What began as a single-panel cartoon in the 1930s, when the memorable characters of Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandmama, Wednesday, Pugsley, and Thing appeared for the first time in the pages of The New Yorker, has transformed into a cultural phenomenon that is still thriving.
Although the bizarre and morbid Addams family belongs to a fictional world, it is safe to say that it is one of the most famous families of all. Over the years, it has been the subject of numerous books, films, cartoons, plays, and a ghoulishly hilarious classic sitcom TV series broadcast on ABC from 1964 to 1966.
The dark, bizarre, grotesque but oddly likable Addams family has been around for nearly 80 years and shows no signs of losing popularity, still captivating people from all over the world. The Addamses cherish and enjoy the morbid side of life, but they do it with a such an irresistible charm it makes it almost impossible not to love them.
You have definitely got to be a master of the macabre with a twisted sense of humor to create something like the Addams family, and Charles Addams just such a man. He was one of the first to use this kind of humor, which remained his trademark for the rest of his life, making him one of America’s greatest humorists.
The brilliant cartoonist’s affection for the macabre appeared in childhood, when he developed a taste for unusual things. Strange as it may sound, young Addams loved wandering in the local cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey, where he was born in 1912, and he would play close to a haunted-looking Victorian house that would eventually serve as the inspiration for the house of his fictional family. But all in all, Charles Addams lived a perfectly happy childhood in Westfield.
It was his father, Charles Huey Addams, who would encourage the teenage Charles to draw. His love of drawing would later affect his decision to abandon academic studies and to begin classes at Grand Central School of Art in New York.
For about a year and a half, the talented cartoonist worked for McFadden Publications, with his task being retouching photos of corpses for True Detective Magazine, which involved cleaning up the blood from photographs of dead bodies. He sold his first original drawing to The New Yorker when he was only 21 years old and about three years later he left McFadden Publications and signed a contract with the respected magazine.
Addams’ eccentric family appeared for the first time in The New Yorker in 1938, when he created Gomez, Morticia, and Lurch, who had a beard at first. The rest of the iconic family members would be developed over the next two and a half decades, before the creation of the classic sitcom TV series and before the debut on the big screen in 1991 and in 1993.
As the Addams family grew in popularity, its creator slowly became the most popular cartoonist, and people from all over the world wanted to meet him in person. As reported by The New York Times, he once cheerfully told James Thurber, his fellow New Yorker cartoonist, ”I have gotten a lot of letters about my work, most of them from criminals and subhumans who want to sell ideas. Some of the worst come from a minister in Georgia.”
He married three times, but that didn’t stop him from having love affairs with some of the most beautiful women of the era, including Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine, and even Jacqueline Kennedy.
Throughout his prolific career spanning over six decades, Addams created thousands of cartoons and forever cemented his place as one of the greatest humorists in the world.
On September 29, 1988, he died after suffering a heart attack while inside his parked car in Manhattan. “He had always been a car buff,” his third wife Marilyn told The New York Times, “so it was a nice way to go”.