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The On-Screen History of "The Addams Family"

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the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

Chances are the average American is familiar with at least one incarnation of the Addams Family. The Telegraph has dubbed the Addams as "one of the most iconic families in American history, up there with the Kennedys." Time has compared the cultural influence of the Addams family with the Roosevelts and the Kennedys, claiming they're "so much a part of the American landscape that it's difficult to discuss the country's history [...] without mentioning them."

In 2013, TV Guide included the Addams Family in the top ten in their article The 60 Greatest TV Families of All Time. Jonathan Barken of the pop culture website Bloody Disgusting wrote in 2015, "I’m of the firm belief that the Addams Family are the most loving, caring and connected family that has ever graced the silver screen."

The Original Comic Strip (1938-1988)

The Addams Family started off as a single-panel comic strip in The New Yorker. Cartoonist Charles Addams began regularly submitting his work to the magazine in 1933, and became known for his grim, horror-themed comics featuring visual gags, dark humor, and supernatural elements. The settings for these comics were inspired by the Victorian mansions and archaic graveyards in his hometown of Westfield, New Jersey.

In 1938, Addams began making comics with a recurring set of characters that made up an eccentric, macabre, aristocratic family. These nameless characters—including a married couple, their son and daughter, an uncle, a grandmother, a giant butler, and a pet octopus—lived in a decaying Victorian mansion. A third child, an infant, was hinted at but never shown.

Addams went on to become one of The New Yorker's most popular and prolific contributors. Anthologies of his work became bestsellers. In 1954, he recieved the Yale Humor Award for his work. In 1961, he recieved a special Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America, an honor normally reserved for novelists.

Addams continued drawing various comics until his death in 1988. In 2018, he posthumously recieved the Will Eisner Hall of Fame Award. In 2020, he was inducted in the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

The Addams Family (1964-1966)

With input from Charles Addams himself, producers Nat Perrin, Donald Saltzman, and David Levy of Filmways Television adapted the comics into a sitcom that ran for two seasons on ABC. The famous opening theme song was composed and sung by Vic Mizzy.

The family was given the surname Addams, after their creator. The married couple was named Gomez and Morticia, while their daughter was named Wednesday and their son Puglsey. There was also Morticia's uncle Fester, the giant butler named Lurch, and the grandmother known as Grandmama. While she was Morticia's mother in the comics, in the show she's Gomez's mother, Eudora Addams.

The family's pet octopus also appeared in the show, and was named Aristotle. The show added several other pets: a lion named Kitty Kat; two piranhas named Tristan and Isolde; Wednesday's tarantula, Homer, and her lizard, Lucifer; Fester's mutated dog named Butcher; Morticia's carnivorous African strangler plant named Cleopatra, and her vulture, Zelda.

The show also added Thing, a sentient disembodied hand who communicates in Morse code and often does small tasks for the family. The idea for Thing came from a comic showing a sign posted outside the family mansion that read "Beware of the Thing." When asked by the show's producers what the Thing was, Charles Addams said he envisioned a disembodied head. It was decided that a hand would be easier to portray.

Another addition to the family was Cousin Itt, a furry creature who speaks an indecipherable language only the family can understand. He was solely a creation of the show's producers. Though he didn't live in the Addams mansion in the show, later adaptations featured him as a permanent member of the household.

While the comedy of many sitcoms of the time came from bickering married couples and other familial conflicts, this show relied more on the Addams's eccentricities for comedy. Thus the producers were able to make the Addamses an exceptionally loving and amiable family who, despite their macabre leanings, are ultimately harmless. As a result, the show was considerably more light-hearted than the comics, with storylines revolving around comedic misunderstandings and well-intentioned schemes gone wrong.

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The Addams Family Fun-House (1973)

The Addams Family Fun-House was the unsold pilot of a musical variety show produced by ABC in 1972. This pilot consisted of comedic skits, musical numbers, dance routines, and some gags involving blue-screen effects. When it wasn't picked up as a regular series, ABC aired it as a TV special the following year.

Fun-House was written by Jack Riley and Liz Torres, who went on to play Gomez and Morticia. Felix Silla, who played Cousin Itt in the 1960s sitcom, reprised his role.

the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972)

In 1972, the Addams family made their first animated appearance in the third episode of Hanna-Barbera's The New Scooby-Doo Movies, a show which featured famous guest stars meeting the mystery-solving Scooby-Doo gang. In the episode, entitled "Wednesday is Missing," the Scooby gang's van breaks down near the Addams mansion, and they're taken in by the family. A ransom note is soon found, saying Wednesday has been kidnapped, and the gang helps find her.

The characters were drawn in the style of the original comics. Actors John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, and Ted Cassidy—who played Gomez, Morticia, Fester, and Lurch in the 1960s sitcom—voiced their respective characters in this episode.

the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

The Addams Family (1973)

Hanna-Barbera produced their own animated sitcom adaptation the following year, with Coogan and Cassidy reprising their voiceover roles. It ran for one season on NBC and featured the family on a cross-country road trip. Throughout sixteen episodes, they travel across the United States in a Victorian-style RV that resembles their mansion, causing mayhem and accidentally becoming involved in criminal schemes.

In this version, like in the comics, Fester is Gomez's brother and Grandmama is Morticia's mother. Fester has remained Gomez's brother in every incarnation since. The show also included the family lion, Kitty Kat, and three other pets: Ocho the octopus, Ali the alligator, and Mr. B the vulture.

From October 1974 to April 1975, Gold Key Comics published three issues of a comic book series featuring storylines adapted from this animated show.

Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977)

Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977) was a made-for-television film based on the 1960s sitcom, made over eleven years after the sitcom's cancelation. Vic Mizzy, who composed the sitcom's theme song, returned to compose the instrumental score for this film.

Most of the regular cast reprised their roles, with the exception of Blossom Rock, who was ill at the time. Her role of Grandmama was played by Jane Rose instead. Margaret Hamilton, who played Morticia's mother in three episodes of the sitcom, declined to reprise her role, so she was replaced with Elvia Allman.

The film takes place several years after the sitcom. Wednesday is now attending a music academy and Pugsley has gone to Nairobi to become a witch doctor. Gomez and Morticia now also have two younger children, Wednesday Jr. and Pugsley Jr. The older children return to the mansion for the family's annual Halloween party, along with Gomez's brother Pancho. Pancho tells the story of Cousin Shy, a legendary figure who carves pumpkins and delivers presents to good children on Halloween.

Meanwhile, a group of burglars have bugged the Addams mansion in the hopes of stealing their fortune. They infiltrate the house in Halloween costumes, but their attempts to take the family hostage are foiled by Kitty Kat the lion, Fester's torture devices, and the family being unaware of the situation and treating the burglars' antics as a game.

Actor Parley Bear, who played the lead burglar Bones Lafferty, had a recurring role on the original show as Arthur J. Henson, a neighbor who was often at odds with the Addamses. Vito Scotti, who played the burglar Mikey, appeared on the show in four different roles.

the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

The Addams Family (1991)

After a troubled production process involving constant script rewrites and a strained budget, Paramount and Columbia Pictures finally released the Addams's first feature film adaptation. This was the directing debut of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld.

This black comedy film begins with Gomez grieving the loss of his brother Fester, who disappeared 25 years prior. A loan shark in league with Gomez's lawyer realizes her son Gordon resembles Fester, so she has him pose as Fester as part of a scheme to steal the Addams's family fortune. Gordon shows up at the Addams manor, claiming he was lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Though initially overjoyed at Fester's return, the family starts to suspect he's an imposter, while Gordon questions his loyalties upon bonding with Wednesday and Pugsley.

The film opens with the family on the roof, pouring a cauldron of oil on Christmas carolers, which was a scene depicted in the comics. As the comics also featured Pugsley's collection of stolen road signs, a later scene shows Puglsey stealing a STOP sign. Although their pet octopus from previous incarnations doesn't appear, Wednesday has an octopus painted on the footboard of her bed, just as she did in the comics.

Despite being considerably darker and more macabre than the 1960s sitcom, this film references the sitcom several times. For example, early in the film, Morticia uses scissors to cut the blooms off the roses in the greenhouse, which she also did in the sitcom. In a later scene, Morticia and Gomez attend a charity auction and end up outbidding each other for an item they donated, which occurred in the sitcom episode "Morticia's Favorite Charity." Morticia is later seen carrying a plant identical to Cleopatra, her pet African strangler that appeared in several episodes. Fester is also mentioned to have had a pet vulture, Muerto, while Morticia had a pet vulture in the sitcom.

The Addams Family received mixed reviews from critics and even won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song for the main theme, written and performed by M.C. Hammer. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader called it a "collection of one-liners and not much more." A review in Variety magazine stated, "Despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings, the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures a major disappointment."

Nonetheless, this film was a box office hit and was nominated for the Academy Award for Achievement in Costume Design. It won for Favorite Movie at the 1992 Kids' Choice Awards, and for Best Horror Film of the Year from the Horror Hall of Fame. Angelica Huston, who played Morticia, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

The Addams Family (1992-1993)

Following the success of the film The Addams Family (1991), Hanna-Barbera produced the second animated Addams Family series, with Vic Mizzy's original theme re-recorded. This series ran on ABC for two seasons. John Astin, who played Gomez in the 1960s sitcom, voiced Gomez for this show.

New character models were designed for this show. They resembled the original comic and the previous animated series, but with considerable differences, like Lurch having blue skin and Gomez wearing a pink suit. Just like in the previous film, Grandmama is Morticia's mother.

While the family's macabre nature was toned down for a younger audience, the contrast between their morbid, eccentric qualities and the bright, cheerful town they live in, called Happydale Heights, serves as the basis for both comedy and conflict. The Addams's antagonistic neighbors, Norman and Normina Normanmeyer, consider them an affront to suburban life, and disapprove of their son's friendship with Wednesday and Pugsley. They and other recurring villains often try to either force the Addamses out of their home or take them hostage for criminal purposes.

The only pet that appears in this show is Snappy the alligator, who often attempts to eat members of the family out of affection. He also shows a protective instinct by eating strangers and those wishing to do harm to the family.

the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

Addams Family Values (1993)

Following the financial success of The Addams Family (1991), Barry Sonnenfeld directed a sequel, Addams Family Values (1993), which was considerably better received by critics than its predecessor. Most of the original cast reprised their roles, with the exception of Judith Malina, who was replaced by Carol Kane in the role of Grandmama. In 2016, the film was included in Playboy's list of 15 Sequels That Are Way Better Than The Originals.

Addams Family Values begins with the birth of the Addams's third child, a boy named Pubert. (Pubert was the name that Charles Addams originally suggested for Pugsley when discussing the sitcom adaptation of his comics.) Due to Wednesday's and Pugsley's jealously over their new brother, Morticia and Gomez hire a nanny, Debbie, who's secretly a black widow who plans to marry and then murder Uncle Fester to obtain his fortune. When Wednesday starts catching on to her scheme, Debbie sends the children to summer camp so she can freely pursue Fester.

The premise of Wednesday and Pugsley going to camp was portrayed in the comics—or, rather, they were shown returning from camp in pet carriers by express delivery. This film also featured them playing with a guillotine, which was a scene depicted in the comics.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote of Addams Family Values, "There's simply too much glee on the screen, thanks to a cast and visual conception that were perfect in the first place and a screenplay by Paul Rudnick that specializes in delightfully arch, subversive humor." Michael Wilmington of Chicago Tribune wrote that the film "makes fun of what's shallow, false and hypocritical in upper American society. And it actually celebrates the improbable love that bonds the misfit Addamses."

Addams Family Values was nominated for the Academy Award in the category Best Art Direction, while Angelica Huston was again nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Like its predecessor, this film also won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song, this time for "Addams Family (Whoomp!)" by Tag Team.

Sadly, this would be one of the last roles of Raul Julia, who played Gomez. He died of a stroke at age 54 the year after this film was released. He had once stated in an interview that he was always happy to be recognized in public as Gomez.

the-on-screen-history-of-the-addams-family

Addams Family Reunion (1998)

Due to the success of the two Addams Family movies, Saban Entertainment sought to buy the rights from the Charles Addams estate. Because Paramount Pictures decided not to release a third film, Saban partnered with Warner Bros. to produce a two-hour pilot film for a new, rebooted Addams Family series. The plan was to premiere the film on television and follow it up with a series if the film did well.

While director David Payne wanted to go for a darker tone, Saban producers insisted that the film be aimed solely toward children. They also wanted the film to imitate aspects of the previous films and the 1960s sitcom, and rejected all original ideas proposed by Payne and the screenwriters.

Some of the actors from the previous two films were offered the opportunity to reprise their roles. The only ones who accepted were Carel Struychken, who played Lurch, and Christopher Hart, who played Thing. John Astin, who played Gomez in the sitcom, was offered the role of Grandpa Addams, which he turned down.

Addams Family Values (1998) begins with Gomez discovering that his grandparents are stricken with "Waltzheimer's disease," which is taking away their eccentric qualities and turning them normal. Gomez arranges a family reunion to see if any relatives know of a cure for this disease. But due to a misspelling, they arrive at a reunion for the ordinary Adams family, who are feuding over a monetary inheritance.

Oblivious to the mistake, Morticia and Gomez become entangled in the inheritance feud while seeking a cure. Wednesday and Puglsey interact with the children, Lurch falls in love, and Fester and Thing try to capture the escaped family pet, a mutated puppy named Butcher. Meanwhile, members of the Adams family get lost on the way to the reunion and end up at the Addams mansion, where they encounter Grandmama and Cousin Itt.

The film ended up being released straight to video, and was poorly recieved by critics for its lackluster screenplay, special effects, and production design, as well as its unsuccessful attempts at imitating the previous films. The general consensus was that the only good part of the film was Tim Curry's performance as Gomez.

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The New Addams Family (1998-1999)

The New Addams Family (1998-1999) was a revival of the 1960s series, jointly produced by Saban Entertainment, which is based in the USA, and Shavik Entertainment, which is based in Canada. The show was shot in Vancouver and featured actors from both the USA and Canada.

A new opening theme song was composed by Barron Abramovitch, Jeremy Sweet, and Michael Whittaker, and performed by the cast. Some of this show's episodes are direct remakes of episodes from the 1960s version, while some were written exclusively for this show.

Like in the original series, Grandmama is Gomez's mother, Eudora Addams. John Astin, who played Gomez in the original show, made guest appearances as Grandpapa Addams in a couple of episodes. Nicole Fugere, who played Wednesday in Addams Family Reunion (1998), reprised her role for this show.

Critic reactions to this revival were mixed. Ray Richmond of Variety wrote that it "tries to make up in pep and savvy wordplay what it lacks in soul. The 1960s edition was charming because it didn’t try to hit you over the head with too much... There is nothing subtle about this The New Addams Family, which tosses in everything but the kitchen wash basin."

Even so, The New Addams Family was nominated for, and won, several Leo Awards for sound, editing, screenwriting, and acting. Ellie Harvie, who played Morticia, was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Female Performance.

The Addams Family Musical (2010)

In April 2010, the musical comedy The Addams Family debuted on the Broadway stage. It was the first show ever produced by Elephant Eye Theatricals, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise.

The musical's lead producers, Stuart Oken and Roy Furman, obtained the rights from the Charles Addams estate in 2007. The Addams estate maintained control over the musical's content and insisted the production team devise an original story instead of reusing plots from previous incarnations.

The plot revolves around Wednesday, now eighteen years old, inviting her ordinary boyfriend and his parents to the Addams mansion, resulting in a culture clash. Morticia and Gomez worry about Wednesday's changing ways, such as wearing a bright yellow dress as opposed to her usual black, while Pusgley is concerned his sister won't partake in their pastime of torture anymore. Meanwhile, Fester seeks advice from the ghosts of the Addams's ancestors.

Despite bad reviews, the musical boasted over 700 sold-out performances on the Broadway stage. The show then began its tour of the USA and Canada in September 2011, which ended that December. The second tour, which included performances in many South American and European countries, began in 2013 and ended in 2015. In April 2017, the musical made its UK debut at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

The musical has been nominated for two Tony Awards. It's won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design, an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Set Design, and the 2010 Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre Award.

The musical references Grandmama's inconsistent relation to the family, as Gomez and Morticia both believe she's related to the other. The musical also adds a pet squid named Bernice to the family, though some productions have omitted her. Several other changes have been made to the script for the US and UK tours, with some songs either rearranged or completely cut.

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The Addams Family (2019)

The first animated Addams Family film was produced by MGM Pictures and distributed domestically by United Artists Releasing and internationally by Universal Pictures. The directors hired were Conrad Vernon of DreamWorks Animation and Greg Tiernan of Nitrogen Studios.

In the film, following Morticia and Gomez's wedding, the family moves to Westfield, New Jersey, where they build their family mansion out of an abandoned asylum on a hill. Thirteen years later, reality show host Margaux Needler sets out to redesign the neighborhood on camera to her own liking. Seeing the Addamses as a threat to her vision, she becomes determined to run them out of town, and turns their neighbors against them. Meanwhile, Margaux's daughter Parker befriends Wednesday, and they're both met with parental disapproval as they try to merge their drastically different cultures.

References to the original comics are made throughout the film. The setting of Westfield, New Jersey is where creator Charles Addams grew up. The license plate of Gomez and Morticia's car reads CHAS 1938, Chas being Charles Addams's nickname and 1938 being the year the original comic debuted in The New Yorker. Like in the comics, the family has a pet octopus and Pugsley keeps a collection of road signs in his room. At some point, Gomez mentions a relative named Zander, who was mentioned in the comics.

In the 1960s sitcom, Gomez practiced yoga—most often headstand positions—while reading the newspaper. In this film, he's briefly seen standing on his head as a callback. Grandmama is Gomez's mother, just as she was in the sitcom, and the film also includes the Addams's pet lion, Kitty Kat, who first appeared in the sitcom.

Reviews were mixed, with critics praising the voice cast and animation quality but criticizing the narrative and screenplay. Nonetheless, the film was a box office success, grossing $204 million on a $24 million budget. A sequel is currently planned.

Honorable Mention: Adult Wednesday Addams (2013-2015)

Adult Wednesday Addams (2013-2015), starring and written by Melissa Hunter, was a YouTube comedy series spanning two seasons and thirteen total episodes. During its run, it garnered over 8.5 million views and even recieved international press coverage.

The series depicted Wednesday, who has left home, navigating a new cultural climate in Los Angeles, California. She's shown in ordinary situations such as undergoing a job interview, getting a haircut, going on a date with a man she met online, and shopping at a flea market.

Unfortunately, the Charles Addams estate sent a cease-and-desist letter to Hunter, citing copyright infringement. The series was subsequently canceled. The episodes were taken down from Hunter's channel, but are still available for viewing on other channels and on Hunter's personal website.

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 03, 2021:

Along with my family, we watched the original television series and thought it was a bit bazaar, but also fun. I had no idea that there were so many spinoffs, nor that it started as a comic series. Thanks for reviving some of my memories of that show.