The Unusual Suspects

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A new book celebrates the sketchy offspring of Penn’s macabre master. 

An Evilution
H. Kevin Miserocchi
Pomegranate Communications, 2010. $39.95.

Charles Addams FA’34 Hon’80 died in 1988. Sort of. He is survived by a family of … singular characters, who haven’t aged a bit. (We’re not sure we want to know why.) Enjoy them, if you will, but you might not want to turn your back on them. 

Yes, Querida, that’s College Hall (above), in a cover illustration for the March, 1973 Pennsylvania Gazette. The others here first saw the light of day in The New Yorker.

Spawned and raised in the pages of The New Yorker—Morticia, Lurch, and the Thing first appeared there, unnamed, 72 years ago—they keep coming back to life in new and different forms. First there was that strangely delectable black-and-white TV series from the 1960s, The Addams Family. Next came the Big Screen flickerings, with Raul Julia as Gomez and Anjelica Huston as Morticia. Now there’s The Addams Family: A New Musical, which opened on Broadway in April to hemlock-laced reviews.

Yet none of these adaptations quite compares to those splendidly creepy old print cartoons, which had been pretty much confined to compilations and archives and maybe a bag of old New Yorkers in your mother’s attic. Now those cartoons—and scores of other illustrations, including the cover Addams did for the Gazette in 1973—have crept into a remarkable new book.

The Addams Family: An Evilution, published this past March by Pomegranate Communications, rounds up the unusual suspects in more than 200 cartoons and sketches, some 50 of which had never been published. The text by Kevin Miserocchi, director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, fleshes out the characters who so cheerfully haunted our imaginations over the years, providing context and piquant scraps of trivia. (After noting that Addams’ original name for the boy was Pubert, for example, Miserocchi explains: “Unfortunately, television at that time was a bit embarrassed by this frankness, so Addams was obliged to find a different name. He chose the name of a small river in the Bronx, Pugsley, because he ‘just liked the name.’”) Each chapter of the book, focusing on a different character, begins with a thumbnail description that Addams himself penned for the producers of the TV show. Morticia, for example, is

The real head of the family and the critical and moving force behind it. Low-voiced, incisive, and subtle: smiles are rare. This ruined beauty has a romantic side, too, and is given to low-keyed rhapsodies about her garden of deadly nightshade, henbane and dwarf’s hair. Generally indulgent [of] the often sinister activities of the children, but feels that Uncle Fester has to be held in check. Her costume is always the same—the form-fitting black gown, tattered or cut to ribbons at the elbows and feet. Occasionally, she will wear a shawl. Her voice is never raised, but has great range. Contemptuous and original and with a fierce family loyalty. She never uses a cliché except to be funny. She is a thoughtful hostess in her way and, if a guest needs anything, he is advised to scream for it. The children are instructed to observe the amenities and always kick Daddy good night.

No wonder his Family members never died, given such loving attention to their chiaroscuro personalities. Somewhere, in the unlighted basement of our minds, Addams himself is still lurking. 


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