Charles Samuel Addams (he signed his art as Chas Addams but his friends called him Chill) was a New Yorker magazine contributor whose macabre Addams Family cartoons appeared in the magazine from 1938 to 1988. Addams was said to have been inspired by his hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, an area full of ornate Victorian mansions and spooky graveyards.
Addams started his career retouching photos of dead bodies for True Detective magazine. In 1934 he sold a gag cartoon about a window washer to New Yorker magazine. Readers took to his off-kilter brand of humor and the magazine signed him to a contract.
Of some 1,300 published cartoons, only 150 depicted a rich, eccentric family who lived in a creepy mansion. These characters became known as the Addams Family. But they didn’t even have names until producer David Levy optioned them for a TV sitcom in the 1960s.
According to Levy, “Addams never conceived of them as a family. He never called them that. They were just foils for his humor. They were … simply his outrageous comment on society.”
However, Levy saw the Addams Family as a new breed of “Father Knows Best” for the Beatnik Generation. Although ghoulish figures, Levy wanted to depict them as “tender and loving with a husband and wife who really have a romantic liaison and children who love them.”
Thus were born Gomez and Morticia Addams with their kids Wednesday and Pugsley, lightbulb-loving Uncle Fester, and Morticia’s semi-senile Grandmama. Never mind that they live in a scary old mansion on Cemetery Lane, replete with a frightening giant butler named Lurch, a hairy dwarf named Cousin It and a disembodied hand called Thing.
Addams had based the character of Gomez on actor Peter Lore. His wife, Morticia, was inspired by Gloria Swanson.
Weird-but-romantic Gomez was played John Astin in the TV show (1964-1966), Raul Julia in the early movie spinoffs (1991 and 1993), Tim Curry in a direct-to-video movie (1998), Glenn Taratino in a Canadian sitcom (1998-1999), and Nathan Lane in a Broadway musical (2010).
Svelte witch Morticia was played by Carolyn Jones, Anjelica Huston, Daryl Hannah, Ellie Harvie and Bebe Neuwirth.
Now we have a feature-length animated version of “The Addams Family.” It’s playing at AMC Classic Towne Crossing 8.
Released by MGM, the studio hopes that “The Addams Family” will reboot the film franchise.
Co-directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan (they did “Sausage Party”), the animation is handled by Cinesite Studios. You might say the result is properly creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky and altogether ooky.
The voices are well cast: Oscar Isaac as Gomez, Charlize Theron as Morticia, Chloë Grace Moretz as Wednesday, Finn Wolfhard as Pugsley, Nick Kroll as Uncle Fester, Bette Midler as Grandmama, and Snoop Dogg as Cousin It. Director Conrad Vernon adds his grunts and groans as Lurch.
The supporting cast includes Allison Janney as arch nemesis Margaux Needler, Elsie Fisher as her daughter, Martin Short as Grandpa Frump, and Catherine O’Hara as Grandma Frump.
The movie contains several Easter eggs that pay homage to Charles Addams. The family moves to “some place so horrible,” “some place you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in” — Westfield, New Jersey, where the cartoonist himself was born. A license plate reads CHAZZ-38, the year the Addams Family cartoons first appeared.
As they say about their new mansion …
Morticia: “It’s hideous!”
Gomez: “It’s horrible!”
Together: “It’s home!”
However, thanks to machinations of arrogant TV host Margaux Needler, their lives begin to unravel while preparing for their extended family to arrive for a major celebration. Audiences must ask themselves, are these quaint out-of-step oddballs ready for the 21st Century?
Urban legend has it that Charles Addams slept in a coffin, drank martinis with eyeballs in them, and collected torture instruments. Probably not true.
Addams divorced his first two wives (the second was said to be a Morticia clone). He married his third wife, Te, in a ceremony at a spooky pet cemetery, then moved to an estate they dubbed The Swamp. And when he died from a heart attack in his parked car, his wife noted: “He had always been a car buff, so it was a nice way to go.” His ashes were interred in a pet cemetery.