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Retro : Creating New Munsters

October 29, 1995|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fox TV celebrates All Hallow's Eve in goofy grand guignol style with "Here Comes the Munsters," a new movie based on the classic 1964-66 comedy series about a loving family whose patriarch slept like a bat.

In this version from executive producer John Landis, Tony Award-winner Edward Herrmann plays the lovable Frankenstein monster Herman; "Hill Street Blues" star Veronica Hamel is Herman's beloved wife Lily; Tony- and Emmy-winner Robert Morse is the 350-year-old, vampire-caped Grandpa; Christine Taylor plays heir "normal" niece Marilyn; and Matthew Botuchis is their wolf boy Eddie.

The surviving members of the CBS series--Yvonne DeCarlo, Al Lewis, Pat Priest and Butch Patrick--are on hand for a cameo. "There's a restaurant scene where Herman is a waiter," says producer Michael Murphey. "He takes their [original cast members') order." (Except for Fred Gwynne, the original Herman, who died two years ago.)

On this sunny, languid afternoon, "Here Come the Munsters" has invaded a quiet Mar Vista neighborhood. Inquisitive children and their parents are lining the street to catch a glimpse of the stars and marvel at a neighborhood home that has been transformed into the Munsters' dilapidated manse on 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Parked outside the house is the Munsters' family car: a hearse.

The cast seems to be having a ghoul old time being "Munsters."

'If you walk down the street with me," says Morse, "people just beam."

"Hello dear," purrs Hamel to a little girl eyeing the actress painted a light shade of green.

Herrmann walks out of his trailer dressed in his lab monster outfit, neck bolts and all. But he's a very Hollywood Herman, wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette.

The producers, Herrmann says, called a few months earlier to ask if he wanted to play Herman Munster. "I said, Yeah. 'Tell me another one.' Herrmann recalled that Gwynne didn't work much on TV after "The Munsters."

"I said, I don't want to do a pilot in the first place, and they said it's not a pilot, it's a movie of the week. Then they started talking about Bob and Veronica and Robert Ginty directing. They sent me the script. It was silly and funny and I thought, 'Why not do a clown?' I haven't done a clown in a long, long time since my repertory days. My kids are actually over the moon."

The actor, who played President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the acclaimed 1976 miniseries "Eleanor and Franklin," never saw "The Munsters" when it first aired. "I was way too old," he says with a laugh. "I was out of college. I was going to be an actor. I have always admired Fred, but no, I wasn't swept up in Munstermania at all. I didn't have a lunch box."

Playing Herman, though, has been a "gas" for him. "He's such a sweet man. He loves his child; he loves Lily. He's a classic comic character. He's like Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton. He cracks these stupid jokes and thinks they are so funny."

Hamel is waving to the children as she walks to the set. "It's fun," she says with a wide grin. "You are like a cartoon character."

"You could make a fortune having an interview with a vampire," quips Morse, decked out in his Dracula regalia, as he welcomes a visitor to his trailer.

"I have a 4-year-old who now loves to play Munsters with me when I come home," he says. "She knows that I am Grandpa, but she won't touch my nose. She's a little shy about looking at me. She's visited the set and has fallen in love with Lily. When I go home she wants to play Lily. I have to play Herman. I say, 'I will be Grandpa' and she'll say 'No, no, no! Be Herman.' We have tea together."

Both Morse and Herrmann have to endure several hours of makeup. "This is a pain in the neck," Herrmann says. Morse also must hang upside-down like a bat. "I did it very well," he says. "But for a week I saw everything upside-down. It's nothing I would like to do on a regular basis."

Producer Murphey believes the time is right for a rebirth of "The Munsters." "It was a project that John Landis had been thinking about for a while and as things go, it made its way as a concept through Universal."

The producers were very careful to be true to the original series. "We knew we had to do the house right and we had to do the interior of the house right," Murphey says. "We needed the car. We couldn't chintz on the production value at all. People my age--I am 41--needed to turn it on and feel like we were watching the original, at least the spirit of it."

Still, the filmmakers didn't want to make a carbon copy of the series. "You want to create your own original piece, but the audience is going to have expectations," Murphey says. "They are going to want to feel like they are watching 'The Munsters'. That was a challenge on the production-value level, which I think we were very successful at. It feels like the 'Munsters,' but it works here in the '90s."

"Here Comes the Munsters" airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Fox; repeats of "The Munsters" airs early Sundays at 2:30 a.m.; early Mondays at 1 a.m. and weeknights at 8 on Nickelodeon.

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