Although he would frequently state that his formal art training was "negligible," Gorey studied art for one semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943, eventually becoming a professional illustrator. From 1953 to 1960, he lived in New York City and worked for the Art Department of Doubleday Anchor, illustrating book covers and in some cases adding illustrations to the text. He illustrated works as diverse as Dracula by Bram Stoker, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, and Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. In later years he illustrated many children's books by John Bellairs, as well as books in several series begun by Bellairs and continued by other authors after his death.
His first independent work, The Unstrung Harp, was published in 1953. He also published under pen names that were anagrams of his first and last names, such as Ogdred Weary, Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, and dozens more.
Gorey's illustrated (and sometimes wordless) books, with their vaguely ominous air and ostensibly Victorian and Edwardian settings, have long had a cult following. Gorey became particularly well-known through his animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery! in 1980, as well as his designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula, for which he won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design along with a nomination for Best Scenic Design.
The settings and style of Gorey's work have caused many people to assume he was British; in fact, he never visited Britain, and he almost never traveled. In later years, he lived year-round in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, where he wrote and directed numerous evening-length entertainments, often featuring his own papier-mâché puppets, in an ensemble known as La Theatricule Stoique. His major theatrical work was the libretto for an Opera Seria for Hand Puppets titled The White Canoe, with a score by the composer Daniel James Wolf. Based on the Lady of the Lake legend, the opera premiered posthumously. On August 13, 1987, his play Lost Shoelaces premiered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In the early 1970s, Gorey wrote an unproduced screenplay for a silent film, The Black Doll.
Gorey was noted for his fondness for ballet (for many years, he religiously attended all performances of the New York City Ballet), fur coats, tennis shoes, and cats, of which he had many. All figure prominently in his work. His knowledge of literature and films was unusually extensive, and in his interviews, he named Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Francis Bacon, George Balanchine, Balthus, Louis Feuillade, Ronald Firbank, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, Robert Musil, Yasujiro Ozu, Anthony Trollope, and Johannes Vermeer as some of his favorite artists. Gorey was also an unashamed pop-culture junkie, avidly following soap operas and TV comedies like Petticoat Junction and Cheers, and he had particular affection for dark genre series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman: The Animated Series, and The X-Files; he once told an interviewer that he so enjoyed the Batman series that it was influencing the visual style of one of his upcoming books. Gorey treated TV commercials as an artform in themselves, even taping his favorites for later study. But Gorey was especially fond of movies, and for a time he did regular and very waspish reviews for the Soho Weekly under the pseudonym Wardore Edgy.
Although Gorey's books were popular with children, he did not associate with children much and had no particular fondness for them. Gorey never married, professed to have little interest in romance, and never discussed any specific romantic relationships in interviews. In the book The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, published after Gorey's death, his friend Alexander Theroux reported that when Gorey was pressed on the matter of his sexual orientation, he said that even he was not sure whether he was gay or straight. When asked what his sexual preferences were in an interview, he said,
I'm neither one thing nor the other particularly. I am fortunate in that I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something...I've never said that I was gay and I've never said that I wasn't...what I'm trying to say is that I am a person before I am anything else....It is possible that Gorey was asexual. Theroux paints a portrait of a man who lived a fairly solitary existence by choice, friendly, generous, and apparently comfortable with strangers, but strongly preferring to be alone most of the time.
From 1996 to his death in April 2000, the normally reclusive artist was the subject of a direct cinema-style documentary directed by Christopher Seufert. This was not yet released as of 2008. He was interviewed on Tribute To Edward Gorey, an hourlong community cable television show produced by artist and friend Joyce Kenney. He contributed his videos and personal thoughts. Edward served as judge in Yarmouth art shows and enjoyed activities at the local cable station, studying computer art and serving as cameraman on many Yarmouth shows. His Cape Cod house is called Elephant House and is the subject of a photography book titled Elephant House: Or, the Home of Edward Gorey, with photographs and text by Kevin McDermott. The house is now the Edward Gorey House Museum.
Gorey's work defies easy classification. He is typically described as an illustrator, but this merely scratches the surface. His combination of words and pictures has led some to classify him as having been a cartoonist, while others regard him primarily as a writer who drew, or an illustrator who wrote. His books can be found in the humor and cartoon sections of major bookstores, but books like The Object Lesson have earned serious critical respect as works of surrealist art. His endless experimentations—creating books that were wordless, books that were literally matchbox-sized, pop-up books, books entirely populated by inanimate objects, and more—complicates matters still further, not to mention the thorny issue of whether his books are best classed as literature for children or for adults. As Gorey told Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe, "Ideally, if anything [was] any good, it would be indescribable." Gorey classified his own work as literary nonsense, the genre made most famous by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Gorey seemed to love the precision involved in this genre, and, in response to the accusation of being gothic, he stated, "If you're doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there'd be no point. I'm trying to think if there's sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children—oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that's true, there really isn't. And there's probably no happy nonsense, either." Much of his work fits rather well into the genre of literary nonsense, yet there is no one category that can encompass the great variety of style and subject in his many books.
Many of Gorey's works were published obscurely and are difficult to find (and priced accordingly). However, the following four omnibus editions collect much of his material. Because his original books are rather short, these editions may contain 15 or more in each volume.
He also illustrated some 50 works by other authors, including Samuel Beckett, Edward Lear, John Bellairs, H. G. Wells, Alain-Fournier, T. S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc, Muriel Spark, Florence Parry Heide, and John Ciardi.
A more direct link to Gorey's influence on the music world is evident in The Gorey End, an album recorded in 2003 by the Tiger Lillies and the Kronos Quartet. This album was a collaboration with Gorey, who liked previous work by The Tiger Lillies so much that he sent them a large box of his unpublished work, which were then adapted and turned into songs. Gorey died before hearing the finished album.
In 1976 jazz composer Michael Mantler recorded an album called The Hapless Child (Watt/ECM) with Robert Wyatt, Terje Rypdal, Carla Bley and Jack DeJohnette. It contains musical adaptations of The Sinking Spell, The Object Lesson, The Insect God, The Doubtful Guest, The Remembered Visit and The Hapless Child. The three last songs have also been published on his 1987 Live album with Jack Bruce, Rick Fenn and Nick Mason.
There is a reference to Gorey in Andrew Bird's song "Measuring Cups," from his album The Mysterious Production of Eggs.
The Perry Bible Fellowship web comic featured a strip called "The Throbblefoot Aquarium" which features Gorey-esque illustrations with a small note reading "apologies, Edward Gorey."
In the last few decades of his life, Gorey merchandise became quite popular, with stuffed dolls, cups, stickers, posters, and other items available at malls around the USA.
A Film entitled "The Unfortunate Gift: An Homage to Edward Gorey" by Mark G.E., member of Cyberchump.
The Los Angeles horror band Creature Feature released an Edward Gorey-inspired song titled "A Gorey Demise" based on "The Gashlycrumb Tinies".
In episode 392 of The Simpsons, "Yokel Chords", Bart tells a fabricated tale about a former cafeteria worker named Dark Stanley who snapped one day and cooked school children. The sequence during Bart's narration is a clear homage to Gorey's macabre illustration style.
In March 2008, a UK-based theatre company called Hoipolloi premiered a stage production inspired by "The Doubtful Guest".
The Jim Henson Company announced plans to produce a feature film based on The Doubtful Guest to be directed by Brad Peyton. The release is planned for sometime during 2009.
'Art Students Look the Same as They Did in My Day - All Spikes, Studs and Make-Up. and That Goes for the Boys and Girls'
Nov 21, 2007; CITY LIFE My son leaves school next summer, so this autumn term has been enlivened by visits to the various educational...