Friday, February 22, 2013

VAMPIRES 101: Edward Gorey

Today is the birthday of the late writer/ artist Edward Gorey, a man whose style continues to haunt popular culture almost 13 years after his death.

It’s hard not to be occasionally resentful of Gorey’s work, which has been copied and homogenized to create a faux subculture. A style that was once unique has been turned into a brand by everyone from Hot Topic to TIM BURTON, and has somewhat diluted what made Gorey’s work so special in the first place. But, blaming Gorey for Burton’s paint-by-numbers approach to filmmaking is like blaming the Beastie Boys for Limp Bizkit. Some people are just determined to walk away from art with precisely the wrong message, and Gorey is no more to blame for Hot Topic’s exploitation of teenage morbidity than Mike D is for that unfortunate rash of “rape rock” in the late 1990s.

Since this is a VAMPIRES 101 segment, let’s focus on a small part of Gorey’s career: His involvement in the 1977 Broadway revival of DRACULA. Despite its low regard among fans of Bram Stoker’s novel, the DRACULA stage play has proven to be as resilient as its antagonist. Written in 1924 by Hamilton Deane, it was revised (possibly even re-written) by John L. Balderston a few years later in 1927. While F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film NOSFERATU was, technically, the first adaption of Stoker’s novel, the Deane/Balderston play was the first “authorized” production of the novel, and served as the basis for Universal’s 1931 feature starring BELA LUGOSI.

Gorey’s designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula won him a Tony Award for Best Costume Design, as well as a nomination for Best Scenic Design. The play was a huge hit in its day, making a star of actor Frank Langella, who reprised the role in the much-less ambitious film adaption a few years later.
Unlike the movie, though, the play was Edward Gorey art brought to life. The stage, the backgrounds, the entire production was the work of Gorey’s deceptively simple line art. You can see examples of the set design in this post. While I’m not sure Hollywood was up to the task of creating a literal adaption of Gorey’s production design, it’s obvious the 1979 “adaptation” failed to port the real star of the show.

In addition to Gorey’s Tony nods, the Broadway production won for Best Revival and Best Costume Design, and earned Langella a nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Play. David Dukes, Raul Julia and Jean LeClerc would later take over the role of Dracula on Broadway, while the London production starred Terence Stamp. Martin Landau and Jeremy Brett took over the lead when the play went on tour in America.

DRACULA wasn’t Gorey’s only foray into Broadway. The following year, he staged GOREY STORIES, billed as “An Entertainment with Music.” The play had only one performance on Oct. 30, 1978, which suggests it was a production that was intentionally not built to last.

Google has recognized Gorey’s birthday today with a “Google Doodle” based on his artwork.


Mrs. Cousin Barnabas said...

Did you know that Google does a doodle for you for your birthday? And that if people hadn't mentioned it you would have missed the Gorey doodle because Google sent you a virtual cake? Seriously, I thought these people were supposed to know so much about me!

Unknown said...

I saw this production on Broadway with Raul Julia as Dracula. The sets and costumes by Gorey were spectacular and entirely in black and white -- except for one small spot of red in each act. In one act it was a single red rose in a vase. In the second act it was a decanter or glass of red wine on the sideboard. By act 3 the audience was in on the joke and started buzzing when the curtain went up and there was no glimpse of red. Then Lucy, in the thrall of the vampire, flounced out on stage wearing a white batty-armed nightgown with her hands on her hip. At one point she threw her hand up in the air and revealed a single red heart-shaped sequin sewn on the hip of her gown. That got a big laugh!

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