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The Beauty of The Munsters & The Addams Family

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I do not want to repeat my Blake vs. Potter debate, but comparing The Addams Family to The Munsters is like comparing Laverne & Shirley to Cagney & Lacey. Other than the fact that these were macabre sitcoms mocking the nuclear families that were on the air at the time, these two shows and families were very different. For example if Eddie Munster (Butch Patrick) wanted to join the Boy Scouts his parents Herman & Lily (Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo) would be thrilled where as if Pugsley Addams (Ken Weatherwax) wanted to join the Boy Scouts his parents Gomez & Morticia (John Astin & Carolyn Jones) would be mortified and hope that this was just a phase. If there was an explosion in Grandpa’s (Al Lewis) laboratory, it would be an accident with humorous consequences where as if there was an explosion in Uncle Fester’s (Jackie Coogan) room, it would be expected and encouraged behavior. If Herman got sick he would go to his family doctor (Paul Lynde) who had just sent his eyeglasses out to be repaired. The doctor would then perform Herman’s entire examination without being able to see him and receive the repaired glasses in time to say goodbye. Then mayhem ensues. If Gomez got sick he would contact his family witch-doctor, and because of his massive wealth, he did not have to worry about whether or not the witch-doctor was covered under his HMO.

The Addams Family debuted on ABC on September 18 1964, and ran through September 2, 1966. The show was based on the Charles Addams dark, warped and funny comic strip created for the New Yorker magazine. Charles Addams named the characters for the TV show. The episodes were written by Nat Perrin who had written several Marx Brothers movies. (Come to think of it Gomez had some Groucho Marx qualities).

One of my favorite elements of the show was the brilliant use of sound effects like in the days of radio comedy, thus requiring the audience to use their imagination. An example of this was when a houseguest saw Kitty (a lion). All you heard was a roar followed by a running sound effect followed by a door slam. In fact I would love to perform some of the old TV show scripts as a radio comedy. The show mocked other TV families by being their polar opposite. This family would do everything from sword fighting to blowing up model trains in the middle of their own living room. If Fear Factor was around then, they would have the home version.

I don’t think anybody knew where John Aston began and Gomez ended. Everything gave him a rush and his love for Morticia can only be described as horny monogamy. With all the craziness the show had moral high ground. Not only did you see a loving family where the parents were not afraid to show affection in front of the kids, you got to see so-called “normal people” compromise their principles in order to do business with Gomez followed by humorous consequences.

The Munsters debuted on CBS on September 24, 1964 and ran through September 1, 1966. This show mocked other TV families by having a family of classic movie monsters emulate them. The show was developed, written, and produced by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher (The same team created, wrote and produced Leave It to Beaver). The Show is a brilliant mix of three key ingredients.

  1. The classic Universal Studios Monsters from the 1930 & 40’s (that were finding a whole new audience thanks to Saturday Matinee “Creature Features” on TV)
  2. The placing of these monsters in the world of Leave it to Beaver (In fact the Munsters’ house is still across the street from the Cleaver’s house on the Universal Back Lot only now Desperate Housewives have moved in).
  3. The “Normal People” reactions to our family similar to those seen in Casper cartoons.

The patriarch is the Frankenstein monster who married Dracula’s daughter and live in the states as an “typical american family”. There is more to Herman than a big stupid baby who throws tantrums by saying, “Darn! Darn! Darn! Darn!” Here is a character that is the Frankenstein monster, but he really thinks he is Fred MacMurray from My Three Sons. Fred Gwynne could deliver Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont)-type dialogue totally straight and was incredibly funny doing it. He was also able to play the stooge to Al Lewis in one scene, and then straight man to guest stars Paul Lynde or Harvey Korman in another. Al Lewis’ Grandpa was and will always the most unique interpretation of the Dracula character since Bram Stoker first created him. Again I don’t know where Al Lewis begins and Grandpa AKA The Count AKA Sam Dracula (I guess the guys at Ellis Island could not spell Vladimir) ends. Like Dracula he has found immortality. On April 30th he turned 95 years old.

Because of the macabre settings of the show, I think the writers were able to slip things under the censor’s radar. The wild look in Gomez’s eyes when he and Morticia played with whips and chains came very close to S&M. The Munsters did jokes about Vietnam, nuclear war and drugs. Herman & Lily was also the first TV couple to sleep in the same bed while Gomez & Morticia had twin beds of nails.

Grandpa: Hmm. What smells so good?
Herman: I cut myself shaving.

Morticia: Think of Romeo and Juliet.
Gomez: They died!
Morticia: Oh, but what fun they had those last three days.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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About Tony Figueroa

  • Somewhat odd that the Addams Family series is unavailable on home video when The Munsters has been deemed worthy of a boxed set, however, I shall never understand the vagaries of licensing entertainment content. A Munsters-related show, the classic “Car 54 Where Are You” has been in licensing limbo for years (and I’d buy a boxed set of “Car 54”, at full retail price yet, in a heartbeat just to hear “Listen America, my husband is a NUT!” and “Ooh, ooh” again).

    Any number of individual bits in both shows stand out for laughs – the Fregosi Emerald, Herman’s sappy poetry at the beatnik party, Lurch’s grunts, Cousin Itt, Grandpa’s Borscht Belt-isms, Sam Picasso – there are many worthy bits in both shows that have me laughing hard just thinking of them.

  • Nick Jones

    Although as a child I was hardly discriminating in my television viewing (I watched both shows), I think I’ve always preferred The Addams Family to The Munsters. As an adult, I think it was a matter of wit versus goofiness that appeals to me; The cast of TAF (except for Grandmama, who was always kind of a nonentity) had lines as sharp as their epees, while the cast of TM were more slapstick and schticky. As Tony says above, I’m one of those people who saw Herman as a big baby. And Marilyn: now come on, how could she keep thinking of herself as ‘homely’ when she must have seen thousands of girls she resembled more than the members of her family?

    I loved Spot, though, the dragon under the stairs.

    Trivia: I was initially intrigued with The Addams Family by a photo in LIFE magazine(!) of Gomez blowing up his trainset.

  • I loved Spot on the Original show too – especially his “roar” sound. There was something hilarious about it. I’ve been searching the web looking for a Audio clip but can’t find one. Anyone know where one might be?