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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Charles Addams

Charles Addams' Family--not everyone's cup of arsenic.
Although I love them dearly, the art of the cartoonist seems to be one which I tend to slight in my writing. It's awfully easy to not take cartoonists seriously as fine artists. Actually most such creative geniuses are more on the order of comedy writers than what we tend to think of as artist. Likewise, most such artists are not all that famous for their draughtsmanship (Trudeau, Milton Caniff, and a few others being exceptions). For the cartoonist, the idea (or "gag") is most important, the art is secondary, sometimes all but superfluous. The late, great, Charles Schulz was barely adequate as an artist. And yet, Schulz, for example, was one of the most successful cartoonist to ever draw a round head. Though less known, and certainly cut from a different cloth, a close rival in that regard, and a somewhat better draughtsman (in his own way), was Charles Addams.

The Addams Family was sort of an adult version of Peanuts.
If Charles Schulz wrote about life, especially that of being a kid, it would be fair to say Charles Addams wrote about death, especially that of the macabre kid. Schulz's subtle sense of humor was light and bright. That of Addams was dark and dismal. Charles Schulz lived until the year 2000 (age 78). Charles Addams died in 1988 at the age of seventy-six. Born in 1912 in Westfield, New Jersey, as a boy, Addams was known as "something of a rascal around the neighborhood." His favorite pastimes including breaking into abandoned houses and playing in cemeteries. He also like to draw with, as one friend put it, "...a happy vengeance."

The caricature of Addams was by Al Hirschfeld done during WW II.
Addams attended Colgate University in 1929 and 1930, followed by two more years at the University of Pennsylvania, where a fine-arts building on campus is named for him. In front of the building are sculptural silhouettes of Addams Family characters. College Hall, the oldest building on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, is said to have been the inspiration for the Adams Family mansion (below). Addams also studied at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City.

The haunted architecture of the macabre.
One of eighteen books
Addams wrote or illustrated.
Charles Addams got his start in art (if you could call it that) when he joined the layout department of True Detective magazine in 1932. There it was his job top retouch photos of corpses that appeared in the magazine's stories to remove the blood from them. Addams noted that a lot of those corpses were more interesting the way they were. Addams' first drawing, a sketch of a window washer, ran in The New Yorker that same year. Thereafter, his cartoons ran regularly in the magazine with his first in the series that came to be called The Addams Family starting in 1938.

Post-marital revenge?
When the war came Addams served at the Signal Corps Photographic Center in New York, where he made animated training films for the Army. In late 1942, he met his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, who it's said bore a strong resem-blance to Morticia Addams. Addams married his second wife, Barbara Barb, in 1954. A practicing lawyer, she combined Morticia-like looks with diabolical legal scheming, by which she wound up controlling The Addams Family television and film franchises. The couple divorced in 1956. The Addams Family television series didn't last much longer than his marriages. It ran on ABC for two seasons, from 1964 to 1966. David Levy, a television producer, approached Addams with an offer to create it with a little help from the humorist. All Addams had to do was give his characters names and more characteristics for the actors to use in portrayals.

The TV series ran during the period when the medium was transitioning
from black and white to color.
Addams eventually married his third and final wife, Marilyn Matthews Miller, best known as "Tee," in a pet cemetery. In 1985, they moved to Sagaponack, New York, where they named their estate "The Swamp." Addams died of a heart attack in September, 1988. As he had requested, a wake was held rather than a funeral. It's said Charles Addams wished to be remembered as a "good cartoonist". He was cremated, and his ashes buried in the pet cemetery of "The Swamp."

Dark humor and irony were Addams' trademarks.


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