On November 23, 2010, the British screen actress Ingrid Pitt – who endured three years as a child in a German concentration camp, followed by an extended period in Communist East Germany before escaping to the West – died, two days after her 73rd birthday.
Voluptuous, ebullient, and blessed with the ability to laugh at herself, Pitt was best known for her onscreen depictions of vampish vampires, most notably in several movies for the British B-movie studio Hammer Film Productions, which billed her as “the Most Beautiful Ghoul in the World.”
Born Ingoushka Petrov, in Warsaw, on November 21, 1937, Pitt had a German father – a British-educated aviation engineer and non-Jew, and a Lithuanian Jewish mother.
According to Pitt’s 1999 memoir “Life’s a Scream,” the family had boarded the train meant to start them on their journey from Nazi Germany to refuge in England, when her mother went into labor with her and they had to seek medical assistance. Trapped in Germany, they avoided arrest until 1942, when Ingrid, only four or five, and her mother were deported to the Stutthof concentration camp, in German-occupied Poland.
Both survived the war and were eventually reunited with Ingrid’s father and older sister, but now they were trapped in Communist-controlled Berlin. There she was introduced to the cinema by her father, had a short-lived career as a medical student – and eventually was accepted into the Berliner Ensemble, the acting company founded by Bertolt Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel, in 1949 in East Berlin.
Pitt apparently was too vocal in her criticism of the dictatorial regime, and the night she was scheduled to have her stage debut with the ensemble, in a performance of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” she found herself pursued by security police. She did the natural thing – namely, dove into the Spree River, which allowed her to be rescued by an American G.I., Laud Roland Pitt, Jr., who was then stationed in Berlin.
Pitt not only removed her from the water, but also from Germany.
Star in Spain sans Spanish
Pitt and Petrov married and settled in Colorado, and then California, and when they divorced Ingrid moved to Spain. There, according to legend, her photograph was seen by a movie producer after it was snapped by a photojournalist who captured her weeping at a bullfight. This led to several roles in Spanish films, which she landed despite not speaking the language, and a bit part in “Doctor Zhivago,” which was filmed in Spain and released in 1965.
She would spend the rest of her life acting and writing, moving between England, Argentina, and even an American Indian reservation. Her big break came in 1968, when she was cast as Heidi, a British spy posing as a barmaid in World War II Bavaria, in “Where Eagles Dare,” opposite Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. That movie was made in Austria.
Roles as a busty, and sometimes nude, vampire followed, in Hammer’s “The Vampire Lovers,” “Countess Dracula,” and “The House that Dripped Blood,” in 1970 and ’71. Pitt played along with her typecasting by showing up at fan-fests, and even mock-biting journalists’ necks at the end of interviews.
Pitt also had numerous appearances on television, mainly in Britain, and she also did theater work. Beyond that, she had a second career as an author – both of novels and books of film trivia, such as “The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers” and “The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity.” To that she added, late in life, her memoir, in which she recounted her experiences during the Holocaust, among other things.
She also cooperated with a 10-year-old Chinese-American animator, Perry Chen (later the cofounder of Kickstarter), and pros Kevin Sean Michaels and Bill Plympton on a short Holocaust film called “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest.” That was released only in 2011, after her death.
Ingrid Pitt died of heart failure in London, on this day four years ago. Two days earlier, she had collapsed while on her way to a birthday dinner in her honor.
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