The Addams Family

To many peoples’ surprise, Charles Addams’, (1912-1988) or ‘Chill’ as his friends called him, mother did not give birth to him in a dilapidated house along a deserted highway. Nor did he have a pet alligator that was a scourge to the neighborhood’s poodles. In fact, he grew up in the almost generic suburban community of Westfield, New Jersey. He yearningly scribbled pictures of the more exciting realm of knights and their castles. He was known however, to sometimes wander in the local graveyard, and did play in a nearby Victorian house that would one day become the model for the Addams’ family home. However, somewhat sadly to fans, the predilection for morbidity apparent in much of his work was not the result of childhood mishaps. In 1935, the New Yorker signed Charles Addams on as a regular cartoonist. Living on the modest thirty-five dollars per cartoon the New Yorker paid, Addams developed a sophisticated style of humor. His macabre wit could make his audience laugh at the truly grotesque and sometimes appalling. Some of his most popular characters were even spun off into a popular television series – the ‘Addams Family’.Charles Addams books of collected cartoons and drawings were best sellers. 1937 was the first year that an ‘Addams Family’ cartoon appeared. It featured only Morticia and Lurch and they didn’t look like we know them today. Morticia’s hair was styled differently and Lurch looked more like Boris Karloff in OLD DARK HOUSE than the Frankenstein monster. As years went by, other members started appearing including Wednesday, Pugsley, Grandmama and Thing. It was not until 1964 that everyone got to know the Addams Family. David Levy, a television producer, approached Addams to do a situation comedy based on his characters. All Charles Addams had to do was give his characters names and more characteristics for the actors to use in their portrayals. The series aired on the ABC network and ran for two years from 1964 to 1966. The cast included Carolyn Jones and John Astin.Exhibitions of his work have been mounted at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, MA, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Museum of the City of New York. Having hosted a retrospective in 1994, the New York Public Library continues to show a small rotating group of his works. Addams has also been honored with the Yale Humor Award (1954) and a special award from the Mystery Writers of America. In his spare time he enjoyed collecting vintage automobiles and ironically, he died behind the wheel in 1988.

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