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COVER STORY : Meet the New Addams Family : The weird brood from Charles Addams cartoons and '60s TV is back in a big-name, $30-million movie

March 31, 1991|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN | Patrick Goldstein is a frequent contributor to Calendar. and

In his third week of filming "The Addams Family," just when he thought he'd finally hit his stride, first-time director Barry Sonnenfeld suddenly felt the room spinning crazily, like a topsy-turvy carnival ride, as he toppled to the ground.

He had fainted.

"I remember I was talking with Ron Lynch, an Orion executive who was paid to worry about our budget, and rightfully so the way we'd been going," recalls Sonnenfeld during a lunch break on the set. "I was standing behind a chair when I started to feel this tremendous pressure in my chest, as if someone was blowing up a balloon inside me.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 14, 1991 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 3 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Concerning "Meet the New Addams Family": Lady Colyton--the widow of cartoonist Charles Addams, creator of the Addamses--wrote the Times to clear up information supplied to writer Patrick Goldstein by the film's production company: She is not executor of the late cartoonist's estate and never has owned the rights to the Addams Family characters. She says that Charles Addams was alive when the Orion deal was made and was the principal in that agreement. She adds that it was never a condition of the Orion deal that Scott Rudin be producer.

"Before I knew what was happening, I got very dizzy and tried to sit down and-- wham-- I'd passed out. The last thing I remember was one of the camera crew saying, 'Someone get the guy a blanket.' "

Sonnenfeld offers a sheepish grin. "When I came to, I started weeping copiously. (Producer) Scott Rudin took one look at me and told the crew it was time to wrap for the day. So I started to weep even more.

"I remember begging Scott, 'Please, let me get up and get going again. If we have to stop every time I faint or start to cry, we'll never get this movie done!' "

Sonnenfeld and Rudin can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel--the "The Addams Family" is scheduled to complete shooting April 12 after a 20-week shoot plagued by a seemingly unending series of crises.

On Feb. 1, not long after Sonnenfeld fainted dead away on the set, Owen Roizman, the movie's first director of photography, left to do another movie. In late February, the film shut down for several days when Gayl Tattersoll, his replacement, was rushed to be the hospital, seriously ill with a sinus infection.

The production missed several more days in early March when Sonnenfeld himself left for New York to be with his wife, who was undergoing major surgery.

To make matters worse, Orion Pictures, which bankrolled the film, has been so financially troubled that it sold the picture to Paramount in the midst of shooting.

"This film's karma hasn't been very good," admits Sonnenfeld, who made his name as the Coen Brothers' resident director of photography. "It's like there's this pervasive black cloud hanging over this movie.

"Two weeks ago I felt the end was in sight--just five weeks to go. And then last week I felt, 'OK, just five weeks to go.' And now I'm thinking, 'What's happening here--we still have five weeks to go.' "

Anjelica Huston looks ravishing in black.

It's a good thing too, because she wears more black in "The Addams Family" than Johnny Cash. Striding onto the set in Los Angeles wearing a raven dress, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she looks like a tempestuous trickster, an elegant prankster, a black widow spider with a barbed sense of humor.

She looks like . . . Morticia Addams.

You remember Morticia. And Gomez. And Uncle Fester. And Thing and Lurch and Pugsley and the rest of the deliciously odd Charles Addams characters who gained fame in the '60s-era TV version of "The Addams Family." That's why Huston and Raul Julia, who plays Gomez, are on location at the Wiltern Theatre today, shooting a $30-million movie version of "The Addams Family." If you're going to spend the big bucks, why not put them into a movie chock-full of characters everyone knows--and adores?

With the gifted cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld at its helm, "The Addams Family" has most of the benefits of a sequel, but without the Roman numerals. To use a popular Hollywood expression, it has brand-name recognizability. An Orion Pictures teaser trailer for the film shown in theaters earlier this year didn't say the name of the film or show its cast--it simply played a few orchestrated bars of the TV show theme.

Today's scene features Huston and Julia at a charity auction, where they're selling an Addams family heirloom--a finger-trap encrusted with sparkling diamonds and emerald chips.

The scene is a perfect reminder of the family's eccentric insularity. When no one in the well-heeled crowd displays any interest in the horrific object, the romantically excitable Morticia and Gomez drive up the bidding themselves, their ardor increasing as the price spirals upward.

Even before Sonnenfeld is ready to shoot, Huston is easing into character. When her hairdresser swoops in to comb her long dark tresses between rehearsals, she starts playfully pinching him. Trying to avoid her long, prying fingers, he yelps, "She's attacking me!"

When he finally escapes her clutches, he hides behind the camera. "I'm weak," he sighs. "She grabbed my breasts!"

Once the scene begins, Huston directs her charms at Julia, whose colorful duds give Gomez the air of a sleek, Latin carnival barker. Outfitted in a checkered suit, pencil-thin mustache and a mound of slicked-back hair, Julia takes Huston's hand as the action begins.

When the auctioneer opens the bidding at $5,000, Julia bellows, "Bah! Not enough. Twenty-five thousand!"

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