The MYSTERY! of Edward Gorey

Memories by Derek Lamb, with Tracie Smart

(left to right) At his home, Edward Gorey with Derek Lamb. All photos courtesy of Derek Lamb.

"About the Zote what can be said?
There was just one, and now it's dead."

Once upon a time, 1925, there was a child born in Chicago named Edward St. John Gorey. What destiny lay in store for an EDWARD GOREY? One might only speculate. And even then... if the name doesn't tip you off nothing I say is likely to.

Many years later...

I'm driving along a Cape Cod road, a freshly baked lemon cake on the seat beside me, peering up and down the street looking for Edward's address. I find it. Park. Walk through the overgrown garden and ring the doorbell of a two hundred year-old stone home. The door is flung open, after all... I am expected.

Ted (as Edward liked to be called in the 1980s) has dark, moody eyes and a full, white beard. He greets me with his familiar sideways glances and leads me into the kitchen, brushing aside numerous cats from chairs and counter-tops. I proffer him the cake, already imagining a generous slice with a cup of tea. To my astonishment he holds the cake at arms length, panic in his eyes as if he'd been handed a ticking bomb, and with a lightning-move, his six-foot-plus frame reaches up to a high kitchen cabinet and flings the cake inside, slamming the door shut. And with that handled, we sit and talk per-our-usual for several hours -- or more accurately, Ted talks, avoiding any mention of our impending animation deadlines. And I listen..., and listen..., who wouldn't? Monologues on TV soaps, as always, insightful, engaging, funny, bizarre. And his favorite puppet show Alf(how he adored Alf!). And the time flies by with no sign of tea, and not another word about the cake. That was Ted.

"...They sat down to a meal of corn flakes and treacle, turnip sandwiches, and artificial grape soda..."

Original title sequence art.

It all started in 1980 when my friend Joan Wilson, creator of PBS's Masterpiece Theaterhad a brainstorm. Her idea was I might animate the opening titles for her new series, MYSTERY!based on Edward Gorey's style. It was a brilliant idea.

"I think it was the day after Tuesday and the day before Wednesday."

Gorey and I met in Joan's office at WGBH, Boston. I was morbidly curious (I'd heard a rumor he had two left hands). As a way of introduction I screened my Oscar winning film Every Child;a bittersweet story produced for UNICEF to celebrate the "Year of The Child." When it ended, Gorey remained silent and still. What did he think of it? With his back to me, still in his viewing posture, he said in a chilling voice, "I L I K E I T. IT'S S O S I N I S T E R."

"To catch and keep the public's gaze
One must have lots of little ways."

Gorey had arrived at the meeting with a fully scripted idea for the title sequence, an intriguing concept using a Victorian children's puppet theater. Unfortunately the script timed-out at twenty minutes in length. Joan needed a mere 40 seconds. An impasse already.

"They spent the better part of the morning murdering
the child in various ways."

I recall there were some arguments, some serious pouting and a lot of staring out the window. Would the project go any further?

"Morose, inflexible, aloof, the Thing hovered just above the roof."

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