Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Charles Addams

Charles Addams_BannerCharles Samuel “Chas” Addams (January 7, 1912 – September 29, 1988) was an American cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters. Some of the recurring characters, who became known as The Addams Family, became the basis for two live-action television series, two animated TV series, three motion pictures and a Broadway musical.

Charles 'Chas' AddamsCharles Samuel Addams was born in Westfield, New Jersey, the son of Grace and Charles Huy Addams. His father encouraged him to draw, and Addams did cartoons for the Westfield High School student literary magazine, Weathervane. He attended Colgate University in 1929 and 1930, and the University of Pennsylvania, where a fine-arts building on campus is named for him, in 1930 and 1931. In front of the building is a sculpture of the silhouettes of Addams Family characters. He then studied at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City in 1931 and 1932.

In 1933 he joined the layout department of True Detective magazine, where he had to retouch photos of corpses that appeared in the magazine’s stories to remove the blood from them. Addams complained that “A lot of those corpses were more interesting the way they were.”

Chas Addams_ArtworkHis first drawing in The New Yorker ran on February 6, 1932 (a sketch of a window washer), and his cartoons ran regularly in the magazine from 1938, when he drew the first instance of what came to be called the Addams Family, until his death. He also created a syndicated comic strip, Out of This World, which ran in 1956. There are many collections of his work, including Drawn and Quartered (1942) and Monster Rally (1950),

During World War II, Addams served at the Signal Corps Photographic Centre in New York, where he made animated training films for the U.S. Army. In late 1942, he met his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, who purportedly resembled the cartoon Morticia Addams. The marriage ended eight years later.

He married his second wife, Barbara Barb (Estelle B. Barb), in 1954. A practicing lawyer, she “combined Morticia-like looks with diabolical legal scheming,” by which she wound up controlling the “Addams Family” television and movie franchises and persuaded her husband to give away other legal rights. They divorced in 1956.

Chas Addams_MorticiaThe Addams Family television series began after David Levy, a television producer, approached Addams with an offer to create it with a little help from the humorist. All Addams had to do was give his characters names and more characteristics for the actors to use in portrayals. The series ran on ABC for two seasons, from 1964 to 1966.

Addams was “sociable and debonair,” and described by a biographer as “A well-dressed, courtly man with silvery back-combed hair and a gentle manner, he bore no resemblance to a fiend.” Figuratively a ladykiller, Addams squired celebrities such as Greta Garbo and Jacqueline Kennedy on social occasions.

Later, he married his third and last wife, Marilyn Matthews Miller, best known as “Tee” (1926–2002), in a pet cemetery. In 1985, the Addamses moved to Sagaponack, New York, where they named their estate “The Swamp.”

Chas Addams_The Addams FamilyAddams drew more than 1,300 cartoons over the course of his life. Those that did not appear in The New Yorker were often in Collier’s and TV Guide. In 1961, Addams received, from the Mystery Writers of America, a Special Edgar Award for his body of work. His cartoons appeared in books, calendars and other merchandising. Dear Dead Days (1959) is not a collection of his cartoons (although it reprints a few from previous collections); it is a scrapbook-like compendium of vintage images (and occasional pieces of text) that appealed to Addams’s sense of the grotesque, including Victorian woodcuts, vintage medicine-show advertisements and a boyhood photograph of Francesco Lentini, who had three legs.

In 1946, Addams met science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury after having drawn an illustration for Mademoiselle magazine’s publication of Bradbury’s short story “Homecoming”, the first in a series of tales chronicling a family of Illinois vampires named the Elliotts. The pair became friends and planned to collaborate on a book of the Elliott Family’s complete history with Bradbury writing and Addams providing the illustrations, but it never materialized. Bradbury’s stories about the “Elliott Family” were anthologized in From the Dust Returned in October 2001, with a connecting narrative and an explanation of his work with Addams, and Addams’ 1946 Mademoiselle illustration used for the book’s cover jacket. Although Addams’ own characters were well-established by the time of their initial encounter, in a 2001 interview Bradbury states that “(Addams) went his way and created the Addams Family and I went my own way and created my family in this book.”

Chas Addams_Halloween MugmatesIn the Alfred Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, Cary Grant references Charles Addams in the auction scene. Discovering Eve with Mr. Vandamm and Leonard, he says, “The three of you together. Now that’s a picture only Charles Addams could draw.” Hitchcock was a friend of Addams’, not surprising considering their shared macabre sense of humor, and owned two pieces of original Addams art.

Addams died September 29, 1988, at St. Clare’s Hospital and Health Centre in New York City, having suffered a heart attack while still in his car after parking it. An ambulance took him from his apartment to the hospital, where he died in the emergency room. As he had requested, a wake was held rather than a funeral; he had wished to be remembered as a “good cartoonist.” He was cremated, and his ashes were buried in the pet cemetery of his estate “The Swamp.”

For more extensive coverage visit the Charles Addams Foundation at www.charlesaddams.com

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