Born: January 7, 1912, in Westfield, New Jersey
Died: September 29, 1988, in New York City
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2019-20: Arts & Letters
Charles Addams, it seems, could find the macabre most anywhere he looked. Several homes near where he grew up in Westfield are said to be inspirations for the decaying Gothic mansion in “The Addams Family,” the TV sitcom for which he is best-known. The Presbyterian Church Burial Grounds on Mountain Avenue in Westfield apparently was a favorite haunt of the young Addams. Some years later, the grown-up Addams married his third wife in a pet cemetery.
Addams wasn’t necessarily born to be bizarre. Artistically inclined as a youth, he drew cartoons for the Weathervane, Westfield High School’s student literary magazine. He attended Colgate University and the University of Pennsylvania before enrolling in the Grand Central School of Art in New York City in 1931. His first cartoon for The New Yorker appeared the following year.
The New Yorker became the foremost outlet for Addams’ work. He created his darkly humorous cartoons on a regular basis for the magazine from 1937 until his death. Even after his death, it took The New Yorker five years to publish all the cartoons that the remarkably prolific Addams left behind.
Addams first drew the characters that became the Addams Family in 1938. More than 20 years later, a producer approached Addams about using the family as the basis for a TV sitcom. To make the show work, Addams gave the characters names and fleshed out their personalities. The original series ran on ABC for three seasons, starting in 1964. It eventually spawned two feature movies, two animated TV series, a Broadway musical, a videogame series and other spinoffs.
“The Addams Family” gave broad recognition to its creator’s work. Addams drew more than 1,300 cartoons in his lifetime, many of which have been collected in the numerous anthologies of his work. He also illustrated several books and drew covers for other works. His approach to drawing has influenced several generations of similarly odd satirical cartoonists.