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Who Created the Addams Family?

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It’s Thanksgiving this week, so I thought I would make a not-too-long article, in the sense of “not too much research reading to do before writing,” and there’s a new Addams Family show on Netflix. The “Addams Family Values” movie being a favorite of mine and a perfect watch for Thanksgiving, everything led me to write about:

Who Created the Addams Family?

The answer to this question is quite simple. It was Charles Addams who created the Addams Family! The thing with this particular creation is that it evolved through time with the help of the TV adaptation first, then the movies. Each new exploration added something to the myth.

First, for those who are not familiar with the Addams, this is a satirical approach to the ideal 20th-century American family. Charles Addams was a cartoonist published in The New Yorker. In 1938, he introduced this family in a one-panel gag. He produced 58 of these panels through the years dedicated to the family—they were published during the 1940s and 1950s.

The Addams were like their creator: ghoulish, macabre, bizarre, and equipped with a wickedly dark sense of humor. This is how Charles Addams described them:

A closely knit family, the real head being Morticia—although each of the others is a definite character… Gomez and Pugsley are enthusiastic. Morticia is even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly. Wednesday is her mother’s daughter. Of course, the house is a wreck, but this is a house-proud family just the same and every trap door is in good repair. Money is no problem.

The original Addams Family by Charles “Chas” Addams was published in the New Yorker during the 1940s and 1950s. ©Tee & Charles Addams Foundation.

The Addams Family didn’t come out of the gate fully formed. In fact, all the characters didn’t even appear together in the first cartoon. Morticia, who was allegedly named in reference to the “Morticians” section in the Yellow Pages, went through multiple incarnations before becoming this dark and fascinating beauty—and she only appeared with her butler at first.

Named after an old family friend of Charles Addams, Gomez made his first appearance in November 1942. At that time, he was already ghoulish, but he didn’t speak French nor he danced and practice swordplay. He also didn’t smoke. Nevertheless, he was perfectly matched with Morticia, working at being good parents together.

The cunning young Pugsley was named after a small river in the Bronx. He was introduced in June 1943, three years after his sister, the little Wednesday.

The Addams Family Adaptations

On paper, the Addams Family existed for a long time, but they became internationally known with the 1964 television adaptation. In fact, the TV show created in a way the mainstream version of the family, giving names to characters that didn’t have one yet, and establishing a culture clash between them and the rest of the world.

The TV show was created by David Levy, but it was really Nat Perrin, the producer, who made the Addams Family what it became. Perrin used to work with the Marx Brothers and added physical comedy to the family dynamic. He was the main creative force behind the show, introducing story ideas and reworking most of the scripts. Actors Carolyn Jones and John Astin added a lot to Gomez and Morticia through their chemistry and talent for comedy.

The same can be said of the work of Christina Ricci in the 1990s movie adaptation of the Addams Family. The young actress made Wednesday. Before, the young Addams was a strange but sweet little girl who loved bizarre pets. In the movies, Wednesday became darker, more serious as well as more comic with a deadpan wit that only matches her desire to inflict pain on her brother. In Addams Family Values (1993), Ricci’s interpretation elevated the character to an all-new level of iconic. The rest of the casting was also quite brilliant, Anjelica Huston (Morticia), Raul Julia (Gomez), and Christopher Lloyd (Uncle Fester) added their own energy to their roles.

Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams and Jimmy Workman as Pugsley Addams in The Addams Family Movies (1991, 1993)

The TV version as well as the two movies directed by Barry Sonnenfeld introduced new characters and visual elements, established the black humor with its macabre flair in different but effective ways, and injected tangible love in the Addams Family.

There were a lot of other adaptations, animated or live action. All owe a debt to the first TV show and to the movies as they almost did more for the lore of the Addams family than Charles Addams’s cartoons did.

If you want to take a look at the original Addams Family cartoons and read a little about the evolution of the characters, I’d recommend the Book The Addams Family: An Evilution.

Also, if you want to read about the creation of another iconic character, I recently published an article about Who Created Mickey Mouse? I know, it’s not the same vibe. I also wrote about the creation of Scooby-doo.

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