Ingrid Pitt, doyenne of Hammer horror films, dies
<p>Polish-born actress Ingrid Pitt is seen in this Dec. 19, 1968 b/w file photo. Ingrid Pitt, who survived a Nazi concentration camp to become an acclaimed British movie actress, has died. Dubbed "the first lady of English horror" by her fans, Pitt also dodged Communist police in Germany before moving to England to become one of the country's best-known fright film stars. She played in movies such as "Where Eagles Dare" and "The Wicker Man" along with a slew of camp horror classics. She was 73 years old.</p>
| November 26, 2010 8:00 PM
LONDON - Ingrid Pitt, who survived a Nazi concentration camp and dodged Communist police to become one of Britain's best-known horror stars, died 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 American soldier who would go on to become her husband.
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 U.S. lieutenant, who she would later marry.
Pitt moved to America, and then to Spain, where she starred in her first movies. Discovered while watching a bullfight, a career in Hollywood and British horror would follow.