“They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky.
They’re altogether ooky. The Addams Family.”
Those are the words from the theme song to the 1960s television series called The Addams Family. Penned by television and movie composer Vic Mizzy, the song not only describes the family depicted in the show, but also aptly captures the feel of the program itself, with just one additional word needed -- hilarious.
With its debut in 1964, the 30-minute comedy immediately captured audiences with its oddball combination of characters that made up the Addams family. Based on the macabre, dark-humored cartoons of Charles Addams, the show presented the family as eccentric, wealthy and fiercely independent. The patriarch of the family was the sharply dressed Gomez Addams, played by John Astin, who was frequently seen studying the newspaper for stock market prices while standing on his head or practicing fencing with his 6’9” loyal butler Lurch, played by Ted Cassidy. The family’s matriarch, Morticia Addams, was played by Carolyn Jones. Wearing a long and tight black dress that flowed out like a spider’s web at the bottom, Morticia exuded sexuality and elegance at the same time. With her pitch-black, flowing, waist-length hair, her piercing dark-lined eyes, and her ability to speak French, Morticia seamlessly captivated the attention of her husband. Her uttering of a few French words would propel Gomez into a frenzy, leading him to kiss Morticia along her arm, from her wrist and up to the nape of her neck.
Also within the Addams household were Gomez and Morticia’s two elementary school-aged children, Wednesday (played by Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (played by Ken Weatherwax), as well as Uncle Fester (played by Jackie Coogan), Grandmama (played by Marie Blake), and of course the stone-faced, towering butler Lurch. Each of these characters also had quirky attributes. Wednesday enjoyed decapitating her dolls, Pugsley was always involved in mischief and playing with or even building dangerous devices, Uncle Fester would illuminate lightbulbs by simply placing them in his mouth, and Grandmama, with her unkempt hair and haggish appearance, enjoyed concocting potions and throwing knives for sport. Lurch rarely spoke and instead would express himself through guttural moans; he often expertly played the harpsicord to entertain the family.
Among the other characters that would occasionally pop into a scene was Cousin Itt, a short, completely hair-covered man who liked to don dark sunglasses and spoke in a language that only the Addams family could understand. Another was Thing, a family friend that was simply a disembodied hand that would suddenly appear out of nowhere, emerging from a box or even the family’s harpsicord. Although the program did not publicize it, Ted Cassidy played the part of Thing.
What made the Addams family particularly endearing was that they were repeatedly trying to befriend or assist their suburban neighbors while remaining completely oblivious to the fact that their neighbors were, in fact, frightened of them. The family’s Victorian mansion itself made visitors feel uncomfortable or fearful and immediately want to leave. The Addams’ home reflected the family’s eccentric and spooky nature. The house had decorations such as a swordfish with a man’s leg sticking out of its mouth and a large, intimidating polar bear. A bed of nails and a torture rack were regularly used by the family for relaxation or physical therapy purposes. And for pets, the Addams family had piranhas (named Isolde and Tristan), a lion (named Kitty Kat), an octopus (named Aristotle), and a spider (named Homer).
The Addams Family television program was the brainchild of television producer David Levy. Story has it that Levy was walking down a street in New York City when he saw a book of Charles Addams’ cartoons on display at a bookstore. Flipping through it, he knew that the odd family featured in the book would make for good television. His hunch proved to be correct. Although the ABC network television show lasted for only two seasons, it did relatively well in the ratings. Network executives decided to cancel the show because they were never quite sure of the program’s target audience and were fearful that the dark-humored theme of the show had run its course.
Some of The Addams Family content was daring for its time and upon closer examination might be interpreted as providing social commentary on acceptance and sexuality. The sexual chemistry between Morticia and Gomez was certainly palatable and the couple’s intimate exchanges with their associated double entendre were not something viewers would have seen in other situation comedies during that period. It perhaps is not surprise that the show later developed a cult following that inspired various forms of revival including movies, an animated series, and musical theatre productions.
-Catherine A. Luther, May 2019
NUMBER OF 30 MINUTE EPISODES
Black and white
Cox, S. (1998). The Addams Chronicles: An Altogether Ooky Look at The Addams Family, 2nd Edition. Nashville: Cumberland House.
Healy, P. (2010, April 14). The critics may rant, but ‘Addams’ rakes it in. The New York Times, p. 1A.
Morowitz, L. (2007). The monster within: The Munsters, The Addams Family and the American family in the 1960s. Cultural Studies in Television, 2(1), 35-56.