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The Munsters & The Addams Family

Updated on July 5, 2015
John Lavernoich profile image

JOHN LAVERNOICH is the author of three books, as well as a significant number of published short stories and articles.

The family sitcom has been a TV tradition going as far back as the late-1940s (and owing, in part to the popular radio comedy shows from its past, including The Adventures Of Ozzie & Harriet, which enjoyed great success -- first on radio, then on TV). In the fall of 1964, two TV family sitcoms of a somewhat bizarre (and ghoulish) nature debuted -- namely, The Munsters and The Addams Family. Though both only lasted two seasons, their popularity has yet to wane, as evident by the TV and film reboots that occurred in the decades since the original TV versions left the airwaves in 1966.

THE MUNSTERS: The series, which debuted on CBS in the fall of 1964, combined the traditional TV sitcom with the classic movie horror films from Hollywood's Golden Age (and not surprisingly, Universal -- which gave us classic horror film classics like Dracula [1931], Frankenstein [1931], and The Wolf Man [1941] -- co-produced the TV series); the series was created by veteran TV writers Chris Hayward and Allan Burns, who previously worked on the popular Rocky & Bullwinkle animated TV series, with some help from Norm Liebmann and Ed Haas. (Hayward and Burns also created another 1960s TV sitcom that fared less well than The Munsters: My Mother, The Car.)

The Munster family, living in the fictional city of Mockingbird Heights, consisted of Herman (Fred Gwynne), the Frankenstein Monster-like head of the family who was anything but the perfect father, given the many situations he bungled into; his vampire wife Lily (Yvonne DeCarlo), who did love Herman, even if his actions sometimes frustrated her; Grandpa Munster (Al Lewis), Lily's vampire father (and Herman's father-in-law), who was also a gifted mad scientist; Eddie (Butch Patrick), Herman and Lily's son who was part werewolf (which explains he went to sleep at night with a werewolf doll), and Marilyn (Beverly Owen, followed by Pat Priest), Herman and Lily's niece who was more or less the misfit of the family (considering the fact that she was a beautiful young woman, and the only normal member of the Munster family, whereas the others were monsters who saw themselves as "normal").

A significant number of the Munsters episodes from the 1960s which focused on Eddie were, to a certain degree, remakes of several episodes from another TV family sitcom that aired in the late-1950s and early-1960s: Leave It To Beaver. It should be noted that Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher produced not only The Munsters, but also Leave It To Beaver as well, given the fact that both TV series have since become -- more or less -- American institutions.

The original Munsters TV series never became a ratings hit during its original network TV run -- probably because it was shot in black-and-white (as B&W TV series were quickly becoming a thing of the past, as those produced in color were becoming more in vogue); in May 1966, CBS cancelled The Munsters, due in part to more TV viewers favoring ABC's Batman (which was shown in color).

In 1966, the same year CBS cancelled The Munsters, Universal released Munster Go Home, a theatrical feature film, in which the family heads to Great Britain so that Herman can inherit both his great-uncle's country manor and fortune; it was the first time that the Munsters characters were seen in color. (It was also the only time that actress Debbie Watson played Marilyn on-screen.) But the film didn't become a box office success, despite its TV pedigree -- yet, it became a cult classic, thanks in part to the original TV series' increased popularity when reruns went into syndication by the end of the 1960s.

In 1973, ABC broadcast The Mini-Munsters, an animated TV special as part of the network's Saturday Superstar Movie series; Al Lewis voiced his famous TV role as Grandpa Munster. The Mini-Munsters, like other animated TV specials that aired on the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, was supposed to be the pilot for a possible TV series which never materialized.

In 1981, Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Al Lewis returned to their famous TV roles one last time when NBC aired The Munsters' Revenge, one of many TV-movies based on classic TV shows, in which the ghoulish family matched wits with a sinister wax museum owner (Sid Caesar) who uses robot look-alikes of Herman and Grandpa to steal Egyptian antiquities.

In 1988, The Munsters Today debuted in syndication (and lasted for three seasons, one more than the original 1960s TV version) -- the series' premise focused on the family accidentally going into suspended animation in 1966, and awakening twenty-two years later, as they adjust to life in the late-1980s and early-1990s.

The mid-1990s saw a pair of TV-movies inspired by the Munsters TV series: Here Come The Munsters (1995) and The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas (1996), which aired on FOX Broadcasting; the first of the two TV-movies that were broadcast in the mid-1990s featured cameo appearances by the cast from the original 1960s TV version (with the exception of Fred Gwynne, who died in 1993).

In the past decade, Keenan Ivory Wayans, along with his brothers Shawn and Marlon, attempted to produce a feature film version of The Munsters for Universal, which never materialized -- partly because due to the fact that many feature films based on popular TV shows that've been released in recent decades haven't done well at the box office, a slap in the face to the original TV versions' popularity.

In 2012, NBC broadcast Mockingbird Lane, a TV special that was intended to be a possible pilot for a new Munsters TV series, in which the show's characters were re-imagined for the 21st Century. But despite the fact that Mockingbird Lane did well in the Nielsen ratings, it never became a weekly TV series -- perhaps because NBC executives thought that it didn't measure up to the original 1960s TV version, which still remains popular today.

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THE ADDAMS FAMILY: Decades before show business helped turn them into pop culture icons, the Addams Family were already well known, thanks to them appearing in various single panel cartoons drawn by their creator, Charles Addams, that appeared in The New Yorker magazine on and off for fifty years (between 1938 and 1988, the year that Addams died). As Addams' cartoons (and the various mass media adaptations to follow) stressed, the famous cartoon family truly embraced their macabre lifestyle, while not worrying about what others -- as in regular people -- thought of them.

In 1964, Filmways -- already enjoying great success with such hit TV shows like Mr. Ed and The Beverly Hillbillies -- produced a TV sitcom based on Addams' iconic cartoon family which aired on ABC. A major addition to the Addams Family's popularity was that producer David Levy gave the family members the names that would secure their pop culture icon status -- including Morticia (played by Academy Award-nominee Carolyn Jones) and Gomez (John Astin), the heads of the household; their children Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) and Wednesday (Lisa Loring); the bald-headed (and electrically-charged) Uncle Fester (played by one-time child actor Jackie Coogan); Lurch (Ted Cassidy), the Frankenstein Monster-like butler; Grandmama (Blossom Rock); the very hairy Cousin Itt (Felix Silla); and the single-handed (in more ways than one) Thing. The Addams Family TV series, which fared better in the Nielsen ratings than The Munsters, remained true to their creator's comic vision (including the family's love for all things macabre and unusual, as well as the outside world's reaction to them), while taking satirical aim at such subjects as politics and education. The 1960s TV version also boasted an unforgettable theme song, courtesy of composer Vic Mizzy, which strongly emphasized the family's interesting (if bizarre) lifestyle. (It also inspired a pair of paperback books featuring the characters that Pyramid published in 1965.) By the end of the 1965-66 TV season, however, ABC cancelled The Addams Family -- which, like The Munsters, was broadcast in black-and-white during its entire run.

In 1972, the Addams Family characters appeared on an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which aired on CBS; Carolyn Jones, John Astin, Jackie Coogan, and Ted Cassidy repeated their famous TV roles of Morticia, Gomez, Uncle Fester, and Lurch. The episode was the first time in which the Addams Family appeared in animated cartoon form (courtesy of Hanna-Barbera), and would lead to a pair of animated TV series, including a 1973 TV version that aired on NBC, in which the family traveled across the country (with Jackie Coogan and Ted Cassidy repeating their TV roles of Uncle Fester and Lurch), and a 1992-94 TV version on ABC, in which John Astin repeated his TV role of Gomez. (The 1990s animated revival of The Addams Family was one of the last animated TV series that Hanna-Barbera produced for broadcast on network TV.)

In late-1972, ABC broadcast The Addams Family Fun-House, a TV variety special that was supposed to be the pilot for a possible series that never happened. It should be noted that a different cast of actors played the various Addams family members -- but not even they could erase the public's memories of the cast from the 1960s TV version, many of which would reunite for Halloween With The Addams Family, a 1977 TV-movie which aired on NBC; the TV-movie marked the last time in which Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, and Ted Cassidy played, respectively, Morticia, Uncle Fester, and Lurch.

In 1991, the Addams Family made their way to movie theater screens with a theatrical feature film -- the first of two directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Both The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel Addams Family Values (1993) -- which starred Anjelica Huston (as Morticia), Raul Julia (as Gomez), Christopher Lloyd (as Uncle Fester), and Christina Ricca (as Wednesday) -- proved to be a bit more macabre than even the original 1960s TV sitcom, yet their success at the box office proved that the characters were still popular. A third feature film was originally planned, but ended up getting scrapped after Raul Julia's untimely death in 1994. The two Addams Family feature films also inspired not only a direct-to-video movie, Addams Family Reunion, which Warner Bros. released in 1998 -- but also several video games, two of five released between 1989-94.

In 1998, Fox Family Channel (formerly CBN, later re-named ABC Family Channel) broadcast The New Addams Family, a short-lived TV sitcom in which a totally new cast played the popular characters -- in a nod to the classic 1960s TV version, John Astin, who originated the role of Gomez, guest-starred in several episodes playing Gomez's father (or Grandpapa).

In April 2010, the Addams Family finally made their way to Broadway with a stage musical starring Nathan Lane (as Gomez) and Bebe Neuwirth (as Morticia); the stage musical's run on Broadway, however, barely lasted over a year, finally closing in late-December 2011. By that time, the Addams Family stage musical was already touring the U.S., followed by stops in Tokyo, Japan and Sydney, Australia.

In recent years, Universal had made plans to produce an Addams Family animated feature film (with Tim Burton set to co-produce it), but which was eventually abandoned. And yet, another Addams Family feature film -- also animated -- might be on the horizon, courtesy of MGM (which now owns the rights to the 1960s TV version); how the forthcoming film (if it gets made, that is) with not only modern movie audiences, but also those who grew up watching past mass media incarnations of the Addams Family remains to be seen. But nobody can deny that the Addams Family, like the Munsters, have long since secured their place in pop culture history.

Please visit John Lavernoich's official website: johnlavernoich.weebly.com

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