Will you indulge in a little game of ‘Who Am I’ with me? Some of you may remember her. She had an impact on this old fella once upon a time. Perhaps she may have had an impact on you too, way back in the mists.
Here we go. I was born Ingoushka Petrov in Warsaw in 1937 – not a good time to come into the world, particularly with a Jewish mother. My Polish accent in later life would, to some ears, make me sound incredibly sexy and exotic. In the early sixties I became an actress in Berlin, later having roles alongside such luminaries as Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, after making my English-speaking debut in ‘Doctor Zhivago’. I played Queen Galleia to John Pertwee’s Dr Who in several appearances in that icon of the small screen. I was married three times, with the first being to my hero. But as for what may have bought me into your orbit once upon a time? Well, I was famous for two reasons. One – yes one – was because of my breasts, which I rather exposed quite a lot of on screen. The second were my fangs. They really didn’t appear all that often in my movies, only in titles such as ‘The Vampire Lovers’, ‘Countess Dracula’ and ‘The House That Dripped Blood’. But maybe you remember them too. The press at the time were quite enamoured of me for both reasons. They dubbed me ‘The Queen of Scream’. Well then, who am I? Do you know? If you do or don’t, I think you’ll find my whole story more that just a tad interesting.
By the early seventies your scribbler was studying at UTAS in Hobs, living at at hall of residence, sadly for males only. My love of movies had been triggered by the greater selection of offerings available in the big smoke compared to my former provincial town. And I was very much aware of Ingoushka. She seemed to only appear at the old Elwick Drive-in, so often I would take my jalopy out there, usually in the company of like-minded mates who also were not adverse to the good lady being presented unadorned, along with her blood-sucking mandibles. Those were the early years after the strictures of censorship were loosened. For some time we had been governed by god-fearing old men in darkened rooms having the say over what we could and couldn’t view. Ingoushka, unlike many who simply teased back then in that brave new age, delivered on what she promised. Of course she was a member of the Hammer film studios stable of voluptuous beauties. In fact, when she first auditioned, she fronted the head honcho of Hammer, James Carreras, sporting the most revealing of her assets type dress she could squeeze herself into. She reported in her autobiography, ‘I turned up at Jimmy’s office in a maxi-coat, a mane of hair, lots of make-up and high leather boots. I walked up to him and opened my coat like a flasher. I was wearing the tiniest and lowest cut dress you can imagine. He took me darling, but not in the way film moguls are said to!’ He offered her a choice, horror or porn – the latter most likely akin to offerings popular at the time like ‘What the Milkman Saw’ or ‘Confessions of a Window Cleaner’. They were more innocent days. But she chose the former. Ingoushka, by this stage Pitt, as a name, though, wouldn’t cut it up there in the credits – so she became Ingrid, Ingrid Pitt.
Her trajectory upwards was immediate, although her stay at the top was brief. The early seventies just about saw her out. She made guest appearances sporadically in the following decades till her death in 2010, but she was never one to let the grass grow under her. She simply re-invented herself when the popularity of vampire movies waned. She turned to writing to earn a living. She made up for quality with volume – she just wrote and wrote and wrote some more. She’d have a go at anything. She started off describing the conditions the first Americans were forced to endure after a stint living with a tribe of them in Colorado. Then she turned her hand to fiction, usually, to capitalise on her name, in the horror genre. She wrote columns for magazines and later on-line. She even penned scripts, submitting some to ‘Dr Who’ – never successfully, but she came close with a few.
When the popularity of a Hammer revival, at the turn of the millennium, bought with it screenings of her retro-fangwork all over the UK, she cashed in writing titles such as ‘The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers’ and ‘The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity’. As well there were her memoirs she, fangs in cheek, called ‘Life’s a Scream’.
But as fabulous as her lives on screen and as quite the wordsmith were, her third life – the one she led prior to her notoriety in the movie industry – was perhaps even more hair raising than anything she acted out for the camera or wrote about.
Of course, to be of Jewish heritage in Poland during the war years was a dire situation to be in and in 1942 her family was picked up by the Nazis. She and her mother were separated from her father and elder sister and the pair were transported to the Stutthoff concentration camp. She witnessed her mother’s best friend summarily hung and one of her own little companions raped and beaten to death by guards. Come the Russians the pair were released and commenced to trudge between the various holding camps for survivors to try and find father and sister. The family were remarkably reunited, but such were the privations her dad had undergone at the hands of his captors he died a short time later.
After that life obviously improved and the young Ingoushka started to dream of a future and the shape it may take. Acting caught her imagination. We know from later events that she was a force of nature and it was not long till she moved to East Berlin to pursue her dream as the Iron Curtain was coming down. She became associated with Helene Wiegel, second wife of Bertolt Brecht, acting in his works in Helene’s theatre company. Unfortunately the redoubtable Wiegel was a strident critic of the communist regime and soon the Stasi came calling. Miss Petrov was about to take the stage for an opening night performance of Brecht’s ‘Mother Courage and her Children’ when some uniformed goons turned up to shut it all down and take in those responsible. Ingoushka did a runner. Hot on her heels were the thugs and as a last resort, she took a flying leap into the River Spee. The current took her, fully costumed, across the city to the American zone where she was spotted by GI Laud Roland Pitt Jr who, without hesitation, jumped in and bought her to shore in his his arms. Her hero. Sometimes life truly does resemble the movies. They fell in love and married.
It didn’t last for nothing could get in the way of her dream. The unstoppable Ingoushka Pitt continued on her drive to stardom. Of course, in the end, she made it to the delight of young men far away at a drive-in in Hobart.
Despite horror giving her that pathway to success, in an interview for a New Zealand newspaper four years before her death, she admitted she rarely watched or read anything to do with the genre, stating ‘I think it’s very amazing that I do horror films when I had this awful childhood. But maybe that’s why I was so good at it.’
And she was. Of course, in the digital age Ingoushka is only a mouse-click away on YouTube in all her fanged glory, bosoms heaving. Make that click and you’ll see what I mean. We were all so innocent and unworldly back then and she was ripe for our desires. Sometimes I think we were far better off in that era then when what she did was about was about the extent of it.