The Addams Family Director Stole Exact Images From The Original Comic

The first Charles Addams' strip that might be considered a part of the Addams Family canon was published in the pages of the New Yorker on August 6, 1938. In it, a vacuum cleaner salesman stands just inside a large, creepy, obviously haunted mansion, addressing the denizens, a cadaverous vampire woman and a brutish bearded man. The salesman, unperturbed by his grim surroundings offers his sales pitch, declares that no well-appointed home should be without such an appliance. 

58 of Addams' 1,300 cartoon strips would feature his oddball Family, a nameless clan of ghouls who cherished horror and death. Throughout the '40s, a central canon of Family members would solidify, and come to include a squat, beastly patriarch, his skeletal wife, their two murderous children, a witchy grandmother, a fecklessly weird bald uncle, and their Frankensteinian live-in butler. In Addams' strips, the Family would talk about how much they loved destructive storms, how often they strolled through the cemetery, or how much they enjoyed killing neighbors. 

On Christmas 1946, the New Yorker published a notorious Addams strip wherein his Family's home was visited by carolers. High above their heads, standing on the home's central tower, the Addams Family is slowly tipping a cauldron, presumably full of hot oil or molten lead, onto their visitors' heads. That strip would later be made into a Christmas card. 

That strip was also the first image seen in Barry Sonnenfeld's 1991 film adaptation, "The Addams Family." Indeed, in a 2021 interview with the AV Club, the director said that he just stole the gag outright. And that wasn't the only one. There was also a scene partway through Sonnenefeld's film involving a model train that he lifted from a strip, as well as a teaser trailer that imitated Addams' work.

The Addams Family train scene was taken right from the comics

Sonnenfeld said: 

"[T]he inspiration was always in Charles Addams' drawings. And there are actual images that I just stole outright from his work and turned into two-dimensional moving pictures. Like, there is a Charles Addams drawing of someone playing with an H.O.-gauge train set, and it shows a commuter looking out the window and seeing some man playing with the controls of his train set. And I stole that and used it exactly. In fact, I'm the guy in the train!"

That strip was not published in the New Yorker, however. Or, at the very least, I was unable to find it in my massive "Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker" compendium, a coffee table book that no household should be without.  

The opening Christmas carolers shot, however, most certainly was in the New Yorker, and Sonnenfeld commented on it, saying: 

"[T]he opening shot of the Addams family pouring oil from a cauldron onto the carolers is also a drawing that Charles Addams had done. So I took great inspiration from those images; I grew up with them! I read The New Yorker every week—or, rather, my dad did, and I would look for the Charles Addams drawings."

Also printed in the New Yorker, specifically in 1947, was a comic strip that served as the inspiration for the very first "Addams Family" teaser trailer. In the teaser, a woman in heavy makeup is distraught over a relationship in the midst of going awry. She then turns to the camera, shudders, and screams. The camera pulls back to reveal the woman is only a character on a movie screen and the theater watching her is sold out. The whole crowd turns around and looks at the camera

That's the image Sonnenfeld borrowed. 

The Addams Family movie teaser

The camera then cuts to a reverse angle to reveal the Addams Family — Carel Struycken, Jimmy Workman, Raul Julia, the hand of Christopher Hart, Anjelica Huston, Judith Malina, and Christina Ricca — sitting in the back row. Christopher Lloyd played Uncle Fester in the movie, although the Fester in the trailer appears to be a different actor. Or perhaps the Fester makeup was simply more dramatic for the trailer. The Addams Family then snap their fingers to the tune of Vic Mizzy's famed theme song from their 1964 sitcom.

The teaser is now pretty rare, but it was common for a short window in 1991, and seen frequently by those of us going to theaters often. In a funny "pay it forward" moment, when "The Addams Family" finally opened, it featured a similar trailer for Penelope Spheeris' then-upcoming rock comedy "Wayne's World." In that trailer, the film's main characters, played by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, forgot the lyrics to Vic Mizzy's theme before imploring viewers to check out their movie, opening the following February. 

After "The Addams Family" was a big hit, Sonnefeld seemingly felt less beholden to Addams' original comics, and created something almost wholly original for 1993's "Addams Family Values." The sequel features a subplot wherein a teenage Wednesday (Ricci) is sent to an offensively square summer camp wherein she is nearly brainwashed into ... gasp ... smiling. She does, however, get her revenge, and she and the other kids stage a revolt and potentially kill the counselors (or so it's vaguely implied). This was a mainstream comedy film. It's considered a classic to this day.