Charles Samuel Addams, although he signed most of his illustrations Chas Addams, was an American cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters.
As a young boy, Addams was fond of breaking into decrepit mansions and visiting the Presbyterian Cemetery. A childhood friend of his described him as having: “a sense of humor that was a little different from everybody else’s.”
His father encouraged him to draw, so Addams did cartoons for his Westfield High School student literary magazine, the Weather Vane.
In 1933, he joined the layout department of True Detective magazine, where it was his job was to retouch photos of corpses that appeared in the magazine’s stories; removing most – if not all – of the blood and gore. Addams complained: “A lot of those corpses were more interesting the way they were.”
Addams’ first drawing for The New Yorker, a sketch of a window washer, ran on February 6, 1932, and his cartoons ran regularly in the magazine from 1938, when he drew the first in the series that came to be called The Addams Family, until his death. He was a freelancer the entire time.
In late 1942, he met his first wife, Barbara, who purportedly resembled his cartoon character Morticia Addams. The marriage ended eight years later, after Addams, who hated children, refused to have any or even adopt one.
In 1954, Addams married his second wife, also named Barbara. A practicing lawyer, Barbara number two also had Morticia-like looks but combined with diabolical legal scheming, by which she wound up controlling The Addams Family television and film franchises and even persuaded her husband to give away other legal rights. At one point, she convinced him to take out a $100,000 life insurance policy. When Addams consulted a lawyer about the move, the lawyer told him that the last time he had heard of such an thing was in the movie Double Indemnity with Barbara Stanwyck. (Stanwyck’s character was plotting her husband’s murder.) He and Barbara number two divorced in 1956.
Addams married his third and final wife, Marilyn, in a pet cemetery. In 1985, the Addamses moved to Sagaponack, New York, to an estate they lovingly named “The Swamp”.
Some of his recurring characters became known as the “Addams Family”. It was television producer David Levy who approached Addams with an offer to create a television show based on these drawings. All Addams was required to do was give his characters names and more characteristics for the actors to use in portrayals. The series ran on ABC for two seasons, from 1964 to 1966, and has been in syndication ever since; spawning four movies, an animated series and even a stage musical.
Addams drew more than 1,300 cartoons over the course of his life. The films The Old Dark House and Murder by Death (one of my favorites) both feature title sequences that he illustrated. Addams died on September 29, 1988, at the age of 76, suffering a heart attack in his parked car.
He was cremated and his ashes buried in the pet cemetery on his estate, “The Swamp”.
Here are a few of Addams’s dark cartoons;