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Macabre Cartoonist Charles Addams Dies

September 30, 1988|From Times staff and wire reports

NEW YORK — Cartoonist Charles Addams, whose ghouls from the pages of The New Yorker magazine spawned the idea for the hit television series "The Addams Family" in the 1960s, died here Thursday at age 76.

Addams died in the emergency room at St. Clare's Hospital and Health Center in Manhattan, a hospital spokeswoman said. The cause of death was not immediately known. Funeral arrangements and a list of survivors were incomplete.

Television's Addamses--from Morticia, the black-gowned matriarch, to Lurch, the giant butler, and Thing, a hand that popped out of a box--were directly inspired by Addams cartoons.

Addams produced 10 cartoon collections that have sold more than 460,000 copies. He grew up sketching skulls and crossbones for his high school newspaper and went on to spend more than 53 years practicing his own blend of the surreal and the macabre in The New Yorker.

His Manhattan apartment featured a collection of medieval armor, crossbows, maces, broadswords. An antique embalming table dominated the living room.

His collection, he said, reflected his escapism--his fondness for living in the past. The 16th Century, he said, was his favorite period, even though "it was probably a rotten time to live" because "everyone was beheaded and they had a lot of plagues. But it's a romantic time that appeals to me."

Born in Westfield, N.J., Addams spent a year each at Colgate, the University of Pennsylvania and the Grand Central School of Design in New York. His first major cartoon was published in The New Yorker on Jan. 13, 1940. It showed a woman skier whose tracks passed neatly, but inexplicably, on both sides of a large tree.

Some of his cartoons take a moment to figure out.

In one, a bus driver looks disquieted because the next stop buzzer has just been pulled. After a moment, the reader usually notices that the bus is approaching a rain-swept graveyard and no one but the driver is on board.

In another, four Scouts cross a brook on a fallen tree carrying a banner that says "Beaver Patrol." Each of the Scouts have buck teeth and the reader is left to wonder whether the tree fell because of beavers or the patrol.

Although he profited immensely from his work, Addams said he did not reap large direct benefits from the television show.

"They gave me money each week, but after the first runs ended I didn't get anything. No residuals. This was a mistake made by the big, old, fat law firm I let represent me," Addams once said.

A colleague at The New Yorker once described him as "an urbane, relaxed, congenial man of great civility. He doesn't eat babies."

Novelist John O'Hara said Addams' drawings belied his personality.

"I don't think he'd hurt a fly," O'Hara said. "I never have seen him lose his temper, although that is not to say he doesn't get mad. He happens to be what is called easygoing.

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