Tuesday, October 24, 2023

A History of the Addams Family

The Addams Family has been with us for 85 years. What began as a cartoon created by American cartoonist Charles Addams has grown into so much more. They've been adapted into every form of media available and have managed to stay popular regardless of the decade with Netflix's Wednesday series becoming a pop culture phenomenon in 2022. Join us on this special bonus episode as we share the history of The Addams Family!

They're creepy and they're kookey.
Mysterious and spookey.
They're altogether together ookey.
The Addams Family.

The house is a museum.
When people come to see'em.
They really are a scre-am.
The Addams Family.

Neat, Sweet, Petite

So get a witch's shawl on.
A broomstick you can crawl on.
We're going to pay a call on.
The Addams Family.

The Addams Family was an innovative idea and a bit of a risk. Would people identify with and embrace a family that was all about death and the creepy and morbid side of life? It was a risk worth taking because we adore the Addams Family and we're betting most of you do too. This family was the creation of its namesake: Charles Addams who was born in New Jersey on January 7, 1912. Like many of us, he was a little different as a child with a twisted sense of humor and a love for visiting cemeteries. He went by the nickname Chas for most of his life. He had an artistic ability that his father encouraged. He attended and graduated from Westfield High School and contributed cartoons for the student literary magazine. He went on to Colgate University and then the University of Pennsylvania, which has a fine-arts building named for him and sculptures of his Addams Family characters.

Chas sold his first sketch to the New Yorker Magazine in 1932. His first art job was working for True Detective Magazine in 1933, touching up crime photos, so that they were less gruesome, but he was not satisfied with those duties because he felt the corpses in the pictures were far more interesting left as they were. In 1937, he started drawing cartoons regularly for The New Yorker and this would be the beginning of his series about a strange family he would eventually name The Addams Family. He freelanced for the magazine for fifty years. And while the Addams Family is very popular, it only actually appeared in fifty illustrations.

Chas loved the ladies and had no problem with finding dates. He would accompany the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy, Greta Garbo and Joan Fontaine. In 1942, he met his first wife Barbara Jean Day. They remained married for eight years, but finally divorced because Chas hated children and Barbara wanted to adopt a child. He married his second wife in 1954, Estelle Barbara Barb. This was not a good match and she would later wind up with the rights to the Addams Family television and film franchises. After she tried to get him to take out a life insurance policy for $100,000, Chas consulted a lawyer who basically told him that if he took out the policy, he better watch his back. The marriage ended in divorce in 1956. He married his third wife in a pet cemetery on Long Island. Her name was Marilyn Miller, but she went by the nickname Tee, and she wore a long black dress for the wedding. Chas died in 1988 from a heart attack. He had been sitting in his car outside his apartment when he had the attack. He was taken to St. Clare's Hospital and Health Center in New York City where he died in the emergency room. He was only 76 and was buried in the pet cemetery of his estate that he had dubbed "The Swamp." His wife Tee died in 2002.

There were homes in Chas' childhood neighborhood that people claim are the inspiration for the Addams Family House. One of them he actually broke into and was arrested for doing that. When he created his Addams Family, he was looking to jab at the traditional aristocratic American family and the characters were Gomez and Morticia Addams, their children Pugsley and Wednesday, Grandmama, Uncle Fester, their butler Lurch, Thing, which was a disembodied hand and Cousin Itt.

It is hard to believe that the Addams Family television series ran for only two seasons with 64 episodes. David Levy was a television producer and he approached Chas to ask if he would be interested in a television series. The first episode debuted on ABC in 1964. The show starred John Astin as Gomez and Carolyn Jones as Morticia. Interestingly, the editor of the New Yorker, William Shawn, would not publish any Addams Family cartoons as long as the series was on television. He felt it was low brow and he didn't want the cartoon associated with it. The Munsters debuted the same year and the two series are often compared although they were very different. The family made a guest appearance on Scooby Doo and this lead to them getting their own animated series from 1973 to 1975. Fun Fact: Jodie Foster did the voice of Pugsley in this.

In 1977, there was a television movie featuring the family called "Halloween with the New Addams Family." The next big incarnation of the family was in the 1990s with two movies, The Addams Family in 1991 and Addams Family Values  in 1993. Both movies were a huge hit and received nominations for Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards, and Hugo Awards. The films starred Anjelica Huston as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez, Christina Ricci as Wednesday, Christopher Lloyd as Fester and Joan Cusack as Fester's wife, Debbie Jellinsky, in the sequel. All of them received nominations for various awards.

Another animated series began in 1992 and ran until 1993 with John Astin voicing Gomez. A direct-to-video film dropped in 1998 starring Tim Curry and Daryl Hannah, followed by a spin-off live-action television series that only lasted for the one season. The Addams Family Musical has music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The musical opened on Broadway in April 2010 with Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia. That production closed on December 31, 2011. Had this run continued, it was probable that Cassandra Peterson would have taken over the role of Morticia. There was a national tour of America that started in 2011 and another started in 2013. The show returned to Chicago in 2015 for a brief run. Other runs of the musical have gone international.

A new animated Addams Family movie debuted in 2019. The film was directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, and starred Oscar Isaac voicing Gomez, Charlize Theron voicing Morticia, Chloë Grace Moretz voicing Wednesday, Finn Wolfhard voicing Pugsley, Nick Kroll voicing Uncle Fester, Snoop Dogg voicing Cousin Itt, Bette Midler voicing Grandmama, Conrad Vernon voicing Lurch and Allison Janney voicing a greedy reality TV show host. The project actually started in 2010 and was supposed to be a stop-motion film directed by Tim Burton. A sequel to this animated movie dropped in 2021.

Wednesday Addams got her very own live-action TV series that was announced in 2021 with a debut in November of 2022 on Netflix. This stars Jenna Ortega as Wednesday with Luis Guzmán as Gomez, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia, Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester, George Burcea as Lurch, Victor Dorobantu as Thing, and Isaac Ordonez as Pugsley. And Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 1990s movies, takes on a role as a series regular. Director Tim Burton  directed several episodes as his first foray into directing for television. The premise of the series follows Wednesday as she gets expelled from regular school and is sent off to Nevermore Academy where she solves mysteries using her psychic ability. One of those mysteries involves her family. We really love it and look forward to Season 2.

It almost feels like the Addams Family cannot go wrong. Nearly everything that they inspire does really well, from cartoons to movies to merchandise and more. So much was inspired by the family. Who could look at Vampira or Elvira and not see a version of Morticia? The Goth subculture seems to have been inspired by the quirkiness and darkness of the Addams. Time Magazine has said of the Addams that they had a "relevance and cultural reach" comparable to the Kennedys and Roosevelts and were "so much a part of the American landscape that it's difficult to discuss the country's history [...] without mentioning them." And we would concur with all of these thoughts. We love the Addams Family and hope they continue to pop up in pop culture for decades to come!

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