Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Beauty of The Munsters & The Addams Family. (Click PODCAST)

I do not want to repeat my Blake vs. Potter debate, but comparing "The Addams Family" to "The Munsters" is like comparing "Laverne & Shirley" to "Cagney & Lacey". Other than the fact that these were macabre sit-coms mocking the nuclear families that were on the air at the time, these two shows and families were very different. For example if Eddie Munster (Butch Patrick) wanted to join the Boy Scouts his parents Herman & Lily (Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo) would be thrilled where as if Pugsley Addams (Ken Weatherwax) wanted to join the Boy Scouts his parents Gomez & Morticia (John Astin & Carolyn Jones) would be mortified and hope that this was just a phase. If there was an explosion in Grandpa’s (Al Lewis) laboratory, it would be an accident with humorous consequences, where as if there was an explosion in Uncle Fester's (Jackie Coogan) room, it would be expected and encouraged behavior. If Herman got sick he would go to his family doctor (Paul Lynde) who had just sent his eyeglasses out to be repaired. The doctor would then perform Herman's entire examination with out being able to see him and receiving the repaired glasses in time to say goodbye then mayhem ensues. If Gomez got sick he would contact his family which doctor and because of his massive wealth he did not have to worry about whether or not the which doctor was covered under his HMO.


The Addams Family

THE ADDAMS FAMILY debuted on ABC on September 18 1964, and ran through September 2, 1966. The show was based on Charles Addams' dark, warped and funny comic strip created for the "New Yorker" magazine. Charles Addams named the characters for the TV show. The episodes were written by Nat Perrin who had written several Marx Brothers movies. (Come to think of it Gomez had some Groucho Marx qualities). One of my favorite elements of the show was the brilliant use of sound effects like in the days of radio comedy, thus requiring the audience to use their imagination. An example of this was when a houseguest saw Kitty (a lion). All you heard was a roar followed by a running sound effect followed by a door slam. In fact I would love to perform some of the old TV show scripts as a radio comedy. The show mocked other TV families by being their polar opposite. This family would do everything from sword fight to blowing up model trains in the middle of their own living room. If "Fear Factor" was around then, they would have the home version. I don't think anybody knew where John Aston began and Gomez ended. Everything gave him a rush and his love for Morticia can only be described as horney monogamy. With all the craziness the show had moral high ground. Not only did you see a loving family where the parents were not afraid to show affection in front of the kids, you got to see so called "normal people" compromise their principles in order to do business with Gomez followed by humorous consequences.


The Munsters

THE MUNSTERS debuted on CBS on September 24, 1964 and ran through September 1, 1966.
This show mocked other TV families by having a family of classic movie monsters emulate them. The show was developed, written, and produced by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher (The same team created, wrote and produced "Leave It to Beaver"). The Show is a brilliant mix of three key ingredients.

  1. The classic Universal Studios Monsters from the 1930 & 40's (that were finding a whole new audience thanks to Saturday Matinee "Creature Features" on TV)
  2. The placing of these monsters in the world of "Leave it to Beaver" (In fact the Munster's house is still across the street from the Cleaver's house on the Universal Back Lot only now "Desperate Housewives" have moved in).
  3. The "Normal People" reactions to our family similar to those seen in Casper cartoons.

The patriarch is the Frankenstein monster who married Dracula's daughter and live in the states as an "Typical American Family". There is more to Herman than a big stupid baby who throws tantrums by saying, "Darn! Darn! Darn! Darn!" Here is a character that is the Frankenstein monster, but he really thinks he is Fred MacMurray from "My Three Sons". Fred Gwynne could deliver Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) type dialogue totally straight and was incredibly funny doing it. He was also able to play the stooge to Al Lewis in one scene, and then straight man to guest stars Paul Lynde or Harvey Korman in another. Al Lewis' Grandpa was and will always the most unique interpretation of the Dracula character since Bram Stoker first created him. Again I don't know where Al Lewis begins and Grandpa AKA The Count AKA Sam Dracula (I guess the guys at Ellis Island could not spell Vladimir) ends. Like Dracula he has found immortality. On April 30th he turned 95 years old.

Because of the macabre settings of the show, I think the writers were able to slip things under the censor’s radar. The wild look in Gomez’s eyes when he and Morticia played with whips and chains came very close to S&M. "The Munsters" did jokes about Vietnam, nuclear war and drugs. Herman & Lily were also the first TV couple to sleep in the same bed while Gomez & Morticia had twin beds of nails.

Grandpa: Hmm. What smells so good?
Herman: I cut myself shaving.

Morticia: Think of Romeo and Juliet.
Gomez: They died!
Morticia: Oh, but what fun they had those last three days.

Stay Tuned


Tony Figueroa

1 comment:

Morticia said...

Hi, nice article :-) The Munsters and The Addams Family were indeed very different shows. The humor in the Munsters was on a very slapstick, almost vaudeville level while the Addams Family had that undercurrent of dark satire that is present in Addams own cartoons. Herman and Lily were affectionate, and actually a very "traditional" Atomic age couple but more in a Honeymooners type way, while Gomez and Morticia were madly in love and enjoyed living life to the fullest. The Addams were wealthy eccentric Bohemians and the Munsters were working class stiffs (though with VERY old European roots).

The premise behind the Munsters plots was usually Herman or Grandpa getting into trouble by doing something well-meaning that went awry (Grandpa turning into a wolf then being picked up by the local dogcatcher) Lily getting furious with them but forgiving them at the end when all was well.

The Addams Family usually went about their own business (although Gomez was always coming up with new schemes to make a fortune in the stock market, etc., not because they really needed the money but more as a challenge) and unfortunate neighbors and local citizens tended to wander into their path, sometimes accidentally, sometimes to try and make money off the "weird rich eccentric family".

Outsiders who came across either family with bad intentions always lost. The Munsters were often as scared and shocked as the bad guys who were after them, while the Addams were happily oblivious, quite fearless and often amused. Gomez was an adrenaline junkie and Herman was often afraid of his own shadow. He and Grandpa made a good team, though, along the lines of Abbott and Costello.

Though both shows had their share of "in your face" humor typical of the 60's, the Munsters had a wider appeal to the general public. The Addams Family had that hint of subversion that could make the average viewer a little uncomfortable it they thought about it too long, like a good Hitchcock dark comedy.