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Munster, Come Home

Wouldn't You Rather Live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane?

October 27, 2002|MICHAEL T. JARVIS

" 'The Munsters' continue to haunt me," says Kevin Burns, proud guardian of a huge memorabilia collection devoted to the black-and-white '60s sitcom about a family of horror-movie ghoul look-alikes. "It's important to get back to being a child every once in a while."

Burns had an otherwise typical boyhood in Niskayuna, N.Y., but got hooked on "The Munsters" at age 9, watching the Thursday night CBS program religiously and obsessively drawing characters from the show. "My parents didn't know what to do with me." Burns' mother suggested that he send some drawings to Fred Gwynne, also an artist, who played Herman Munster, your typical family dad and Frankenstein monster. "Within a week of Christmas, in our mailbox is a studio fan card, and on the back it says, 'Dear Kevin, Thanks for the drawings, Fred Gwynne.' I slept with this postcard for weeks. When Herman Munster is acknowledging your existence, that is it."

"The Munsters," a goofball takeoff on the era's bland "Donna Reed"-style family sitcoms, debuted in 1964. Produced by Universal subsidiary Kayro-Vue, the so-dumb-you-love-it show starred Gwynne (previously of "Car 54, Where Are You?") as dad Herman; Yvonne DeCarlo as vampire siren mom Lily; Al Lewis as Transylvanian patriarch Grandpa; and Butch Patrick as werewolf son Eddie. The cast also included Beverley Owen, succeeded by Pat Priest, as Lily's "normal" blond college coed niece Marilyn, pitied by the others as the plain Jane of the family. The Munsters lived in a cobweb-infested mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, drove George Barris-designed monster hot rods and couldn't understand why people screamed and ran when they saw the family coming. Like "The Addams Family," its ABC rival, "The Munsters" lasted a mere two seasons but attained immortality through reruns and fan adulation.

For better or worse, Burns' collecting was helped by a "Munsters" syndication publicity packet he acquired from TV station WRGB in Schenectady, N.Y. "It had the synopsis of every show, ads, templates, photos," he says--plus a list of licensees for Munster products. "That list ruined my life." Burns placed an ad in Film Collectors World and got an enormous response from sellers eager to part with puppets, dolls and photos at closeout prices. From that early start, his collection today numbers thousands of photos, hundreds of games and a few precious props, including Grandpa Munster's original electric chair, purchased by Burns for $31,500, and "The Munsters Target Game,'' a vintage dart game that he grabbed for $27,000.

Burns studied film at Boston University, earning a master's before coming to Los Angeles in 1988 to work for 20th Century Fox Television. Now 47, he heads his own production company, Prometheus Entertainment. Burns was thrilled when A&E asked him to produce "Biography" segments on Gwynne, Lewis and DeCarlo. "People who got phone calls from my researchers said, 'You should talk to Kevin Burns.' ''

It gets weird out there in Munsterland. "I've found about 20 of us, and I'm talking hard-core, cutthroat collectors," he says. "Some have become friends, some hate me. People bid just to make me pay. To me it has emotional value." Indeed, though he possesses Lily's bat necklace and two Eddie Munster costumes, dearest to his heart is that postcard from Gwynne. "I didn't know anyone who was an artist, and he took the time," he says. "A very insignificant connection can be huge."

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