Their creepy and their kooky Mysterious and spooky Their all together ooky The Addams family
Their house is a museum When people come to see 'em They really are a scream The Addams family.
How did a few cartoons in the New Yorker magazine morph into an immortal pop culture legend? The Addams Family began as a series of black and white drawings, became a popular television show, and went on to inspire several animated movies, live action movies, and a Broadway play. What was it about that show that stuck with people while other shows that debuted the same year, like Gomer Pyle and Flipper have faded into obscurity?
I recently took on the task of watching all 64 episodes of the 1964-66 version of the Addams Family that pretty much defines the franchise forever. The show ran on ABC for only two seasons, which is a shame, but it lives on forever in reruns on baby boomer networks like Me-TV as well as on DVD and streaming services.
The world in 1964 was one in the midst of a huge cultural change, and the Addams Family, filmed in black and white, seems both retro and revolutionary for its time. Gomez and Morticia Addams, the parents, are both outrageous and sexy, and they're the ultimate fish out of water that makes comedy so powerful, as it shines a light on the "normal" world. In contrast to Ward and June Cleaver, the wise but boring parents on Leave it to Beaver, Gomez Addams is a horn dog who jumps his wife every time she utters something in French. Gomez, played by John Astin, channels Groucho Marx in his acting, using his mustache, cigar, and quick wit to make light of almost any situation. Morticia, played by Carolyn Jones, is the ultimate goth character, who defined cool elegance as she fed her pet plant, Cleopatra.
The Addams household was completed with:
- Son Pugsley, played by Ken Weatherwax, who loved playing with dynamite,
- Daughter Wednesday, played by Lisa Loring, who played with a decapitated doll,
- Uncle Fester, the bald goofball played by Jackie Coogan, who's biggest claim to fame was his ability to put a light bulb in his mouth and light it up.
- Lurch, the tall, mysterious butler played by Ted Cassidy, who solemnly showed up with a deep "you rang?" after being called.
- Grandmama, played by Blossom Rock, the feisty old lady who conjured up potions,
- Thing, the disembodied hand that poked out of boxes all over the house.
- Cousin Itt, the pile of hair and sunglasses who spoke gibberish that the Addams family always seemed to understand.
These fish out of water seemed to function just fine and get along with each other, but when folks from the outside world came by, the clash of cultures was a gold mine for comedy. I liked the show, (and movies and musical), because they poked mischievous fun at society through the eyes of a weird but loving family. Most of the comedies of this time period, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, the Beverly Hillbillies, or I Dream of Jeannie, also relied on fish out of water tension, but none were designed so that we, the viewers, were actually the fish out of the water, while the Addams family were happily swimming around in their eccentric little bowl.
Here are some Addams tidbits of interesting information that I gleaned from my 64 episode journey.
- John Astin, as of 2021, is one of the only cast members still alive. (Lisa Loring is the other one) Astin was originally cast to play the butler Lurch, around whom the show would be written, but producers decided to go in a different direction and offer him the role of Gomez. He married another tv sitcom star- Patty Duke and appeared in many other tv productions, but this was his most famous role.
- Carolyn Jones played not only Morticia, but her oddball sister Ophelia. Ophelia was much more expressive, and really showcased the actresses talents. It took over two hours in makeup to get the Morticia outfit together and she could barely walk in the narrow skirt that was used.
- Thing, the hand, was usually played by Ted Cassidy, the actor who also played Lurch. Sometimes Thing was a right hand and sometimes a left, and occasionally part of an arm was shown. Thing fell in love in one episode with a female hand named Ladyfingers.
- Morticia's mother, Grandma Frump, was played by the wicked witch of the west herself- Margaret Hamilton.
- The originator of the New Yorker cartoons, Charles Addams, consulted with producer David Levy on the tv show, but never appeared on it.
- They had a pet lion, Kitty Cat, who only appeared in one standard shot on the set, but was never close enough to any of the cast to be of danger.
- Gomez loved blowing up toy trains, and the same shot was used over and over in different episodes.
- The Addams Family is most often compared to The Munsters, a rival show on another network that featured a Frankenstein-like creepy family. By coincidence, both shows premiered in 1964 and were cancelled in 1966, and both were popular in reruns and syndication.
There are many great episodes of this show, and there are two more movies in development as I write this that will continue the Addams tradition. Here are some scenes from some of my favorite episodes, as well as the movie and musical.
The iconic opening and song.
Lurch dancing with Wednesday. So, so, funny!
The bizarre Christmas episode, where they all dress like Santa
The amazing beatnik episode with a surprisingly touching ending that encompasses what the Addams family is all about- accept yourself and your weirdness.
The Broadway musical, featuring a grown-up Wednesday in love.
The trailer for the 1991 movie that made over $200 million.