Most know Charles Addams because of The Addams Family, but the famed cartoonist’s legacy spans far beyond that.
On Saturday, October 19, the East Hampton Library’s 2019 Tom Twomey Lecture Series will wrap up with Charles Addams: Family and Friends, a visual presentation led by H. Kevin Miserocchi, Tee & Charles Addams Foundation Director.
We had the chance to speak with Miserocchi about Addams, who was a close friend, the artist’s work, and so much more.
Could you speak about the Addams’ time in the Hamptons?
HKM: As it turns out, Charlie had a place in Westhampton Beach for years. Long before he and Tee were even living together or were married. That was in the 40s that he bought that – after his first marriage. He kept it all the way through, until his second marriage, in when he didn’t even realize he had lost it to a very bad marriage. There was a good Barbara and there was a bad Barbara, bad Barbara took everything she could. She had been a lawyer at one time, so she knew what she was doing.
Tee had been married to someone else as well, and they lived in East Hampton. All of that dissolved, even though Tee and Charlie knew each other back in the 40s. Anyway, they were not together at that time. There they were, a widow and a divorcee, and so they set up shop in Water Mill in Tee’s house. She had bought a house after the death of her husband. They were together in Water Mill for quite a while before this ever happened here in Sagaponack, where we have the Foundation from their house here. That only was the last few years of his life because she bought this in 1985. Too much construction in Water Mill and she loved nature, wildlife and all that. She bought this place, which is great because it backs up to Nature Conservancy, to like 90 acres of Nature Conservancy. This is kind of a sweet spot tucked in the back of Sagaponack. They were only here for three years together before Charlie died.
How did you meet Tee and Charlie?
HKM: Tee and I were doing fundraising in 1979 for Animal Rescue Fund. She had good friends who bought the 20 some odd acres in Wainscott to build the adoption center for all the stray dogs and cats that were roaming around out here. That’s how we met, through ARF, and she knew all the people and I knew how to do the fundraising packages. We would go into New York and we go to her good friends with foundations and things like that and collect as much money as possible. So, that’s how I met her. It was bizarre that I knew Charlie, but I didn’t know he was Charles Addams with two d’s. I knew him as Charlie and I didn’t even question that they were boyfriend and girlfriend living together.
Not till sitting there and doing fundraising in her house did I realize, with all the cats and cats’ fur and stuff – I mean it was like a flickers nest in her office, and cigarette smoke – I realized what was on the wall were cartoons. Then it clicked. Oh my god, you mean Charlie is Charles Addams with two d’s. The rest was history. We became very good friends, not tight friends, but very good friends. She protected him out here on the East End because he was 14 years older than she and she kept their social life on a keel that was much more comfortable that was not going to put pressure on him. He needed his time off. I became much closer to Tee after Charlie died. My partner and I were invited to move here. She built a cottage on the property, tore down a little place and put up a proper place for us to live. We were landscapers, so we landscaped the place. It was wonderful. It was a really great joint venture. She wasn’t going to go dig holes on the property, and that’s what we did. That’s how it all started. Then we ended up with a foundation because they said, you know, there’s like 1,500 drawings in the attic here after Charlie died that were moved from New York that have never been published. So, we finally formed a foundation in 1999.
What is the Foundation’s mission?
HKM: You know, it’s interesting, we have The Addams Family looming, always overhead, which, of course, it pays the bills. But, what it does is it allows us to do what our mission is, which is to educate the public through exhibition of his work. So, we never have to charge a museum for any fees. That’s what we make sure we don’t do. Because there’s no money in the arts, so they don’t really have the money to do it. But, at the same time, one would normally get some pretty fancy fees for shipping the art around the world. And we don’t do that. That is our mission, is to educate the public through exhibition. The rest of it is it just happens to be that we have our own personal underwriter called The Addams Family.
Speaking of The Addams Family, it’s something that has stood the test of time. What was Charlie’s reaction to it evolving into the iconic franchise that it is now?
HKM: He was an artist. I shouldn’t say that he didn’t care, but he didn’t care. TV was not a medium that interested him particularly. I think he had the tiniest TV I’ve ever seen in his apartment in New York, it just was shoved in a corner. If he needed to stay home or was sick or needed to be in touch with the world. He was a New Yorker, he was out and active and he was an artist. So, the whole thing of The Addams Family took him very much by surprise. Especially because they had never named it. Right down to the end. I mean, he had to name the characters for the program, in the 60s, because he had never named the characters. They didn’t say oh, hi, Morticia, how are you? None of that was in the cartoons. They were unnamed, and they weren’t even a family. Occasionally he threw them together as a family, but they were individuals.
When it came to them saying, well, we’d like to call it The Addams Family, he was fairly reticent about that. He was a behind the scenes kind of guy, not in the front row, and he was afraid of that. And it was okay. He wasn’t in front of the camera so much, it was more because of The Addams Family, and he had a pretty good social life. He traveled with a rather expensive crowd of people. Therefore, he was photographed. He dated Jackie Kennedy, dated Joan Fontaine. So, you’re in the public eye there, like it or not. As far as The Addams Family was concerned, he went out to California once or twice, and was friendly with the actors to a point where he liked John Astin, he liked Carolyn Jones. He did little cartoons for them, little personal stuff. He had an interest, but didn’t spend a lot of time on it.
Do you happen to have any favorite works or characters that Charlie created?
HKM: The Addams Family are the ones, the characters that we’re all familiar with. Even though there were only 150 drawings of The Addams Family out of the several thousand that he published and did over his lifetime. There’s themes that I really liked that he did versus characters. He spent a lot of time, because as I told you, we had good Barbara, bad Barbara, and then Tee, three wives and bad Barbara was right in the middle. She was like a big avocado pit. I mean, right in the middle of two nice marriages, was that horror show. He did a lot of drawings on relationships, on the progress of dating, being interested in someone, getting married, and then what to do with the body afterwards. We did a book several years ago, and it was titled Happily Ever After, not exactly an original title… Because he had done a couple of cartoons that actually did have a prince sitting next to a princess in front of a marriage counselor saying, we’re not living happily ever after. That’s why we named it that. But that’s one of his themes and I thought it was really wonderful and he did a lot of it.
We are actually coming out with a book in about six months, I think in May, of Charlie’s New York centric cartoons. He was a real New Yorker, so we have like 150 to 200 cartoons that are just about New York. That was a theme, he was a true New Yorker, he adored that city. As much as he loved the country, he just didn’t have enough to do. He didn’t go out and garden and do things like that here. He had a studio out here too, so he was always cartooning, he was always drawing or tinkering with his cars. He loved cars, too. That was his past time out of the city was to get together with pals and work on their fancy cars.
What will you cover during the Tom Twomey Series lecture?
HKM: It’s really just about his cartoons. A bit about his life, but I’m not really getting into the biographical part of Charles Addams, because I think there’s a biography out there – if someone’s really interested in all that. This is a visual arts presentation, so it’s about his work. Because of The Addams Family always stealing center stage, I think it’s much more interesting to see what he actually spent a lot of time doing. He spent very little time on The Addams Family, considering the amount of work in his entire lifetime. The lecture is going to include some pictures of The Addams Family cartoons that he did, but it’s more about the progress he made from the very beginning of his days that he first started out at The New Yorker in the 30s, right through the 80s when he died.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
HKM: I think the talk will be interesting. I think there’s a lot of people who will be differently engaged because it’s a different society now than it was. The people who were familiar with Charlie’s work were familiar with The New Yorker – that doesn’t exist anymore. People barely pick up a magazine. I think it’s kind of a flashback, maybe there’ll be some people who say, oh my god, I remember that. But the humor is so wonderful. It’s almost easier to just do a slideshow and say nothing. The art speaks for itself, and so I’m hoping to really pack it in and not fly through it, but there’s a lot of work on it.
Charles Addams: Family and Friends will begin at 6 p.m. There is no fee to attend, however registering for the event in advanced is requested.
East Hampton Library is located at 159 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, visit tomtwomeyseries.org.