like to explore as well?

– I have made a bit of a balls up of my literery output. I should have stuck to one genre and developed a following. My first book was a spy adventure story. Then I did a political thriller. Next up was a book about my mother´s time in a concentration camp. Then a children´s book. I then went into all sorts of assorted tales. I´ve got a new agent now and she is trying to steer me along the path of righteousness. But she´s having a problem.

What did you read when you grew up?

– Anything that came to hand and couldn´t be used lavatorrially. The Nazi concentration camps were not renown for their literary output. When the Yanks came I read just about everything I could on the movie business. It was so far removed from my childhood that I had to have it. Later I got into Schiller, Shakespeare, Tolstoi and the rest. I even tried to read Bram Stoker´s “Dracula” but I must admit it defeated me.

What authors do you enjoy personally? Can you mention a book that you read recently that you thought was good.

– My big pash is flying. My big mate is James Herbert. So my reading tends to drift around these two elements. I thought “Others”, by Jimmy, a bit grim but he has assured me that I will love his new book, provisionally entitled, “Faeries”. Recently I read “Spitfire” by Alfred Price, “Lancaster Target” by Jack Currie and “So You Want To Be In Pictures” by director Val Guest. I find it frustrating reading other peoples books. I always think how much better they are than mine. And that´s not good.

How many hours a day do you put in when you write? Do you write when the inspiration comes or do you sit down and get on with it regardless?

– My usual day when I´m writing starts around nine in the morning. I don´t usually bother to get dressed – just hover over the key-board in a smelly old dressing gown until I´ve pounded out a minimum of 5,000 words, then have a shower, something to eat and read through what I´ve written. If for some reason I can´t do that I tend to get very surly and fret. It seems to me if you miss the daily dose of 5,000 (words) you can never catch up – even if you do up the subsequent output to try and make up for it.

What are you writing right now?

– Right now I´m two thirds through “Ingrid Pitt´s Case Book for Deadly Doctors”. I have a book out in September and I am trying to convince my publisher to print a racy novel about a woman racing driver backed by the Mafia. Lots of screwing, gore and double dealing. I´m hopeful.

Do you listen to music when you work or do you prefere silence? What kind of music do you enjoy?

– Sometimes I like a bit of music to shut out extraneous noises. Most of the time I like it quiet. When I listen to music I prefere classical music, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky – the usual suspects. My non-classical favourites tend to be singers like Celine Dion and Dick Haymes. And, of course, The Great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong. He´s my all time favourite. And that reminds me of a little tale – regarding Sweden. I was at a motor race in Kinnekulle in the seventies and arrived at the circuit early on the day of the race. The loud speakers were being tested. Guess what they were playing – “It´s a Wonderful World”. It was a magical moment I hear as clearly today as I did all those years ago in the misty dawn.

What are your plans for the next few years?

– I´m too old for plans. What comes round, goes around. And hopefully, I will go round with it.

Michael Eriksson (2001)

(No part of this interview may be copied without permission)

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  1. cliff says:

    What a wonderful interview. I’m jealous. Here’s my appreciation of this wonderful actress and person:

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