FOX TV DVD sent us a transcript of a recent interview with the Addams Family cast; they talk about the show ahead of its imminent DVD release.
CONGRATULATIONS ON THE RELEASE OF THE DVD. IT MUST BE EXCITING TO HAVE IT FINALLY COMING OUT
Felix Silla: It’s about time. I mean, a lot of people have been asking, “When are they coming out?” We didn’t know. Finally, it’s happening. And we’re happy about it.
Ken Weatherwax: Everybody else is out with their DVD. Why did we have to be the last ones!
THAT WAS MY SECOND QUESTION, WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG?
KW: I believe it was a question of ownership of the series. I’m not sure. But it took long enough. And now that it’s here, we want everybody to go out and buy a copy. Because we’re getting tired of being asked that question. We do a lot of autograph shows where people will bring their own memorabilia and have us sign it. We see a lot of the stuff that they had when we shot the show, like the games”¦ whatever was put out at the time we did the show. Collectors still have that in their collections and they bring it in to have us sign it. But it will be nice to see people bringing in the DVDs!
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GETTING BACK TOGETHER TO MAKE IT?
John Astin: We’ve enjoyed it a great deal. This is our first day of interviews, really. Ken, Lisa and Felix did commentary on the episodes here in Los Angeles. In Baltimore, I did an hour interview to be used on the DVD. But this is our first day. And we’ve had a good time.
DID YOU PREPARE AT ALL BEFORE YOU RECORDED THE COMMENTARIES?
Lisa Loring: No, we just did it.
JA: There was no need to prepare
FS: We’d just watch one of the shows on screen and talk about it.
JA: We’ve had many years of preparation! And since we all had a good time with one another, we just sort of continued it.
KW: When you see the DVDs you’ll see it’s pretty spontaneous. We just enjoyed being together to watch the show again. It was great.
WAS IT THE FIRST TIME YOU’D SEEN IT IN SOME TIME?
KW: Yeah.. I don’t make a habit of watching the show.
LL: I hadn’t seen it in quite a while either.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE SEEING IT AGAIN?
LL: Just like Kenny said. We had a good time. We were very spontaneous. Felix and I and Kenny were talking about all the things we remembered. It was a lot of fun.
WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS WHEN YOU WERE MAKING THE SHOW. DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD SOMETHING SPECIAL WHEN YOU WERE FIRST FILMING?
JA: I think David Levy, Carolyn [Jones; Morticia Addams] and I, all three of us had a sense that it would be an important show. We thought it was, at any rate. And then Nat Perrin joined the team. Of course Nat had come to Hollywood to write for The Marx Brothers. He was a wonderful writer and producer. I think we were all expecting a good reaction to it. But there was no way to have anticipated its continuing popularity for 40-years. That’s strange, almost. But I think it’s a testament to the depth of the show and the power of its message.
LL: I was 5 and a half to 8-years-old. I had no idea (laughs).
KW: The fact that it’s still running as strong as it is, 40-years after the fact, is absolutely a mind blower.
LL: I think I was about 16 when I realized what it meant to people. I met Alice Cooper at one of his concerts. And he just about died to meet me. He quoted me lines that I didn’t remember and told me it was a privilege to meet me. “Look who’s at my party”. He had the press take photos of us. And here I was at a rock concert, going “Huh?” “What?” I almost thought he was talking to someone else. It was only until I reached that age when I started to realize what power the show had and what it meant to its fans and the public.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE ACTUALLY MAKING THE SHOW. WAS IT ANY DIFFERENT FROM WORKING ON OTHER SHOWS? WHAT WAS THE DAY TO DAY VIBE ON THE SET?
JA: To begin with, there was a sort of sophisticated enjoyment among the people who were doing it. Carolyn Jones, at the time she did the series, was a substantial movie star. Nat Perrin had written for The Marx Brothers and continued to be the person they turned to ““ I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Marx Brothers lore, but Nat was the adjudicator if they had an argument. David Levy had been a vice president of Young & Rubicam for many years and also a vice president of NBC. He’d put shows on like The Tonight Show, Bonanza, Dr. Kildare”¦ lots of innovative stuff. He was a close friend of Pat Weaver, who was a great creative television mind. Then we had Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester), who knew everything that ever happened in Hollywood, really ““ one of the most interesting people I’ve ever worked with. Along with that, Blossom Rock [aka, Marie Blake; Grandmamma Addams) who had done many things ““ she was Jeanette MacDonald’s sister. A lot of people weren’t aware of that”¦
WHERE DID YOU ACTUALLY SHOOT THE EPISODES?
JA: At General Service Studios. It was on Las Palmas, opposite the Eastman Kodak laboratory. It was a small studio. And there were probably five or six hit shows at this tiny studio.
KW: Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and Mister Ed. All shot there. The studio still exists. It’s called The Hollywood Studios now. The Hollywood Studio Center. And it’s a shadow of its former self.
JA: Ozzie and Harriet was there too, Kenny.
KW: That’s right. Mister Ed took over their stage.
JA: All kinds of shows. A tiny studio. Always filled. Always filled.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE SHOW HAS REMAINED POPULAR FOR SO MANY YEARS?
FS: It was well written. And the cast, you couldn’t beat. I mean, how could you do better than this gentleman here (John Astin), the kids, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy (Lurch), Blossom Rock, Carolyn Jones”¦ How could you go wrong?
STILL, THERE ARE MANY GREAT SHOWS. BUT FEW HAVE HAD A LONGEVITY LIKE THE ADDAMS FAMILY. IT’S VERY UNUSUAL, TO SAY THE LEAST-
JA: Charles Addams’ cartoons were a mystery. Why are they so funny? How does he do it? Because I was such an Addams fan when they proposed this thing to me, I thought I’d have to do some research. To figure out what made these panels in The New Yorker work. My conclusion, in a nutshell, was that through the device of implied violence, never fully carried out, but always implied, Charlie was attacking the clichÃ©. “May I borrow a cup of cyanide?” Why was he doing that? What I finally came up with was I think he wanted to wake us up. I think he enjoyed prodding people to notice what was around them. And to appreciate the joy and the wonder in strange things. And in ordinary things. Also to throw us some perplexing problems, as we have in life generally. That great cartoon of a tree on a snowy hill and the two ski tracks going on either side of the tree with someone looking at it and doing a double take [“Downhill Skier”; 1940]. In fact, when Charlie was memorialized at The New York Public library in the early 80’s, when he passed away, his widow, Tee, chose that cartoon to put on the cocktail napkins at the memorial service.
I thought he was trying to wake us up to the joy and wonder of life. That’s what I used as the basis for Gomez. “Ah a spider!” And that’s what life is. Life is magical. Life is wondrous”¦ That I think resonated with the public. And I think that’s why they have stuck with it for all this time.
WHICH BEGS THE NEXT QUESTION. WHY DID THE SHOW ONLY LAST TWO SEASONS?
KW: Well, we don’t really know”¦
JA: Well, in a way”¦ There was always someone in the administration at ABC who didn’t get the show. I remember the publicity guy Al Henry “¦while we were shooting the first presentation film. I remember he said, “John, do you think a show based on sophisticated cartoons from The New Yorker is going to work on a bread and butter network like ABC.” Which is what it was then. ABC was a “me too,” network. I said, “Well, Al, I don’t know”¦ I know that the kids will get it. And maybe the parents will fall to the fold eventually.” And for a while, it was thought of as just a kids show. And then the parents started to watch it. “Oh wait a minute, something’s going on here.” This came from David [Levy] and Nat [Perrin] primarily. And the camaraderie among the performers in it. We didn’t have to compromise with anyone. Ted Cassidy was a brilliant actor. He did Lurch and also played Thing. Carolyn was incomparable as Morticia ““ she had so many levels to what she was doing. Coogan was priceless. Look at him in The Kid and you’ll see an amazing young actor. Jack was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood for a long time. Blossom too. There was a pretty good group at work here. And we should mention the other writers and freelancers who were involved in it”¦
BUT THE NETWORK PULLED IT AFTER TWO YEARS
JA: They just didn’t get it. And the ratings on The Munsters”¦ They classified it as a fad. And when the ratings of The Munsters dropped”¦ And there was a little disagreement about the amount of money Filmways [Filmways Pictures] was spending on the show. ABC thought there should be more “˜production’ in it. Filmways said, “Look, the show is good as it is. We don’t have to move it out of the house’s living room set.” Also another factor, David Levy, the creator and executive producer, wanted the Filmways people to go back to New York and hang in there so that nothing untoward would happen. I think it was just a matter of juggling pieces for that schedule and they dropped it. Almost immediately afterwards, local stations were programming the reruns in primetime. And it never stopped. It went on and on and on. Again, they were the “˜me too’ crowd. And they had a few good shows on that year ““ Addams Family, Bewitched and a few others.
I HAVE A FEW TRIVIA QUESTIONS FOR EVERYONE. PERHAPS WE CAN CLARIFY A FEW THINGS?
LEGEND HAS IT THAT JACKIE COOGAN WAS ORIGINALLY PASSED OVER FOR THE ROLE OF FESTER ““ TRUE?
JA: No, I don’t-
THE STORY GOES THAT HE WENT IN, AUDITIONED, DIDN’T GET THE PART, WENT HOME, SHAVED HIS HEAD, CAME BACK AND THEY GAVE IT TO HIM..
JA: I do remember Jack shaving his head. Because I was involved in the readings. He gave a good first reading. I think he”¦ You know the comedian, T.C. Jones, the female impersonator? T.C. had a bald head. I know T.C. did a test and he was good. But Coogan was always in the lead. Jack must have done that on his own. Maybe Jack said that. I wouldn’t put it past him. Jack really wanted to do it. But I don’t think anybody told him to shave his head. I think it was just his own initiative. And he would have gotten it anyway, whether he shaved his head or not. I remember talking to David about it and he was always in first place.
FELIX, LEGEND HAS IT THAT YOU WERE CAST WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING WHAT YOUR ROLE WAS OR EVEN WHAT THE SHOW WAS ABOUT. TRUE?
FS: That is true. The story is: they called me on the set. They looked at me. It was Mr. Levy and Nat. They looked at me and said, “Yeah, that’s “˜Itt’.” They told me to report to work on Monday. I had nobody to compete with. I said, “OK I’ll be here Monday”. I went back Monday and started putting the stuff on and that was it.
JOHN, IS IT TRUE THAT YOU HAD A CHOICE IN NAMING YOUR CHARACTER?
JA: Right! I was given a paragraph on each character. And I had a choice of names. Gomez or Repelli? I looked at David and said, you know, I kind of like Gomez. He said, “Yeah, so do I.” And that was it. No further discussion . Repelli! (laughs).
LL: Was there any choice for any of the other names, Morticia or Wednesday?
JA: No. Morticia, as far as I recall was it. Was there any choice on the others? You know, I don’t remember”¦
KW: Wasn’t there a question of Pubert or Pugsley?
JA: Pubert, that’s right! And the network didn’t like it. The network didn’t want it.
KW: That was a little too close!
JA: Charlie had recommended Pubert. And we were really disappointed. We were chagrined really. (laughs). But David was very wise. “No, we better change it.”
JOHN – IS IT TRUE THAT THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE BASED ON THE CHARACTER OF LURCH AND THAT YOU WERE OFFERED THAT ROLE?
JA: Well, that’s how it was presented to me. I doubt that that was ever the idea behind the show. Because less than an hour and a half after that meeting, David called me. He barely said anything at the meeting. He said, “Can we get together for cocktails? I want to tell you about the show.” That’s when he said, “It’s Father Knows Best with these characters and I want you to play the father.” That made a lot of sense. And that was it. We never referred to the other thing. I did a lot of thinking in that hour though, about how I would play a guy who was 6-9 with shoulders like Mt. Etna. That was Ted Cassidy. Ted was an incredible physical specimen. And a brilliant actor.
DO YOU HAVE A FONDEST MEMORY OF WORKING ON THE SERIES OR ANYTHING THAT STANDS OUT?
FS: The whole time, really.
KW: Quite a few.
LL: There are quite a few.
JA: I remember when the great German actor, Sig Ruman came in to film. Cousin Itt had written a play and Gomez wants to put it on. And so they get this great German director whose on his uppers and needs a job. Remember Sig Rubin from the Lubitsch films? He’s the guy in the original To Be or Not To Be with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard.
He’s the guy who says, “Call me Concentration Camp Ehrhardt!” Very funny. He did Ninotchka also, lots of those Ernst Lubitsch movies. So they got Sig Ruman to play this director who’s broke and has to consider this job of directing Cousin It’s play. And I remember the first shot. Sig is looking at this script. And he’s looking at it. And he’s turning the pages furiously. And he says “I do not direct home talent plays!” The way he said it, it just killed me. I never break up. Never. But I broke up. I crashed. We had to do it again. I ruined some great takes of Sig’s. I couldn’t hold it in. He was so funny.
FS: And then I came in. And he looked at me. What did he say? “What is that?” But every time they would mention a little more money, he would confer with his assistants in the corner. “OK, I’ll do it!”
JA: We had so many great actors doing stuff. The great French actor, Marcel Dalio. Remember, Rules of the Game?
THE RENOIR FILM.
JA: He plays the Rothschild character ““ the guy who owns the place. Remember the other Renoir film, The Grand Illusion? He played the Jewish character [Lt. Rosenthal] with Jean Gabin.
AND YOU GOT HIM ON THE ADDAMS FAMILY?
Well, you know he came to America because of Hitler. He played waiters and so forth. And so, he’s guesting on The Addams Family as a waiter. I see the call sheet. “Marcel Dalio ““ Oh my God, this is one of the greatest actors in the world.” He had been beaten down. I remember, I was so in awe. He said, thank you. “It’s very nice to run into someone who knows my work.” Because all he did was waiters for all those years.
CAN YOU TELL US WHAT YOU’RE UP TO THESE DAYS?
FS: Well, I do a lot of traveling. Conventions, autographs. I’ve been to Japan and England.
LL: Felix and I will be at the Chiller Theatre in New Jersey. It’s a big show. A lot of different people signing autographs.
KW: I’m working behind the cameras now. I’ve been a motion picture studio grip for the last 30-years. And I enjoy it. Both sides of my family are from showbiz. So I stuck with it. The family business. And I’m very happy with that.
JA: For the last few years, I’ve been doing a one-man show based on the life of Edgar Allen Poe. We’ve been all over the world with it. But I took on a new mission, four or five years ago. Because of it, I had to turn down an offer to do the show in New York.
I’m developing a theatre program for John Hopkins University. It’s one of the few major American universities that didn’t have a theatre program. Now we have one. And it’s growing. I’m teaching there every day. Except today! But I’m taking a red-eye tomorrow night to teach on Wednesday. My wife and I have moved to Baltimore. We sold our home here. And I’m learning a lot from the students and teaching kids. I’d like to leave a program there that will run without me. So I’m looking for my replacement. Maybe to teach with my replacement for a while. That’s the key. We just have to raise endowment money. I now have almost entirely professional teachers from New York working with me ““ directors, actors, writers.
PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: DO YOU THINK A SHOW LIKE THE ADDAMS FAMILY COULD BE MADE TODAY?
Well, it could be made. But would they put it on?
INDEED, THAT’S THE QUESTION.
JA: I don’t know. It’s hard to figure out what’s in the mind of programming executives. It’s not an easy job.
LL: Reality TV is what’s on their minds these days!
JA: Remember many of our writers were trained in the theatre and went on to make what we now call classic movies. The scripts were very strong. It’s hard to say, though”¦ . I believe it can be done. I think Seinfeld showed us something”¦ While I haven’t seen Curb Your Enthusiasm, I hear that’s wonderful too. And we have ten years of South Park ““ not negligible by any means. So there’s hope. There’s always hope. It’s just up to people to do it. You can’t complain about the system. You have to go do it. That’s what it’s really all about.
DO YOU EVER GET RECOGNIZED FROM THE SERIES?
JA: Every day. For 40-years.
LL: I was so young. So until I did stuff when I became an adult and was put together with The Addams Family, I was rarely recognized.
JA: Just another extremely gorgeous woman ““ that’s all she was!
KW: It’s pretty much worn off now. It was a problem for a while. Problematic as in creating a problem for me. I would try to do something and it would get in the way. Now it’s turned into an advantage. It draws notoriety in a non-negative way on the set. And that’s a good way to advance in the business. So it has worked to my advantage. Most people don’t really bother with it anymore. My friends don’t. And most definitely, strangers don’t recognize me. It’s kind of hard to sell the autographs at the show too, sometimes. They’ll take a look at the old photograph and take a second look.
FS: I never get recognized, because they never saw my face. Other stuff, though, oh yeah. They get really surprised when they meet me at the signing. “Oh, that was you?” “Yeah, that was me.” They get really surprised when they see me out of the costume.
DID YOU KEEP ANYTHING FROM THE SHOW?
FS: A few scripts, that’s it.
JA: Because we didn’t expect it to be cancelled. We went home for the summer and the prop man got all that stuff.
KW: Somebody’s got it!
JA: Listen, a writer I was working with asked me one day if I would mind verifying something he had. He thought he had a dress of Morticia’s. And”¦ Well, I couldn’t believe it, but it really was. He had Morticia’s dress.
HOW DID YOU KNOW?
JA: I knew it”¦ I knew it well. Especially the sleeves!… Me, I’ve got the bubble gum cards. I have a complete set. There’s a complete portrait of The Addams Family on the other side of the cards when you put the whole thing together. There was also a game. And I have that. But some of that stuff just came from people who would send them to me or make some sort of trade with me.
FS: I just bought a little bank. The thing was made in 1964. It’s like brand new. The one where the hand comes out and grabs the penny. But it doesn’t work. The hand doesn’t come out!
JA: How much did you pay for it?
FS: Forty bucks”¦ It’s worth about $200.
JA: Well, you’re alright then.
FS: I should have sent him back to Japan to have him fixed!
THANK YOU SO MUCH. AND AGAIN CONGRATULATIONS.