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Friday, October 14, 2011

TGIF: The Addams Family

I'm sure that most of us have seen at least one traditional family sitcom in our lives. Heck, they were a mainstay all throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Although the genre was kicked off by such programs as I Love Lucy and Leave It To Beaver, I would say that some of the more popular ones came out of later years.

I think most of us have seen at least one episode of shows such as The Cosby Show, Full House, The Brady Bunch, and Happy Days. By each of their own rights, all of the shows were entertaining enough, and each of these shows lasted at least five seasons or more on the air. But the thing is that if you really take a look at these sitcoms, they weren't really all that much different from each other. The families featured in the sitcoms were of all different races, religions, and configurations, but yet if one were to really list all of the similarities between each of the shows, I reckon that one would find that there are a lot more common links than differences in a lot of sitcoms released over the past thirty or forty years.

So, I thought that I would attempt to go in a different direction from the standard family sitcom that is sweetened with syrupy dialogue and cavity-inducing group hugs. And while we're discussing this non-traditional sitcom in detail, we'll hopefully find a way to incorporate little life lessons along the way, because let's face it...that's what the point of this blog is about. At least I would like to think so, anyway.

Most family sitcoms seem to follow a rather basic recipe. Take a group of actors and cast them as members of the same family. Add one living room set, and one kitchen set. If possible, make sure bedroom sets are available for those who want a variety of locations. Add a season worth of scripts, and a dash of studio audience (or you can substitute a canister of fake laughter should a studio audience prove to be too expensive), and voila. You have a standard family sitcom. But what happens if we tweak the recipe just a smidgen by substituting different ingredients and blending different combinations together? Would the result be the same, or would it pack a punch?

Let's find out by talking about the Addams Family.

The Addams Family may be most well known by the 1960s television series, a few animated adaptations, and two feature films made in the 1990s. But, did you know that the Addams Family actually began as a comic strip?

It all began back in 1932 when a young cartoonist named Charles Samuel Addams began working for the magazine The New Yorker. His first drawing in the publication was a sketch of a window washer, and it appeared in the February 6, 1932 edition of the New Yorker. Six years later, in 1938, the first Addams family cartoon appeared in the pages of the magazine. When Charles Addams first began drawing the cartoon characters that would eventually become the Addams Family, he had meant it to be a satirical look at what society had deemed the ideal American family at the time of the 1930s. The family was portrayed as a wealthy and eccentric family who have a fascination (some would relabel it an obsession) with objects and customs deemed macabre and mysterious. As a result of their interests, outsiders would classify them as weird or scary, and tend to stay away. The clincher is that the various members of the family are confused by this behaviour. They certainly don't mean any intentional harm on any guest that seems to drop by. In fact, I think as far as the Addams family were concerned, they didn't see themselves as doing anything all that out of the ordinary, and honestly seemed unaware, or even ignorant of the fact that their neighbours were genuinely frightened of them.

At any rate, those comic strips soon became a big hit for Addams, and were so popular that by 1964, the ABC network decided to air a sitcom based on the comic strip. The Addams Family premiered on September 18, 1964, and during its two season run aired 64 original episodes until September 1966. Before the sitcom debuted, Charles Addams was asked to provide names for each of the characters, as prior to the sitcom creation, his characters were nameless. He eventually came up with the names for the characters, and without many changes are the names that are still used today.

So, just like I did for a few entries, I figure that the best way to talk about the show itself is to provide trivia bits introducing each of the characters, and providing behind the scenes information about this show. And at the end of this article, I'll share with you the life lesson that we all can take from this show.

  1. The Addams Family recently became a Broadway musical, debuting in 2010. In some performances, the role of Morticia Addams was played by Brooke Shields.

  1. On the television series, Morticia was played by actress Carolyn Jones. She was the first wife of legendary television producer Aaron Spelling, and had a career that spanned three decades. She died of colon cancer in 1983 at the age of 53 years old.

  1. Morticia Addams was described by Charles Addams as “the real head of the family...low-voiced, incisive and subtle, smiles are rare...ruined beauty...contemptuous and original with fierce family loyalty...even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly...given to low-keyed rhapsodies about her garden of deadly nightshade, henbane, and dwarf's hair.”

  1. Morticia's maiden name is Frump, and while her family tree was shaken up a bit in the 1990s movies, in the television show, Grandmama Addams was her mother-in-law.

  1. Morticia enjoys gardening by chopping the blooms of roses off and keeping the stems, and she also has musical interests.

  1. Morticia can reduce her husband Gomez to mush just by speaking French.
  1. On the television show, Gomez Addams was played by actor John Astin, second husband of Patty Duke, father of Mackenzie Astin, and adopted father of Sean Astin. At the age of 81, he is still going strong, with reports of him teaching a course in method acting and directing at Johns Hopkins University as recently as 2009.

  1. When it came time for Gomez to be named, Charles Addams had two possible named picked out for him. One was Gomez, the other Repelli. Somehow, I don't think Repelli Addams has that same ring to it as Gomez Addams.

  1. In Latin America, Gomez's first name was changed to Homero.

  1. Gomez is extremely athletic, and is a very skilled sword-fighter and fencer.

  1. Charles Addams gave Gomez this description; “Husband to Morticia (if indeed they are married at all)...a crafty schemer, but also a jolly man in his own way, though sometimes misguided...sentimental and often puckish – optimistic, he is in full enthusiasm for his dreadful sometimes seen in a rather formal dressing gown...the only one who smokes”.

  1. Not that this has anything to do with any trivia or what have you, but Gomez is one of my two favourite Addams family characters. The other one is Wednesday Addams.

  1. Wednesday Addams was named after the famous poem “Monday's Child”, where the line for Wednesday reads 'Wednesday's Child is full of woe'.

  1. Wednesday Addams was played by actress Lisa Loring, who would later appear on the daytime soap opera 'As The World Turns' in the early 1980s playing a woman named Cricket.

  1. Wednesday is a girl of six years old in the pilot episode of the series. Her hobby includes raising spiders, and her favourite toy was a Marie Antoinette doll which was decapitated by her brother, Pugsley.

  1. Pugsley Addams was originally supposed to be given the name of Pubert, but was changed to Pugsley at the last minute. The name Pubert, however, did get used in the 1993 Addams Family Values film, when Morticia gave birth to a third child, that was the name he was given.

  1. Pugsley was played by child actor Ken Weatherwax in the original television series, and has since shifted his career focus to working behind the scenes.

  1. Pugsley's hair colour has changed depending on which Addams Family adaptation you happen to be watching. In most of the live-action performances, he's depicted as brunette, but in cartoons, he's shown with blonde hair.

  1. Cast member Blossom Rock, who played Grandmama Addams, was the oldest cast member of the series, born in 1895. When the Addams Family filmed a television reunion special in 1977, Blossom Rock was too ill to appear in the role and was recast by someone else. She passed away one year later in 1978.

  1. Uncle Fester was played by Jackie Coogan, who began his career as a child actor in silent movies. In 1935, he was in a car with his father and best friend when it crashed in San Diego County. He was the only survivor.
  1. Jackie Coogan was one of the first cases of a child actor suing his parents. He claimed that his mother and stepfather stole upwards of four million dollars from him to spend on luxuries. He sued them in 1938, but only ended up receiving only $126,000 of the money that was left in his account after paying the legal expenses. His friend Charlie Chaplin would later assist him financially when he fell on hard times.

  1. Initially when Ted Cassidy was cast as Lurch, the Addams family butler, he was supposed to have been a mute character. But during one of the first rehearsals of the show, Cassidy ad-libbed the line 'You rang?', and the line proved to be so well-liked by producers that the line soon became Lurch's signature line, and thus Lurch became a character that was capable of speech.

  1. Although it was hard to tell because of the show being filmed in black and white, Lurch's skin colour was supposed to be blue.

  1. Cousin Itt was portrayed by three different people during the course of the show's run. The majority of the scenes were played by Felix Silla, but for a couple of episodes, the role was filled in by Roger Arroyo. Sound engineer Tony Magro supplied the gibberish laden voice of Cousin Itt.

  1. Cousin Itt was one of the only characters that was NOT created by Charles Addams. Rather, the character was conceived by producer David Levy. Cousin Itt did make an appearance as an uncredited extra in previous Addams Family comic strips.

  1. When Thing was introduced, Charles Addams based Thing on a New Yorker cartoon. The cartoon depicted a shocked mailman reacting to a sign that said 'Beware Of The Thing'. Initially, he had the idea that the 'Thing' could be a disembodied head that rolled around the house on ramps and pulleys, but eventually decided on having 'Thing' take on the appearance of a hand.  Thing was played by Ted Cassidy, and he admitted that while he usually used his right hand to play Thing, on occasion he used his left hand to see if anyone would notice.
There you have it! Twenty-six facts about the actors, the show, the characters, and Charles Addams himself. I hope this gave you some more information on the show and why it remains a cultural mainstay even decades after it first appeared in mainstream media.

But what life lesson can we learn from the Addams Family?

Well...deep down inside, the Addams Family aren't really that much different from us. I mean, yes, they do things a lot differently from other people, but that's a part of their charm. I'll even argue that the Addams Family are a lot more functional than some modern families out there in the world. I mean, yes, Wednesday and Pugsley do sometimes cross the line with their sibling rivalry, but deep down, I think they love each other. Gomez and Morticia may not dress and act like Ward and June Cleaver, but I have never seen a couple act more loving or devoted to each other. That's real love right there. And, no, I don't have an uncle who used to turn on light bulbs just by sticking them in his mouth, but I'm sure that everyone has one uncle or aunt that has a quirk to them that makes them just as lovable.

So, I guess the lesson learned is...don't judge a book by its cover. The Addams Family may appear creepy and kooky and altogether ooky...but you know, deep down inside their odd appearances and wacky family traditions, they're more like you or I than you'd think.

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