Edward Gorey, Practitioner of Macabre
I clearly remember
the first time I saw Edward Goreys work. I was visiting my grandmother who has a fondness for the Public Broadcasting System. The opening animation for Mystery! is perhaps Goreys best known work. The peculiar black and white figures sighing, screaming, and pointing flashlights at graves amazed me. From that moment on I became a fan of Edward Goreys macabre sense of style. I have even gone to the extreme of having one of his bat characters tattooed onto my leg. (For me it represents my love of art, my fondness for creatures of the night, and of course my Gothic aesthetic.) Edward Goreys world is full of things that do not make sense; devilishly clever prose, sculking characters, immense raccoon fur coats, cars from the golden era, and drafty Victorian mansions all inhabit Goreys bizarrely lush world.
Edward Saint John Gorey was born February 25, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. He died on April 15th this year in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Although he battled prostate cancer and diabetes for six years, it was a heart attack that did him in, like one of the figures in his strange scribblings. He was born to a Catholic newspaperman and a glamourous Episcopalian secretary. They were divorced when Edward was eleven, but remarried some sixteen years later. Some speculate his eccentric female heroines were in part inspired by his mother. The other part might have come from his Edwardian grandmother who once illustrated greeting cards to support the family.
Recalling his youth, Gorey once remarked to the Washington Post, I think of myself as being sensitive and pale and wan. But I wasnt at all. I was out there playing kick-the-can. In high school, according to his friend, Consuelo Jourgensen , He painted his toenails green and walked barefoot down Michigan Ave., which was rather shocking in those days. (Brilliant careers by Amy Benfer at Salon.com)
In college, Gorey was fond of wearing capes and handfulls of rings. Photographer George Marshall considered Edward to be the oddest person he had ever seen. Poet Frank OHara roomed with Gorey at Harvard. They furnished their campus apartment with white cast iron garden furniture, a chaise longue, and even a table constructed from a headstone taken from Mount Auburn Cemetary. How strange the couple must have been for the late 40s! They both made a quick reputation of being dandies in the grand fashion of Oscar Wilde.
In 1950, Gorey graduated Harvard with a degree in French. Soon after, Gorey moved to New York City. He took a job as a book jacket illustrator for Doubleday. He subsequently worked for a bookshop and then a library. While still working as a freelance illustrator, he published his first book, The Unstrung Harp
in 1953. New York City is where Mr. Gorey cultivated his larger-than-life caricature of the raccoon fur coated, white haired, full bearded persona.
He pursued a lifelong passion of collecting; among his things, he had a fondness for the death of children captured in crime scene photographs. (Sounds like the inspiration behind the infamous abcs of The Gashlycrumb Tinies
, which I believe to be his most sinister and delightful work). You could say he had a bit of a morbid outlook. This fascination with morbidity came out in his prolific career. Over 100 of his books were published in his lifetime, and he illustrated more than sixty works for other authors. Gorey once admitted to having wrote nearly two hundred books that he would never find time to illustrate.
In 1972, Goreys well known Amphigory
was published, an anthology of fifteen of his best works, including The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Amphigorey Too
and Amphigorey Also
followed in 1974 and 1983 respectively. I highly recommend these for the beginner, or as a Christmas present for the Gorey-phile. The Curious Sofa
is certainly the most controversial work by the author. This pornographic book gives us the immortal phrase
Still later Gerald did a terrible thing to Elsie with a saucepan.
The reader doesnt actually know what was done, but it is deliciously naughty. Goreys works have been printed on everything from Christmas cards and calenders to stuffed animals and t-shirts.
Mr. Gorey was also very interested in theatre; he won a Tony Award for his black and white sets and costumes in the 1979 Broadway version of Dracula. His fascination with Dracula was lifelong, and he participated in many adaptations of this well known tale. He could never understand why he wasnt asked to design in 3-D more often. The most recent adaptation of Edward Goreys world is the Century Theaters The Gorey Details. It is a musical comprised in part by never-before-published works postumously gathered by his publisher.
On November 5th I attended a performance. The stage was overflowing with Goreys crosshatched drawings. Urns reading suet, croquet balls, and hundreds & thousands danced about the stage. A mysterious urn of QRV is everpresent throughout the performance. The strange flying creatures all around made me wish I had the patience to paint my whole apartment in homage to Gorey. The play, in two acts, is comprised of many smaller skits. The actors tackle the movement of Edward Goreys words with abandon. Kevin McDermott narrates the play as Ogdred Wearey. He is wonderful in the role of the author, and it is not the first time he has been cast as Gorey in a production. The entire company had great voices for the musical bits, especially Clare Stollak who has an incredible range. The costumes showcase everything from kimono robes to twenties flapper gowns and childrens rompers with lowtop sneakers to allow for an incredibly odd range of movement.
Goreys prose is so randomly well placed, it is almost as though every word has been extensively premeditated. In The Deranged Cousins the perfectly cast tall and thin Christopher Youngman as Marsh cries out
Gin I find dulls the senses.The beginning of The Weeping Chandelier finds Theodora abandoned, by her parents, in a locked attic. She befriends a trio of bats, Flip, Flop, and Righty-ho. They quickly form a traveling circus act and the fun begins.The best skit is The Inanimate Tragedy; it alone is worth the price of the admission. The black and white objects delight with their sinister plot. My companion and I both agreed that although it was a bit different from the rest of the production it was by far the darkest and most evil of the musical.
This play makes for a wonderful evening out. Edward Goreys sense of humor translates well to a live production. It makes me wish for a revival of Dracula. The Century Center has made books and t-shirts available for purchase. The shirt (surprisingly available in small through extra large) has a bat inside the full moon on the front and it has already become a prized posession!
Though not really meant for children, Edward Goreys works bring out the child in everyone. His macabre illustrations and ironic tales help capture strange imaginations; they are so elaborate and simple at the same time. This simplicity is what has endeared his work to all those slightly abnormal fans world wide.
A timeless quality along with an unspoken desire for the appreciation for life are what make Gorey one of the great 20th century American artists. These same qualities are what make him a true American Gothic.
Some Gorey mechandise can be ordered through www.pomegranate.com
Most of Goreys works have been taken off the net by orders of the estates lawyers. Many thanks to Michael Romanos (www.michaelromanos.com
) for use of his portrait of Mr. Gorey.