Friday, January 6, 2012

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Charles Addams and “The Addams Family”

Charles “Chas” Addams didn’t crawl out of the womb on writhing tentacles or sporting an extra head when he was born 100 years ago tomorrow. Such irregularities would have been fitting considering the bizarre body of work he left behind. Addams is best known for the eponymous family he created for a series of peculiar New Yorker cartoons, but the lesser-known facts of his life are equally worthy of attention. Here are twenty curiosities about Charles Addams and the family he created that may be new to you…

1. The macabre nature of “The Addams Family” led many to believe its creator was similarly offbeat. According to Linda Davis of NPR, many believed Charles Addams slept in a coffin, drank “martinis with eyeballs in them,” and kept “a guillotine in his house.” Fans were reported to have sent him “chopped-off fingers” and a “monogrammed straightjacket” as mash gifts. While these stories are largely apocryphal, the disarmingly charming Addams did have a taste for the gothic, filling his Manhattan apartment with suits of armor, crossbows, maces, swords, snakes, a human thighbone, “a sewing basket fashioned from an armadillo… and “a mounted rubber bat.”

2. According to Linda H. Davis’s biography Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s life, Chas was a distant relative of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Jane Addams.

3. As a boy in Westfield, New Jersey, Charles Addams had ambitions of becoming an architect, but his fascination with the macabre was full-blooded from his earliest days. In a 1953 issue of LOOK magazine, he explained, “on Halloween I wouldn’t have considered being anything but a ghost.” In a 1976 piece in People magazine, he credits all the “scary old Victorian houses in my neighborhood” with sparking his interest in ghoulish things.

4. One of Addams’s greatest influences was W.C. Fields, and one could certainly imagine a member of the Addams Family voicing the comedian’s famed bon mot, “I like children—if they’re properly cooked.”

5. Either in his Frankenstein Monster or Morgan from The Old Dark House guises, Boris Karloff was long believed to be the inspiration for Lurch. Karloff, himself, bought the theory, even writing in his introduction to Addams’s Drawn and Quartered anthology, “I hope I will not be accused of undue vanity if I publicly thank Mr. Addams for immortalizing me in the person of the witch’s butler.” But according to Kevin Miserocchi, executive director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, the resemblance is coincidental, and Addams had been drawing versions of Lurch since he was a boy in the pre-Frankenstein 1920s.

6. Karloff got the Drawn and Quartered gig after expressing his fondness for Addams’s work to his neighbor, Bennett Cerf. The Random House founder said he discovered Karloff “singing nursery rhymes to his little three-year-old daughter” and described the movie monster as “the second most gentle character I have ever met.” So who is the first? Charles Addams.

7. Maila Nurmi created her Vampira with much inspiration from the similarly vampiric leading lady of “The Addams Family”. In fact, Nurmi hoped news of the prize she won at a costume party in Los Angeles might reach Charles Addams and lead to discussions about a possible T.V. series based on his cartoons starring herself and penned by her husband, screenwriter Dean Riesner (Play Misty for Me, Dirty Harry, etc.). Although Nurmi was not destined to play the character we now know as Morticia Addams, she was able to parlay her Morticia-esque costume into a job as one of the most popular horror hosts of the 1950s.

8. Hunt Stromberg, Jr., of NBC T.V. was afraid Charles Addams might take legal action against Maila Nurmi for her new character. So she schemed to turn her vampire into a far sexier creation than that of Addams. Ironically, that sex appeal that so defined Vampira would similarly define Carolyn Jones’s coming interpretation of Morticia Addams.

9. Like Karloff and Nurmi, Alfred Hitchcock was an eager Charles Addams enthusiast. The director not only went out of his way to befriend the cartoonist, but Hitch came to own two of Addams’s original cartoons and supposedly based the look of the Bates house in Psycho on the Addams Family’s dilapidated home.

10. Charles Addams didn’t devise names for the members of his cartoon family until it became an ABC sitcom on September 18, 1964. However, one his names didn’t quite make the transition to the small screen: his “Grandma Frump” was just called Grandmama, making her relationship to the former-Morticia Frump less clear.

11. Hard to imagine, but John Astin was originally pegged to play Lurch in David Levy’s sitcom adaptation of “The Addams Family”.

12. In his forward to Stephen Cox’s The Addams Chronicles, John Astin astutely observed that Gomez and Morticia “were the first married couple on television who seemed to have an actual sex life.” Astin also took responsibility for the passion between the heads of the Addams household: “I had proposed that their romance be unceasing… that the slightest look or key word send Gomez into raptures.”

13. Morticia didn’t just stir Gomez’s passions. Of his ex- and current wives, Charles Addams admitted to People magazine, “I married women who looked like Morticia. She’s my ideal.”

14. Many critics found the television adaptation of “The Addams Family” sorely lacking when compared to Addams’s cartoon. A review in Variety griped that while the comedy of Addams’s panels “lie in what is left unsaid… the television version literally throws the book at the audience. It’s as though they’re not quite sure whether the viewer is going to get it, so it’s laid on, and on and on.”

15. Variety clearly was no fan of “The Addams Family”, but the show supposedly had a champion in more artistic circles. According to John Astin, Salvador Dali regularly professed his love for the sitcom.

16. Rockers dug “The Addams Family” too. In 1966, The Who recorded an “Addams”-inspired instrumental called “You Rang?” for the BBC. On the set of the 1968 film Candy, Ringo Starr introduced himself to John Astin by kissing the actor up his arm à la Gomez. Less surprisingly, Alice Cooper was a vocal proponent of the sitcom.

17. In his essential horror study The Monster Show, David J. Skal notes that similarities between The Addams Family and their blue-collar neighbors The Munsters don’t end with the families’ monstrousness. Skal writes, “each series, for example, featured episodes in which the children were believed to have turned into chimpanzees, in which the families built robots, and parallel plots that turned on spacemen, beatniks, and amnesia.”

18. Robby the Robot of Forbidden Planet made a guest appearance in the “Lurch’s Little Helper” episode. Robby was the hardest working robot in television, making three appearances in “The Twilight Zone”, and taking guest spots on shows ranging from “Hazel” to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to “The Monkees” to “Columbo” to “Wonder Woman” to “Mork & Mindy” to “The Love Boat”. Robby can also be spotted in features such as Gremlins, Cherry 2000, and Earth Girls Are Easy. He most recently appeared in a 2006 AT&T ad with fellow robotic icons WOPR of War Games, KITT of “Knight Rider”, and Rosie of “The Jetsons”.

19. “The Addams Family” has undergone numerous permutations through the years: Charles Addams’s original comic, the ‘60s sitcom, a cartoon spun-off from “Scooby Doo”, two popular feature films in the ‘90s, a Family Channel revival, and a hit Broadway musical. In mid 2010, producer Christopher Meledandri confirmed rumors that Tim Burton was in the early stages of creating a stop-motion adaptation of “The Addams Family” in the vein of The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride.

20. When Charles Addams died of a heart attack behind the wheel of his car in 1988, his wife offered a cheekily macabre epitaph worthy of the cartoonist, himself: “He’s always been a car buff, so it was a nice way to go.”
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