LIANE HANSEN, host:
It is difficult to describe the illustrations of Edward Gorey without using the word macabre. Death was often a subject of his drawings and the various ways he depicted evil adults and dispatched mischievous children often provoked horror. However, his work often also provoked humor. Besides, he didn't like the word macabre.
Edward Gorey died at the age of 75 in April, 2000. The following year, a slim paperback was published called "The Strange Case of Edward Gorey" by Alexander Theroux, one of Gorey's close friends - he had few.
Recently, Theroux went back to the now out of print original monograph to rewrite, expand and redesign it. It's just been published in hardcover, and Alexander Theroux is in the studio of WGBH in Boston.
Welcome to the program.
Professor ALEXANDER THEROUX (Author, "The Strange Case of Edward Gorey"): It's a pleasure to be here, Liane.
HANSEN: Why didn't Edward Gorey like the word macabre?
Prof. THEROUX: I think he heard it too much. It was a word that - ghoulish and macabre were kind of the Scylla and Charybdis of his life in terms of interviews. And he never really liked to talk about his work to make a paradoxical point. So it was a way of repudiating the same old subject. And he wasn't really fussy and he was very patient with people that talked about the macabre and the ghoulish. But everybody always went through that gate when they were talking to Edward Gorey. And I think over the years, he would have been more interested to talk about other things.
HANSEN: Right. In a nutshell, how would you describe his illustrations to those who may not have seen them? Or seen, for example the series "Mystery" on PBS, where his was actually the opening, sort of montage that they did in, you know, the black-and-white in the graveyard, and so forth?
Prof. THEROUX: I think his particular style grew out of that kind of fascination with pen and ink drawings. You know, I remember he once told me that it was so hard to get a book published in color when he started doing things in the early '50s, that all of his books were in black and white possibly to get them published.
But to answer your question, I would say they grew out of cartoons and a wonderful fussy kind of manneristic way. His drawings got to be more and more oblique. His subject matter was the '20s, and he always fit his drawings to that particular world, the Edwardian period. So I think I would just say manneristic cartoons of a very high variety.
HANSEN: Edward Gorey wrote more than 90 books. He illustrated some 60 others. He designed sets. He won a Tony Award for his costume design for the show "Dracula." His work is reproduced everywhere. It's on exhibition. Yet it seems Gorey thought his work was ephemeral, that it wasnt lasting.
Did he discuss his work with you? I mean you knew him a while. Did he ever discuss work with you?
Prof. THEROUX: Just as a kind of marginal subject. I mean if you asked him what is behind the drawings of "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," or one of his books, "The Dwindling Party," which was a mysterious pop-up book, he would say, Oh, Im going to leave you to tell me I don't even know. He loved the phrase, I don't even know.
HANSEN: How did you become friends with them?
Prof. THEROUX: To make a long story short, I was in a bookstore and bought several of his books. And the proprietor of the bookstore told me he lived virtually around the corner, and I couldn't believe it. So I just drove over there and knocked on his door and took a photograph, and he signed some books. And then I had written some stories that I thought he might want to illustrate over the course of that year. And so, it was just a question of my being a fan, in short - just knocking on his door.
HANSEN: You weren't the only one to do that. I mean he was listed in the phone book, people knew where he lived, and he seems like someone who really wasn't thrilled about answering the door to a fan, but he would.
Prof. THEROUX: At times he could be very passive-aggressive and it depended on his mood. If he was rested, he would do it. But you would see him in restaurants, see him on Cape Cod. I mean he stood out. He was a very poor hermit. And if you are visiting him and someone knocked on the door - maybe a goth person; they seem to always flock over there. And he would say, we've got customers. And then he would answer the door. They'd say, I love your work, and start gushing. He would say, Thank you. Now what?
But he was always very accessible, and people would always stop by and see him.
HANSEN: There were many contradictions in the man. Describe a few of them.
Prof. THEROUX: He was in many ways very campy, in the Susan Sontag sense. He could be very serious. He read every book imaginable. He had wide interests -theology, sociology. He wasn't particularly interested in politics but there wasn't a subject that didn't really interest him.
His day was filled with Hoovering(ph) up as much as he could: The news, a film, listening to Mozart- one of his favorite composers, watching a movie, doing some artwork. He went his own way.
HANSEN: He was someone who wanted to keep up on what Erica Kane was doing on "All My Children," at the same time. You know...
Prof. THEROUX: His day was broken down into working in the morning but he had to get to his Erica Kane show at 1:00. He loved soap operas. He very rarely wasted his time. He would sew beanbag bats and beanbag figures while he watched television. But almost every night that I knew him - and I really knew him since about 1972 to about 2000 - he went to the movies almost every night. And he could segueway from reading a book on Wittgenstein or Anthony Trollope, to watching "The Golden Girls," which was a favorite TV show of his.
He needed to have a lot of movement in his mind, a lot of water going over those stones of his mind.
HANSEN: So is there a picture that remains in your mind of your friendship with Edward Gorey?
Prof. THEROUX: I still see myself just sitting in his kitchen and he would say would you like some tea? There was always a kind of melancholy tone to his voice. And he would give you some white toast with a cinnamon shaker, and that repast with Gorey was always cinnamon on white toast and a cup of tea.
HANSEN: Alexander Theroux wrote "The Strange Case of Edward Gorey," published by Fantagraphics Books. He joined us from the studio of WGBH in Boston.
Thanks you, sir.
Prof. THEROUX: Thank you, Liane.
HANSEN: You can find Edward Gorey illustrations you havent seen, including a poster for a puppet show Gorey performed in his own home, on our Web site, NPR.org.