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The Addams Family and The Munsters
The 1960s was a decade known for silly sitcoms. Many of that decade’s situation comedies had a ridiculous premise. The Addams Family and The Musters may have been the pinnacle of preposterous television show plots. These shows gave ammunition to those who gave the television derogatory nick names such and the “boob tube” and “idiot box”. These shows ran from 1964-66. Their runs were short but they gave a lasting impression. They gave hours of entertainment to those who watched the shows. These sitcoms were funny and memorable.
Which of these sitcoms do you like more?
The Addams Family
The Addams family is independently wealthy. The household consists of the father Gomez (John Astin), the mother Morticia (Carolyn Jones), preteen son Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) and preteen daughter (Lisa Loring), Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), a grandmother (Marie Blake), and lurch the butler (Ted Cassidy). The family are eccentrics. As the theme song goes their house looks like a museum. Among the items in their living room is a mounted fish with a sailor’s leg sticking out of its mouth. Their arboretum has plants that eat hamburger. The have Thing, a hand that comes out of boxes. Thing does chores such as fetching the mail.
They have a life of leisure so they can spend their time pursuing hobbies such as blowing up model trains or playing odd musical instruments. In one episode there was a mention of Gomez carrying out a scientific experiment. Gomez was testing his theory if someone were to jump out of an airplane with a slightly smaller parachute each time eventually the person wouldn’t need any chute.[i] Lurch, the butler, stands 6’ 9” (206 cm). He has a deep monotone voice. His only show of emotion is a deep groan. The deep groan is always good for a laugh and also gives the impression he is the only sane person in the household.
The Addams Family, which originated from a comic strip, also spawned two animated TV shows (1973 & 1992). There was The Addams Family Fun House (1973), where the family hosted a variety show. There was a Halloween Special (1977). There was also the movie The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel Addams Family Values (1993). The opening credit sequence show the family doing two handed finger snaps to the beat of the music. The music’s tune is often played during baseball games. A scene from an episode, which is also in the opening credits, show Gomez and Morticia fencing in the house. That was parodied in a 21st century M&M commercial.
[i] The theory is ridiculous but people apply this kind of logic often. People often use a small-scale example as a reason to apply something on a grand scale.
The Munsters live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. It is a gothic style house. It could be a calm day in the neighborhood but around 1313 Mockingbird Lane it is windy. The Munsters are a middle-middle class family. The household consists of Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne), his spouse Lily (Yvonne De Carlo), their son, Eddie (Butch Patrick) who is 10, their niece Marilyn (Pat Priest) who is in her 20s, and Lily’s father, Grandpa, (Al Lewis).
Herman works at the Gateman, Goodbury, and Graves Funeral Home.[i] He was made in Germany 150 years ago. He is one of Frankenstein’s monsters.[ii] His spouse and father-in-law are vampires. Lily has a gray streak associated with the Bride of Frankenstein. Eddie is a werewolf. Marilyn is normal. The Munsters believe she is so homely she scares off her would be boyfriends.
The commercial shown to promote the series before it aired showed Jack (Edward Mallory) driving Marilyn (Beverley Owen) home from a date. He is apprehensive when he sees where she lives. She invites him in to meet her family for a cup of coffee. He tells her he can walk her to the door. Marilyn forgot her keys so she uses the door knocker. There are heavy footsteps and Herman answers the door. He greets Marilyn and she tries to introduce Jack but he is running for his life. Jack climbs over the fence, scrambles into his car, and peels out. Marilyn sadly says, “Oh Uncle Herman, what’s the matter with me.”
Herman does most of the unintentional scaring. In an episode Lily gave someone a fright. They are on a train and a passenger in a sleeper car is reading a gothic tale. He is reading a scene that describes Dracula’s bride when Lily pokes into his section.
Herman doesn’t know his own strength. The unintentional damage he causes and his dimwitted behavior accounts for much of the show’s humor. A running gag is where Herman goes into a tantrum and breaks the flooring. Grandpa would open the trap door to the basement and say he is going down to talk to Herman since Herman will be there in a minute.
The television show was in black and white. The television show spawned a movie, Munster: Go Home! (1966) where Herman and the rest of the cast were in technicolor. The movie was the swansong for the series. There was a special The Munsters’ Revenge (1981). There was also a remake TV series, The Munsters Today (1987-1991), Here Come The Munsters (1995), and the Christmas Special, The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas (1996). One of the opening sequences of The Simpsons parodied The Munsters’ opening.
[i] It’s a variation on The Three Stooges humor “Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe Attorneys at Law”.
[ii] Since The Munsters was a Universal Studios production they were able to give the Herman Munster character the classic Frankenstein Monster look.
Comparisons and Observations
Their extended family excepted The Addams family could easily fit in with everyone else. It was their behavior, and how they made themselves look, that separated them from the rest of society. The Munsters were generally average folks that had many of the problems everyone else had. It was their looks that separated them from the rest of society. Neither family thought themselves strange. The Addams family considered normal behavior weird.
The Addams Family may also give a peek into how much Americans have changed. Today a couple fencing, playing Japanese musical instruments or a harpsichord is different but hardly eccentric. Pet lions are rare but people do have these and other exotic pets. Some people practice knife throwing and aren’t considered strange. Home schooling is an accepted and popular practice.
How would some of the things we do today appear to a 1964 television audience? What if a television show had:
· A son who played Dungeons and Dragons and made fighting robots.
· A daughter who was a goth.
· The children were homeschooled.
· The parents were involved in Renaissance Festivals, Cosplay, Paintball, Laser Tag, and reenactments of various eras?
Would the 1964 viewers consider such a show laughably weird or too crazy to consider watching?