'Movie Scream', The New Yorker, 18 January 1947.

Charles Addams was an American cartoonist, known for his sinister, macabre work. Between 1932 and 1988, he was a household name in the pages of The New Yorker. His most famous creation is 'The Addams Family' (1938), an eccentric family of ghouls, ogres, witches and other creepy monsters. Originally featured as nameless characters in a pantomime one-panel cartoon series, their popularity skyrocketed after being adapted into a popular 1964-1966 TV sitcom. Since then, The Addams Family have become a pop culture mainstay, particularly at Halloween. They inspired TV series, films and video games. Addams also drew another one-panel cartoon series, the short-lived 'Out Of This World' (1955-1957).

The New YorkerThe New Yorker
Covers by Charles Addams for The New Yorker, respectively published on 10 February 1951 and 3 November 1986. 

Early life and career
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. The family moved several times before 1920, when they took up permanent residence on Elm Street. In hindsight, it is amusing that Addams' address was once Elm Street. In later decades, the street name gained a macabre reputation, since in 1963 President Kennedy was shot in Elm Street, Dallas, and in 1984, film director Wes Craven began a famous horror franchise entitled 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'. From a young age, Charles Addams loved to scare himself. His neighborhood was filled with creepy-looking 19th-century houses, that pricked his imagination. In one particular barn on Dudley Avenue, the 10-year old boy drew a skeleton on the wall in chalk. In 2018 this drawing, nicknamed 'Dudley', was excavated by the city council of New Jersey and preserved as original art. Addams also regularly visited the Presbyterian Cemetery on Mountain Avenue. His macabre fascinations are particularly remarkable, given that he was lifelong claustrophobic.

Addams' father was a piano salesman. Since he was often on the road, little Charles was mostly raised by his mother and his aunt. They gave him a taste for drawing. His main graphic influence was James Thurber. Addams published his first cartoons in the Westfield High School student literary magazine Weathervane. In class, he drew sexy cartoons for his fellow classmates. After graduation in 1929, his father insisted that he studied architecture, so Adddams went to Colgate University in Pennsylvania (1930-1931). Addams, however, switched schools to study art at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City instead (1931-1932). But he didn't finish this program either. Addams dropped out and began to look for work. His first job was doing lay-out design for True Detective Magazine, which included retouching photos of corpses to remove indications of blood and other gory details. During World War II, Addams served at the Signal Corps Photographic Center in New York, making animated training films for the U.S. Army. Once again he was attracted by gruesome topics. Some of his educational films warn U.S. soldiers about syphilis.

The New Yorker
Charles Addams always wanted to publish in The New Yorker. On 6 February 1932, he published his first cartoon in its pages. He was only 20 years old. His first submission was a cartoon titled 'I Forgot My Skates', in which an ice skater apologizes to his teammates for not showing up in the appropriate footwear. Addams became a regular contributor to the magazine starting in 1935. Charles Addams signed his work with "Chas Adams", because, in his opinion, it looked better than his full name. While he came up with many of his own gags, some were supplied by colleagues like Arnie Levin, Sam Gross and Mick Stevens. Addams was a mainstay in The New Yorker's pages until his death in 1988.

Downhill Skier by Chas Addams
'Downhill Skier'.

Downhill Skier
On 13 January 1940, Charles Addams submitted his classic cartoon 'Downhill Skier' to The New Yorker. The drawing shows a skier who managed to avoid crashing into a tree, by passing each leg around the trunk. It defies all logic and Addams gives us no explanation. All we see are the ski tracks, one to the left of the tree, the other to the right. 'Downhill Skier' became one of The New Yorker's most reprinted cartoons. Interviewed by Look magazine (15 December 1942), Addams was asked what were his two sweetest memories about his career. He answered: "1) Being bitten by a camel in Central Park. 2) The adoption of my ski cartoon by a Western asylum, to determine mental levels of patients." The skiing gag reached such an iconic status that numerous cartoonists have referenced, or even plagiarized it since. In Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas's self-reflexive 'Sam's Strip', for instance, Sam tries to do the same, but bumps against the tree, "because somebody switched the gag". Cartoonists Andy White and Jef Mallett used the same skiing gag in one of their own cartoons, though they gave Addams credit for the original idea.

Cartoon by Charles Addams
Cartoon by Charles Addams. 

Horror style
Charles Addams is most famous for his grim, horror-themed ink wash drawings. Since childhood he had a fascination for gruesome things. He built up a huge collection of creepy photographs and eerie woodcut engravings. They depicted deadly accidents, freak show artists or imaginative monsters. Part of his collection can be seen in his book 'Dear Dead Days: A Family Album' (G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1959). Many of Addams' cartoons have a disturbing, occult undertone. They are set in dark mansions with spooky libraries and eerie hallways. Characters often wander around in creepy castles, icky swamps and haunted graveyards. They are murdered, tortured or victims of cannibalism. Addams also loved to draw odd-looking people, some with physical deformities. Others Addams favorites are witches, ogres, extraterrestrial aliens and monsters. These characters and themes all gave him an instantly recognizable style, which stood out among the more conventional cartoons in most magazines. In the 1930s, Addams drew a cartoon of a boy scout whose father tries to hang himself, whereupon the boy corrects him that he's not using a "hangman's knot". When the cartoon was reprinted in a German magazine, many readers felt offended. Charles Addams' biographer, Linda H. Davis, said that Addams "would probably have been delighted" by the commotion caused by his drawing. Addams' cartoons have been compiled in the books 'Drawn and Quartered' (1942), 'Addams and Evil' (1948), 'Monster Rally' (1950), 'Home Bodies' (1954), 'Night Crawlers' (1957), 'Black Maria' (1960) and 'Favorite Haunts' (1976), all published by Simon & Schuster. The foreword of 'Drawn and Quartered' was written by Boris Karloff, the actor famous for his performance of Frankenstein's Monster.


Comic strip by Charles Addams.

Eccentric lifestyle
Charles Addams was a sophisticated, well-mannered gentleman. He collected classy cars and regularly attended fancy dinner parties. He counted novelist Ray Bradbury, actor Burgess Meredith and film director Alfred Hitchcock among his friends. "The Master of Suspense" even referenced Addams' cartoons in the auction scene of his film 'North By Northwest' (1957). Addams also had a reputation as a ladies’ man. He had romantic relationships with famous women such as novelist Barbara Skelton, Hollywood actresses Greta Garbo and Joan Fontaine as well as former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Linda H. Davis' biography, 'Chas Addams: A Cartoonist's Life', also mentions that Addams had a relationship with research assistant Megan Marshak, who was the mistress of former U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. In 1979, Rockefeller had a fatal heart attack while having sex with Marshak. Only a day later, Addams, who lived nearby, started a love affair with her.

Although Addams was beloved in high society, he did have his eccentricities. To play up his reputation as a "horror cartoonist", his mansion was decorated like something out of a gothic novel. Fittingly named “The Swamp”, it was filled with frightening objects. His door knocker was shaped like a bat. Fake giant spiders and cobwebs hung on the walls. He had a papier-mâché anatomical figure which was originally used in schools; the organs could be taken out. Rooms were decorated with a knight's armor, an ax, crossbows, several skulls and an embalming table. His first wife, Barbara Jean Day, would dress up as his character Morticia Addams. His second and third wife also had strong resemblances to Morticia. Near his house was a pet cemetery, where Addams and his third wife often went picnicking. They even held their marriage ceremony there. Addams' eerie household entertained visitors, particularly journalists. It gave him a colorful public image, which inevitably sparked urban legends. Some articles in the media claimed that Addams suffered from mental breakdowns. After one such breakdown, he supposedly made a morbid cartoon about a ghoul in a maternity room who wants to eat a baby. In reality, Addams never had a mental breakdown and no such cartoon exists in his catalog. Despite other rumors, the famed cartoonist didn't sleep in a coffin, never drank martinis with eyeballs in them, and fans didn't send him chopped off fingers by mail.

The Addams Family
'The Addams Family', cartoon by Charles Addams. 

The Addams Family
On 6 August 1938, the first 'Addams Family' cartoon appeared in print in The New Yorker. Originally, they were just a group of separate ghoulish characters featured in individual gags. Addams eventually paired some of them together. Since most of his cartoons were pantomime or just had a punchline in the captions, the characters lacked developed personalities. In fact, up until the 1964 TV adaptation, they didn't even have names. Father Gomez is a shady-eyed, goofy-looking multi-millionaire. His wife Morticia is an attractive, but stern and aloof witch. They are passionately in love, calling each other "cara mia" (Italian for "my love"). Their daughter, Wednesday, and son, Pugsley, often torture and kill each other, but without permanent harm. Uncle Fester is a boogeyman. He loves being tortured and can generate electric power by sticking a lightbulb in his mouth. In the TV series it was established that Fester was Morticia's uncle. But in the 1992-1993 films he is depicted as Gomez' brother instead. Grandmama is Morticia's mother and also a witch. The family lives in a haunted mansion. Their butler is a grumbling giant, Lurch, who resembles Frankenstein's Monster. Another servant is Thing, a crawling hand. Most of the gags revolve around the contrast between the Addams Family and "normal" people. They delight in macabre interests and activities, which disturb and scare off the outside world. For instance, they love gloomy weather and enjoy a window view on the local graveyard. Morticia cuts the buds off roses, and their children chop off the heads of their dolls.

Contrary to popular thought, only a mere 150 of the 1,300 Charles Addams cartoons feature the Addams Family. All of them, including some previously unpublished ones, have been collected in the book 'The Addams Family: An Evilution' (Pomegranate Books, 2010), compiled and edited by H. Kevin Miserocchi.

Addams Family
The Addams Family. 

The Addams Family 1964-1966 TV series
In 1964, TV producer David Levy happened to walk past a shop window in Manhattan, which sold a Charles Addams cartoon book. The cover showed Addams' still nameless ghoulish family. Levy felt it would be a great idea to develop a prime time live-action sitcom around them. And so, 'The Addams Family' (1964-1966) became a TV show, broadcast on ABC. Charles Addams worked in close collaboration with the scriptwriters, which helped him keep the tone he wanted. Just like his cartoons, the family is presented as a group of ghoulish eccentrics. To help in identification, the family received the cartoonist’s own last name. Each member received a first name too, mostly thought up by Addams himself. The only new character, specifically created for the series, was Cousin Itt, a dwarf fully covered with hair. He is also the only character created by David Levy, instead of Addams. The cartoonist wrote out detailed personality descriptions to help inspire the writers and actors. They had a lot of fun thinking up black comedy gags and special effects. One scriptwriter, Nat Perrin, who used to write for The Marx Brothers, was experienced in writing daft humorous situations. The only character which slightly differed from Addams' cartoons was Thing. In his original drawings, Thing was mostly an invisible character. Readers could only see his hand, the rest of his body apparently being too horrible to witness. In the TV show, Thing was depicted as a disembodied hand. A familiar actor on 'The Addams Family' was Jackie Coogan, formerly famous as the titular child in Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1920). He played the part of Uncle Fester.

Although 'The Addams Family' thrived on a gimmick, it lasted two seasons. Because of its unusual set-sup, it stood out among other TV sitcoms at the time, which starred "normal" families and emphasized gentle comedy and heartwarming values. 'The Addams Family', on the other hand, focused on a group of creepy relatives who enjoy torturing each other. Such behavior would normally be frowned upon by parents, censors and moral guardians. But 'The Addams Family' got away with it. Young viewers loved the show because it featured black, surreal comedy, wacky characters and no preachiness. The theme music by Vic Mizzy was a catchy, finger snapping song. The Addamses are also depicted as outcasts. Their neighbors and other visitors find them strange and scary. This aspect made the show very appealing to viewers who also considered themselves outcasts. Yet, as "creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and altogether ooky" the Addams Family are, they are friendly and sympathetic characters. They mean none of their neighbors harm and seem almost unaware that others find them frightening. The family also has a close bond. Gomez and Morticia show far more sensualness in their marriage than most of that era’s other U.S. TV sitcom couples. They also stick up for each other and their children. These aspects have helped the Addams Family endure in the public consciousness.

Two other TV sitcoms with horror or occult themes besides 'The Addams Family' aired on U.S. television during the fall of 1964. On 17 September, a day before 'The Addams Family' first aired, ABC premiered 'Bewitched' (1964-1972), about a husband married to an attractive witch. On 24 September, CBS launched 'The Munsters' (1964-1966), a sitcom about a ghoulish family trying to fit in with normal people. While some viewers have wondered if the series ripped each other off, the shows were all in production at the same time.

During its original run, 'The Addams Family' was a cult show and never drew high ratings, let alone much merchandising. A 1964 soundtrack album was released by the show's composer Vic Mizzy. Two 1965 novels inspired by the show, written by respectively Jack Sharkey and W.F. Miksch, were published by Pyramid Books. Other than these things, its fandom was limited. After cancellation in 1966, 'The Addams Family' increased its popularity in reruns. It remained on the air for decades, inspiring more merchandising spin-offs. In 1977, a Halloween TV special was broadcast, 'Halloween with the New Addams Family', featuring most of the original cast, except for the child actors, reprising their roles. Charles Addams' creations still owe their global recognition and popularity mostly to the 1964-1966 TV series.

Other 'Addams Family' TV series
In 1973 and 1992, Hanna-Barbera produced two animated series based on 'The Addams Family'. For the 1973 version, Jack Mendelsohn was scriptwriter, while Iwao Takamoto was in charge of the production. The 1992 version had Roman Arambula as storyboard artist. A live-action reboot of 'The Addams Family' aired on Fox Family Channel in 1998-1999, but met with bad reviews and low ratings.

The Werewolf of Paris
'The Werewolf of Paris'.

The Addams Family films
In the early 1990s, The Addams Family made a spectacular comeback. Barry Sonnenfeld directed two successful live-action film adaptations around the characters, 'The Addams Family' (1991) and 'The Addams Family Values' (1993). Anjelica Huston (Morticia) and Christopher Lloyd (Uncle Fester) had starring roles. In Huston's case it was the second time she played a witch, after her role as the Grand Witch in Nicolas Roeg's 'The Witches' (1990). Christina Ricci played the part of Wednesday and added a new character trait: the pig-tailed daughter never smiles. 'The Addams Family' films met with good reviews and were box office successes. They revived international attention to the franchise and Charles Addams' original cartoons. In the June 1992 issue of Mad Magazine (#311), Dick Debartolo and Mort Drucker satirized the first 'Addams Family' film in a parody comic. Sadly, plans for new films with the same cast were scrapped when actor Raul Julia (Gomez Addams) passed away in 1994.

In 1998, a direct-to-video film, 'Addams Family Reunion' (1998) was made, meant as a pilot for the rebooted TV show on the Fox network. It also had new actors in the title roles. Like the show, it flopped and faded into obscurity. Two decades later, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan directed two CGI-animated films, 'The Addams Family' (2019) and 'The Addams Family 2' (2021), featuring the voices of Charlize Theron, Bette Midler and Snoop Dogg, among others. Both were critically well received box office hits.

The Addams Family musical
In 2009, Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice adapted 'The Addams Family' into a stage musical, produced by Elephant Eye Theatricals. Unlike other media adaptations, the makers deliberately took more inspiration from Addams' original cartoons than the TV or film versions. The musical was both a critical and commercial success, and has been successfully staged in many different countries.

The Addams Family comics
Between 1974 and 1975, Gold Key Comics published three issues of 'Addams Family Comics'. The stories were directly based on episodes from the 1973 animated TV series by Hanna-Barbera. Charles Addams had no involvement with the comics, which were drawn by Bill Ziegler.

1959 Charles Addams cartoon
Cartoon by Charles Addams.

Out of This World
Although most of Charles Addams' cartoons appeared in The New Yorker, he also published in TV Guide and Collier's. Between 1955 and 1957, he had a syndicated one-panel cartoon series, distributed by the McClure Syndicate under the title 'Out Of This World'. 'Out Of This World' (1955-1957) featured Addams' trademark horror comedy. It ran as a Sunday feature in newspapers like The Big Sunday Republic.

Graphic contributions
Addams provided animated opening titles and designed the posters for the horror film comedies 'The Old Dark House' (1963) by William Castle and 'Murder by Death' (1976) by Robert Moore. Addams additionally designed the album cover of Dean Glitter's folk record 'Ghost Ballads' (1957).

Recognition
In 1961, Charles Addams received a special Edgar Award for his entire body of work. He was the first non-novelist to receive this honor. In 1980, The Colgate University in Pennsylvania gave Addams an honorary doctorate in fine arts. This was a nice compensation for the fact that he had attended this university for two years, but never finished his studies. In 2018, Addams was posthumously inducted in the Will Eisner Hall of Fame and in 2020 in the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Between 9 October 2019 and 4 January 2020, the Saginaw Art Museum in Saginaw, Michigan, held an exhibition about Charles Addams and his work.


Comic strip by Charles Addams. 

Final years and death
Charles Addams lived long enough to enjoy the enduring success of 'The Addams Family'. Thanks to the TV sitcom and its reruns, he benefited from its royalties. His love life was turbulent. He divorced his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, after eight years because she wanted children, even adopted if necessary. Addams disagreed and they separated. His second wife, Barbara Barb, was a lawyer. After a brief marriage, they divorced and she later persuaded him to sign away the rights to his work, including to the 'Addams Family' media adaptations. His third and final marriage, with Marilyn Matthews Miller, was far happier. In 1988, Charles Addams passed away from a heart attack in Manhattan, New York. He was 76 years old. As directed in his will, his ashes were interred in the pet cemetery of his estate.


Cartoon by Charles Addams.

Legacy and influence
Charles Addams' cartoons remain popular and are reprinted to this day. The Addams Family in particular had a significant impact on pop culture. Dressing up as the characters, especially Morticia, is a popular tradition at Halloween-themed costume parties. Novelist Steve Preisler often used “Uncle Fester” as a pseudonym. 'Donald Duck' artist Carl Barks based the look of his evil sorceress Magica De Spell on Morticia Addams. Jay Ward also used Morticia as a model for the female spy Natasha Fatale on 'Rocky & Bullwinkle'. The animated film 'Hotel Transylvania' (2012) by Genndy Tartakovsky owes a lot to 'The Addams Family' in spirit. Charles Addams had a strong influence on many cartoonists. In the United States he inspired Alison Bechdel, Roz Chast, Jerry Dumas, Matt Groening, Peter Kuper, Eric Pigors, Bill Plympton, Richard Sala, Danny Shanahan, Gahan Wilson and Bill Woodman. In 1997, Roz Chast drew a two-page comic strip homage to Addams, published in The New Yorker. Monte Beauchamp included Charles Addams in his book 'Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed The World' (Simon & Schuster, 2014), where the cartoonist's life story was adapted in comic strip form by Marc Rosenthal. In Europe, Charles Addams influenced Clive Collins, Wally Fawkes, AKA Trog, Steve Michiels, Robert Obert and Picha. The Colgate University in Pennsylvania also named their Fine Arts Hall after Addams and included a silhouette sculpture of The Addams Family in front of it. Starting in 2018, Addams' hometown of Westfield, New Jersey hosts an annual AddamsFest in October, around the Halloween period. The festival highlights his cartoons and the Addams Family, but also more general horror-themed activities.

Books about Charles Addams
For those interested in Charles Addams' life, Linda H. Davis' 'Chas Addams: A Cartoonist's Life' (Random Books, 2006, rereleased by Turner Publishing, 2021), is a must-read. The updated version of Davis' biography also includes a series of love letters Addams sent to women he fancied.

Charles Addams
Publicity photograph of Charles Addams. 

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