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Edward Gorey

Author John Cech
Air Date 6/26/2000

Edward Gorey Transcript

Brief Sound Clip 

That music, from one of PBS’s longest-running and most popular series, “Mystery,” is accompanied by highly stylized drawings of fainting Edwardian dowagers and ingenues and their languid beaus, barely escaping the peculiar accidents occurring around them at their haunted garden party.

The drawings are by one of our most unique artists, Edward Gorey, who passed away late this April, at the age of 75. Gorey’s often macabre, often surreal, often nonsensical fantasies have blurred the boundaries between adult and children’s books for decades. It began in 1957 with his book called The Doubtful Guest, about a creature that looks a bit like a penguin in a fur coat, with a long striped scarf and high topped sneakers who arrives at one of Gorey’s English country homes, all balustrades and dark urns, and simply stays. “It came seventeen years ago to this day,” the narrator tells us, adding, “It has shown no intention of going away.”

Like his doubtful guest, Gorey too was famous for his own whimsical behavior: dressed in his fur coat and sneakers, he went to every performance of the New York City Ballet while it was under the direction of George Ballanchine, and when Ballanchine died, Gorey so no cultural reason to remain in New York and so he removed himself to Cape Cod, where he resided in a two hundred year old house, over-run with poison ivy and populated by a half dozen cats, and where he was soon claimed as a permanent, indeed a hallowed character of the Cape. He continued to produce those small masterpieces of absurdist sensibility, like The Unknown Vegetable, The Fraught Settee, and The Helpless Doorknob. He provided illustrations for the works of Virginia Wolf and Samuel Becket. He designed productions for Broadway (like the hit, Dracula), and he wrote and directed plays and puppet shows for small theaters on the Cape from Woods Hole to Provincetown, leaving a trail of strange stuffed animals (like his striped fig bashes), and enthusiastic though sometimes bewildered fans in his wake.

“I’m not entirely enamored of the idea of living forever,” he had joked about his precarious health. But one can’t help but wish an original voice like his had had…. just a little longer.

Posted in Literature, Television