They're creepy and they're kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They're all together ooky,
The Addams Family.
It all started 75 years ago with a cartoon depicting a dark-haired woman in a slinky black dress listening to a vacuum salesman's pitch - "Vibrationless, noiseless, and a great time and back saver. No well-appointed home should be without it." - while standing in the foyer of her dusty, cobweb-filled home.
That cartoon, published in The New Yorker on April 6, 1938, introduced the world to a then-unnamed Addams Family.
Drawn by Charles Addams (1912-88), he had no intention of developing the characters or the cartoon further until New Yorker founder Harold Ross encouraged him to explore "more characters in the delicious house," according to Addams' biographer, Linda Davis. A year later, a second Family cartoon was submitted, followed by a few more over the years that introduced additional characters.
"People always want to know more about them, but I've never been able to figure out what they're doing," Addams told a reporter, according to Davis, thus explaining why they were rarely the subjects of his cartoons (only 30 out of 244 were Family cartoons in the 1940s, according to Davis).
Even so, the Family attracted a devoted following and became Addams' most recognizable work, inspiring a television show, two major motion pictures, a cartoon TV show and, more recently, a musical.
From print to screen
Twenty-five years after the Family first graced the pages of The New Yorker, ABC decided to develop a television show based on the cartoons.
Addams, who was brought on to assist in the creation of the series, was asked to put names to his characters.
Naming his three main characters first, the sleek, dark mother inspired by Addams' first wife, Barbara, was deemed Morticia, while the two children, added to the series in 1944, were named Wednesday (after a Mother Goose poem) and Pugsley, though the scheming brother was almost named Pubert.
Gomez was chosen for the father's name over Repelli, a name offered by show producers; the character was said to be modeled after Thomas E. Dewey, the 47th governor of New York, crossed with a pig. Uncle Fester, Lurch (chosen for the way the Frankenstein-like butler walked) and Grandma Frump (after Addams' own grandmother, for whom the character had been designed) helped the show take shape.
"Though the television family was a considerably softened version of the Addams originals, the show did make an attempt to honor the cartoons," according to Jones.
The black-and-white series premiered Sept. 18, 1964, but ran for only two seasons.
Carolyn Jones (1930-83), who was known for her roles in "House of Wax" (1953) and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956), was cast as Morticia, the role for which she is most remembered. John Astin was cast as the patriarch, a role he revisited in the 1992 animated series.
While The Addams Family made a number of TV appearances in the years that followed, it was the 1991 film release by Paramount Pictures that brought a new wave of attention to the macabre members of the Family.
With Anjelica Huston cast as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester and Christina Ricci as Wednesday, the film paid homage to the cartoons, recreating some of Addams' iconic images, including the opening sequence that saw hot oil being poured on Christmas carolers.
The film was a financial success, eventually became the seventh highest grossing film of 1991, while Huston was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role and the film earned an Academy Award nomination for costume design, but reviews for the film were unfavorable.
The 1993 sequel "Addams Family Values," which reunited the original cast with director Barry Sonnenfeld, received far more acclaim from reviewers, though it fell short of the lofty box office goal set by the first movie. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for art direction and Huston was again nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Morticia.
While attempts have been made over the years to resurrect The Addams Family on TV, none of the attempts have found a lasting foothold.
The big screen attempts have also faltered, as Tim Burton was attached to a stop-motion animated film idea that was reportedly abandoned in July. And while a Halloween day announcement in Variety stated that MGM would be producing an animated film, negotiations have not yet been finalized.
Jump to the stage
But though it all, the cultural phenomenon that is The Addams Family continues, with the most recent addition to the list of accolades being a Broadway musical and numerous touring productions.
Created by "Jersey Boys" authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa, choreographer Sergio Trujillo, and award-winning costume and set designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the original comedy is directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks.
"Our work has a misfit quality to it," McDermott and Crouch explain on the show's website. "Morticia and Gomez with Fester, Lurch and the rest of the Addams clan had been embedded in our psyches from an early age, and the work we have created together has always had a dark twist to it, alongside the humour. Yet, if the show was to satisfy, it had to fulfill both our own dreams of these iconic characters and not disappoint the many generations of fans who knew the Addams from film, TV and the original New Yorker cartoons."
That vein of thought flows through to the actors on the current national tour, as well.
"Our job to portray these characters that everyone knows and love, it's a huge responsibility ... Everyone knows what these characters are supposed to be like," explains KeLeen Snowgren, who portrays Morticia in the current touring production.
Speaking from her twin sister's apartment in Dallas over the holidays - "No one's interested in booking 'The Addams Family' over the holidays; I'm thankful they don't want creepy and kooky, it means I get to spend time with my family." - Snowgren, 31, says the roll of the Addams' matriarch is a dream come true.
"I grew up with her and thought she was the most glamorous woman on TV," she said. "Before the movies came out, I did watch the black-and-white TV show; reruns on Nick at Night, I think it was. ... I remember thinking how strange the family was, how awesome they were, and how romantic the couple was."
While Gomez and Morticia have been the major players in the past, the musical turns its focus to Wednesday, who at 18 has fallen in love with a young man from Ohio.
"In choosing a turning point in Wednesday's life and bringing a family of outsiders into the house, they (the writers) had the perfect catalyst to set this ensemble playing together in pleasingly familiar, yet surprisingly new, ways," McDermott and Crouch said.
The play is set at the Addams mansion, as a dinner party with Lucas Beineke and his middle-American parents is about to get underway.
While the family prepares, Wednesday begs her family to act as "normal" as possible, concerned that if the Beineke's don't approve, she'll never see Lucas again.
Being the loving family they are, the Addams' promise to do their best, but Uncle Fester enlists the help of the family ghosts in case things go awry.
And, predictably, they do ... but you'll have to make a visit to the Addams' mansion to find out how this story turns out.
Insight into playing Morticia
Quotes from KeLeen Snowgren:
Was there anything special you had to do to prepare for the role?
"I did a lot of Google research ... watched a lot of YouTube videos. I watched all three - Carolyn Jones, Bebe Neuwirth (who played the role on Broadway) and Anjelica Huston - to get ideas of her mannerisms, her walking. ... But everything changed once I got in there. I have my own version, but she's reminiscent of the three ladies who played her before me."
What is your favorite part about playing Morticia?
"I love how sensual and womanly she can be. An actor's life is not that glamorous, despite what many people may think. ... Being able to go to work and put the dress on and have this beautiful long black hair is a treat."
How hard is it to wear and perform in that dress?
"It's actually rigged to be much more flexible than it appears. I wear one dress the entire show, but it's made to be worn four different ways with different bustles. ... And yes, I have tripped on stage - it's bound to happen when you've performed more than 250 shows. ... It's heavy, it weighs about 10 pounds. It's something to get used to, but not difficult. ... I'm thankful for double-sided tape."
By Allison Nugent
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