They Really Are a Sree - um
Robert M. Price
Ive been watching the TV Land Addams Family Marathon on and
off. I loved this series when I was a kid during its original run and thanked God they
hadnt scheduled it in the same slot with The Munsters over on CBS! (No VCRs,
then, you see.) They were both great, or so I thought then, and even now I occasionally
watch an episode.
The Munsters inspiration is obvious. They are the great
Universal Monsters with somewhat less liberty taken than the makers of the recent Van
Helsing movie took. But who or what were the characters on The Addams Family?
The show was based on the long-running series of cartoons by Charles Addams in The New
Addams never gave them names until the TV execs approached him. He had
always made the father/husband look vaguely Hispanic, so he dubbed him Gomez, a name
ill-suited to be topped with "Addams," but the network decision was to name them
collectively after the cartoonist himself.
As for Gomezs wife Morticia, who bore more than a passing
resemblance to the horror-schlock star Vampira, Addams asked himself (or so I imagine),
"If Patricia comes from patrician, then why not
Morticia from mortician?"
The old witch? Lets just make her Gomezs mother and call her
Grand Mama. The utterly weird guy dressed in
what? A caftan? A monks robe?
Lets make him Morticias uncle. But a name, hmmm
how about Fester? Too
good to be true!
Son Pugsley, pudgy and potentially malicious, reminds you of a pug dog.
Nuff said. Wednesday? Well, somebody has to sound half normal.
The butler Lurch. Again, just perfect. But what was he? The Frankenstein
monster? A zombie? Ah, who cares? I used to be able to do what I thought was a passable
Lurch impression till my voice changed.
What was so frightening, so weird, about the Addamses? What was it that
made visitors flee? That made it advisable to prepare "a roost that you can crawl
on" if you drop by? Well, they dont seem to have been outright monsters.
Grandpa and Lily Munster were, of course, Count Dracula and his daughter. They were
implicitly blood-sucking vampires, though one has to suppose that, like Angel on Buffy
the Vampire Slayer, they contented themselves on cow blood filched from the butcher
But Gomez and Morticia were basically just wealthy eccentrics. Gomez
practiced "Zen Yogi" (or Yoga, to be precise), but thats only frightening
to people who never heard of any religion more exotic than Presbyterianism. Gomez was
expert at fencing, but he did not watch TV sports. I guess thats scary to modern
Americans. But not particularly nefarious.
The Munsters lived in a haunted house full of cobwebs, but the Addamses
lived in a well-kept-up Victorian mansion filled with antiques, many of them gleaned from
curiosity shops. But, again, this is only frightening to 60s Americans who favored
suburban ranch houses and split-levels (like the ones I grew up in, in both Mississippi
and New Jersey).
The Addams house was festooned with stuffed animals and mounted heads. If
that scares you, I suspect you are a Vegan.
Most of todays sitcoms seem to seek their comic tension from the
grinding gears of dysfunctional relationships within a family. Their sarcastic put-downs
and one-upping are supposed to be funny. Divorces and adultery are supposed to be a riot.
But what do we find in The Addams Family? Here is a happy, traditional family, even
an extended family that includes a grandmother and a maternal uncle. They get along fine.
They speak kindly to and about outsiders, blessing those who malign them. The love between
Gomez and Morticia is both ardent and obvious, and it provides a fine model for the kids.
It is taken for granted that all members of the household have individual creative
interests and are encouraged to pursue them.
The eccentric veneer is actually pretty minor: they dont mind an
occasional explosion. They fence in the living room. Gomez stands on his head. Morticia
has a carnivorous plant. Okay, it doesnt take much for the show to drift off into
the surreal, like a Beetlejuice cartoon, but the basic scenario is a surprisingly
wholesome one. It asks us to assume the ironic perspective of the Addamses themselves and
to pity the unimaginativeness of the common man.
Robert M Price
Carolina Web Design