On November 23, 2010 the world of horror lost one of its iconic actresses, Ingrid Pitt, who passed away at a London hospital from heart failure at the age of 73. She was born Ingoushka Petrov on November 21, 1937 in Czestochowa, Poland, to a Jewish mother of Polish and Lithuanian decent, and her German, scientist, father, of Russian descent. Ingrid’s father was recruited by the Nazi regime to work on the German military’s rocket program. He refused, and he, along with Ingrid and her mother, moved in with her grandparents in Bialystok, Poland, only to be later captured by the German army. Pitt’s rise to international stardom could have been over before it ever had the chance to begin. She was a Holocaust survivor, who during World War II, when she was only five years of age was, along with her mother, put in the Stutthof concentration camp, and managed to endure the hell-on-earth conditions for three years.
As the Russian army approached to liquidate the camp, she and her mother were marched into the gas chamber and kept there for hours; but fortuitously, the chamber failed to function, so they were let out. Next, they were led into the forest by the SS to be executed. Thanks to passing allied planes firing bullets on the soldiers, Ingrid and her mother managed to escape. They spent the remainder of the war hiding out with foraging partisans, who, reluctantly at first, allowed them to stay at their hidden camp, located deep within the woods. At the end of the war, Pitt and her mother made their way back to Berlin, where Ingrid’s father was living with a college friend. Sadly, he died five years later, never having gotten over the effects the war had on him. Ingrid’s grandparents, it was learned, had perished in the Treblinka death camp.
In later years, Ingrid enrolled in medical school for a brief period of time, but ultimately felt acting was her true calling. She joined Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble Theatre Company, which was run by Brecht’s widow, Helene Weigel. Pitt was outspoken against the communist party leadership and the conditions she was forced to live under in East Germany. On the evening she was supposed to go on stage for the first time in a major role, where she would be performing Katrina, in Brecht’s “Mother Courage and her children,” the police were at the theater waiting to arrest her once the show was over. Ingrid fortunately was tipped off to the police presence and their intentions. While fleeing East Germany, she nearly drowned in the Spree River. She was rescued by Roland Pitt, a United States, Army Lieutenant, who she would wind up marrying, and having a child with, Ingrid’s daughter, Stephanie. The marriage didn’t last long, and after living on a Colorado military base, Ingrid left America with Stephanie in 1964, and moved to Spain where she would begin her acting career in film.
First appearing as an uncredited extra in the 1965 movies “Falstaff – Chimes at Midnight” and “Doctor Zhivago,” Pitt would land her first credited part in 1966 in the film “Un beso en el Puerto.” In 1968, her real big break came when she appeared as the double-agent, Heidi, in the film “Where Eagles Dare,” alongside Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), and BAFTA and Golden Globe winning actor Richard Burton (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf).
Pitt was, as mentioned earlier, an iconic actress in the world of horror, even though during her career, she only appeared in a small number of films within the genre. The first of those appearances was in the 1970 Hammer Film Productions “The Vampire Lovers,” which was an adaptation of the story “Carmilla,” written by Sheridan Le Fanu. Pitt was asked to be in the film by Hammer founder James Carreras. That film would launch her career into international stardom. “The Vampire Lovers” was followed by another Hammer movie, 1971’s “Countess Dracula,” where she played the role of Countess Elizabeth Nodosheen, who uses the blood of youthful women to keep herself young. The role was inspired by the horrific true life accounts of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory. While her appearance was kept intact throughout “Countess Dracula,” Pitt was furious when she found out the director of the movie, Peter Sasdy, had dubbed out her accented voice in post-production. 1971 was a busy year for Ingrid, as she was also a part of the Amicus Production of the anthology film “The House That Dripped Blood,” in the role of a vampire, Carla Lind, in the fourth segment of the film titled “The Cloak.” Pitt also appeared as the Librarian, in director Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic film “The Wicker Man,” however, at the time of the original film’s release, a fairly large portion of Pitt’s role was cut from the movie. Pitt was seen in the enduring science-fiction series “Doctor Who” as the character Galleia in two 1972 episodes of the “The Time Monster” and as Dr. Solow in three of the four 1984 episodes of “Warriors of the Deep.” Her acting credits also included parts in various other television shows and movies; among them was the acclaimed 1982 BBC mini-series, “Smiley’s People,” in the role of Elvira. The series starred, Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe winning actor, Alec Guinness, (The Bridge on the River Kwai).
In addition to acting, Pitt authored ten books; among them was her autobiography “Life’s A Scream,” and the children’s book “Bertie the Bus.” She was also a columnist for “Motoring & Leisure” magazine. Her most recent book was titled “The Ingrid Pitt book of Murder, Torture and Depravity” which was published in 2000. She also collaborated on a script for “Doctor Who” with her husband, former British race car driver and Formula One team manager, Tony Rudlin. Although it was never produced as a television show, it later became an audio production. In 2007, when Hammer studios began to produce again, Pitt returned for a cameo appearance in “Beyond the Rave.”
Pitt’s interests also extended to the world of martial arts, where she trained for, and achieved a black belt in karate. Furthermore, Ingrid ran her own website, “Pitt of Horror.” She was very interactive with her fan base, appearing at numerous conventions, where she would sign autographs, answer questions and pose for pictures.
The actress with the commanding screen presence, who had the perfect looks for classic horror, was survived by her husband Tony Rudlin, her daughter Stephanie, and her granddaughter Sophia. The diverse, talented, actress and author rose from tragic beginnings to truly make her mark on the world . . . And as mentioned several times throughout this blog, while she only appeared in a handful of films within the horror genre, the characters she portrayed have had, and continue to have, a lasting impression on the fan base.