Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Charles Addams: Addams Family Relatives?

An original illustration by cartoonist Charles Addams was sold last week by Heritage Auctions. It is framed above a printed sheet declaring it an original Addams Family illustration, but it is not quite the Addams Family we're all familiar with. Who exactly are these characters and why on earth are they all writing, or attempting to write?

I didn't recognize the illustration when author Steve Stoliar first brought it to my attention. My first thought was that it might be an advertising piece, but that was just a guess. I decided to consult with some Addams specialists.

Charles Addams's biographer Linda H. Davis writes, "I have not seen it before. Since it’s not clear what they’re signing, I suspect that he did indeed do it for an advertising gig. He did quite a lot for advertising. And most of the characters are recycled from cartoons. The funny thing to me is the Fester-nosed bird, which resembles some self portraits he did for Tee, in which he portrayed himself as a bird, dropping a Valentine outside the sliding door of her 'bird room,' etc."

Ms. Davis continues, "One of my favorites of the two-headed crowd is in my book, p. 126: 'Everything happens to me.'"
"Everything happens to me."
Charles Addams
Homebodies, 1965

Addams merchandise maven Joel Jacobus has his own insights into the characters. He writes, "Well that's quite interesting. I have not seen it before. The female is definitely the character who would eventually become Morticia's sister Ophelia. She appears in a number of Addams' drawings, including the dust jacket and title page of The Groaning Board.

Charles Addams
The Groaning Board (1964)


"And Thing is peeking down from above."
The Thing

Thing? Yes, Thing. A word of explanation might be in order here. In an earlier communication, Joel wrote, "Kevin Miserocchi [director of the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation] identifies the character peeking out from under the drapes [in the Addams Family scarf] as The Thing. Our modern concept of The Thing as a disembodied hand wasn’t solidified until the 1964 TV show. Prior to that, with the exception of one drawing showing hands coming out of a record player and changing a record, The Thing tended to peer down from balconies, from behind drapes, or out from under seats. There's no real evidence that Mr. Addams thought of this character as 'The Thing' (which was only mentioned once in an early cartoon that shows a sign on the mansion’s wrought iron fence that reads, 'Beware of the Thing') but the idea that 'something' was creeping around the mansion was pretty powerful and since this character creeps around the house, it’s not unreasonable to think the two are one and the same."
Beware of the Thing
Charles Addams
Addams and Evil, 1947
Image updated October 15, 2022
Scan by David Lo Pan

Okay, back to the illustration's characters. Joel continues, "But the others are all new to me. Although Addams did like to draw two-headed boys now and then, this one doesn't look like any of the others that I recall.

"I am inclined to think this was for an industrial advertisement rather than for The New Yorker. There seems to be a quite a few of Addams's industrial ads out in the world..."

Finally, I contacted H. Kevin Miserocchi of the Addams Foundation. He was aware of the drawing only because it had been sold earlier this year at Doyle. He suspects this is a magazine illustration or perhaps advertising art, but he has no record of it.

Doyle, formerly the William Doyle Galleries, did indeed sell this piece in March. The auction house speculated that the piece was created for an advertisement and came as close as one can to identifying Ophelia without actually doing so. Doyle called this "a group of Addams Family relatives," which is excellent salesmanship, who are "apparently suffering from writer's block." Could be.

So it seems the previous owner purchased this at Doyle and then framed it to indicate the characters were from the Addams Family. As Ophelia is Morticia's sister, this may even have some truth to it. The Doyle sale price in March of $11,970, including the buyer's premium, is a considerable investment. The bidding at Heritage started at $7,500, with an ultimate sale price of $45,000, again including premium, would seem to indicate a remarkably successful and quick turnover, particularly for a subject on the periphery of the Addams Family. (I wouldn't try this at home.)

Charles Addams
Heritage Auctions listing ended October 7, 2022

Charles Addams
Heritage Auctions item description

Note:  My thanks to Steve Stoliar, author of Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House, who originally brought this intriguing Addams drawing to my attention. I strongly recommend his book but I think the audiobook, which Steve himself narrates, is terrific too.

Thanks also to Linda H. Davis, author of Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life. Ms. Davis has been very generous in her responses to all my Addams queries. Her biography should be essential reading for everyone who likes to visit this blog.

I am indebted as well to Joel Jacobus, tireless cataloguer of Addams merchandise and memorabilia. When I need to tell Granny Frump from Grandmama, I go to Joel.

Thanks as well to H. Kevin Miserocchi of the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation. He is an executive producer of "Wednesday," premiering on Netflix November 23. It seems to have a great look and a talented cast:

"Wednesday" Trailer

My thanks also to to New Yorker cartoonist and Ink Spill blogger Michael Maslin, who came along with me for this whole adventure.

Needless to say, any reader who chanced to see this Charles Addams illustration in print should get in touch and provide the details.


No comments:

Post a Comment