Hammer fan that I am, even Doctor Who fan that I am (she appeared in a couple of not particularly good stories), Ingrid Pitt was always going to be someone I’d be interested in. She was the personification of unbridled sexuality in the later Hammer movies. A woman who despite a small list of credits on IMDB (the reasons for which are scarily laid out in this book) really did make an indelible mark on British horror in the sixties/seventies. So, of course when I saw her autobiography on sale I grabbed it up and devoured it quickly. But what I found as I tore through its pages was that I was at least as interested in what was glossed over as what she included.
Ingrid Pitt survived a harrowing childhood in a concentration camp to become the embodiment of Hammer-glamour in the early 1970s. Even in that one-line description you can see that she has more than enough material for an autobiography. The first section is harrowing, whilst also – incredibly – maintaining a childhood innocence; while the second is a collection of well-worn stories she must have used to pay her way on the convention circuit. Ingrid tells us throughout how much she enjoys writing, so I presume she actually wrote it herself. Although it does have the whiff of being narrated giddily to a ghost writer.
However, the best chapter in the book is one just rushed over, It’s a fourteen-page chapter where young Ingrid marries the G.I. who saved her from drowning in a frozen river, moves with him to an army base in Colorado and has a daughter. Her husband (who remains unnamed) starts feeling neglected by the mother/daughter bond and volunteers for Vietnam. Not wanting to be a pining wife at home, Ingrid effectively ends the marriage and joins a terrible travelling theatre company which tours the mid-west and where she never gets paid because ticket-sales are too small. Realising that such a hand to mouth existence isn’t going to last, she does a moonlight flit from her guest house and tries to drive to New York towards a plane back to Europe. However, she gets a puncture and comes to a halt in front of a wrecking yard run by Native Americans. She ends up living there with them for six weeks of meditative tranquillity, before the urge to get her daughter back to Europe reasserts itself. Somehow, through saving her pennies, she does get the car to the airport, but once there has no money for plane fare. A group of cab drivers comes to her rescue and helps her spruce the car up so that it looks shiny and newish, and Ingrid is able to sell it to a freshly arrived family of German tourists for $250. Looking up on the board she sees that the next flight to Europe is to Barcelona and slams the money down on the counter to get her and her daughter tickets, and they’re gone within the hour.
As I say, that’s one chapter. One fourteen-page chapter. But clearly there’s enough material there for a novel, a musical and a Coen Brothers movie. It’s incredible and frustrating to read just how rushed the whole thing is.
Obviously true pro that she was, Ingrid gave the public what she thought they wanted – tragic childhood, film star anecdotes (Cushing and Lee, Eastwood and Burton too – she was also in Where Eagles Dare) all in a tale of inner strength and survival – but this reader just wishes she hadn’t gone with the well-polished anecdotes and instead focused on the less well known parts of her life, which sound bloody fascinating.
Fancy reading some of my shorter fiction for free? Something Went Wrong, my tale of monsters and madness, is available here.