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The Strange Saga of Offbeat Actress Victoria Vetri By Bruce Markusen

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For the better part of the last year and a half, we have seen horror conventions canceled outright or merely offered in a virtual setting, all sacrificed to the shutdowns of the pandemic. Thankfully, that trend, which began in the spring of 2020, has begun to reverse itself in recent months. One of the conventions to make a comeback is the Monster Bash Conference, an annual event held in Mars, PA. Originally scheduled for June of 2021, the convention was cancelled, marking the second straight cancellation of one of the most popular horror events on the calendar. But Monster Bash founder and overseer Ron Adams decided to improvise, pushing this year’s convention back to the early fall, just one week before Halloween.

Thanks goodness for Ron Adams, his volunteer staff, and their resolve in putting on a show that horror fans needed. Along with hundreds of other fans of vintage horror, I was able to attend Monster Bash the weekend of October 22-24 and came away entertained, energized and rejuvenated. While the crowds were smaller than what they would have normally been for a June event, the Bash was still well attended—and as usual, extremely well organized. The highlights of the weekend included appearances by longtime Hammer actress Veronica Carlson, Spider Baby alumna Beverly Washburn, and Night of the Living Dead writer John Russo, along with a pair of excellent presentations by standout writers Frank Dello Stritto (on The Wizard of Oz) and Greg Mank (on Werewolf of London).

Monster Bash also gave me the chance to do something unexpected: meet an interesting and offbeat actress named Victoria Vetri. She has become forgotten over the decades, but at one time she was a rising star, a stunningly beautiful model and actress who appeared in the classic 1968 film, Rosemary’s Baby. She seemed on the verge of becoming a household name in horror, but then life interfered in the worst of ways, first through the horrific Charles Manson murders and then through awful episode of domestic abuse that resulted in Vetri going to prison.

Victoria Vetri Rosemary’s Baby

In 1968, Vetri had landed a non-starring but critical role in Rosemary’s Baby, playing the character of Terry, a troubled young woman who has been taken in by the friendly Castevet couple, residents of the stately Brantford Apartments. Vetri shares an early scene with the film’s lead, Mia Farrow, who plays Rosemary; the two women are shown talking in the laundry room of the Brantford building. But shortly thereafter, tragedy strikes, when Rosemary and her husband Guy return home to a mad scene outside of the building. They discover that a young woman, none other than Terry, has leapt out of one of the upper floors into the street, the victim of her own suicide.

For Vetri, it was a potentially career-turning role, given the critical and financial success of the iconic film. Two years after Rosemary’s Baby, Vetri earned guest roles in several television shows, including “Land of the Giants” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”. Later in 1970, she took on a starring role in the feature film, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, a movie about prehistoric man that featured almost no discernible dialogue but still garnered a cult following.

Then came a guest-starring role in TV’s “Mission Impossible”, a nice way to round out the successful year of 1970. But then, Vetri’s career tailed off. She appeared in a made-for-TV movie in 1971, took roles in two fairly forgettable films in 1973, and then appeared in one 1975 episode of an obscure TV show called “Tanner”. And that was it. Those four post-1970 roles represented the end of Vetri’s career in Hollywood.

Victoria Vetri Mission Impossible

So what exactly happened? Vetri’s downward spiral seemed to begin in 1969, when Charles Manson instructed his followers to invade the home of actress Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski and a close friend of Vetri. Two weeks before the deadly invasion, Mansion had come to Tate’s home where she was entertaining friends (including Vetri). At the entrance to the house, Manson engaged in a brief and awkward conversation with the beautiful actress, and then left. As Manson was leaving, Vetri remarked to her friends, “This guy looks like a real creep,” a comment that Manson may have heard. Vetri has long believed that the remark enraged Manson, though it’s impossible to know for sure.

On the night of August 8, four of Manson’s followers made their way to the Tate home, where they wielded knives and proceeded to slaughter the actress and four of her friends: Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent. Tate was eight and a half months pregnant at the time, making the murders even more unconscionable.

Victoria Vetri was supposed to be at the Tate house that night, as well, but at the last minute, fell ill and decided not to attend the gathering. If she had been at Tate’s home that night, she almost certainly would have been killed. Even though Vetri managed to escape the tragedy by happenstance, the violent attacks left her without a close friend. Vetri also felt guilty about making the insulting remark about Manson, which she believes spurred the cult leader into violent action.

To make matters worse, Vetri feared for her life. She believed that Manson, even after he was arrested and charged, would arrange for more of his followers to stalk her and kill her, in part because of the remark likening Manson to a creep. Not even a death sentence, which was rendered against Manson in January of 1972 and then later changed to a life sentence, alleviated Vetri’s fears.

A few years later, Vetri married a rock musician named Bruce Rathgeb. Although he was not with her in the early 1970s, he says that Victoria talked to him about the situation and how it left her emotionally traumatized. Rathgeb says that local police kept tabs on Vetri for months after the killings, just to make sure that a follow-up attack did not take place.

According to Rathgeb, Vetri’s career in Hollywood hit the skids; she was often too frightened to leave the house to take part in auditions or to meet with anyone from within the industry.

Vetri’s relationship with Rathgeb also suffered. The couple married in 1987, and lived happily for a few years. But Vetri’s fear of Manson eventually resurfaced. Supposedly, whenever Manson appeared on TV, Vetri would begin to shake uncontrollably. Vetri’s marriage degraded into an unending series of arguments. By the 2000s, the marriage had begun to disintegrate hopelessly.

The situation reached a boiling point one day in 2010. Victoria and Bruce argued at their apartment in Hollywood; she believed that he was cheating on her by having romantic encounters with groupies. According to Rathgeb, she was also depressed by her advancing age, which was affecting her looks. Rathgeb packed up some of his belongings, telling Vetri that he was going to spend some time at a friend’s house. But the actress stopped him at the elevator, while brandishing a handgun. As Rathgeb turned away, she shot him once, firing a bullet into his back. According to Rathgeb, Victoria was under the delusion that he was Manson; she was trying to kill Manson, ending the nightmare once and for all.

The bullet wound sent Rathgeb to the hospital, where he underwent surgery, leaving him with multiple scars. Thankfully, he made a full recovery from his injuries. As for Vetri, she was arrested and charged; she eventually agreed to a plea of attempted voluntary manslaughter. Sentenced to nine years in state prison, Vetri served most of her sentence before gaining an early release on parole in 2019.

Since then, Vetri has not appeared in any films or TV shows, but does spend some time on the horror convention circuit. At Monster Bash, she came across as friendly and charming, but struggled to remember many details of her acting career. At a presentation in the Bash’s main movie hall, Vetri fielded a number of questions about her film career. She responded to many of them by saying, “I don’t remember much about that.” I suppose it’s possible that Vetri simply did not want to delve too deeply into the past, but then again, advancing age and the trauma of the Manson murders may have taken their toll on her ability to remember much from the 1960s and seventies.

Clearly, the years have been hard on Vetri, who is now 77. We all age, of course, but Vetri’s physical appearance is shockingly different from how she looked in the 1980s or 90s.

Although it seems unlikely that Vetri will be able to make a substantial living as an actress, I hope that she can find a niche as a horror convention guest. There’s no defense of her attempt at murdering her ex-husband, but the Manson episode obviously took an enormous toll on her career and her mental well-being. As a result, her life has been difficult, and unfairly so.

Vetri now seems happy. She treated her fans kindly throughout the Monster Bash Weekend and seemed grateful that so many people remembered her despite being absent from TV and film for more than 40 years. Even at an older age, Victoria Vetri still has something to offer genre fans who would love nothing better than to meet some of their favorites from the days of vintage horror.


Consider picking up Bruce’s new book Hosted Horror on Television, which is currently available through the McfarlandBooks website.

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