Ooky, Spooky Brood Is Broadway Bound
By Elise D’Haene (04/24/2007)
Attention Sagaponack residents who think the Rennert estate is ghastly. Consider yourself warned. A family of eight has taken up residence in your neighborhood, crept among you in the dead of night without a sound. Yes, Sagaponackers, your quiet, genteel village as been invaded.
The Tee and Charles Addams Foundation has announced that it has secured the full rights to the intellectual property known as “The Addams Family” in a deal that was finalized a year ago.
Just how the cartoonist Charles Addams signed away 75 percent of the rights to his second wife of two years, Barbara Barb, is a tale as macabre as some of Mr. Addams’s characters. For the Sagaponack foundation, however, the acquisition marks a brand-new direction for the creepy brood, including new licensing deals and strong interest in the Addams Family franchise by Broadway power brokers.
Michael Solomon, the director of programming for the foundation, and Kevin Miserocchi, its executive director and a longtime friend of Tee Addams, “are happy to have everybody home again,” Mr. Solomon said.
The account of how the cartoonist handed over the rights to the Addams Family to his second wife “is very sketchy,” Mr. Solomon said. The couple were married in 1954 and divorced two years later. In 1956, hinting at the couple’s unusual relationship, Time magazine announced their October divorce this way: “Divorced. Charles Samuel Addams, 44, necrographic cartoonist for The New Yorker; by slinky, lank-haired Lawyer Barbara Barb, 36, live ringer for Addams’ lady lurker; after two years of marriage, no children; after Lawyer Barb established ‘residence’ in a 45-minute divorce-mill hearing in Athens, Ala.”
By December, Ms. Barb was remarried, to Henry Lennox D’Aubigne Hopkinson, the first Baron Colyton, a British diplomat under Winston Churchill, giving her the title of Lady Colyton. However, Ms. Colyton continued to serve as Mr. Addams’s agent and assigned the usual 10-percent fee to all of his income. Their dealings took a bizarre turn when, six months before Mr. Addams died, in 1988, Ms. Colyton “came to him with documents that secured for her 75 percent of all rights to the Addams Family property,” Mr. Solomon said.
“She was a mercenary, she made up everything about herself. Look, the woman was born in Brooklyn, her name was Estelle Barb, which she changed to Barbara Barb, and she died Lady Colyton.”
According to Linda Davis’s 2006 biography, “Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s Life,” his second wife was “a predatory party girl and lawyer. . . . Materialistic, bluntly seductive, she talked Addams into agreements that gave her control of his art, and exerted herself in making money off it long after the divorce.” Ms. Colyton died in 2003.
After her husband died, Tee Addams questioned the financial arrangements between Ms. Colyton and Mr. Addams surrounding the rights to the Addams Family. “Colyton was very slippery,” Mr. Solomon said, and she remained evasive about the financial particularities of the Addams Family revenue, especially money owed to Ms. Addams.
“Tee never filed a claim against Colyton,” Mr. Solomon said, and she would receive checks periodically from Ms. Colyton. Some of those checks were for significant sums, especially with the release of the two Addams Family feature films, starring Raul Julia and Angelica Huston and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld of East Hampton. “When Tee would get a check for a million dollars, Colyton was making three times that amount.”
After Ms. Addams died, Mr. Solomon and Mr. Miserocchi met with Ms. Colyton’s nephew — her sole heir — and his lawyer. “We were determined to get to the bottom of things,” Mr. Solomon said. The foundation discovered that millions of dollars that should have gone to Ms. Addams were diverted and donated to the University of Pennsylvania by Ms. Colyton. (Mr. Addams received a fine arts degree in 1934 from the university; its Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall was dedicated in 2001.)
“We caught 1.3 million. That was just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Solomon said. “A huge portion of the monies that were donated were revenues from Tee’s 25 percent of the licensing of the Addams Family.”
Ms. Colyton’s estate was considering selling their percentage of the rights to an outside buyer. “We didn’t want to sell the rights. We wanted to buy them,” Mr. Solomon said. “We could have sued them and tied them up in litigation, but they had a lot more money than we did. Instead, with what we had uncovered, we had backed them into a corner. We had liens against the estate for the millions already owed to the foundation. We made an offer.”
According to Mr. Solomon, the foundation “went out on a limb financially” to buy back the rights. “We were stretched to the last penny, down to about one week left for our salaries.”
Once the foundation secured the rights, in a deal in which it paid “in the millions,” according to Mr. Solomon, he and Mr. Miserocchi put the word out and informed all licenseholders that the foundation was now the controlling party. They also let it be known to the movers and shakers on Broadway that they were interested in pursuing an Addams Family musical.
Interest in the project was immediate and the foundation received about a dozen proposals, among them pitches from such Broadway dealmakers as Judy Craymer, the producer of “Mamma Mia!” (which has grossed more than $2 billion), and the producer and theater owner Eric Nederlander.
But the nod went to Stuart Oken of Elephant Eye Productions, a theatrical production company that develops new book musicals for Broadway. Mr. Oken spent nine years at Disney Theatrical Productions, where he led the transition of several Disney projects onto the stage, among them “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” and Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida.” A native Chicagoan, Mr. Oken also presented the regional premiers of such works as David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Sam Shepard’s “True West.”
“Stuart is a perfect combination of the traditional and the avant-garde,” Mr. Solomon said. “He knew the show would have to be recast, to make it closer to Charles’s original creation.” Referring to the feature films based on the Addams Family, Mr. Solomon said, “Raul Julia is not Gomez. Gomez is a scamming, ugly greaseball.”
Mr. Oken is to announce the selection of the production’s creative team, including composer, writer, and designer, in May.
Meanwhile, the foundation has already penned a deal with Mars Incorporated to feature the Addams Family characters in a series of commercials for a new dark-chocolate version of M&Ms.
On the local front, this summer two East End organizations will collaborate with the foundation to celebrate the late cartoonist’s love of cars. The Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton will hold its fourth annual Charles Addams Festival: Cartooning for Kids workshop. And the 8 to 12-year-old participants will visit an exhibit at the Bridge Hampton Historical Society titled “Charles Addams and His Cars,” which will focus on Mr. Addams’s car collection as well as his cartoons dealing with the theme of cars. He raced in car rallies in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack and collected vintage cars, including a 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans and a Bugatti 35C Grand Prix.
With its successful bid to buy back the rights, the foundation welcomes home Morticia, Gomez, Lurch, Pugsley, Wednesday, Uncle Fester, Grandma, Thing, and Cousin Itt. So, Sagaponackers, your new neighbors may be a tad odd and off-kilter, and yes, Cousin Itt does resemble a hairball, but the good news is they are civic minded and Broadway bound.
As the famous quote goes, “Can’t we all just get along?”