For nearly a decade, he toured the U.S. with his one-man show devoted to Poe. And since resettling in his hometown, where he's been teaching acting and directing at his alma mater, the Johns Hopkins University, since 2001, Astin has been a mainstay of Baltimore's annual Poe Birthday celebration.
Sunday at Westminster Hall and Burying Grounds, within shouting distance of where Poe's remains rest forevermore, Astin, 84, will speak on Poe, reading letters and other material relating to the women in Poe's life, from the mother who died when he was 2 to the cousin he married when she was 13 and the later women he encountered.
Actor Vincent Price's daughter, Victoria, will also be on hand to speak of her father, who starred in several movie adaptations of Poe's works.
Astin — who retains much of the effervescence that made his Gomez Addams a character for the ages — took a few minutes recently to talk about his love of Poe and his plans for Sunday's celebration.
When do you first remember encountering Poe?
I first remember encountering Poe when I was 10 or 11. My mother had told me the story of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." As she looked at the book, she told me the story. It may have been "The Gold Bug," too. I'm just not sure. But I know I had some exposure.
Then she gave me "The Purloined Letter" to read. I remember so well finishing that story and being really taken by it — looking around the room where I was for a place to put a purloined letter. That's why I know my age then — I was fascinated by the idea of the letter, and I kept looking around the room where I was, to see if I could find that place. I remember the furniture that I looked at, the whole layout of the room. It was a place where we lived (in Washington, D.C.) until my 12th birthday. So I know I had to be no older than 11; I might have been 10.
Why do you think that Poe has retained such an allure?
His understanding of human nature was so deep, and so accurate. He was able to go so deeply into these ideas. His discoveries about human nature were so right, and so accurate, that it's almost a wonder to read, or reread. There are continually discoveries, in the reading of Poe, about humankind.
He didn't articulate it, exactly, all the time. He implied it. But these implications are so right, and so accurate. He's always current.
What is your favorite Poe story?
There is none. I have five sons, and no one of them is my favorite either.
Will you be reprising your one-man Poe show soon?
I'm experimenting with another kind of show. I hope to key some of the stuff I do Sunday to a look at Poe's women, and the effect that they had on him.
This is part of a work in progress. It's not finished by any means. So it's a ways off.
Where do you come down in the battle for Poe supremacy among various cities: Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Richmond?
I had a friend from Venezuela when I was in college. When he translated expressions into English, he modified them. One of the expressions he used, he put this way: "John, where the Romans go, do as they do."
So, since I'm in Baltimore, I'm going to tell you it's Baltimore. But don't ask me that question when I'm in Philadelphia, or New York, or Richmond.
If you go
John Astin and Victoria Price will help Baltimore mark Edgar Allan Poe's 206th birthday during a commemoration set for 4 p.m. Sunday at Westminster Hall & Burying Grounds, 519 W. Fayette St. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Information: http://www.law.umaryland.edu/poe.