The Addams Family: The Dysfunctional Family Cult Classic

A

Welcome to day one of the A to Z Blogger Challenge! Today’s topic is The Addam’s Family, the supernatural, happily dysfunctional family based on a classic cartoon from The New Yorker Magazine. The Addams Family ran on prime time television from 1964 to 1966, but remains a cult favorite for many reasons discussed below. The show was introduced at a time when the networks was inundated with quirky families, like The Munsters and Bewitched. According to Michael Winship, author of Television, the public was tired of the perfect families found in the 1950s sitcoms, so the networks responded with a monster explosion in the 60s. Though it only ran for two years, The Addams Family ranked #23 in the Top 25 Television Shows, but more importantly, it became a supernatural cult classic favorite. However, today, we will discuss this well-loved family because it’s one of my childhood favorites, and because…A is for Addams! 

Meet the Addams Family, their Family and Friends

One of the definitions of the word supernatural is “weird, unearthly, and beyond scientific understanding.” This is precisely what makes the Addams Family so charming. They are strange, goofy, and some members of the family are most definitely beyond scientific understanding. They have an octopus for a pet, and Thing T. Thing, a disembodied hand that fetches the mail and lights cigars for Gomez Addams. The daughter of the family, Wednesday Friday Addams, has a pet spider collection and Pugsley, her brother, spends much of his play time using his toy guillotine on Wednesday’s doll. The family pet, though, is a man-eating plant named Cleopatra.

Some viewers may consider this family a bit weird, they are definitely “supernatural,” and may even fit the definition of dysfunctional in the minds of contemporary family therapists, but they are also lovable, simply because they do not see themselves as strange, and they rarely judge others as strange, either. To the Addams, their way of life is quite normal and they seem to be completely oblivious to the opinions of others and the fact that other people think they’re “different.” I like this.

Addams_Family_main_cast_1964

The Addams Family, from left to right: Gomez Addams (John Astin); Wednesday Friday (Lisa Loring); Morticia Frump Addams (Carolyn Jones); Pugsley Addams (Ken Weatherwax); and standing behind Morticia’s chair is Lurch the Butler, played by Ted Cassidy, who also played Thing T. Thing. 

The head of the Addam’s clan is Gomez Addams (John Astin). Gomez is a lawyer who dresses like a gangster–not contemporary gangsters, but the 1940s gangster style. He is intelligent and charming, and often completes complicated mathematical calculations in his head. He has a magic cigar that lights when he removes it from his jacket pocket and extinguishes itself when replaced. According to John Javna’s Cult TV, when John Astin first auditioned for a role on this show he was turned down, but he auditioned for the position of Lurch! Instead, of hiring Astin to play Lurch, Executive Producer David Levy offered him the role of Gomez on one condition, that he grow a mustache. That mustache must have felt like a caterpillar on the skin of Carolyn Jones as Gomez spent most of his time at home kissing the hand, wrist, and arm of his lovely wife, Morticia! True story–according to John Javna, when Ringo Starr met John Astin he greeted him by grasping Astin’s hand and kissing him all the way up his arm just as Gomez does to his wife.

Morticia is one of my favorite characters in the show. She has white skin, long black hair, and is always dressed in a long, tight, black wedding gown. She lights candles with the touch of her finger. Morticia is sexy and spooky at the same time. Morticia is played by Carolyn Jones, who also plays Morticia’s sister, Ophelia, in the show. Carolyn Jones was cast because Levy was looking for an actress with a “name,” and she was the only well-known actress who auditioned. Her previous roles, though, were bit parts in House of Wax and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but they were supernatural films and she was able to show that she could play the part. Jones spent two hours each day dressing for the role. Her makeup was meticulous, and her wig was made of real human hair. Punk rocker Siouxsie of Siouxsie and the Banshees (am I revealing my age here?) bragged that she used Morticia as her costume and makeup role model.

Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) and Wednesday Friday (Lisa Loring) were inseparable siblings (no, I do not mean this literally!). They are always seen together, but rarely featured in an episode. They look and dress like normal children in the television show with Wednesday’s long, dark hair woven into two braids and Pugsley in the popular striped shirts. The children do not have friends on the show for obvious reasons–not many young girls would appreciate the joys of playing with a spider collection. They do have special talents, though. Puglsey hangs from tree branches by his teeth and Wednesday is a Judo expert. They appear to be home-schooled by their grandmother, though in the contemporary film versions their roles are much larger and Uncle Fester appears to be their tutor. The Addams Family was the only television show or film that Ken Weatherwax appeared in, though he did make an occasional guest appearance on talk shows. Lisa Loring is still acting in soap operas, films, and television shows.

Jackie_Coogan_as_Uncle_Fester_(The_Addams_Family,_1966)

Famous child actor Jackie Coogan played Uncle Fester in the original television series.

Uncle Fester is shaped like a long box, has dark, sunken eyes and pale skin, and dresses like a monk. He also sleeps on a bed of nails. He has the personality of a child at times, but is well-loved by the family. In the television show he is Morticia’s Uncle. His most famous trick on the show is electrifying a light bulb by sticking it in his mouth. He also plays records using his finger for a needle. Uncle Fester is played by the adult child star Jackie Coogan. Coogan came from a famous Vaudeville family and made his first film with Charlie Chaplin. He made hundreds of appearances in films and television shows, from The Love Boat to I Dream of Jeannie. He even played Oliver in one of the first film versions of Oliver Twist made in 1922. Coogan made his first film, The Kid, at the age of four and was still making films right up to the year that he died, in 1984.

Grandmama Addams (Marie Blake) was a bona fide witch who flies on a broom and is constantly working on her special brews. She is such a fun character with her witchy laugh and her hexes and spells. She always wore a shawl like all good grandmammas do, and her hair was frizzy as if she’d stuck her finger in the socket after Fester removed the light bulb. Grandmama was Morticia’s mother.

Lurch (Ted Cassidy) is the butler, but clearly a member of the family, which is shown in his careful attention to the children (and the fact that he waxes Uncle Fester’s head.) Although Ted Cassidy was a well-established, handsome actor, he was rather ghoulish and a bit scary in the show. He was expected to perform a variety of tasks on the show, but often found them difficult to accomplish due to his great height, something that strangers and neighbors often found terrifying when they dared to knock at the door.

Thing T. Thing is also played by Ted Cassidy, but when Thing and Lurch appeared on screen at the same time, Thing was played by the hand of Associate Producer Jack Vogelin. Thing is generally Cassidy’s right hand, but Cassidy sometimes switched hands to fool the viewing audience. Thing had his own house inside the house inside the upstairs closet of the Addam’s residence. He generally made his appearance at the most inopportune moments, such as when a visitor was alone in the room. Thing does fall in love in one episode, “Morticia Meets Royalty,” when the Princess Millicent von Schlepp visits with a female “thing,” the hand of Carolyn Jones, which is kept inside of an ornate box. She was called “Lady Fingers.”

Although there are many other notable characters in the family, Cousin Itt (Felix Silla and later, Anthony Magro) is probably one of the most popular. He is, well, a hairy It. Itt is about four feet tall and covered head to toe with long, thick hair. He doesn’t speak, he mumbles. He does, however, drive a three-wheeled car.

The New Yorker Cartoon created by Charles Addams

The Addams Family was the creative inspiration of Charles Addams and based on a popular cartoon Addams wrote for The New Yorker. The family had a cult following before it was introduced to television. In fact, David Levy noticed a book collection of the cartoons in a bookstore and as soon as he opened the book he realized the Addams family was perfect for the 1960s monster obsession. Addams had rejected numerous offers in the past to turn the cartoon into a television show, but when he met with Levy the two men seemed to understand what Charles Addams had in mind when he created the family, so Addams agreed to the transformation of his characters from cartoon figures to television actors.

The House is a Museum…

The Addams Family theme song claims, “Their house is a museum, when people come to see ‘em they really are a screa-um. The Addams Family.” And the house truly is a cluttered, dusty museum. The house has a growling bearskin rug; a giant stuffed Polar Bear; a noose hanging from the ceiling (nice touch); and an Eskimo Totem Pole. There is also a rack, iron maiden and stocks. My favorite, though, is the suit of armor that coughs whenever Gomez Addams flicks his cigar ashes.

The Addams Family on Film

The Addams Family was revived in 1991 with a feature film by Orion Pictures who sold the film to Paramount. I love this film. At first, I didn’t think it was possible to replace the original cast, but it was! The film stars Raul Julia, one of my all-time favorite actors, as Gomez, and Angelica Huston as the perfect Morticia. Christopher Lloyd surprised me with his excellent portrayal of Uncle Fester, but Christina Ricci steals the show as the morbid mini-Morticia, Wednesday Friday. In this show, Uncle Fester is the older brother of Gomez. He has amnesia and is hoodwinked by a shady lawyer (Dan Hedaya) and his loan shark (Elizabeth Wilson). In the end, though, the family joyfully reunited.

Addams Family Values was released in 1993 with the wonderful Carol Kane playing “Granny.” Uncle Fester is again the star of the show as the husband of evil nurse Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) who tries desperately to murder Fester. She convinces the Addams parents to send the older children to summer camp to protect the third addition to the family, baby boy Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper) who Wednesday and Pugsley are constantly trying to kill through various means, such as dropping him from the top of the stairs. At summer camp, the two are tortured by two over-zealous camp counselors (Christine Branski and Peter MacNicol) and forced to watch family films, but Wednesday meets her first boyfriend, Joel (David Krumholtz). Jellinsky fails in her murder attempts, so she finally resorts to attempted murder of the entire family. The family is saved by baby boy Pubert, of course! The film ends with a touching scene between Wednesday and Joel in the family cemetery.

Sources: 

  • Javna, John. Cult TV: A Viewer’s Guide to the Shows America Can’t Live Without! St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I watched the Addams Family as a child and loved every episode.

  2. Lexa Cain says:

    I love the Addams family! (More the TV series than the newer stuff though.) They were so deliciously dark and funny. Great post!
    I’m not an A-Zer, but I’m a big Horror fan. :-)

  3. DarlaSueDollman says:

    Thank you! I watched every episode, too! I loved the fact that they were so normal in their own minds! Lol!