Tuesday, November 27, 2018


When my mother died several years ago, the one thing I really wanted to inherit from her was the old family hanukkiah, or Hanukkah menorah. Like much of the furnishings my parents bought in the 1950s and early 60s, it was Scandinavian modern in design, with the candleholes embedded in a golden Saarinen-like swoop. It was the symbol of Hanukkah in my childhood, and though it's somewhat battered by years of digging candle wax out, I have it now and use it every year.

When my father died more recently, there was similarly one thing I most wanted to inherit, and after considerable logistics it's been shipped from Britain and it's mine now: his Charles Addams collection. He had the first seven book collections of Addams cartoons, dating from 1942 to 1964: not all of them first printings, but all from the original editions except the first, which is a 1962 reissue. These also I had read carefully in my youth, as a result of which - unlike many latter-day fans - I was as familiar with the Addams Family in their original cartoon form as I was with the 1964-6 TV show, of which I was also a devoted fan.

Looking over the cartoons now, I notice a lot about the Family that had escaped my attention: that Lurch on his first appearance wore a beard; that Uncle Fester almost always appears by himself in the early cartoons, though once in 1953 he took the children fishing - with a case of dynamite; that there are lots of nasty little boys who might or might not be, and in some cases definitely aren't, Pugsley. I learn further from the definitive book on the topic, which I grabbed from the library, The Addams Family: An Evilution by H. Keith Miserocchi, director of the Addams estate and archives, that the mysterious person whose lank-haired head peers from the shadows or down from the gallery in a number of cartoons is Thing; thus the depiction of Thing in the movies as a disembodied hand running around is as wrong as the depiction of Sauron as a disembodied eyeball in some other movies.

But there's so much more to Addams than the Family. The one with the skier, the unique take on Hansel and Gretel, "I'm sorry, sonny, we've run out of candy", "Speak up, George, stop mumbling", "George! Drop the keys!" (what is it about George, anyway?), the unnervingly prescient "Where will it ever end?", and my all-time favorite, "For goodness sake, stop that chattering and let your father think."

My father was not an eccentric man, but he did have a hidden taste for the macabre that also led him to collect the original albums - which I also have - by Tom Lehrer, composer of "The Masochism Tango," a song which I see I am not the only person to imagine Gomez and Morticia dancing to:

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