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Bat Ambassador: Edward Gorey

Animal enthusiast extraordinaire, artist and author Edward Gorey (1925‐2000) exhibited a particular fondness for bats.  While Gorey may be more readily identified with his cat illustrations, the scope of bat depictions throughout his career ranges from sweet to spooky. Gorey's bats appear within Ennis Rees' version of Aesop's Fables, on the cover of Virginia Woolf's play Freshwater, and in his own The Gilded Bat,  portrayed by a prima ballerina formerly known as Maudie Splaytoe. But most remarkable is Gorey's use of bats within his Dracula work for books and the theater.

edward gorey bats

Developed for the Nantucket stage and adapted for Broadway, Gorey's Dracula ran for more than three years and led to several tours.  His sets and costumes were both nominated for Tony awards.  The production itself received a Tony that year for best revival of a play, and many critics and playgoers believed the principal reason for that award was the bat‐intensive feast for the eyes that Gorey had delivered.  So extraordinary were the sets that Gorey himself became a headliner, as posters advertised "The Edward Gorey production of Dracula."  Howard Kessel, in his October 21, 1977 review of the play for Women's Wear Daily asked 'If one goes to see "The Magic Flute" at the Met for Marc Chagall, why shouldn't one go to "Dracula" for Edward Gorey?'  

edward gorey bats

Why indeed.  Bats can be found everywhere in the three all black and white sets: the stone work, the roof tiles, the wallpaper, the woodwork, the upholstery, the rugs, the sofa cushions. Even the headboard of Lucy's wrought iron bed is an enormous bat.  And the award winning costumes too, were bat‐themed.  Dracula's cape along with Lucy's day dress and penoir terminate in fabulous bat wing arcs; Renfield's pajamas close with fanciful bat‐shaped buttons.  The cut‐apart Dracula book published by Scribner's in 1979 and currently in reissue by Pomegranate gives one some idea of Gorey's fastidious attention to detail.  As a theater goer, never have I been so captivated by a play's scenery.  While I was not able to attend Dracula on Broadway, I did see a touring show.  Not only was Martin Landau a delight as Dracula, but Gorey's bat sets were breathtaking.  My husband and I stayed after the theater cleared of its audience and stood at the stage's foot, taking in those enormous black and white walls.  You could almost hear the bat wings rustle. 

One could say that bats changed Gorey's life.  So successful was his production of Dracula that Gorey was able to purchase his own home, a historic house in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts.  Today that house is a museum, the Edward Gorey House, which celebrates his life and work.  The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, which licenses Gorey images and distributes resultant royalties, was created as designated by Gorey's will for the benefit of animal welfare.  Perhaps in gratitude to the creatures that so inspired him, Gorey named among those organizations the Bat Conservation International.

Patrice Miller, Board Member
Edward Gorey House

For more bat conservation information visit
 www.batcon.org
 

edward gorey bats