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Enduring Success: The Addams Family Franchise

By Olivia Fries-Farr ’19

Immaculate Heart High School will soon stage The Addams Family Musical, but the adventures of this quirky family began decades ago. As a result, The Bamboo wanted to share some background about the origins of this popular television, film, and musical franchise. Here’s a closer look:

Cartoonist Charles Addams originally created one-panel cartoons, dating back to 1938 in The New Yorker, featuring individual characters that would collectively become known as The Addams Family. Members of this tightly knit, extended family were eccentric, not evil, and while they found delight in the macabre, they appeared seemingly indifferent or unaware of how bizarre others viewed them.

ABC TV eventually approached Addams about developing his cartoon characters, and The Addams Family television series was officially launched in 1964 under the guidance of David Levy. The black-and-white series aired for only two seasons, but produced many memorable characters. The show starred John Astin as the father, Gomez Addams, Carolyn Jones as his wife, Morticia Addams, Ted Cassidy as the butler Lurch, Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester Frump, Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley Addams, Marie Blake as Grandma Addams, Lisa Loring as Wednesday Addams, and Felix Silla as Cousin “IT.”

The series’ basic plot revolved around the exploits of the family characters in contrast to the normal lives of their neighbors. For example, Morticia would prune her roses by cutting off the flowers and adoring the thorny stems. She also found pleasure in the temperament of daughter Wednesday, who was always appeared with a pout, exuding misery and gloom.

Following the success of the television series, the cast returned for a Movie of the Week (MOW) called Halloween with The New Addams Family (1977). To learn more about this film, I had an opportunity to interview the film’s executive producer, Chuck Fries of Charles Fries Productions.

Bamboo: How did you get involved with this film?

Fries: A very close friend of mine, David Levy, who was the Executive Director of the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors, of which I’ve been a member of for 42 years, produced the Addams Family series. He negotiated a subsequent deal to do the Addams Family Reunion, but since he had no ongoing production unit, he came to me and asked me if I would join him in producing the program.

Bamboo: Why did you agree to executive produce it?

   Fries: I knew it as a classic project as I believe the Addams Family was a famous cartoon (comic strip) created by Charles Addams and the lead actor John Astin was a good friend.

Bamboo: Where did you shoot the movie?

Fries: Accordingly, we went forward and shot the project at a big old house in Hancock Park and the reunion was a success!

Later, Hanna Barbera turned the TV show into an animated series. It featured several members of the original cast, who did the voices for their characters, such as John Astin as Gomez.

Additionally, there were three memorable feature films made: The Addams Family (1991) directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Anjelica Houston as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester, and Christina Ricci as Wednesday.  A sequel was made two years later called The Addams Family Values (1993) with the same cast and director. Then in (1998) there was The Addams Family Reunion directed by Dave Payne, and starring Daryl Hannah as Morticia, Tim Curry as Gomez, and Nicole Fugere as Wednesday.

Finally, the franchise recently came to also include the musical. The Addams Family Musical — with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music by Andrew Lippa — has toured on Broadway in America, overseas in Brazil, and in Australia.  The first musical performance was in 2009.  In the musical, which more closely follows the original Charles Addams cartoons, Wednesday grows up and finds her true love.  Her family at first is not happy about this because he is “normal,” but in the end the Addams Family accepts their love for each other.

 

 

 

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