Edward Gorey, the balletomane who shows no sign of ever going away

The beach towel is long past its best but I don’t plan to throw it away.

It’s close to 20 years since I bought the towel showing the five ballet positions of the feet in white against a black background.

I had no idea who created the image of the feet until recently. They are the work of the artist, Edward Gorey, a balletomane who for thirty years regularly attended performances of the New York City Ballet.

Gorey first drew the feet for a New York City Ballet poster, but later, the design became the basis for several merchandise products sold by NYCB, including the towel.

His ballet images were so popular that he went on to design boxed gift cards, under the umbrella title, Scenes de Ballet, with the witty card illustrations depicting dance eras from the late 18th century to the Romantic era, and from the age of Isadora Duncan to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

The Gorey legacy lives on with a website marketing sterling silver ballet themed pins, titled Cats at the Ballet Barre, Winged Ballerina and Grand Jete and ballet-centric books such as The Lavender Leotard and The Gilded Bat, the latter telling the story of a fictitious young dancer, Maudie Splaytoes, who becomes the prima ballerina, Mirella Splatova. The book is dedicated to the NYCB dancer, Diana Adams.

Gorey, who wrote at least 95 illustrated books, is one of those people that you might love to invite to a dinner party of famous men and women from the past.

His standard theatre attire was a combination of sneakers and a full length fur coat, he loved cats as much as he loved ballet and as a conversationalist, it would be hard to go past his knowledge of, and interest in such writers as Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, the choreographer, George Balanchine and the artists Francis Bacon and Vermeer.

And if that isn’t enough, Gorey’s imagination took him into the realm of peculiar imaginary beasts such as the strange creature who arrived one day on the doorstep and never left. The creature was the Doubtful Guest, published in the book of the same name in 1957.

One of the few benefits of moving house is to discover books long forgotten.

The Doubtful Guest made an appearance once again in one of the many boxes of books that trailed after me in a recent move – a move that meant dancelines has been unusally quiet in the last few weeks.

The Doubtful Guest is a malleable beast. He or she can be anything that lingers long after it should have faded into the past.

Gorey wrote: “When they answered the bell on that wild winter night, There was no one expected – and no one in sight.

Then they saw something standing on top of an urn, Whose peculiar appearance gave them quite a turn.

All at once it leapt down and ran into the hall, Where it chose to remain with its nose to the wall.

It was seemingly deaf to whatever they said, So at last they stopped screaming, and went off to bed.

It joined them at breakfast and presently ate, All the syrup and toast and a part of a plate.

It wrenched off the horn from the new gramophone, And could not be persuaded to leave it alone.

It betrayed a great liking for peering up flues, And for peeling the soles of its white canvas shoes.

At times it would tear out whole chapters from books, Or put roomfuls of pictures askew on their hooks.

Every Sunday it brooded and lay on the floor, Inconveniently close to the drawing-room door.

Now and then it would vanish for hours from the scene, But alas, be discovered inside a tureen. It was subject to fits of bewildering wrath, During which it would hide all the towels from the bath.

In the night through the house it would aimlessly creep, in spite of the fact of its being asleep.

It would carry off objects of which it grew fond, And protect them by dropping them into the pond.

It came seventeen years ago — and to this day It has shown no intention of going away”.

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Edward Gorey’s wilis from backstage

The Lavender Leotard front cover

Edward Gorey’s poster for New York City Ballet

The Gilded Bat

The Doubtful Guest, Edward Gorey