The Original Addams
By Robin Pease
Charles Addams, born in Westfield, New Jersey, in 1912, was called "Chill" by his friends, "Chas" on his cartoons and known as something of a rascal. At age 8, he was arrested for breaking into an old Victorian house (that looked suspiciously like The Addams Family house) and drawing skeletons all over the walls.
Encouraged to sketch by his parents, his mom brought some of his drawings to the New York Herald when he was 12. Addams was told that he had no talent and should give up his dream of an art career. Ironically, the very next year, he entered and won a drawing contest.
Addams drew cartoons for his high school literary magazine, then attended Colgate University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Grand Central School of Art.
His first macabre job was removing the blood from photos of corpses for True Detective magazine. He was known to say, "A lot of the corpses were more interesting the way they were." Morticia would agree.The New Yorker
Then in 1932, his first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker. In the span of only eight years, he had gone from being told he had no talent in art to being a published artist in a prestigious magazine.
In 1938, two of his unnamed characters (who later became Morticia and Lurch) and an old Victorian house appeared in a New Yorker cartoon. Thus The Addams Family was born. Harold Ross, The New Yorker's founder, encouraged Addams to "continue with more characters in the delicious house." According to his biographer, Linda Davis, Addams made "scary things funny and celebrated breaking the rules."
Morticia was based on Addams' first wife, and Grandmama on Addams' grandmother. Gomez was modeled after, according to Addams, the future governor of New York and infamous defeated presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey crossed with a pig. Two children, an uncle and a host of other characters followed as the popularity of the cartoon continued to grow with both children and adults.
In the early 1960s, TV producer David Levy was walking down 5th Avenue one day when he saw a display of Addams' books in a store. On one of the covers was a portrait of the characters. Levy immediately stopped and exclaimed, "There's a hit series!"
Since the characters in the cartoons were all nameless, Levy asked Addams to provide them with names and flesh out their personalities. Addams describes his cartoon family: "Gomez and Pugsley are enthusiastic. Morticia is even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly. Grandma Frump is foolishly good-natured. Wednesday is her mother's daughter. A closely knit family, the real head being Morticia—although each of the others is a definite character—except for Grandma, who is easily led. Many of the troubles they have, as a family, are due to Grandma's fumbling, weak character. The house is a wreck, of course, but… every trap door is in good repair. Money is no problem."Appearances on TV only, no magazine
While the TV show aired, The New Yorker editor refused to publish any Addams Family cartoons, not wanting the magazine to be associated with characters seen on TV. It was not until editor William Shawn retired in 1987 that The Addams Family was invited back to The New Yorker.
Though Charles Addams died in 1988, the popularity of his family continued on TV, in film and now on Broadway.
For more information on the original Addams, read:
Originally published in the PlayhouseSquare The Addams Family Buzz Extra.
© 2012 Segerstrom Center for the Arts
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