Vincent Price was a busy man in 1964. He had the lead role in four films, globe-hopping between Hollywood and Europe. You wouldn't think that he wanted any more work, but at some point -- maybe between starring in The Last Man On Earth and Masque of the Red Death -- he recorded a 25-minute-long narration for the Tombstone Historama.
The Historama still serves as Tombstone's unofficial Newcomer Orientation, and we recommend it in combination with a visit to the O.K. Corral next door. A triumph of Great Society technology, it features a big, lumpy mound on a turntable, decorated with small vignettes from Tombstone's early history, set on a stage in a small theater.
Every half-hour the house lights dim, the curtain lowers and then rises again (it stays open between shows so that you can admire the mound) and the story of Tombstone unfolds through blinking lights, recorded sound effects, and a projection screen that lowers and raises to show Western movie clips, although it often raises and lowers in the middle of whatever it is that you're supposed to be watching. The screen also serves to hide the lump, which silently, magically has turned to reveal a new scene when the screen is raised.
Despite Price's cache, the star of Historama is the lump. It was designed for a generation that demanded less from its special effects, and reminds us of other mesmerizing Paleolithic-tech A/V attractions such as Confederama, the World's Largest Cuckoo Clock, and an animated Noah's Ark that we saw in Lima, Ohio.
One imagines that Historama's robot brain is powered by punch cards and vacuum tubes. To depict the fires that destroyed Tombstone, tiny red light bulbs flicker in a few representative buildings. To show the murders of Morgan Earp and Frank Stillwell (who killed Morgan), small wooden people have their internal supports pulled away, allowing them to collapse onto the turntable with an audible "tonk" of wood on wood. We'll leave it to you to guess how the flooding of the silver mines is depicted.
But why Vincent Price? Wouldn't Western stars of the day like Walter Brennan or Gabby Hayes have been more appropriate (and less busy) than an actor cranking out low-budget horror films? We asked the proprietor of Historama to explain this odd choice, and were told that Price recorded the narration as a favor to the original owner, who was a friend. [Tipster Lew Bresee points out that "Among Price's many non-horror portrayals was the title role in Sam Fuller's 'Baron of Arizona'(1950)."]
Historama has changed hands several times since then, but never fails to note that it is "narrated by Vincent Price." Tombstone and the inventor of Edward Scissorhands, together forever.