Historian of Horror : They’re Creepy and They’re Kookie, Mysterious and Spooky…

You can already hear it, can’t you? You see the title above and your brain automatically connects to the theme song Vic Mizzy composed fifty-seven years ago, the one bouncing around in your head right now, complete with finger-snaps. The one that has been used, with a few variations, for nearly every iteration of the characters for whom it was created in 1964. Doodle-di-doot-snap-snap!

“Why?”, you ask. 

“For what reason was the catchiest television theme song ever written by the hand of mortal man created?”, you wonder. 

“Where did these altogether ooky people come from?”, your enquiring minds want to know.

Well, get a witch’s shawl on and find a roost that you can crawl on. I’m about to tell you everything there is to know about The Addams Family. 

Snap-snap.

During the recently completed podcast season, I used one of my entries to elucidate upon the difference between pulp magazines and slick magazines. Pulps, you might recall, were cheaply produced efforts filled with lurid, sensationalist popular scrivenings by now virtually forgotten authors, at least outside of our particular area of interest. Great stuff, very often, but nobody ever got rich writing for the pulps. The slick magazines, on the other hand, were printed on fancy, coated paper with great stories for which the authors were paid well enough that some of them did live quite comfortably on the remuneration they received for those pieces of much more impressive literature.

The pulps tended to be genre-specific. The ones we might have been most drawn to had titles like Weird Tales, Unknown Worlds, Dime Mystery, Horror Stories. The slicks published all genres, as long as the quality of writing was high enough. Their roster included The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Collier’s Weekly. The ultimate goal of pulp writers was to sell to the slicks. Ray Bradbury made that transition. Few others from our favorite genre did.

Along with fiction, and non-fiction, many of the slicks featured single-panel cartoons. The New Yorker, in particular, is still highly regarded for them. Some years ago, a coffee-table collection of the best cartoons from its long history sold very well. Prominent among the artists who created that treasure trove was one Charles Addams.

Born on January 7, 1912, in Westfield, New Jersey, Charles Samuel Addams was a bright, quirky, mischievous child who grew up to be a bright, quirky, mischievous adult. After attending the Grand Central School of Art in New York City, he got a job retouching crime scene photos for True Detective Magazine in 1933, excising the blood and gore that were frowned upon in the periodicals of the day. He had already placed some cartoons in The New Yorker beginning by then and was soon a regular contributor. The August 6, 1938 issue began featuring the characters we’ve all come to know and love, the degenerate, demonic darlings of the Addams Family.

None of them had names yet, and for a while, there was only a painfully thin woman with dark hair who looked vaguely like the Morticia-yet-to-come and a hulking, bearded butler. By the November 25, 1939 issue, the butler had shaved and looked very much like the Lurch we would come to know and love. The first cartoon showing a recognizable Morticia cuddling with a recognizable Gomez appeared in the issue dated November 14, 1942. The caption read, “Are you unhappy, Darling?” to which the future Morticia replied, “Oh, yes, yes! Completely!”

And so it went for over twenty years. Children were added, a boy and a girl who enjoyed playing with chemistry sets, building model guillotines, and collecting warning signs. A round-headed creeping relative dressed in a black ulster began skulking around the family’s crumbling Victorian manse and frequenting horror films at the local cinema. The cast was gradually assembled. 

Addams was drafted in 1943 and wound up in the Signal Corps. Given that he was a large, physically impressive man and reportedly an excellent shot, one is tempted to wonder whether or not the Germans might have wisely contrived by surreptitious means to arrange for him to not be assigned to a combat unit. Not long after induction, he married his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, who has been said to have resembled Morticia. As did his other two wives. Charlie seems to have had a type.

What Charlie lacked was any desire for parenthood. He loved children, as long as they belonged to someone else. After eight years of trying to convince her husband to adopt, given that they had been unable to conceive, she left him. 

A few years later, another Barbara came along who not only resembled Morticia more closely than her predecessor had in looks but also in personality. She was physically abusive and unfaithful. In 1955, without his knowledge or consent, she made a one-year deal with the McClure Syndicate to have Charlie’s cartoons appear in Sunday newspapers. The contract she signed on his behalf gave her 50% of the proceeds. Under the title Out of This World, they appear to be redrawn versions, or perhaps early drafts, of cartoons that had already appeared in The New Yorker. By the time that one-year deal was up, “the bad Barbara” had been jettisoned and Charlie was once again on the prowl for another Morticia surrogate.

He found one in my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. Tee Davie was married and pregnant. As she slowly segued from her marriage to Buddy Davie to being Charlie’s frequent companion, Charlie’s aversion to children reappeared. She was stunning, and he liked stunning women, but the notion of being a parent put the kibosh on what had promised to be a permanent attachment. Tee and Buddy gave their marriage another try while Charlie made the rounds of more eligible females, including actresses Greta Garbo and Joan Fontaine, as well as presidential widow Jacqueline Onassis. 

He and Tee did eventually reconnect. They were wed in a pet cemetery in 1980, and were still married when he passed away from a heart attack on September 29, 1988.

The one constant in his life throughout was the work. His cartoons became an institution, and sales of The New Yorker were bound to have been boosted by his presence in nearly every issue. Random House put out the first hardback collection of them, Drawn and Quartered, in 1942, complete with an introduction by Boris Karloff. Simon & Schuster took over production in 1947 with Addams and Evil, followed by Monster Rally (1950), Homebodies (1954), Nightcrawlers (1957), Black Maria (1960), The Groaning Board (1964), My Crowd (1970), Favorite Haunts (1976) and Creature Comforts (1981), as well as The Chas Addams Mother Goose (1967).

In 1963, during the time when plans were underway to adapt the cartoons to the small screen, toy-maker Aboriginals, Ltd. came out with a set of large cloth dolls based on the Addams characters. They named the girl Wednesday. Addams wanted to call the boy Pubert, but that name would have to wait a few decades. He settled on Pugsley, which he found on a map of the Bronx as the name of a stream. Charlie appeared in publicity photos for the company, including one taken in his New York apartment with his crossbows, raven statue, and suit of armor prominently displayed around him, cradling Wednesday in his arms and menaced by Pugsley lurking above and behind him on the back of his chair. 

Charlie concocted the name of his feminine ideal during the development of the television show while looking up morticians in a phone book. Her doll stood four feet tall and cost $19.95. It’s a little more expensive now. Charlie wavered between calling the pater familias either Repelli or Gomez. He asked John Astin, the actor who would soon be playing the role, to choose. Astin went with Gomez. Lurch and Fester suggested themselves as names appropriate for the characters, as did Grandmama Frump. And so was born the first adaptation of Charlie’s cast of reprobates into another medium. But not the last, and every subsequent live-action or animated version is but a shadowy reflection in a warped mirror of that short-lived television series.

Which we will examine in more detail in the next installment, a mere fortnight in the future.

Until then, patrons of perfidiousness…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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