Charles Addams Dead at 76; Found Humor in the Macabre
Charles Addams, the cartoonist whose macabre humor brought a touch of ghoulishness to The New Yorker's glossy pages for five decades, died yesterday at St. Clare's Hospital and Health Center, 415 West 51st Street. Virginia Stuart, director of community relations at the hospital, said Mr. Addams died in the emergency room after being brought to the hospital by ambulance. He was 76 years old and had an apartment in midtown Manhattan and a house in Sagaponack, L.I.
Mr. Addams's wife, Marilyn, said he had a heart attack Thursday morning in his automobile while it was parked in front of their apartment building.
He's always been a car buff, so it was a nice way to go, Mrs. Addams said.
A typical Addams cartoon was the one that showed a weird-looking man waiting outside a delivery room with a nurse telling him, Congratulations, it's a baby!
Many others depicted a Frankensteinian butler, a slinkily witchlike mother and other odd denizens of a haunted-looking Victorian house. In one 1946 drawing, they are up in its tower, about to greet Christmas carolers by dousing them with what looks like boiling oil. 12 Books Published The New Yorker published its first cartoon by Mr. Addams in 1935, long before sick jokes and black humor came into vogue, and it remained the main showcase for his work. But his drawings were also collected in a succession of books, and they were included in anthologies of New Yorker cartoons.
Robert Gotttlieb, the editor of The New Yorker, said yesterday: Like Thurber, Perelman, E. B. White and half a dozen others, Charles Addams has been someone whose work we instantly identify as central to The New Yorker. In my own case, this has been true for more than 40 years, and I can't imagine the magazine without him.
Rhonda Pinzer, the public relations director of The New Yorker, said yesterday that Mr. Addams's output included 12 published books, the last of which, Creature Comforts, came out in 1982.
She said that the magazine has on hand unpublished material that Mr. Addams has submitted, both covers and cartoons, which we expect will run in the future.
Mr. Addams's work also appeared in shows at galleries and museums and were reproduced on cocktail glasses, canape plates and other artifacts of the middle-class culture to which the Addams-cartoon universe provided a chilling but hilarious counterpoint.
Explaining Mr. Addams's popularity, the critic John Mason Brown once wrote in The Saturday Review that he invites us to enter a world which has nothing to do with the one in which we live except that, in the most glorious, undeviating and giddy fashion, it turns all of its values topsy-turvy. A 'Defrocked Ghoul
Mr. Addams cheerfully called himself a defrocked ghoul when he appeared, oddly robed, at a fashionable Manhattan costume party in 1966. But his manner was distinctly nonghoulish when he was out having a good time, which he did a great deal over the years, at charity balls, sports-car races and New Yorker parties, where he was known to pedal a child's tricycle while smoking a cigar.
As for his face, the New Yorker writer Brendan Gill, a longtime colleague, called it a round but not in the least cherubic countenance, with a nose prominent and yet seemingly boneless and therefore capable of being twisted into curious shapes.
It is true, Mr. Gill went on in his 1975 book Here at The New Yorker, that in drawing characters of diabolical mien he has often fallen back on making scary faces at himself in the mirror.
But it was more than mere scariness that caused Mr. Addams's durable eminence and that made him, as the Times art critic John Russell called him, an American landmark, one of the few by which one and all have learned to steer. Artistic Merit
An Addams house, an Addams family, an Addams situation are archetypes that we see all around us, Mr. Russell went on, reviewing an Addams show at the Nicholls Gallery in 1974.
In Mr. Russell's view, Mr. Addams's work had artistic merit, too. Ghouls and ghosts are not the whole of Addams, he said. The jokes are so good that we do not notice the sturdiness of the line, the rock-solid composition, the eye for scale and placement, the calculated ordinariness that lures us into the trap.
Mr. Addams's graphic ideas came in various ways. For one thing, he liked to watch the passers-by near Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's statue opposite the Plaza Hotel.
After five minutes of looking at people there, he told an interviewer, even my oddest drawings begin to look mild by comparison.
In addition, he once cheerfully told James Thurber, his fellow New Yorker cartoonist, I have gotten a lot of letters about my work, most of them from criminals and subhumans who want to sell ideas. Some of the worst come from a minister in Georgia.
Whatever its sources, Mr. Addams's work - which was done, over the years, in the kitchen of a Westhampton summer house, in a Water Mill, L.I., studio and elsewhere - won the somewhat grudging-sounding admiration of Harold Ross, the New Yorker's longtime chief editor. Married in a Pet Cemetery.
I think the drawing of your tasty little household looking at the home movie is probably a masterpiece, he once wrote the cartoonist. I suspect you ought to have more characters in that household. The dearth was borne in on me by this picture. Anyhow, it's a good humorous line, when you get ideas for it, which isn't easy.
In his personal life as well as his work, Mr. Addams had a penchant for the macabre. His marriage in Water Mill to Marilyn Matthews Miller in 1980 was held in a cemetery for pets, and the bride wore a black dress and carried a black feather fan. The groom, she said afterward, just likes black.
He thought it would be nice and cheerful.
When the bride suggested that the pet cemetery would make a fine final resting place for her and her husband, Mr. Addams chuckled and said, I know it's a bit impractical, but there are worse places.
He denied suggestions that he systematically toured cemeteries, but he admitted that my feet do begin to lead me if there's a churchyard in the neighborhood. Stuffed Grackle in His Camper
Which is not to say that Mr. Addams did not also enjoy more wholesome pastimes. He liked to own and race expensive sports cars, and he took pleasure driving his Dodge Sportsman Trans-Van, known as the Heap, on camping trips. But the Heap's interior decor had an eerie, Charles Addams quality. It included somber plush furniture, a stuffed partridge and a stuffed grackle.
There was also a Charles Addams quality to Mr. Addams's thoughts on travel. I'd love to take a trip to the Southwest, he mused in a 1981 interview. You know, Tombstone, Death Valley. We might pick up some nice mementos there.
Yet there was nothing macabre about his home town of Westfield, N.J., a residential community better known for the manufacture of toys and paint than the arts. Charles Samuel Addams was born there Jan. 7, 1912, the son of Charles Huey Addams, a piano-company executive who had studied to be an architect, and Grace M. Spear Addams.
Even as a boy, Charles was fascinated by the macabre, being fond of coffins, skeletons, tombstones and whatnot. He also liked to scare people now and then. Encouraged by His Father
We had a dumbwaiter in our house, he recalled in an interview years later, and I'd get inside on the ground floor, and then very quietly I'd haul myself up to grandmother's floor, and then I'd knock on the door, and when she came to open the door, I'd jump out and scare the wits out of her.
His father encouraged him to draw, and he did cartoons for the Westfield High School paper before going on to study at Colgate University in 1929 and 1930 and at the University of Pennsylvania in 1930 and 1931. He attended the Grand Central School of Art in New York in 1931 and 1932, but he later claimed that he spent most of that period just looking at people.
And he said he was surprised when he made his first cartoon sale to the New Yorker. It was a relatively straightforward drawing of a man standing on ice in his stocking feet. The caption was, I forgot my skates.
Mr. Addams worked for a time in the 1930's doing lettering, photo retouching and other incidental art chores for one of the Macfadden magazines. But before long he became a freelance artist, selling drawings to Colliers and other magazines. Served in Signal Corps.
He became a regular contributor to the New Yorker after attracting attention with a 1940 cartoon of a skier whose tracks indicated that she had skied straight through a tree.
From 1943 to 1946, Mr. Addams was in the Army, being, as Mr. Gill put it, Not too arduously employed making animations at the Signal Corps Photographic Center on lower Park Avenue.
After the war, Mr. Addams's work was displayed in various formats at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fogg Art Museum, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Museum of the City of New York and elsewhere.
The Addams cartoon household went on to reach an even broader public when it became the basis for The Addams Family, the 1960's television comedy series, which was widely rebroadcast later.
In addition, like other New Yorker cartoonists, Mr. Addams sometimes illustrated advertisements. For one advertiser, he drew an ominous-looking man fangs standing in an office. When an executive of the advertising agency caught sight of the sketch, he cried, My God, that looks just like the client.
Mr. Addams married Barbara Day in 1943, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1951. He married Barbara Barb in 1954; they were divorced in 1956.
Mrs. Addams said the funeral would be private.