She was featured in Hammer films

Ingrid Pitt, who survived a Nazi concentration camp and dodged Communist police to become one of Britain’s best-known horror stars, died Nov. 23 in London after collapsing on her way to a birthday dinner. She was 73.

Known in Britain principally as the buxom bloodsucker in “Vampire Lovers” and “Countess Dracula,” Pitt’s acting career very nearly was stillborn.

Born Ingoushka Petrov to a mother of Jewish descent, Pitt was interned in a Nazi concentration camp at age of 5. 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 that easily surpassed the drama of the camp horror films in which she starred, she was rescued by an 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.”

In her autobiography, “Life’s a Scream,” Pitt said 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. Pitt escaped to America, and — following the breakup of her marriage — to Spain, where she starred in her first movies despite a limited command of the language. Discovered while watching a bullfight, a career in Hollywood and British horror would follow.

Although Pitt had a series of other roles in film and on television, it was her 1970s vampire films that drew a cult following, with fans crowning her “England’s first lady of horror.” Pitt embraced it, writing occasional columns for websites such as “Den of Geek” and making frequent visits to conventions and festivals.

Survivors include her husband, Tony Rudlin, a daughter and a granddaughter.

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