Monster Mash

addams vs munsters

So I’m working on a commission (for some reason the sketches are taking me forever — who am I kidding? sketches always take me for ever) and since it’s a Munsters painting I’ve been watching old episodes.  I gotta say, in the war between the Munsters and the Addams Family (and it was — the two shows debuted at about the same time and were in near constant competition), I was more in the Addams camp.  I liked the Munsters but I loved the Addams.  Morticia was dee-lovely and Gomez was romantic and suave (if a bit daft).  Plus I’d grown up looking at Charles Addams’ cartoons in the New Yorker magazine (which were the inspiration for the show), so it had that little whiff of the familiar about it.  Compared to them, the Munsters always seemed like the Addams’ hillbilly cousins — I had an affection for them, but I’d never want to be them.  (I wanted to be Morticia.)

What a weird period in time when two concurrent sitcoms about monster families could be on the air together.  It seems like when we do shows about monsters now it’s more about hunting them down (“X-Files,” “The Night Stalker,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and not so much with the “Monsters: They’re Just Like Us!” vibe.  I’m not sure what that says about us as a culture.  It’s as if we were using the monsters back then as a metaphor for a changing society — get used to the weirdos and people who look different from you, because they’re moving into your neighborhood!  If our attitude about monsters is any indication, we’ve become a lot less tolerant — kill ’em on sight, ask questions later.

Speaking of the Addams, there’s a terrific blog out there called I’m Learning to Share that has a great post about Charles Addams.  It features a lovely magazine photo spread from LOOK mag, peppered with funny quotes. I would kill to have it in my hot little hands.

But I digress.  My point was that watching the Munsters as an adult I have a whole new appreciation for it.  It’s sweet, it’s funny, and the comic timing between Al Lewis (“Grampa”) and Fred Gwynne (“Herman”) is cracklin’ good — these guys are clearly at the top of their craft and have an ease and snap that’s a pleasure to watch.  (They had worked together previously on “Car 54, Where Are You?”)  Lewis also brings a trunk load of Vaudvillian eyebrow wiggling skills with him as well.

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3 responses to “Monster Mash

  1. If we’re less tolerant now, there must’ve been a lot more black front-runners for the presidency in the 1960s than we’ve been told…

  2. Er, sorry, that came out a bit sarcastic, didn’t it?

    Seriously, though, imagine explaining gay marriage to somebody in 1965. You’d never even convince them it was a serious idea. Things could be worse.

  3. Hey it was just an observation. I saw a little documentary once made connections between the science fiction movies of the time and the political climate — they posited that aliens were horrible and scary in the 50s ’cause we were scared of everything/everyone different, but by the time “Close Encounters” and “ET” came out we were more open minded and accepting. (What are our sci-movies movies like now? “Independence Day” comes to mind, but so does “Serenity”, one of my all time faves.)

    Anyway, what I meant was that most of the humor of both of those old shows came from the “culture clash” of these freaks in the neighborhood — how the norms were reacting to them, misunderstanding them, etc. And given all the social upheaval of the time (mid-60’s), I really think there’s something to this — the counter culture revolution, sex n’ drugs n’ rock n’ roll, the anti-war movement, etc. was giving people (coming out of the fairly conservative 50s) something to react to.

    So I still wonder if our attitude about “the monsters among us” today reflects at all on our attitudes about ourselves — and all the “others” in our midst. (Clearly I paint a lot of monsters, and noodle around with the idea of “monsters are people too” in my work, so this is something I think about often.)

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