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The Story of “The Addams Family,” Where the Humor Is Just as Amazing as the Characters’ Looks

The dark comedy, The Addams Family, was filmed in 1991, based on the characters from the cartoon created by Charles Addams and the 1964 TV series. Scott Rudin came up with the idea when he was driving in the car together with the head of the movie company, and the kid of one of the employees started singing the tune from The Addams Family series. The next day, they decided to make a film. But the filming and preparations were incredibly hard.

The hardships the actress who played Morticia Addams had to endure

  • The actress that played Morticia probably had the toughest job. To make her already slim body even slimmer, she had to wear a metal corset every day that made her waist narrower and raised her breasts. It was unpleasant to wear, but this form of Morticia became iconic.
  • According to costume designer Ruth Myers, Morticia was supposed to move like a creature from the other world. It was quite easy to achieve: the corset made sure the actress could barely walk. She mostly had to slide.
  • To imitate her squinted eyes, they would attach pieces of fabric to the temples to stretch the skin and outer corners of the eyes. The fabric pieces were attached to the back of the head with tape. If the actress didn’t remove them during lunch, she’d have bad headaches and a skin rash. And if she did, she’d need to spend additional hours in the makeup room. Despite all the challenges, she didn’t complain. And it wasn’t until the last day of filming that she freaked out and burned both the corset and the wig.
AF Archive / Mary Evans Picture Library / East News, © The Addams Family / Paramount Pictures and co-producers
  • The role of Morticia could have gone to Cher or Kim Basinger, but it finally went to Anjelica Huston, as they’d been impressed by this grim beautiful woman for a long time.
  • Ruth Myers got an Oscar nomination for the costumes she created. Because the Addams family consisted of aristocrats, she had to develop 20 dresses just for Morticia alone.
  • Morticia had a daytime dress she’d wear around lunchtime before changing into her dinner dress. The latter was jet with beautiful lace. “Jet” refers to a semi-precious black stone made of coal. It was often used as a replacement for diamonds and colored stones during periods of mourning in the Victorian era. They used a lot of vintage satin along with some velvet and chiffon.

How Wednesday Addams was created

  • Christina Ricci, who played Wednesday, the daughter of the family, was just as cunning as her character when she was a kid. She said that at the age of 8, she wanted a part in a school play but it went to a boy. She’d mock him until he attacked her. Ricci complained about him, got the part, and was noticed by a local theater critic.
  • Like Morticia, Wednesday had several dresses: one for school, one for every day, and one for the evening. She had a mini-Morticia dress for the ball sequence.
  • Christina Ricci came up with the sleep position of Wednesday with her arms crossed on her chest. The name Wednesday is a reference to the line in the Mother Goose poem that goes, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”

The look of Uncle Fester

Strong Heart Demme Production / Collection Christophel / East News, Columbia Tristar / Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection / East News
  • Sir Anthony Hopkins turned down the role of Uncle Fester. Christopher Lloyd, famous for the Back to the Future trilogy, got the role.
  • Before filming (spoiler alert!), it wasn’t decided yet if Gordon would be the real brother of Gomez Addams or not. But the actors were so worried that Gordon would be an imposter that they asked Christina Ricci to talk to the director and producer to make Gordon the real Uncle Fester. Ironically, the only person that didn’t care who the character would turn out to be was Christopher Lloyd himself.
  • When Uncle Fester arrives at the Addams’ house, his trunk bears travel stickers from locations known for horrible events and disasters, including Elba, Jonestown, the Bermuda Triangle, Death Valley, the Black Hole of Calcutta, Three Mile Island, Alcatraz, Pompeii, Devil’s Island, and others.
  • Bruno Kirby offered his fat suit from The Godfather: Part II (1974) to Christopher Lloyd so he could better portray Uncle Fester.

How a hand turned into a full-fledged character

CAP / SFS / East News
  • Another small but important movie character is the hand, named Thing. It belonged to actor-magician Christopher Hart. For most of Thing’s shots, Hart was laid facedown on a dolly and propelled through the set, one arm extended, and the rest of the body was hidden in a black suit.
  • In the 1964 series, Thing didn’t have so much work: the hand would just appear from a box. But in the 1991 movie, it was a character that could write and talk by using Morse code, do some small tasks, and it even saved Uncle Fester’s life in the 1993 sequel.
  • Some episodes with Thing were really difficult to shoot, like, for example when the hand jumps over the pond, it required stop-motion animation, a technique in which a puppet is moved a tiny bit at a time and photographed frame by frame. The scene, which runs less than 10 seconds, took 8 hours to shoot.
  • All the personal belongings Thing had were hand-related, like different types of gloves and handwear-themed catalogs and notebooks.

The casting process and how the other actors worked

  • Early makeup designs for Gomez Addams included dark circles around his eyes, similar to Uncle Fester’s. But they changed it right before filming.
  • Jimmy Workman who played Pugsley, the Addams’ son, got his role accidentally — he was with his older sister for her audition. But when she didn’t get the part and Ricci did, the director and producer noticed Jimmy on set and suggested he try out.
  • Mercedes McNab, who plays the Girl Scout selling her cookies, plays Amanda Buckman in the sequel.

Behind the scenes

Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection / East News, © The Addams Family / Paramount Pictures and co-producers
  • Barry Sonnenfeld made his directorial debut with The Addams Family. But it wasn’t his first movie project. He’d previously earned his stripes as a director of photography on the likes of Big, Misery, and the brilliant Miller’s Crossing. So, of course, he knew his way around a movie set.
  • Still, it was a very tough time for Sonnenfeld. For several weeks, he’d sleep only 15 minutes a night and often had a cappuccino instead of a normal meal. He went on like this until he lost consciousness one day when he was working. And after spending a day in the hospital, he had to continue working.
  • The director had a small cameo in the film — he was the passenger on the model train that a giant Gomez played with.

What memories do you have of this film? What do you like and dislike about it?

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