”They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They’re altogether ooky,
The Addams Family…”
It’s tough not to snap your fingers when the first strains of The Addams Family theme song kick in. Gomez, Morticia, Fester, Wednesday, Pugsley… they were just some groovy little ghoulies with an infectious beat. And the show was good, too.
This ABC sitcom began its life in 1937 as a series of macabre, mostly wordless one-panel cartoons drawn by Charles Addams. These cartoons featured a ghoulish-looking family indulging in their strange idea of family fun (i.e. sitting down to a dinner of two-headed pig, baking cookies in the shapes of bats and snakes, etc.). They found a regular home in New Yorker magazine and became one of its most popular features.
The cartoons were translated into a television series in 1964 by the team of producer Dave Levy and writer Matt Perrin. The family, which did not have names in the cartoons, were given their own identities: Gomez was the patriarch of the clan, a lawyer who loved to fence. Morticia was his wife, a ghostly and deadpan femme who could drive her man into romantic frenzy by speaking a few words in French (”Tish! You spoke French!”). Rounding out their nuclear family unit were two creepy kids, Pugsley and Wednesday.
Other cast members included Grandma and Uncle Fester, who also lived in the Addams family home. Jackie Coogan portrayed Fester, a switch for actor who was previously known as a child star (he appeared in The Kid with Charlie Chaplin). Lurch was the hulking, monosyllabic family servant (”You rang?”). Another servant was Thing, a disembodied hand that scurried around the house to do odd jobs. And lest you think the kookiness was confined to the family’s Gothic home, the Addamses received frequent visits from Cousin Itt, a relative who was covered from head to toe with hair and spoke in an unintelligible language that only the Addamses could understand. Ophelia, Tish’s sister, was added in later episodes of the series.
The episodes usually revolved around the outside world’s attempts to make sense of the family’s offbeat customs and the family’s general ignorance of the fact that they were considered strange by others. Pugsley and Wednesday didn’t really mean any harm when they brought a pet tarantula as a boy’s birthday gift, nor did Gomez think it was a bad idea to run for mayor because taxes were too low. Each episode would end with both the Addams family and the ‘normal’ world learning something new about each other after plenty of fish-out-of-water laughs.
The Addams Family was moderately popular in its time but only ran for two seasons. This happened for two reasons: it had competition from The Munsters that split its audience in half, and the show was not held in high regard by network executives. However, The Addams Family gained a new lease on life in syndication, boosted by Saturday morning cartoon and feature film versions in later decades.
A major reason the show remains so popular is that it allows those who feel ‘different’ to know there is no shame in being that way. The Addams Family was always painted as a caring family unit that expressed their feelings freely while the outside world was painted as uptight, intolerant, and hypocritical. Indeed, The Addams Family allows non-conformists everywhere to rejoice in the fact that they are different—ooky, even.
In 1973-74 Hanna Barbera/NBC broadcast a cartoon version of the show with Ted Cassidy and Jackie Coogan voicing their roles as per the series. In this cartoon series Pugsley was voiced by the then 8 year old Jodie Foster. And in 1992 Hanna-Barbera produced another cartoon version to tie-in with the pair of big budget films made by Paramount in the early nineties.
USA / ABC – Filmways / 64×30 minute episodes / Broadcast 18 September 1964 – 2 September 1966 black and white
Creator: Charles Addams / Executive Producer: David Levy / Theme Music: Vic Mizzy / Producer: Nat Perrin
JOHN ASTIN as Gomez Addams
CAROLYN JONES as Morticia Addams
TED CASSIDY as Lurch
JACKIE COOGAN as Uncle Fester
BLOSSOM ROCK as Grandmamma Addams
LISA LORING as Wednesday Addams
KEN WEATHERWAX as Pugsley Addams
FELIX SILLA as Cousin Itt
TONY MAGRO as Voice of Itt