“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”–Edgar Allan Poe
By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 10/22/17 – Halloween is almost here, and what better way to celebrate than a new show about Edgar Allan Poe? The long-running PBS series AMERICAN MASTERS will launch a one-hour documentary called “Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive” at 9 p.m. on Monday, October 30th. The segment is narrated by two-time Golden Globe winner Kathleen Turner, whose smoky voice should well evoke the spooky subject.
Michael Kantor, the executive producer for AMERICAN MASTERS, was on hand to discuss all things Edgar Allan Poe at the PBS portion of the TCA Press Tour which took place on Sunday, July 30th at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. He was joined by director Eric Stange and celebrated actor Denis O’Hare, who portrays Poe.
Determined to reinvent American literature, Poe was an influential and brutally honest literary critic and magazine editor. He invented the modern detective story and refined the science fiction genre. But he is remembered primarily for his narrative poem “The Raven” and Gothic horror tales such as “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Both Denis O’Hare and Eric Stange learned a great deal about Edgar Allan Poe in the course of creating the PBS segment. Poe was part of the glitterati of his time in New York City, though his conflict-ridden life ended at the early age of 40. Stange alluded to the Poe family’s history of alcoholism that contributed to these problems.
“Having lost every single woman he loved, starting with his mother and foster mother and everybody else, made him, I think, feel just not part of this world,” concluded Stange about Poe. Poe’s death itself was enveloped in mystery that will be explored on the AM segment.
“I think that Poe is one of our great American treasures,” said Denis O’Hare. “He is a fine literary figure, and I would hope that this production would help people to understand the large scope of his literary output, that it wasn’t simply these Gothic tales, that he had a much broader impact. People like Charles Baudelaire modeled their poetry after him. Charles Dickens knew him. He was famous in France. He was famous in England. And every single procedural cop show to this day, including Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, owes a debt to Edgar Allan Poe.”
The relationship between Poe and Virginia Clemm has raised eyebrows for many an age. Reputedly the first cousins were secretly married in 1835 when Poe was 26 and Clemm was only 13. They tied the knot publicly the next year in 1836.
The talking heads on the PBS Poe segment include some novelists as well as the usual academics. According to Eric Stange, it was difficult to find women who write about Poe in any way. So maybe this THT review will break some new ground!
“Human beings aren’t consistent. Only characters are consistent,” said Denis O’Hare, quoting an unnamed friend of his. “[Poe] is a wonderfully complicated, contradictory person.”
Known both for social charisma and scandalous conduct, Poe was considered the best kind of bad boy party guest along the lines of Bret Easton Ellis. Not everybody wanted to admit to being Poe’s friend while he was alive, but his posthumous fame produced many fascinating memoirs.
Actor Denis O’Hare worked hard to re-create the haunted, worried look that was Poe’s hallmark. He also grew a real mustache for the AM role.
Poe’s aspirational poems about life and love continue to inspire new generations with their almost childlike idealism. He dabbled in both journalism and literature like many writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and G. K. Chesterton and was one of the first Americans to see the value of magazine writing.
“It’s amazing how [Poe] talked about magazines the way people talk about the Internet now,” said Eric Stange. Poe was also well known for sexualizing the Gothic tale and adding modern Industrial Age machine imagery to these older story lines. He came into his own around 1880 when French Symbolist poets such as Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud started to translate him into French.
Poe’s popularity in France then started to explode in the US. He found a new champion in American poet Walt Whitman, who recognized his genius. Estimations of Poe continue to ebb and flow in the Information Age.
American cities that Poe frequented such as Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, and New York still claim to be haunted by him! “The Raven” with its melodramatic refrain “Nevermore!” was parodied almost from the first.
One of Poe’s commonest tropes was premature burial. This seems symbolic of a short life spent buried under debt and public disapproval. But add a T to “Poe” and you get–Poet! At the end of the panel Denis O’Hare spoke in praise of Poe’s fierce intelligence as well as his vast creative capabilities that can now be enjoyed on PBS the day before Halloween.