Addams Family

Charles Addams was a U.S. 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 around Halloween. They inspired several TV series, films and video games. Addams also drew a short-lived one-panel cartoon series, 'Out Of This World' (1955-1957). 

The New YorkerThe New Yorker

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. They moved several times before in 1920 taking up permanent residence on Elm Street. In hindsight it is amusing that Addams' address was once Elm Street. The street name gained a macabre reputation in later decades, since in 1963 President Kennedy was shot in Elm Street, Dallas, and film director Wes Craven made a famous horror franchise from 1984 on, titled: 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'. From a young age Charles Addams loved to scare himself. His neighborhood was filled with several creepy-looking 19th-century houses. They prickled his imagination. In one particular barn on Dudley Avenue, the 10-year old boy drew a skeleton on the wall, with 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 sex cartoons for his fellow pupils. After graduation in 1929, his father insisted that he studied architecture and went to Colgate University in Pennsylvania (1930-1931). Addams, however, dropped out and studied art at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City (1931-1932) instead. Yet he didn't finish this course either and looked for work. His first job was lay-out designer for True Detective Magazine. He had to retouch photos of corpses to remove indications of blood or 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 a gruesome topic. Some of his educational films warn U.S. soldiers for syphilis. 

Downhill Skier by Chas Addams
'Downhill Skier'.

The New Yorker
Addams always wanted to publish in The New Yorker. On 6 February 1932 he published his first cartoon in their 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. From 1935 on, he became a regular contributor. Addams signed his work with "Chas Adams", because, in his opinion, it looked better than his full and correctly spelled name. While he created 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
On 13 January 1940 Addams submitted the 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 (15 December 1942), Addams was once asked what his two sweetest memories were 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, 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 gave Addams credit for the original idea. 

Cartoon by Charles Addams

Horror style
Charles Addams is most famous for his grim, horror-themed 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 haunting graveyards. They are murdered, tortured or victims of cannibalism. Addams also loved to draw people with physical deformities. Some just odd-looking people. Others are witches, ogres, extraterrestrial aliens and monsters. It all gave him an instantly recognizable style, which stood out among the more normal 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 republished in a German magazine at the time, 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 books like '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. 

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 ladykiller. He had relationships with famous women such as novelist Barbara Skelton, Hollywood actresses Greta Garbo & Joan Fontaine and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Linda H. Davis' biography, 'Chaz 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 started a love affair with her, since he lived close to their home. 

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 axe, crossbows, several skulls and an embalming table. His first wife, Barbara Jean Day, deliberately dressed up as his character Morticia Addams. His second and third wife also had a strong resemblance to Morticia. Near his house was a pet cemetery, where he and his third wife often went picknicking. They even held their marriage ceremony there. Addams' eerie household entertained visitors, particularly journalists. It gave him a colorful public image, which inevitably sparked many urban legends. For instance, many media have 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 catalogue. On the same token the famed cartoonist didn't sleep in a coffin. He never drank martini's with eyeballs in them either. And fans didn't send him chopped off fingers by mail. 

The Addams Family

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 would eventually pair some of them together. Since most of his cartoons were pantomime or only had one 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 rich, shady-eyed, goofy-looking multi-billionaire. His wife Morticia is an attractive, but stern, 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 murder each other, but always 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, who is 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 or 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, while their children chop off the heads of their dolls.

Contrary to popular thought, only a mere 150 of the 1.300 cartoons Addams drew feature the Addams Family. All of them, including some unpublished ones, have been collected in the book 'The Addams Family: An Evilution' (Pomegranate Books, 2010), written and edited by H. Kevin Miserocchi. 

The Addams Family 1964-1966 TV series
In 1964 TV producer David Levy happened to walk passed a shop window in Manhattan, which sold a cartoon book by Addams. 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 guard the tone. Just like his cartoons, the family is presented as a group of ghoulish eccentrics. To help identification, the family received his 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, was experienced in daft humorous situations, given that he used to write for The Marx Brothers. 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 was apparently 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-up, it stood out among most other TV sitcoms at the time. These shows 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. Even the theme music by Vic Mizzy wasn't a sappy tune, but a catchy, finger snappin' 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 considered themselves outcasts too. Yet, as "creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and altogether ookie" the Addams Family are, they are friendly and sympathetic characters. They mean nobody 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 U.S. TV sitcom couples at the time. They also stick up for each other and their children. These aspects have helped the Addams Family endure in the public consciousness. 

Interestingly enough, 'The Addams Family' wasn't the only horror comedy to air on U.S. television during the fall of 1964. On 17 September, a day before 'The Addams Family' first aired, the sitcom 'Bewitched' (1964-1972) premiered on ABC, about a husband living together with 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 viewers have sometimes wondered which series ripped the other off, the shows were obviously all in production without the makers being aware of each other.

During its original run, 'The Addams Family' was a cult show and never drew extraordinary high ratings, left alone 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. Only 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 reprising their roles (except for the child actors, of course). Charles Addams' creations still owe their initial global fame 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. In 2022 Netflix will broadcast a spin-off series about Wednesday Addams as an adult, titled 'Wednesday'. Wednesday will be played by Jenny Ortega, while Catherine Zeta-Jones shall play Morticia. The series' director will be Tim Burton. 

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 succesful film adaptations around the characters, 'The Addams Family' (1991) and 'The Addams Family Values' (1993). Famous actors like 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. Contrary to other Hollywood versions of once popular TV shows, 'The Addams Family' films met with good reviews and were box office successes. They revived international attention to the franchise and Addams' original cartoons. In issue #311 (June 1992) of Mad Magazine Dick Debartolo and Mort Drucker satirized the first 'Addams Family' film in a parody comic. Sadly enough, 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 Fox News Channel. It also featured 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), starring 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 theatrical musical, produced by Elephant Eye Theatricals. Contrary to most 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. It has been succesfully 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, instead the comics were drawn by Bill Ziegler

1959 Charles Addams cartoon

Out of This World
Although most of Addams' cartoons appeared in The New Yorker, he also published in TV Guide and Collier's. Between 1955 and 1957 he had a 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
When Hal Seeger founded his own animation studio in the 1950s, Charles Addams was one of his early contributors. Addams also 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 record 'Ghost Ballads' (1957).

In 1961 Charles Addams received a special Edgar Award for his entire body of work. He was the first non-novelist to receive this honour. In 1980 the Colgate University in Pennsylvania gave Addams a honorary doctor in fine arts degree. 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 Addams and his work. 

Final years and death
Charles Addams lived to long enough to enjoy the enduring success of 'The Addams Family'. Thanks to the TV sitcom and its reruns, he could benefit from its royalties. His love life was more 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 in Manhattan, New York, from a heart attack. He was 76 years old. To respect his will, his ashes were interred in the pet cemetery of his estate.

Legacy and influence
Charles Addams' cartoons remain popular. They are still 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 costume parties around Halloween. 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 ChastJerry DumasMatt Groening, Peter Kuper, Eric PigorsBill PlymptonRichard SalaDanny ShanahanGahan 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 TrogSteve MichielsRobert 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. Since 2018 Addams' birth town Westfield organizes an annual 'AddamsFest' in October, around the Halloween period. The festival highlights his cartoons, '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

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