Addams Family

Charles Addams was known for his eccentric cartoons, which were all characterized by a sinister sense of humor. He was a household name in the pages of the influential magazine The New Yorker from the mid 1930s throughout the 1980s. His most famous creation is 'The Addams Family' (1938), an eccentric family of ghouls, ogres, witches and other creepy monsters. Their popularity skyrocketed when a sitcom series, 'The Addams Family' (1964-1966), was broadcast on ABC. The franchise later inspired several other TV series and films, of which Barry Sonnenfeld's live-action pictures 'The Addams Family' (1991) and 'The Addams Family Values' (1993) are the most fondly remembered. 

The New YorkerThe New Yorker

Early life
Charles Samuel Addams, or "Chill" as his friends called him, was born in 1912 in Westfield, New Jersey, where the Addams' lived on Summit Avenue. They moved several times before taking up permanent residence on Elm Street in 1920. Charles attended public school in Westfield and was fond of visiting the Presbyterian Cemetery on Mountain Ave. When he was a youngster, he was caught by the police breaking into a house on Dudley Avenue.  Throughout his entire life Addams had a fascination for the macabre. On the second floor of the garage behind the main house there was a chalk drawing of a skeleton, believed to have been drawn by him. The house on Dudley, and the one on Elm Street, are said to be the inspiration for the famous 'Addams Family House'.Urban legends even state that Addams slept in a coffin, drank martinis with eyeballs in them, collected torture instruments and received chopped-off fingers in the mail from fans.

Downhill Skier by Chas Addams
'Downhill Skier'.

Cartooning career
Addams graduated in 1929 from Westfield High School. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, then studied at Grand Central School of Art in New York City. One of his first jobs, in 1933, was retouching the blood from pictures of corpses for True Detective magazine. He always wanted to work for The New Yorker and published his first drawing as early as 1932. He regularly started submitting cartoons from 1935 on, and rose to become one of their most iconic contributors, along with Peter Arno, Gluyas Williams and Helen Rokinson. He signed his work "Chas Adams" because it looked better than "Charles Addams". His first submission was titled 'I Forgot My Skates', and showed an ice skater apologizing to his teammates. In 1940 he submitted the classic cartoon 'Downhill Skier', which showed an impossible situation of a skier passing a tree. This particular gag has become so iconic that it has been plagiarized and referenced by numerous other cartoonists since. Both Andy White and Jef Mallett have used the same gag in one of their own cartoons once, but paid homage to Addams as their source of inspiration within the same drawing. The skiing cartoon became Addams' ticket to a full-time position at The New Yorker. 

Cartoon by Charles Addams

The Addams Family
Charles Addams is however most famous for his grim, horror-themed wash drawings. Many of his cartoons take place at night and are set in or around dark mansions, castles, graveyards, torture chambers and swamps. They revolve around murder, torture instruments, ghosts and monsters. The majority feature no recurring characters. In a mere 150 of his 1.300 cartoons Addams portrayed a rich family, who debuted in 1938. They live in an eerie mansion and wouldn't feel out of place in a gothic horror novel. The characters originally were nameless, but in 1964 ABC adapted them into a live-action TV sitcom, naming them after the cartoonist: 'The Addams Family'. At this occasion every family member received a name and specific personality. Gomez Addams is the father and a creepy rich businessman. His wife Morticia is a witch. They are both passionately in love with another, calling one another "cara mia" ("my love"). Their children, daughter Wednesday and son Pugsley, have a habit of trying to torture and kill one another, but never seem to endure much harm. Another close relative is Uncle Fester, a ghoul who loves getting tortured and has the ability to generate electric power by sticking a lightbulb in his mouth. Grandmama is a witch too, while Cousin Itt is a dwarf fully covered with hair. Itt is also the only character not created by Addams but by TV scriptwriter David Levy. The family furthermore has a giant grumbling butler, Lurch, who resembles the Frankenstein Monster, and a servant named Thing, who is a walking hand. The Addams Family is quite eccentric. The family enjoys stormy weather, rejoice whenever they feel depressed or have bad luck and have spiders, bats and snakes as pets. Many newcomers are scared of them, but in reality the Addamses are friendly and harmless. 

The Addams Family

Although 'The Addams Family' (1964-1966) TV show thrived on a gimmick it was nevertheless very suitable for the sitcom format. Charles Addams and the scriptwriters (among them producer Nat Perrin, who also scripted several Marx Brothers comedies) had a lot of fun writing creepy gags and horror plots. Uncle Fester was performed by former child star Jackie Coogan, best known as the child in Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1920). It might explain why the series' style of comedy was more black and surreal than most other sitcoms at the time. Many episodes made use of special effects and exotic animals to compliment absurd gags. Compared with the far more bland TV sitcoms that were in vogue at the time 'The Addams Family' really stood out amongst its competitors. Particularly children loved it and the show remained a ratings hit in reruns too. The catchy finger snappin' theme song by Vic Mizzy is one of the most memorable TV tunes in history. A similar TV sitcom called 'The Munsters' (1964-1966) was broadcast by CBS during almost the exact same time period. Fans have often wondered which of these shows is superior and which one of them ripped the other off? Yet the first broadcast date was so close to 'The Addams Family' 's first episode that the similarities can be attributed to coincidence. In the end nobody denies that 'The Addams Family' has remained far more famous than 'The Munsters'. It also popularized Addams' cartoons. In the 1970s Gold Key Comics also launched a comic strip about the characters, but this was drawn by Bill Ziegler.

The Werewolf of Paris
'The Werewolf of Paris'.

More spin-offs of 'The Addams Family' followed, including a 1977 Halloween TV special, two animated TV series by Hanna-Barbera in 1973 and 1992, another sitcom in 1998-1999 and a 2009 musical. The series was successfully adapted to the silver screen by Barry Sonnenfeld with the movies 'The Addams Family' (1991) and 'The Addams Family Values' (1993), in which Anjelica Huston, Christina Ricci and Christopher Lloyd had starring roles. The films weren't just box office successes, but also received good reviews from critics. Ricci's performance of Wednesday Addams added another personality trait, namely that she never smiles. In issue #311 (June 1992) of Mad Magazine Dick Debartolo and Mort Drucker satirized the first film in a parody comic. New Addams Family films have been created since, with a forgettable direct-to-video sequel with a different cast, 'Addams Family Reunion' (1998), and a CGI-animated picture, 'The Addams Family' (2019) starring the voices of Charlize Theron and Bette Midler, among others. 

1959 Charles Addams cartoon

Later career
Charles Addams continued drawing cartoons for The New Yorker until his death in 1988. While he created many of his own gags, some were supplied by colleagues of him like Arnie Levin, Sam Gross and Mick Stevens. He also made a syndicated cartoon feature called 'Out of this World' in 1956. Addams' work was collected in books like 'Drawn and Quartered' (1942), 'Monster Rally' (1950), 'Black Maria' (1960) and 'Favorite Haunts' (1976). When Hal Seeger founded his own animation studio in the 1950s, Addams was one of his early contributors. Addams also provided animated opening titles and the posters for the horror film comedies 'The Old Dark House' (1963) by William Castle and 'Murder by Death' (1976) by Robert Moore and designed the album cover of Dean Glitter's record 'Ghost Ballads' (1957).

Charles Addams received a special Edgar Award in 1961 for his entire body of work. He was the first non-novelist to receive this honour. 

Celebrity fans, legacy and influence
One of his close friends was film director Alfred Hitchcock, who referred to Addams' cartoons in the auction scene in his film 'North By Northwest' (1957). Carl Barks based his evil sorceress Magica De Spell on Morticia Addams. Novelist Steve Preisler often uses 'Uncle Fester' as a pseudonym. Other celebrity fans of Addams are Gahan Wilson, Bill Plympton, Clive CollinsRoz Chast, Alison Bechdel and Matt Groening. Chast drew a two-page comic strip homage to Addams in 1997, published in The New Yorker.

Books about Charles Addams
For those interested in the man's life Linda H. Davis' 'Chas Addams: A Cartoonist's Life' (2006), published by Random Books is a must-read.

Charles Addams

Series and books by Charles Addams in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.