Charles Addams he was certainly an original character: after all he could not be outdone, considering the extravagant family he created. He was certainly an elective member of him, not only for the homonymy in the surname, but for a real character affinity with Morticia, Gomez, Pugsley, but above all with his young heroine Wednesday.
When I was a child Charles Samuel Addamssaid Chas (nickname that remained glued to him for life, Ed.) He loved to jolt his grandmother in the armchair with his terrible jokes. Relatives and friends called him a “real brat”, the worst kid in the neighborhood:
As he grew older, Chas continued to enjoy curious pursuits: for recreation, he used to explore old abandoned buildings and cemeteries such as the one on Mountain Avenue. They said that even then he had a somewhat macabre sense of humor and that he lived in a world all his own: he used to portray gravestones and cemeteries during his excursions.
He had a great talent for drawing. A dowry that his father immediately discovered by encouraging him to continue and specialize in the artistic field by enrolling in the Grand Central School of Art in New York.
His seemed, in short, a destiny already written: artistic talent and black humor were in him from birth. But let’s find out more about the life of Charles Addams and on his diabolical invention of Addams family become an iconic comic, even before a film and television drama.
What did Charles Addams want to represent with the characters of Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley and all the others?
Who was Charles Addams?
Normality is an illusion
He loved to repeat “Chas”. A phrase that today we could easily attribute to his iconic character: Wednesday.
At the age of twenty-one Charles, who was born in 1912 into a wealthy New Jersey family, began working as a professional illustrator. His first assignment was for a newspaper called True Detectivein which he had the (macabre) task of retouching the photos of the corpses to hide the most obscene and bloody details so as not to impress the readers.
A short time later, the skilled illustrator began drawing strings of cartoons as well The New Yorker signing with the name of Chas Addams. His most famous strip depicted a team of hockey players all dressed up and ready for the game, but missing their skates. The caption read: “I forgot my skates” literally: “I forgot my skates”. It was the beginning of a period of apprenticeship which led him to successfully specialize in the drawing technique.
The genesis of the Addams family
The first cartoon of Addams family appeared on The New Yorker in 1938; gradually, with each new episode, Charles added a character to the family until he composed the Addams Family that we all know today.
At the time, however, the most eccentric family in history still didn’t have a name. Charles’s were just extravagant characters dressed in black who were depicted on paper in their “quirky normality” while they carried out actions common to them and of ordinary routine, such as pouring cyanide into tea or filling the feeders of their pet condors.
The characters appeared in the magazine one at a time and, at first, the family ties between them were not specified.
Morticia Frump, for example, appeared in the iconic cartoon of December 6, 1938 welcoming – in a lugubrious way – a door-to-door salesman of vacuum cleaners which, of course, he has no intention of buying. In the caption the seller praises the contraption calling it “silent and efficient” under the skeptical eyes of the landlady who seems to glare at him. Next to Morticia appears the butler Lurch in his eerie resemblance to the Frankenstein monster.
Members of the Addams family represented the sharpest criticism – and insightful – of American respectability. With his bizarre characters Addams wanted to demonstrate that “up close, no one is normal” and criticize the growing conformism of what, at the time, was the mass society of the dawn. The wacky Addamses represented individuality as opposed to the homogenization of the mass: their well-known “black humor” was a criticism of the society of the 30s. The Addamses do not want to be like the others, they prefer to remain identical to themselves while in the exhilarating tragicomedy of their stories.
To decree the worldwide success of the Addams Family was the sharp (and farsighted) eye of David Levithe film producer who one day came across the Addams cartoons by chance, to be precise in the fourth anthology titled Homebodies, while wandering through a New York bookstore. He was kidnapped by it. He immediately called Charles Addams proposing the creation of a TV series: the two agreed on the name The Addams Family. The television series was made by the ABC network and aired for two seasons, in 1964 and 1966.
Charles Addams became so popular, a prominent figure in New York society life. He was eccentric and brilliant enough to be welcomed into the world of lights. Among his closest friends was the American writer Ray Bradburyfor which Addams illustrated a vampire story.
He told diabolical stories, but the chronicles of the time describe him as a tolerant, honest and extremely good man. He was a little unlucky sentimentally: he married a full three times, to women all bearing an uncanny resemblance to his lugubrious Morticia. The third wife Barbara Barba skilled lawyer, managed to cheat him by stealing the rights to some cartoons from which he earned several hundred dollars.
Happier was her third and last marriage with Marilyn Matthews Miller whom he married in a pet cemetery. She was strictly dressed in black. After the wedding the couple went to live in the named estate The Swampthe Swamp.
To his wife Marilyn, the devoted Charles dedicated an amiable cartoon in which she was represented in the role of Morticia, while holding cats in her arms, and he in the role of Uncle Fester (the character Chas loved most). The two are portrayed aboard a wooden raft as they navigate the waters of a swamp.
The caption read as follows:
The Addams Family is moving to The Swamp
Literally: the Addams family is moving to the estate of “The Swamp”.
Charles Addams died suddenly in 1988, aged 75, of a heart attack just a few years after his marriage to Marilyn. He had found his Morticia, finally.
Charles Addams and the invention of Wednesday
Charles Addams is also the real dad of the mythical Wednesday, Wednesdaya character who has returned to the limelight thanks to Tim Burton’s hit Netflix series.
The iconic character of the little Addams house was created by Chas in 1940 and baptized only later with the official name of Wednesday Friday Addams. Wednesday’s middle name is therefore Friday: natural for her who, after all, was born on Friday the 13th.
At the time of the cartoons, the so-called “sad girl” had no name. Charles had to baptize her on the occasion of the release of the dolls that preceded the launch of the David Levy show. At that moment the illustrator had to name her and her mother, Morticia.
For the choice of the name of his young protagonist, Charles relied on the advice of the actress and poetess Joan Blake. It was she who told Chas that that little girl made her think of the “child full of sadness” protagonist of the old English nursery rhyme Monday’s Child which reads:
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Literally: “the child born on Wednesday is full of sadness“, also shot in the famous film by Tim Burton.
Wednesday Addams first appeared on The New Yorker in a cartoon of June 29, 1940. In her image, the little girl with dark pigtails is intent on jumping rope on a dark and stormy night. She appears tired but tenacious as she counts with astronomical figures, as the caption states:
Twenty three thousand and one, twenty three thousand and two, twenty three thousand and three.
Also to support the script of the television series produced by Levy, Charles Addams gave Wednesday a touching description, as if she were really his daughter. He called her a little girl”reserved and imaginative, poetic and with a slightly worn look”. Physically he described her as pale and delicate, with long raven hair, but different from her mother Morticia. She wrote that she was prone to occasional tantrums, but that overall she was pretty quiet, just a little touchy.
The Fdaughter of Charles Addams today it meets all expectations and still adheres perfectly to the description, to which it would probably reply with a big pout. Papa Addams would surely be proud of her.