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Charles Addams Might Grimace at This 'Family'

COUNTERPUNCH

December 20, 1993|DAVID LEVY | Levy is president of Wilshire Productions in Beverly Hills and is executive director of the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors. and

As the creator and executive producer of the original television series based on Charles Addams' cartoon drawings, I had a special interest in seeing the first movie based on those cartoons, "The Addams Family," in 1991.

Before viewing its sequel, "Addams Family Values," I went back to my files to read The Times review of the first film. Movie critic Kenneth Turan wrote, " 'The Addams Family' is doubtless something to see, but after you've looked it over, you'll wonder if in fact you've seen anything at all."

Regrettably, that observation could be made of the sequel, which while doing somewhat less business than its predecessor, continues in the same mold--in Turan's words, a "limitless supply of elaborate visual gags and tricks . . . those gimmicks are all there is to it."

Except, possibly, for the focus on the character of Uncle Fester, still, as in the first feature, suddenly emerging as Gomez's brother--this after having been Morticia's uncle for the past 29 years in the TV series.

One can sense Paul Rudnick's confusion--as the screenwriter--as to what direction he should take in presenting Addams' cartoon figures in a theatrical motion picture. Christopher Lloyd's grimacing is insufficient to carry a picture in which the principal players, Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia, are reduced to supporting players. It's not that there aren't moments that seem original and moments that seem to be potentially good, but as some wag of more literate talent than either I or Rudnick once put it on examining a property, what is original in the movie is not very good, and what is good is not very original.

In 1964, at Christmastime, Charles Addams wrote to me that the TV series was "a stylish, great show." In 1986, two years before he died, he wrote to me again stating that he still viewed the series with "satisfaction." I don't believe that he would have expressed those views about either of the movies.

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Rudnick in an article in Calendar of Nov. 14 ("Let's Get Real: The Addams Family Is Us") said he "grew up on both the original Charles Addams cartoons and the subsequent TV series." That statement is difficult to comprehend because it points up his confusion as to what the TV Addams Family was all about. The family, in its TV incarnation, was very much akin to "Father Knows Best." I should know because I launched the latter show when I was an officer at Young & Rubicam. I conceived "The Addams Family" as something rare on TV--a loving family where the parents were still in love and where their children were loved and protected. That view was identical with that of Nat Perrin, my talented associate who served as producer and head writer, who, when we met, said, "Let's not do 'The Bickersons'--let's emphasize the romance between husband and wife." That basic philosophy held throughout the 64 episodes we produced.

There is little doubt that in the feature films--particularly in the sequel--Fester is a borderline psychopath--"deranged," to use Rudnick's term, something he was not in the TV series or, for that matter, in all of the cartoons themselves.

In the new feature, Morticia gives birth to a little boy who is named Pubert. Charles Addams suggested that name to me for the TV series but I rejected it. But I give him full credit for Morticia, Wednesday and Pugsley. I named Fester (softening it by making him Morticia's uncle), Lurch and Gomez. Addams wanted to use the name of Repelli for the husband, but I persuaded him that two rather unpleasant names would be one too many and that since he felt that Gomez might have some Spanish blood in him, Gomez would be more appropriate. (Incidentally, it was Seaman Jacobs, one of the writers of the TV pilot--the other was a master constructionist, Ed James--who changed my name of Granny to Grandma\o7 ma\f7 , with the emphasis on the last syllable.)

The current Addams Family release which Rudnick considers to be "deliciously evil" may, in fact, be so, but it lacks the wit in Addams' work. The genius of Charles Addams was to suggest, in a witty and disarming manner, the world of the macabre, something which Perrin and I transmuted to the bizarre, to an attitude of charm, gallantry and courtesy.

To make a distinct point: Thing, as a disembodied hand is grotesque. Addams never thought of a hand as Thing. His only reference to Thing by name is in a cartoon which has a sign posted on a fence which reads, "Beware of The Thing." When I asked him what The Thing was, he advised me that it was the sometimes disembodied head or face seen in some cartoons peering over the ledge of a window or on the edge of a stair landing.

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He did use disconnected hands and arms in about four cartoons, as I recall, and I recommended that we forget the disembodied face and use an arm and a hand and call it not The Thing, but simply Thing, housing it in a box, a servant assisting Lurch.

We never probed into what that arm and hand were attached to, if to anything. We left that to the imagination of the viewer.

The financial success of the features is not to be found in the creative thrust of the producing team, but rather in the genius of the marketing campaign devised by Barry London and his staff. In fairness, producer Scott Rudin, director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Paul Rudnick should have insisted that Barry London's name be placed above their own credits.

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