Charles Addams

American cartoonist (1912–1988)
Charles Addams
Charles addams500.jpg
Addams in 1975
BornCharles Samuel Addams
(1912-01-07)January 7, 1912
Westfield, New Jersey 22, U.S.
DiedSeptember 29, 1988(1988-09-29) (aged 76)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Pseudonym(s)Chas Addams (pen name)
Notable works
The Addams Family
AwardsEdgar Award
2018 Will Eisner Hall of Fame

Charles Samuel Addams (January 7, 1912 – September 29, 1988) was an American cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters.[1] He signed his cartoons under the pen name Chas Addams. Some of the recurring characters, who became known as the Addams Family, have been the basis for spin-offs in several other forms of media.

Early life

Addams was born in Westfield, New Jersey. The son of Grace M. (née Spear; 1879–1943) and Charles Huey Addams (1873-1932), a piano company executive who had studied to be an architect,[2] he was known as "something of a rascal around the neighborhood" as childhood friends recalled.[3] Addams was distantly related to U.S. presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, despite the different spellings of their last names, and was a first cousin twice removed to noted social reformer Jane Addams.[3][4]

Addams would enjoy the Presbyterian Cemetery on Mountain Avenue in Westfield as a child, where – according to author, and Addams expert Ron MacCloskey – he would wonder what it was like to be dead. In the cartoons, his ghoulish creations lived on Cemetery Ridge with a dreadful view.

A house on Elm Street, and another on Dudley Avenue into which police once caught him breaking and entering, are said to be the inspiration for the Addams Family mansion in his cartoons. College Hall, the oldest building on the current campus of the University of Pennsylvania, where Addams studied, was also an inspiration for the mansion.[5] He was fond of visiting the Presbyterian Cemetery on Mountain Avenue.[6] One friend said of him: "His sense of humor was a little different from everybody else's." He was also artistically inclined, "drawing with a happy vengeance," according to a biographer.[3]

Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall
Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall Gate showing Thing from The Addams Family

His father encouraged him to draw, and Addams did cartoons for the Westfield High School student literary magazine, Weathervane.[2][6] He attended Colgate University in 1929 and 1930. At the corners of West Kendrick and Maple Avenues in Hamilton, is another home, and myth, that may have inspired the Addams Family house.[7] He also attended the University of Pennsylvania in 1930 and 1931, where a fine-arts building on campus is named for him. In front of the building is a sculpture of the silhouettes of Addams Family characters,[6] while the library at Penn State contains a mural which he created in 1952 and depicts prominent Addams Family members.[8] He then studied at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City in 1931 and 1932.[2][6]


In 1933, Charles Addams joined the layout department of True Detective magazine, where he had to retouch photos of corpses that appeared in the magazine's stories to remove the blood from them. Addams complained: "A lot of those corpses were more interesting the way they were."[9]

Addams's 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 1937, when he drew the first in the series that came to be called The Addams Family, until his death. He was a freelancer throughout that time.[3]

During World War II, Addams served at the Signal Corps Photographic Center in New York, where he made animated training films for the U.S. Army.

The Addams Family television series began after David Levy,[10] a television producer, approached Addams with an offer to create it with a little help from the humorist. All Addams had 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.[6]


Addams's cartoons regularly appeared in The New Yorker, and he also created a syndicated single-panel comic, Out of This World, which ran 1955–1957. There are many collections of his work, including Drawn and Quartered (1942) and Monster Rally (1950), the latter with a foreword by John O'Hara.[11] Typical of Addams's work, one cartoon shows two men standing in a room labeled "Patent Attorney". One is pointing a bizarre gun out the window toward the street and saying: "Death ray, fiddlesticks! Why, it doesn't even slow them up!".[12]

Dear Dead Days (1959) is not a collection of his cartoons (although it reprints a few from previous collections); it is a scrapbook-like compendium of vintage images (and occasional pieces of text) that appealed to Addams's sense of the grotesque, including Victorian woodcuts, vintage medicine-show advertisements, and a boyhood photograph of Francesco Lentini, who had three legs.[citation needed]

Addams drew more than 1,300 cartoons over the course of his life. Those that did not appear in The New Yorker were often in Collier's and TV Guide.[6] In 1961, Addams received, from the Mystery Writers of America, a Special Edgar Award for his body of work. His cartoons appeared in books, calendars, and other merchandising. Singer-guitarist Dean Gitter's 1957 recording Ghost Ballads, an album of folk songs with supernatural themes, was packaged with cover art by Addams showing a haunted house.[13] The films The Old Dark House (1963) and Murder by Death (1976) feature title sequences illustrated by Addams.[14]

In 1946, Addams met science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury after having drawn an illustration for Mademoiselle magazine's publication of Bradbury's short story "Homecoming", the first in a series of tales chronicling a family of Illinois vampires named the Elliotts. The pair became friends and planned to collaborate on a book of the Elliott Family's complete history with Bradbury writing and Addams providing the illustrations, but it never materialized. Bradbury's stories about the "Elliott Family" were finally anthologized in From the Dust Returned in October 2001, with a connecting narrative and an explanation of his work with Addams, and Addams's 1946 Mademoiselle illustration used for the book's cover jacket. Although Addams's own characters were well-established by the time of their initial encounter, in a 2001 interview, Bradbury stated: "[Addams] went his way and created the Addams Family, and I went my own way and created my family in this book."[15]

Janet Maslin, in a review of an Addams biography for The New York Times, wrote: "Addams's persona sounds cooked up for the benefit of feature writers ... was at least partly a character contrived for the public eye," noting that one outré publicity photo showed the humorist wearing a suit of armor at home, "but the shelves behind him hold books about painting and antiques, as well as a novel by John Updike."[3]

Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was a friend of Addams, and owned two pieces of original Addams art.[16] Hitchcock references Addams in his 1959 film North by Northwest. During the auction scene, Cary Grant discovers two of his adversaries with someone who he also thinks is against him and says: "The three of you together. Now that's a picture only Charles Addams could draw."[17]

The University of Pennsylvania has a Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall on its campus at 36th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. There is a small sculpture of the Addams Family in front of the building.

Personal life

In late 1942, he met his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, who purportedly resembled his cartoon character Morticia Addams.[3] The marriage ended eight years later after Addams decline to have children. She later married New Yorker colleague John Hersey, author of the book Hiroshima.[18]

Addams married his second wife, Barbara Barb (Estelle B. Barb), in 1954. A practicing lawyer, she "combined Morticia-like looks with diabolical legal scheming," by which she wound up controlling The Addams Family television and film franchises and persuaded her husband to give away other legal rights.[3] At one point, she got her husband to take out a US $100,000 insurance policy. Addams consulted a lawyer on the sly, who later humorously wrote: "I told him the last time I had word of such a move was in a picture called Double Indemnity starring Barbara Stanwyck, which I called to his attention." In the movie, Stanwyck's character plotted her husband's murder.[3] The couple divorced in 1956.[19]

Addams was "sociable and debonair". A biographer described him as being "a well-dressed, courtly man with silvery back-combed hair and a gentle manner, he bore no resemblance to a fiend". Figuratively a "ladykiller", Addams accompanied women such as Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Jacqueline Kennedy on social occasions.[3]

Addams married his third and final wife, Marilyn Matthews Miller, best known as "Tee" (1926–2002), in a pet cemetery.[2] In 1985, the Addamses moved to Sagaponack, New York, where they named their estate "The Swamp".[20]


Addams died on September 29, 1988, at the age of 76, at St. Clare's Hospital and Health Center in New York City, having suffered a heart attack after parking his automobile. An ambulance took him from his apartment to the hospital, where he died in the emergency room.[2] As he had requested, a wake was held rather than a funeral; he had wished to be remembered as a "good cartoonist". In accordance with Addams's wishes, he was cremated, and his ashes were interred in the pet cemetery of his estate "The Swamp".[21]


On January 7, 2012, Addams's 100th birthday, he was honored with a Google Doodle.[22]

In 2020, Addams was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[23]

Notable Charles Addams illustrations

  • "The Addam's Family Christmas", "Addams and Evil" interior book cartoon, 1947

On April 30, 2021, Charles Addams' macabre Christmas cartoon sold for $87,500 at auction. As of May 2022, this sale represents a world record for the artist, more than septupling the initial estimate for the illustration.[24]


Dear Dead Days, with the Addams Family on the cover

Books of Addams's drawings or illustrated by him:[25] Addams also illustrated two books by other authors. First was But Who Wakes the Bugler? (Houghton & Mifflin, 1940) by Peter DeVries.[26] The other was Afternoon In the Attic (Dodd, Mead, 1950) by John Kobler.[27] He also provided the cover art for such books as The Compleat Practical Joker (Doubleday, 1953) by H. Allen Smith and Here at The New Yorker (Random House, 1975) by Brendan Gill.[28]

  • (illustrations) But Who Wakes the Bugler? (1940) by Peter DeVries
  • Drawn and Quartered (1942), first anthology of drawings/cartoons (Random House); re-released 1962 (Simon & Schuster)
  • Addams and Evil (1947), second anthology (Simon and Schuster)
  • (illustrations) Afternoon in the Attic (1950), John Kobler's collection of short stories
  • Monster Rally (1950) third anthology of drawings (Simon & Schuster)
  • Homebodies (1954), fourth anthology (Simon & Schuster)
  • Nightcrawlers (1957), fifth anthology (Simon & Schuster)
  • Dear Dead Days: A Family Album (1959), compilation book of photos (G.P. Putnam & Sons)
  • Black Maria (1960), sixth anthology of drawings (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Groaning Board (1964), seventh anthology (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Chas Addams Mother Goose (1967), Windmill Books; reissued with additional material 2002
  • My Crowd (1970), eighth anthology of drawings (Simon & Schuster)
  • Favorite Haunts (1976), ninth anthology (Simon & Schuster)
  • Creature Comforts (1981), tenth anthology (Simon & Schuster)
  • The World of Charles Addams, by Charles Addams (1991), posthumously compiled from works with the copyright owned by his third wife, Marilyn Matthews "Tee" Addams (Knopf) ISBN 0-394-58822-3
  • Chas Addams Half-Baked Cookbook: Culinary Cartoons for the Humorously Famished, by Charles Addams (2005), anthology of drawings, some previously unpublished (Simon & Schuster) ISBN 0-7432-6775-3
  • Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One, by Charles Addams (2006), anthology of drawings, some previously unpublished (Simon & Schuster) ISBN 978-0-7432-6777-9
  • The Addams Family: An Evilution (2010), about the evolution of The Addams Family characters; arranged by H. Kevin Miserocchi (Pomegranate) ISBN 978-0-7649-5388-0
  • Addams' Apple: The New York Cartoons of Charles Addams (2020), anthology of drawings (Pomegranate) ISBN 978-0764999369

See also

  • iconCartoons portal

Contemporary American cartoonists with similar macabre style include:


  1. ^ "Macabre Cartoonist Charles Addams Dies". Los Angeles Times. September 30, 1988. Archived from the original on 2015-09-14.
  2. ^ a b c d e Pace, Eric (September 30, 1988). "Charles Addams Dead at 76; Found Humor in the Macabre". The New York Times. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Maslin, Janet (October 26, 2006). "In Search of the Dark Muse of a Master of the Macabre". The New York Times. p. E9. Retrieved October 26, 2006.
  4. ^ Davis 2006, p. 23.
  5. ^ "Virtual Tour of Penn's Campus: College Hall". Archived from the original on June 6, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e f MacCloskey, Ron. "Charles Addams". Archived from the original on September 19, 2008. Retrieved October 26, 2008.
  7. ^ "battle to save Hamilton home". Archived from the original on July 8, 2018. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  8. ^ Sketchbook by Charles Addams: The Addams Family SecretKarasik, Paul. "The Addams Family Secret". The New Yorker. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on July 8, 2018. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  9. ^ Marr, John. "True Detective R.I.P." Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved October 6, 2011.
  10. ^ "David Levy; Producer Created Addams Family" Archived October 2, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2000
  11. ^ Davis 2006, p. 362.
  12. ^ Williams, Christian (November 17, 1982). "Charles Addams". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 6, 2011.
  13. ^ Jason (February 28, 2004). "Scar Stuff: Dean Gitter "Ghost Ballads" (Riverside, RLP 12-636, 1957)". Scar Stuff. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  14. ^ Maxford, Howard (2019). Hammer Complete: The Films, the Personnel, the Company. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-4766-7007-2.
  15. ^ "Ray Bradbury Interview Part 1". IndieBound. Archived from the original on February 3, 2009. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  16. ^ Davis, Linda H. (December 3, 2006). "First Chapter: 'Charles Addams'". The New York Times. p. 2. Archived from the original on September 4, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  17. ^ Hitchcock, Alfred (director); Cary Grant (actor) (1954). North by Northwest (DVD). Burbank: Warner Home Video, Inc. Event occurs at 1:26:42.
  18. ^ Davis 2006, p. 106.
  19. ^ Davis 2006, p. 136.
  20. ^ Miserocchi, H. Kevin, ed. (2010). The Addams Family: An Evilution. ISBN 978-0-7649-5388-0.
  21. ^ Davis 2006, p. 318.
  22. ^ "Charles Addams' 100th Birthday". Google. January 7, 2012. Archived from the original on June 10, 2019. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  23. ^ Kadosh, Matt (August 7, 2020). "Westfield's Dr. Virginia Apgar, Charles Addams Make NJ Hall of Fame". TAPinto. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  24. ^ "Vargas pinup commands $100K at Heritage sale". Retrieved 2022-05-18.
  25. ^ Author unknown (date unknown). Tee and Charles Addams Foundation. Retrieved on October 26, 2006 from "Career Biography of Charles Samuel Addams". Archived from the original on July 12, 2007. Retrieved October 26, 2006.
  26. ^ Davis 2006, p. 67.
  27. ^ Davis 2006, p. 324.
  28. ^ Davis 2006, p. 234.


  • Davis, Linda H. (2006). Chas Addams: A Cartoonist's Life. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-46325-2.
  • Obituary, The New York Times, Sept. 30, 1988, p. A1
  • Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.
  • "The Charms of the Macabre: Charles Addams's cartoon world is full of loving and caring people. How odd." The Wall Street Journal book review of The Addams Family: An Evilution, edited by H. Kevin Miserocchi.

Further reading

  • Davis, Linda H., Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life (2006), Random House, 382 pages

External links

  • Charles Addams Foundation
  • Charles Addams at Library of Congress Authorities, with 28 catalog records
  • v
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The Addams Family by Charles Addams
  • The Addams Family (musical)
  • Fester's Quest (1989)
  • The Addams Family pinball (1991)
  • The Addams Family handheld (1991)
  • The Addams Family (1993)
  • The Addams Family: Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt (1993)
  • Addams Family Values (1994)
  • The Addams Family Mystery Mansion (2019)
  • The Addams Family: An Evilution (2010)
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