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27 Oct 2006

Frightfully Nice Folks

Spooky, kooky Addams Family haunts again in boxed DVD set

Thursday, October 26, 2006

JOURNAL REPORTER

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They're creepy and they're kooky. Mysterious and spooky. Now they're on DVD, looky ... The Addams Family.

The surviving cast members of the 60s TV show - John Astin, Ken Weatherwax, Lisa Loring and Felix Silla - have come together to commemorate their time as Addamses and their "altogether ooky" yet loving television family.

That sense of family was a key to the show's popularity.

"The Addamses were kind and generous people," Astin, 76, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "They just looked weird."

Another key to the show's success, said Astin, who played giddy family patriarch Gomez Addams, came from how similar the characters were to the people who played them.

"My brother trained in psychology, and he has said that Gomez is the closest thing to an expression of my inner personality that I've ever played," Astin said. "He said it's really an extension of what's inside me."

Just in time for Halloween, the first 22 episodes of The Addams Family are now available in a DVD boxed set from Fox Home Entertainment. The three-disc boxed set sells for $30.

The series, which ran from 1964 to 1966 on ABC, was based on a macabre but funny series of New Yorker cartoons by artist Charles Addams. In addition to Astin, the cast included Carolyn Jones as Gomez's more levelheaded wife, Morticia.

The two had a friskier love life than anyone else on TV at that time, with Gomez kissing Morticia's arms and back every time she spoke French. Weatherwax, now 51, and Loring, 48, played the kids, prankish Pugsley and dour Wednesday, who, with her pallor, black pigtails and headless Marie Antoinette doll, was a goth kid before goth was cool. Rounding out the cast were Jackie Coogan (neat!) as Uncle Fester; Blossom Rock (sweet!) as Grandmama; and Ted Cassidy (petite!) as lumbering butler Lurch and also hand-in-a-box Thing. Silla had a recurring role as furry Cousin Itt.

In the 1990s, several Addams Family revivals brought in such actors as Raul Julia and Tim Curry to play Gomez.

"I don't want to get into comparisons with the movie versions, so I have never seem them," Astin said. "I really liked the people who were in them, but I have no way to judge.... It's very difficult to reproduce when it's not the same person."

Loring said she feels that later renditions failed to catch the original's charm in part because of their more sinister tone. "I don't think you can ever redo something that was done so well," she said. "They were far more macabre, almost gruesome in a way, with no witty humor, just darker humor." But she does admire the performance of Christina Ricci, who played Wednesday in the 1991 and 1993 films.

Silla, 69, was a late addition to the Addams cast, joining in the 20th episode. "I didn't know anything about The Addams Family," he said. But he was quickly accepted into the cast and Cousin Itt soon became an audience favorite.

Silla, Weatherwax and Loring got together earlier this year to record some audio commentaries for the DVD, reminiscing about favorite episodes and sharing anecdotes from the set. Astin was busy with theater work, but contributed some interviews for the DVD.

After The Addams Family, Astin went on to play The Riddler on Batman and eccentric characters on such shows as Night Court, Eerie, Indiana and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. He also played Grandpapa Addams on the late-90s series The New Addams Family and provided Gomez's voice in a cartoon. Astin is now at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, helping to develop a theater program there.

Weatherwax - whose family trained the dogs on Lassie - joined the Army after his acting career ended. He later returned to Hollywood but moved behind the scenes, working as a set builder at movie studios. Loring now runs a production company and is planning to play a nun in a supernatural thriller her company will produce. Silla, who is 3'11", went on to play Twiki, the robot sidekick on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and aliens in episodes of such shows as Married ... With Children and The Dukes of Hazzard. He is a regular on the science-fiction convention circuit, meeting fans and signing autographs.

Now, thanks to DVD, viewers can get a witch's shawl on, a broomstick they can crawl on, and pay a call on The Addams Family. Astin said that even with the DVDs hitting store shelves, he hasn't caught back up with the old episodes.

"I don't watch that much television," he said. But, he added, he hears from a lot of people who tell him how much they still enjoy the show.

"I think the show holds up as well as it ever has," Loring said. "And it's going to get a whole new audience through the DVDs. It's timeless and classic."

• Tim Clodfelter can be reached at 727-7371 or at tclodfelter@wsjournal.com.

Addams Trivia

Think you know the Addams Family? Test your knowledge with this quiz. (And no fair gazing into your crystal ball.)

1. What was Morticia's maiden name?

A. Addams

B. Frump

C. MacGillicuddy

2. What was Wednesday's middle name?

A. Moonshine

B. Wednesday

C. Friday

3. What name did ABC nix for Pugsley Addams?

A. Pubert

B. Wally

C. Rathbone

4. What other first name was considered for Gomez Addams?

A. Murder

B. Repelli

C. Sergei

5. What was the Addams Family's address?

A. 001 Cemetery

B. 1313 Mockingbird

C. 113 North Hades

6. What was the name of Wednesday's pet, and what was it?

A. Homer, a black widow spider

B. Woof Woof, a werewolf

C. Elmer, a snake

7. What was the name of Pugsley's pet, and what was it?

A. Spot, a dragon

B. Edgar, a raven

C. Aristotle, an octopus

8. What was the name of Morticia's carnivorous plant?

A. Isis

B. Cleopatra

C. Vampira

9. What is the name of the Addams family pet lion?

A. Kitty Cat

B. Mittens

C. Salem

10. Who was the Addams Family's family doctor?

A. Doctor Bombay, a warlock

B. Doctor Mbogo, a witch doctor

C. Grandmama

Answer (Skeleton) Key:

1: B; 2: C; 3: A; 4: B; 5: A (both Lane and Drive were used at different times); 6: A; 7: C; 8: B; 9: A; 10: B