by Julia Buckley
I first fell in love with Edward Gorey art back when MYSTERY appeared on PBS. Notice in this clip that MYSTERY was hosted by Vincent Price? I watched it even before Price hosted--Gene Shalit spoke the introductory words when the show aired in 1980. Then Price became the host, from 1980-1989, and finally the great Diana Rigg, who was the final host. Afterward MYSTERY aired with no host at all, which was, I think, a shame.
In 2008 MYSTERY became MASTERPIECE MYSTERY, hosted by Alan Cumming, and the Gorey introduction (with memorable theme song by Normand Roger) was dropped.
Still, when I think of MYSTERY, I think of Gorey and those wonderful title sequences.
It wasn't only MYSTERY that made Gorey famous, but his work is as recognizable on that show as it is in the various books, posters, and cards that bear his distinctive images. Gorey is a wonderful example of dark humor, and he created faux Gothic worlds, seemingly Edwardian or Victorian worlds, in which very mysterious and creepy things happened. Many fans assumed Gorey was English, but he was, in fact, born in Chicago, Illinois, and briefly attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1977 Gorey won a Tony Award for set design--appropriately for the play DRACULA. He loved ballet, cats, books and television.
One of my favorite Gorey works is called THE GASHLYCRUMB TINIES, a book that was eventually made into a poster (and a poster which, in my own stab at dark humor, I once hung in my classroom). It tells the tale of a group of schoolchildren who all gradually died, some of quite dreadful causes. Gorey told the tale as a way of remembering the alphabet, but in true Gorey style, he tells it in rhyming couplets: "A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil, assaulted by bears." My personal favorite is Neville, who dies of ennui. :)
Last year my husband bought me a Gorey calendar which, month by month, tells the story of THE DOUBTFUL GUEST, a strange creature who shows up one day and doesn't leave. "When they answered the bell on that wild winter night, there was no one expected and no one in sight; then they saw something standing on top of an urn; his peculiar appearance gave them quite a turn . . ." The guest himself looks like a cross between a penguin and a short man cartoon, done in Gorey's distinctive, moody style. The family's travails with the "guest" become funnier and funnier, despite the gloom of the setting.
The same is true of the Gorey pop-up book my children had when they were small. It was called THE DWINDLING PARTY, and as with the TINIES, it told the tale of a group that grew smaller and smaller as all sorts of scary monsters consumed them one by one. It was deliciously funny and not at all scary to my six-year-old son, who enjoyed reading it repeatedly.
Perhaps Gorey's work was described best by Gorey himself, who called it "literary nonsense."