East End Macabre Master of the Addams Family

Halloween was his birthday. Fascinated by coffins and tombstones, he played as a child in a cemetery next to old haunted houses, some say.

Years later, he got married in a pet cemetery in Water Mill. His bride dressed all in black and wore a fan of feathers – black, of course – because the groom just liked black.

“He thought it would be nice and happy,” she said.

His neighbors described him as a fairly ordinary guy, however, an animal lover with lots of dogs and cats who was actively involved in East End life.

Who was the real Charles Addams? He indulged in his obsessions to famously combine gothic imagery and gallows humor – and he was an ordinary “playful” guy too.


Born in 1912, the only child of devoted parents in cozy Westfield, New Jersey, Charles Samuel Addams was not your typical middle-class child.

He broke into a deserted Victorian house to draw skeletons on the garage walls when he was 8 years old. He explained his obsession to biographer Linda Davis: “I have always been aware of the grim family situations behind these Victorian facades.

When he was 12 years old, a New York Herald Press cartoonist said he had no talent and should forget about his dream of an artistic career. But the kid nicknamed “Chill” continued to draw, creating cartoons as the art director of his high school journal before brief stints in college.

In 1931, he enrolled at the Grand Central School of Art in Manhattan. He set his sights on The New Yorker magazine. The following year, he sold them his first sketch for $ 7.50. In 1933, the magazine bought the first of many drawings.

After his father died that year, he went to work for Real detective magazine. He liked to touch up and remove blood from images of corpses.

In 1935, he joined The New Yorkerthe staff of. America was fascinated by the dark, the shadow Frankenstein and Dracula films, which likely inspired Addams to create her signature subjects: a tight, pale, black-robed vixen and her weird clan outside a run-down, haunted Victorian mansion. Unlike movie monsters, Addams’ characters had a weird but healthy sense of humor.

The New Yorker began performing his instantly recognizable Addams Family artwork that year. In 1942, Random House published its first anthology of drawings, Pulled and cut.


People have talked about blackouts and mental hospitals. They said he rides a tricycle at parties while smoking a cigar. They talked about the beauties he had sex with, from Greta Garbo to Jacqueline Kennedy. They saw his collection of crossbows, maces, and a Civil War embalming table.

But in public, the elegant sophistication of Brooks Brothers bespoke suits was a throwback to the era of the big band and the cigarette girl. Random House founder Bennett Cerf called Addams “the sweetest, kindest old schizophrenic.”

All celebrities, from Cary Grant to Alfred Hitchcock, admired him. Hitchcock once knocked on his door to see how he lived – Hitch is said to have portrayed Addams’ Victorian mansion in his 1960 masterpiece Psychosis. For the next 40 years, the funny, lovable, and creepy Addams family starred in a Broadway TV series, feature films, and musical.


Addams often worked at his Westhampton Beach weekend home and later at Water Mill. He called the East End “Bugatti Heaven” and drove his Alfa Romeo Castagna in the early 1960s, went to vintage meets in Bridgehampton and entertained glamorous stars including Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, before marrying his third wife, Tee, at Water Mill.

Made for each other, they loved picnicking in cemeteries.

In 1985, they bought the Sagaponack house which they named “The Swamp”. In late September 1988, Addams drove to Manhattan and died of a heart attack outside his apartment. Tee reacted in classic Addams style, saying “He’s always been a car enthusiast so that was a good way to go.” She died in 2002.

Their ashes, along with those of their pets, were buried in their pet cemetery.

-This story first ran in Long Island Press

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