With a proclivity to the grim, grisly and gruesome, Charles Addams (1912-1988) walked through life illuminating its incongruous funny bones and sore spots. Addams contributed to The New Yorker for more than 50 years, and his work can be found in the permanent collections of The New York Public Library and The Library of Congress. Although his life’s work is estimated to consist of several thousand original pieces, his most well-known characters, those of The Addams Family, only appear in approximately 50 illustrations.
The Addams Family
The popularity of The Addams Family is largely due to the generations of readers and collectors who saw the family as a refreshing jab at the traditional American family. The cast of kooky characters were born within the pages of The New Yorker in 1938 and brought to life time and time again in the form of television shows, books, a Broadway musical, and feature films.
Upon the Addams Family television debut in 1964, the editor of The New Yorker, William Shawn, refused to publish cartoons featuring the beloved characters. Shawn allegedly saw conflict between their high-brow magazine readership and the low-brow nature of the television show. Although the ban lasted until Shawn’s retirement in 1987, Addams snuck three characters into the 1979 cartoon pictured above, Z Line Subway. Wednesday and Grandmama stand directly behind the conductor’s booth, and Uncle Fester peers out the back window.
Life Imitates Art
Addams’s life mirrored his art: he married his third wife, Marilyn, in a pet cemetery on Long Island. The bride wore a long black dress. In 1988, he died at age 76 after a heart attack in his parked car, just outside of his apartment building in midtown Manhattan. “He’s always been a car buff, so it was a nice way to go,” Marilyn told the The New York Times–an obituary quote he undoubtedly could have used as cartoon fodder, had he been able.