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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

He turns to Huston. He hisses, "Mon sauvage!" as he strokes her wrist.

As the bidding escalates, Huston turns and faces the auctioneer. "Thirty-five thousand," she cries, whispering lasciviously in Julia's ear, "Eres divina!"

Julia bids again. Huston follows, raising the bid to $50,000. Julia begins kissing her arm. "Your turn, my ecstasy," she coos, sweeping her arms around him.

"It's yours," he says, embracing her. "Amore mio!"

As the auctioneer pounds his gavel, the pair kiss. They grope. They clutch. They grapple. They lean so far back in their chairs that they slowly topple back into the next row of seats.

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.

When Sonnenfeld has seen enough of this playful passion, he finally concludes: "Cut. That's very good."

Julia's makeup man watches his leading man graciously help Huston up off the floor. He smiles. "I think we better check his mustache."

It's hard to find many people under 35--in other words, the most ardent moviegoers--who remember the original Addams Family, the deliriously ghoulish characters created by fabled New Yorker magazine cartoonist Charles Addams. So it seemed a bit odd reading "The Addams Family's" publicity material, which insists that the movie was based on Addams' cartoons, not the '60s TV sitcom.

Now that shooting is nearly over, even producer Scott Rudin isn't trying to disguise the film's true roots. Sitting in his trailer--a command module equipped with TV sets, cellular phones, typewriters and a Rolodex the size of a small windmill--he recounts the initial inspiration for the film.

As Rudin tells it, he was returning from a screening with a van full of 20th Century Fox execs when he was the studio's head of production several years ago.

"Everyone was there--(studio chiefs) Barry Diller and Leonard Goldberg and (marketing chief) Tom Sherak--when Tom's kid started singing 'The Addams Family' theme," Rudin recalls. "And suddenly everyone in the van was singing the theme, letter perfect, note for note."

A producer with a shrewd commercial sensibility (as Fox production chief he was involved with such films as "Working Girl," "Big," "Broadcast News" and "Wall Street"), Rudin had lunch with Diller and Goldberg the next day and proposed making an "Addams Family" film.

"There really wasn't a lot of debate," he recalls. "They said, 'Let's do it.' "

Many complications ensued. As it turns out, in the summer of 1989, Marc Platt, now Orion's president of production, was huddling with then-studio chief Mike Medavoy, considering possible film adaptations of various TV shows whose titles were owned by Orion. Thanks to its ownership of the Filmways library, which had made "The Addams Family," the studio owned the TV series--and had also acquired the theatrical rights to any film based on the show.

According to Rudin, there was one more key player--Lady Barbara Colyton, Charles Addams' second wife and executor of his estate, who owned the rights to the Addams Family characters.

"When I was still at Fox we tried to buy the rights from the estate but we couldn't make a deal with Orion because they wanted to make an 'Addams' TV show," says Rudin. "But when Lady Barbara finally sold her rights to Orion (for a movie version), she did it under the condition that I would be the producer."

Platt insists it was Orion's idea to bring in Rudin as producer of the film, though he acknowledges that Rudin had a "relationship" with the Addams estate. "The key thing," says Platt, "is that Scott and I saw eye to eye on the project's creative vision. He's done a great job and we hated to have to give up a film we've always believed in. It's like having someone else adopt your child and raise it without you."

Although the film's script occasionally pays homage to the TV show, it has also staked out fresh comic turf. "This movie is more 'You Can't Take It With You' than 'Beetlejuice,' " says Rudin. "It's not just gags. This isn't a 'Dragnet' version of the Addams Family. It's more Michael Powell than Ivan Reitman."

Sonnenfeld agrees: "If anything, I'm worried that it may end up being too sophisticated. We certainly don't have any talking moose in the movie."

It's no secret that Sonnenfeld wasn't Rudin's first choice as director. In fact, each day a reporter visited the set, the back of Sonnenfeld's director's chair had the name of a different director who had been considered for the job. A lot of famous names popped up, some more fanciful than others, including Tim Burton, Joe Dante, Terry Gilliam, Richard Benjamin, David Lynch and Arthur Hiller. Having been born on April Fool's Day, Sonnenfeld has learned to take Rudin's kidding in stride.

One day a new name surfaces--Rob Reiner, whom Sonnenfeld worked with as director of photography on "Misery" and "When Harry Met Sally . . . ." Sonnenfeld looks askance when he notices the chair. "Rob would have never done this movie," he says. "He's not that crazy."

You'll have to excuse Sonnenfeld for assuming you'd have to be nuts to direct "The Addams Family."

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