Charming And Intriguing Behind-The-Scenes Stories From ‘The Addams Family’ TV Show
In fall 1964, ABC debuted a series that introduced viewers to characters that were creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and altogether ooky; but they were also funny, oddly charming, and very likable. That series was The Addams Family, a television show based on Charles Addams's cartoons.
To the "normal" characters who came in contact with the clan, the Addams family might have seemed extremely strange or scary, but the inhabitants of the mansion at 0001 Cemetery Lane saw themselves as a very close, loving family with very normal interests. Well, normal to them.
The television series was not as dark as the comic strip it was based upon, as the show would place emphasis more on the kooky and less on the spooky. Unfortunately, ABC canceled the show after just two seasons, but its legacy is still being felt today, more than 50 years since it was first aired. The show has been seen in syndication off-and-on since the original run ended in 1966, and both seasons can currently be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.
It's hard to imagine how the iconic show would have turned out if the series had revolved around the character of the family butler or if Lurch remained a mute like in the original premise. Here is a look at some of the other behind-the-scenes stories from this iconic series.
John Astin Was Originally Supposed To Play The Family’s Butler
After appearing in a film called The Wheeler Dealers produced by Filmways (the company that would produce The Addams Family), John Astin negotiated a contract with the company. When he met with the assistant to the head of Filmways, Astin was told about three projects: the films The Americanization of Emily and The Loved One, and a television project involving Charles Addams's cartoons. He could be in only one of the projects, and although he wanted to do The Americanization of Emily (James Coburn ended up playing the key role), the television project was the one likely to be produced first.
When he first met with the show's executives about possibly being cast for The Addams Family television show, he was offered the part of the butler, who was originally the main character. The actor had doubts about his ability to play the role, which he expressed to executive producer David Levy at a follow-up meeting. Levy agreed that he shouldn't play the butler, then offered him the part of the husband instead. When Astin accepted, the focus of the series was changed.
In 2012, Astin told a reporter for the Baltimore Sun that Levy had described the show to him as "Father Knows Best - with other people."
In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Astin said that the producers gave him a lot of leeway in terms of shaping the character of Gomez, although he did have a fight with the network over shaving his hair in the back to resemble the cartoon. He also said that while he did some of the stunts on the show, including swinging on a trapeze and standing on his head, he had a stuntman who did most of the more difficult tricks.
Ted Cassidy As Lurch Cut A Pop Record Meant To Start A Dance CrazeVideo: YouTube
In 1965, Ted Cassidy in the character of Lurch cut a pop record called "The Lurch." The single, which had a narrated story titled "Wesley" as the B-side, was released by Capitol Records.
Cassidy performed it on Halloween 1965 on Shindig!, leading a bunch of teenagers in the dance of the same name. The dance became a short-lived craze, but the song, which was written by Gary Paxton (the producer behind "The Monster Mash"), did not become a major hit.
John Astin Claimed That He And Carolyn Jones Were Genuinely Attracted To Each Other
John Astin has admitted that he and Carolyn Jones were immediately attracted to each other but kept things strictly professional. They used their personal chemistry to give Gomez and Morticia "a grand romance" as an antidote to the virtually sexless parents then common on television shows. In an interview for the Television Academy Foundation , Astin said that while he and Jones had different comedic styles, those styles blended very well.
“There’s a playful sexuality between Gomez and Morticia, the kind you wish your parents would’ve exhibited,” said Andrew Lippa, the Tony Award-nominated composer and lyricist of the Addams Family Broadway musical . “Here I am watching reruns after school every day of a beautiful couple who lets you know it’s okay to touch.”
"We used to do joke promos for the show, where I'd say 'My wife and I are the best-adjusted couple on television,'" Astin told the Baltimore Sun in 2012. "I think we influenced the tone of the '60s with that kind of freedom and warmth - you know, peace and love. But the fact that Gomez and Morticia got obviously excited about one another was something the studio got letters on, which was kind of stupid."
In James Pylant's biography of Jones , her stepdaughter Deborah Greene was quoted stating that Jones had complained about Astin always trying to upstage her and hog the camera. But the people Pylant interviewed who had worked with Astin and Gomez on The Addams Family denied having ever seen any tension between the actors. And when Jones passed, it was Astin who delivered the eulogy at her funeral.
Jackie Coogan, AKA Uncle Fester, Was A Child Actor Who Inspired A Law Created To Protect The Earnings Of MinorsPhoto: First National / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Jackie Coogan (1914-1984) was just four years old when he was discovered by Charlie Chaplin while performing in a vaudeville act. The child rocketed to film stardom in 1921 when he played the orphaned boy in Chaplin's silent film The Kid, which many historians consider to be the comedian's best movie. Coogan played the title role in Oliver Twist the following year. He was one of the first film stars to be heavily merchandised, with items such as whistles, peanut butter, stationery, and dolls among the Coogan-themed products that people could purchase.
Although Coogan's career waned as he grew older, it was estimated that he had earned somewhere between $2 million and $4 million dollars as a child star. The fortune was expected to be intact, as his father had managed his son's finances conservatively. But his father lost his life in May 1935, just months before Coogan's 21st birthday.
Coogan had never received any money from his work as a child; instead, his parents gave him a weekly allowance of $6.25. When he turned 21, his mother, Lillian, and stepfather, Arthur Bernstein, announced they wouldn't turn any of the millions Coogan had earned over to him.
''The law is on our side, and Jackie Coogan will not get a cent from his past earnings,'' Bernstein declared at a news conference. Two years later in 1938, Coogan sued the couple, who reportedly had squandered the money on cars, jewelry, and furs. When the case was settled, after expenses, all Coogan received was $35,000.
After he filed suit against his mother and stepfather, the California State Legislature introduced a new law that said that all juvenile actors' earnings had to be deposited in court-administered trust funds. Officially called the California Child Actor's Bill, it is more commonly called the "Coogan Law" and went into effect in 1939, although it has been substantially revised since then.
Coogan, of course, later found fame once again as Uncle Fester on The Addams Family.
'The New Yorker' Refused To Publish 'The Addams Family' Cartoons Once The Television Series Debuted
When Charles Addams sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1932, he received $7.50 for the sketch of a window washer. His cartoons of Addams Family characters began appearing in the magazine in 1938. This first illustration, which the cartoonist dubbed "Vacuum Cleaner," shows a salesman trying to convince a pale, sultry-looking woman in a long black dress to buy a vacuum cleaner. A hulking, bearded servant stands beside the woman.
The joke came from the fact that the clueless pitchman is standing in what appears to be a haunted house, its gloominess punctuated by cobwebs and a bat. Addams would later describe the lady in the illustration, whom he dubbed the “witch-woman,” as “my idea of a pretty girl” and leave it at that. The cartoon ran on page 9 of the August 6, 1938, issue of The New Yorker, and Addams was paid $85.
Addams had not intended to turn that first cartoon into a series. It was New Yorker founder and editor Harold Ross who suggested Addams bring the characters back for further cartoons. The nameless “witch-woman” and her servant (now clean-shaven) returned the following year, and on November 14, 1942, the “witch-woman” was given a mate, a pudgy, smarmy fellow with a pencil moustache and hair parted in the middle. Two children later appeared, as did other characters in the family. During the 1940s and 1950s, 58 of these “family” cartoons appeared in The New Yorker.
Whether it was because of media snobbery or some other reason, The New Yorker refused to publish any more of the cartoons featuring the family while the television series was on the air, or even after the show was canceled. Addams was allowed to use them where he liked otherwise, but still managed to slyly sneak them into his other New Yorker cartoons on occasion.
The Series' Pilot Was Directed By A Future Academy Award NomineePhoto: eBay / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The pilot episode of The Addams Family, entitled "The Addams Family Goes To School," was directed by a 40-year-old director who had just completed filming James Garner and Julie Andrews in The Americanization of Emily.
That director's name was Arthur Hiller. He had extensive previous experience in television, including being nominated for an Emmy for his directing work. But his biggest achievement would come after he filmed the pilot of The Addams Family when he would win the Golden Globe and earn a nomination for an Academy Award for his direction on the blockbuster romantic tearjerker Love Story.