Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

"The Addams Family" and Marc Davis

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We already did a post on the influence of Charles Addams on the Haunted Mansion. Today's post might be regarded as something of a footnote to that one, but it isn't really. See, I gave the wife a box set of the entire "Addams Family" television program (1964-66) for Christmas, and it became obvious to me after just a few episodes that the TV series was itself a direct influence on Marc Davis, independently of the published work of Mr. Addams in books and magazines. Since I'm currently working on a big post on Davis, I figured I had better finish researching this new discovery, and having done so, I've decided to make it a sort of pre-post to the big one.

That was a lot of TV to wade through. Unlike, perhaps, some of you, I find that I can only watch three or four "Addams Family" episodes at a sitting. It's fine for a half hour once a week, as Nature intended, but for me the show is basically a one-trick pony, and the schtick becomes a little tedious watching it for hours on end, notwithstanding the good performances and the better-than-average writing.

Hence, the delay.

I don't suppose that many Forgottenistas are unfamiliar with "The Addams Family," but if any review seems necessary, well, Google is your friend.



The show premiered September 18, 1964 and ran for just two seasons, with a total of 64 episodes. That premiere coincides rather precisely with the period in which Davis was assigned to the Mansion project and began churning out concept sketches. I'm convinced that Marc was among those who tuned in to check out the sitcom adaptation of the Charles Addams characters he and other Disney artists knew so well from the pages of The New Yorker and published anthologies of his cartoons. He took some mental or maybe even written notes, and some of the gags he saw made it into sketches for the Haunted Mansion.


Not A Doubt: Granny's Knitting

The place to begin is with those examples where there is no room for serious doubt that Davis was directly inspired by the TV program. The first one involves a sketch we've already discussed in the context of influence from Charles Addams artwork. You will recall that we cited this Davis concept as evidence of inspiration from Addams:


Granny disappears as she rocks back and forth. This character really did make it into the finished attraction, in the Ballroom, where she sits near the fire. What didn't make it was the bizarre, multi-limbed item she is knitting. Addams used the basic gag at least twice, once with "Morticia" doing the knitting, and once with "Granny" doing it, as in the Davis sketch.



So much for review. In both Addams sketches the knit item is an infant's nightie with four legs instead of the expected two. But in Davis's sketch he has replaced the nightie with an item that looks like an amalgam from at least two and perhaps three episodes of "The Addams Family." Davis's "Granny" is knitting something with (1) three sleeves, (2) an absurdly long turtle-neck, and (3) it seems like the whole sweater is ridiculously long.

Behold, "Cousin Imar's" three-sleeved sweater, from the premiere episode, "The Addams Family Goes to School," (Sept 18, 1964):
Sorry that the clip goes on so long. No . . . that's a lie. I'm not sorry. And neither are you. Anyway, an absurdly long-necked sweater
turns up six episodes later, this one intended for "Cousin Eustace," in "Halloween with the Addams Family" (Oct 30, 1964):
Finally, it's possible that Davis took a further cue from the insanely long sweater Morticia is
knitting in "Fester's Punctured Romance" (Oct 2, 1964), but in this case I wouldn't insist upon it:
The fact that this episode lies in between the other two makes me think that, on balance, Davis probably did lay this one under contribution along with those, where the influence seems harder to deny.

Incidentally, the long knit item reappears at the end of the "Halloween" episode and much later in "Morticia the Breadwinner" (Mar 26, 1965). Similarly, the three-armed sweater reappears in "Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family" (Jan 15, 1965). There is a lot of gag-recycling in the series, and there are still other goofy knitting jokes if you keep all three of your eyes open for them.

I have to say that Davis's generally sound comic instincts let him down a bit in this case. There are too many separate examples of the bizarre in his Granny's needlework. As with the ill-fated Squeaky Door Ghost, we have in Granny's lap something that cannot be read in an instant, as must these gags be read. To the quick glance, it's just an impenetrable mass of weird knitting, and it takes a good deal of time and effort to figure out what the hell she's doing. In fact, without the "Addams Family" episodes, we would have difficulty disentangling it even with all the leisure in the world. The TV program itself showed better sense in presenting the gags one at a time.

To return for a moment to the final product in the Mansion, we find that the Ballroom's Granny figure ultimately goes back not to Davis but to a Ken Anderson sketch, and in this case the final character owes little to Davis's later contributions:

©Disney

It's true that she disappears and reappears, like the other Ballroom ghosts, but no attempt is made to coordinate this with her rocking chair. It's also true that she originally had a knitting basket beside her on the floor, and it's still there, so it's possible that she did indeed start out a knitter; nevertheless, at least by 1974 she was given a book and not a set of knitting needles to hold:

©Disney


(For those of you who simply must know these things, the book—at least at WDW—is Arizona in the '50s.)





Not a Doubt: The Squeaky Door Ghost


Seems like we just got off the phone with this one. You will recall that this was another joke much too complex and time-consuming to actually work. Davis explained the gag as "a gal who was trying to put the squeak into a door" (MDIHOW 427). It is difficult for me to believe that Marc was not directly inspired here by Lurch in "Morticia Joins the Ladies League" (Oct 23, 1964):

Not a Doubt: Bruno

The final example of what I think are clear examples of direct inspiration involves a white bear rug that appears frequently in the earliest "Addams Family" episodes but is soon dropped. His name is Bruno and he growls menacingly at any who tread upon him, as in the premiere episode of Sept 18, '64:
As if to drive home the point, Gomez Addams asks his insurance agent why his policy is being canceled in "Crisis in the Addams Family" (March 12, 1965). "Well," says the agent, "because the policy doesn't make sense. Things like this: double indemnity for flogging by a carnivorous plant, gunpowder burns, being bitten by an enraged rug."

I'm sure many of you will already know where I'm going with this:


If it stood alone, I'd be a little more skeptical, but in light of the examples we've already seen, I think it's a ding-ding winner.


Okay, A Little Doubt: The Gate

Y'all will have to form your own opinions about whether the Addams' iron gate, featured in dozens of episodes, including the premiere, may have had some influence on Davis's proposed entrance gate into the Haunted Mansion's Portrait Hall:

©Disney

There is a some resemblance between the central, squiggly portion of Davis's gate and the regularly spaced squiggles on "Gate" (as he is known on the TV show), and furthermore, it's likely that Davis's gate behaved as if it were "alive" as well. Add to this that it's virtually certain Marc saw the Addams gate several times, and there's your case. But I won't push it any harder than that. Far be it from me to force a gate, especially if it's like one of these bad boys. (By the way, that premiere episode was the only one in which the Addams house fa├žade was an actual set rather than a painting.)


A Little More Doubt: Ophelia

"Ophelia," based on the Shakespeare character in Hamlet, has gone on to become a trope unto itself, even to the point of being referred to as "The Ophelia." Read up on her at the link if you want more detail. For our purposes, it may be noted that both Marc Davis and "The Addams Family" presented their own versions of the Ophelia trope:



As far as I can see, there is only one thing that suggests a link between the Addams Family version and Davis's sketch, and that's the merging of this trope with another: the pedal-picking "loves me, loves me not" thing. Davis has this as the actual title of his sketch, while Ophelia Frump alludes to it in "Ophelia Finds Romance" (Jan 28, 1966):


The reasons I'm a little skeptical about this one is that the combination of the two tropes seems to come so naturally that coincidence seems as probable an explanation as any. Also, this episode comes rather late in the series run, and I can't help thinking that Davis had lost interest in it by that time. I note that the most persuasive examples of inspiration from the show all stem from the very earliest episodes of Season One. I think Davis figured out before the end of 1964 that he had probably seen all he needed to see.

Speaking of coincidental mash-ups of separate tropes...


Super Mega Doubt: The Cauldron

* The black-robed, wart-nosed witch with her potion book, stirring her bubbling black cauldron.
* The mad scientist in his laboratory with his test-tubes and retorts (cue the bubbling colored water and dry ice).

Those are two very familiar and distinct tropes, but it's not hard to imagine a mash-up. Davis and "The Addams Family" both gave us one:

MDIHOW 370


If you stare at those two long enough, the needle may indeed start a-twichin', but my advice is to forget it. Not only is it Uncle Fester and not Grand Mama (which would have strengthened the case), but the dating is against it. The Davis sketch is from the summer of 1964; that is, months before "The Addams Family" even premiered, and the episode in question comes along well into the second season ("Cousin Itt's Problem"; Oct 25, '65). Of course, it must be stipulated that dates assigned by the Disney Archives have sometimes been and therefore can be incorrect, so an error here cannot be absolutely ruled out, but generally I think it's better to trust the dates unless you have much harder evidence than this. Better to see this as an example of two creative minds independently seeing the comic potential in mashing up the witch/mad scientist tropes. That's interesting enough, no?

The dates for all the other Davis artwork in this post come from the safe distance of 1968.

We've seen many other examples of Marc Davis taking ideas from here, there, and anywhere he could find them, but not many other examples of multiple inspiration from a single source. Although none of the gags inspired by "The Addams Family" made it into the finished ride, you might argue that Granny's knitting basket in the Ballroom represents a faint if not altogether ookie glimmer.


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6 comments:

  1. I never made the connection when I was a kid. I started seeing it as an adult. Very good post bringing it all together along with a few I never considered.

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  2. Fascinating! I used to wish Gomez and Morticia were my parents. And of course, their romance is the ideal to which we all strive in vain. (In vein, mwhahaha!)

    Me as Drowned Ophelia, Halloween 2013.

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  3. Melissa, great costume.

    No question, Addams and Davis were each comic geniuses.

    JG

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  4. Growing up all the kids were either in the Addams Family camp, Or the Munsters. I was a proud Addams Family Fan! I'm glad to see that apparently Marc Davis was too! (or at least he cared enough to borrow from it) I actually have the model of the Addams Family House. It's the later Polar Lights re-release. It has sticks in the base connected to glow in the dark ghosts that you can move past the windows. You can all be envious if you wish. ;-)

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  5. Great post Dan! Marc was indeed heavily influenced by Addams - he was a big fan of the New Yorker magazine, where Addams was featured quite a bit throughout his career. Here are a few quotes from my book on Marc discussing Addams.... "...And I had always thought of a “Haunted Mansion” as being like something out of Charles Addams, that kind of a thing. And here was this neat building! I couldn’t understand why they wanted this plain, “nothing” building up there. And I mentioned this to Walt, and he said, “No, Marc. I don’t agree with that. I don’t want anything in Disneyland that looks like we don’t take care of it. I think everything inside of the park should look neat. Inside you can do anything you want to the show, but outside I want things to look like we take care of them. I don’t want to see a shabby building there.”" ... "This is “Granny knitting.” These are ideas, as I say, that go up with the idea that “maybe this will work” – and sometimes eventually end up no place. Granny is knitting a three-armed sweater. You think of a “Haunted Mansion” and you think of Charles Addams, you know? That kind of thing. And I think that’s what you’re expected to do. If you did this nice and clean and neat, it wouldn’t be a Haunted Mansion!"

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