The Munsters: Typical American Monster Family

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 Welcome back to the A to Z Bloggers Challenge. Thank you for reading–I appreciate having you here! Today we will discuss another monstrously popular 1960s family sitcom, The Munsters! The Munsters were one of many family monster shows aired in the sixties, but according to Butch Patrick’s Munsters.com, unlike other shows, the idea for The Munsters was first suggested to Universal Studios in the 1940s by Bob Clampett who envisioned the show as a series of cartoons. Americans were still obsessed with Westerns in the 1940s, though, and the show was rejected, but a similar project was suggested by the creators of the popular Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons–Allan Burns and Chris Hayward–in the 1960s when supernatural and science fiction shows were replacing the happy homemaker shows of the 1950s.

Universal executives continued to argue over whether or not the show should be a cartoon or live-action. The pilot was finally filmed by MCA Television in Live-Action for CBS, and the show was a hit.  The Munsters, filmed in black and white, was on the air for two years, from September 24, 1964 to May 12, 1966, but we all know that shows are not necessarily cancelled based on a lack of popularity. The Munsters are popular to this day. They still have many fans and a few websites dedicated completely to the show. So today, M is for The Munsters!

 The_Munsters_Cast_1964

The cast of The Munsters in a publicity photo taken in October of 1964. The photo shows Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster seated to the left; Fred Gwynne, who played Herman Munster seated on the chair; Beverly Owen, who played the family’s only “normal” member, oldest daughter Marilyn (she was later replaced by Pat Priest); and standing, Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster; and Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster. 

The Munsters was created as a satire, mocking the Leave it to Beaver-type family shows of the 1950s and the 1960s monster obsession in shows such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The appeal of The Munsters, however, was quite similar to the appeal of another monster family show that ran at the same time: The Addams Family. Audiences loved The Munsters because this family of monsters view themselves as perfectly normal and the rest of the world as strange!

Meet the Munsters

There are five primary characters in the Munster family: Herman, the Frankenstein-look-alike, hardworking head of the household who clomps about their dark and creepy mansion in big black boots. Herman’s lovely, graceful wife, Lily, with her trademark streak of white highlighting her thick, black hair is the actual head of the household making all important family decisions. Lily’s character is strong, logical, and level-headed, while Herman tends to panic in stressful situations. She is also supposed to be a vampire.

MunstersFred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo as Herman and Lily Munster.  Trailer screenshot, 1964.

Herman and Lily have two children. Their oldest daughter, Marilyn, is sweet, compassionate, and as normal as normal can be under the circumstances. She is also the source of quite a few family conflict plots as her beauty tends to attract many young men who her Munster parents disapprove of, mainly because they are too normal, and her father is a bit overprotective of his only, and exceptionally lovely, daughter. Eddie is the youngest member of the family, a bit precocious for his age, who, like his father, tends to get into trouble because he spends too much time with his grandfather, who also lives with the family and creates quite a bit of havoc with his many grand ideas. Grandpa is also a vampire and Eddie is a werewolf.

The_Munsters_Butch_Patrick_1965Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster, the precocious baby of the family who hangs out with his grandpa. 

The episode plots for The Munsters generally involve the troubles that arise when Grandpa comes up with a new invention in his dungeon, or a money-making scheme (remember, this is a typical, middle-class, hardworking family), or some other great idea and he creeps about the house in his black cape trying to convince Eddie to assist, or Herman to go along with the idea. It was rather clever of the producers to cast Fred Gwynne as Herman and Al Lewis as Grandpa since the two had recently appeared together in the Emmy award-winning Car 54 Where Are You?, which ran from 1961 to 1963.

The Munster Mansion

Although the premise behind The Munsters was to have a bunch of monsters living like a typical middle-class family, the Munsters actually lived in a multi-level Victorian mansion with an address that became semi-famous with Munster fan clubs: 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights, California. The show was actually filmed at the Universal Studios, but the house used in the show was an actual house built in 1946 for the film So Goes My Love, according to an article on Wikipedia, which also states that the house can be seen as a backdrop in other shows filmed at Universal Studios, such as Leave it to Beaver.

MunsterMansion_Universal-Studios_CA

The Munster Mansion at Universal Studios.

Now for some bedtime trivia: There were rumors when I was a teenager that The Munsters was the first show that implied a married couple shared the same bed–yes youngsters it’s true, 1950s sitcoms showed couples in separate beds. I also believed the first couple shown in the same bed was Dick and Laura on the Dick Van Dyke Show, but apparently there was a series called Mary Kay and Johnny in 1947 that showed a married couple’s bed as a single bed. The first actors who were not actually married to each other in real life, but had one bed in their show, was Samantha and Darrin Stephens of Bewitched, which was discussed earlier on this blog.

The Munster Koach

Another misconception on my part–I always thought the Munsters only had one vehicle. A man named George Barris created two automobiles for The Munsters. The first one, The Munster Koach, was actually a, 18 foot long hot rod that was built out of a 1926 Ford Model T chassis with a hearse body. The vehicle cost $20,000 to build–a lot of money back then.

munsterkoachHerman Munster and the Munster Koach.

However, there was a second family vehicle. Barris also built a car called the DRAG-U-LA (clever!), which was a dragster made out of a real coffin. Grandpa used the DRAG-U-LA in a race to win back the Munster Koach when Herman lost it in another race in the episode “Hot Rod Herman,” which aired on May 27, 1965. (See what I mean? Always scheming!)

Mockingbird Lane

Mockingbird Lane, a semi-remake of The Munsters aired on October 26, 2012. The show was written and developed by Bryan Fuller who also created two of my favorite supernatural television serials, Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies. The show was created with the hopes of convincing NBC to pick it up as a regular series. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and only one episode was filmed.

Sources:

  • Decaro, Frank. “A Neighborhood Where Every day was Halloween.” Television. The New York Times. Published November 19. 2008. Accessed April 10, 2013. 
  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Patrick, Butch. “About The Munsters.” Butch Patrick Presents The Munsters.com.
  • The Munsters. Creators: Allan Burns, Chris Hayward. Perf. Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, Yvonne De Carlo, Butch Patrick, Pat Priest, Beverly Owen. Columbia Broadcasting Systems and Kayro-Vue Productions. Running Time: 30 min.