The Munsters: Was TV's 'Other' Spooky Sitcom A Better Show?
Left: Fred Gwynne (1926 - 1993), as Herman Munster, and Yvonne De Carlo (1922 - 2007) as Lily Munster in a publicity still for the comedy-horror TV series 'The Munsters', circa 1965. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images) Right: Pat Priest as Ma
In the 1960s, anyone hoping for a TV comedy about a family of spooky weirdos was doubly rewarded with The Munsters and The Addams Family. The Addams Family, based on the famous New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams, turned out to be the more popular and enduring show, but The Munsters, originally airing on CBS from 1964 to 1966, wasn't a failure at all. The shows premiered the same week, and were actually different in several ways -- The Munsters were non-scary recreations of actual movie monsters, while the main characters of the Addams Family were truly macabre, and more eccentric than supernatural. The gag with the Munsters was that they were actual monsters who dealt with more or less ordinary sitcom problems, while The Addams Family's plots were often tied to their spooky, lovably evil nature. Was The Munsters underappreciated because of competition from The Addams Family?
The family consisted of Herman, the patriarch, who resembled Frankenstein’s creation; Lily, the matriarch, who was a Vampire; Grandpa, Lily’s father, who was also a Vampire (and a Count, to boot); Eddie, Herman’s and Lily’s son, and also a werewolf, and; Marilyn, their niece. Although the Munster family couldn’t personally or physically identify with anyone else in the community, they were sure that their family was “normal” and that everyone else was “abnormal,” including, poor, unfortunate Marilyn.
Cast Of Characters
The Munster family lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, an address that played on the idea that the number 13 is considered unlucky or cursed. Herman (Fred Gwynne) was an intimidating presence, but was actually harmless and childlike. Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) was a doting wife, mother, daughter and aunt. Grandpa (Al Lewis) was an obstinate father in law at times. Eddie (Butch Patrick) was a “regular” kid with regular kid issues and Marilyn (played by Beverly Owen in the first 13 episodes and Pat Priest in the subsequent 57) was the beautiful blond niece who was frequently misunderstood by her family.
Poor Marilyn Munster
Marilyn Munster was the only family member who resembled the rest of the world and, therefore, was able to blend in. Because her appearance was so different from that of her family's, they pitied, coddled and doted on her. According to her family, she was seemingly always scaring male suitors off because of her “strange” appearance. Little did they know that they were the reason for Marilyn’s inability to keep a man.
Herman And Lily, Typical Parents
Although the Munster family was considered abnormal and ghoulish, they actually mimicked the ideal, all American family. Herman was a loving husband and father who went to work every day to support his family while Lily looked after the household chores, taking care of her family including her husband, child, father and niece.
The Munsters Looked Scarier Than They Were
Sure, Grandpa had a laboratory in the dungeon. But by all other accounts, they were no different than any other American family… except that they were socially peculiar. Despite their differences, the Munster family’s dilemmas and desire to do the right thing were comparable to those of any other TV family -- even the Cleavers from Leave It To Beaver.
The Hose Had Some Eccentricities
The Munsters' family pet was a fire-breathing dragon named Spot, and their telephone was encased in an upright coffin in the hallway of the family home.
The Munster Family Could Have Been Different
Yvonne De Carlo was the most accomplished cast member, and the producers were unable to get anyone of her level into the other major roles -- although they tried. The actors cast in the roles of Grandpa, Eddie and Herman were not the producers’ first choices. Bert Lahr, the lion from the Wizard of Oz, was first approached for the role of Grandpa; Bill Mumy, from Lost in Space, was first approached to portray, Eddie; and John Carradine, an actor in Western and horror films, was first approached for the character of Herman. Although those actors were not cast, the players who were selected turned out to be perfect for their roles and today it's hard to imagine The Munsters any other way.
The show’s ultimate cast consisted of:
• Fred Gwynne as Herman
• Yvonne DeCarlo as Lily
• Al Lewis as Grandpa
• Butch Patrick as Eddie
• Beverly Owen as Marilyn (1st Season)
• Pat Priest as Marilyn (2nd Season)
Additionally, hours of makeup application, for the cast members, was required for each episode. Herman Munster’s costume was extremely bulky and unbearably hot. In order to keep him cool enough for his health and comfort… and to keep his heavy makeup from melting, a stagehand would use an air compressor to shoot cool air into his costume in between scenes. Despite all of their efforts, the actor consistently lost weight due to excessive sweating.
Lily had her own hot-and-heavy struggle: her wig reportedly weighed about 20 pounds.
At first, Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis reportedly protested Yvonne De Carlo's presence in the cast of the show. They felt that since she already had a successful acting career and fan following, she would not be a good fit because she would overshadow the rest of the cast. To their surprise, that was not the case. DeCarlo was perfect for the role and fit in beautifully.
The Series' Pilot Was Filmed In Color
The pilot of the show had a couple of differences from the program we know and love -- the most obvious being that it was filmed in color. The 71 episodes of the series that followed were filmed in black and white to save money. The choice arguably benefited the show, since its characters were based on old monster movies, which themselves were filmed in black and white.
Additionally, Eddie Munster was played by Nate Derman, not Butch Patrick, who would portray Eddie that fans were familiar with.
The Competition: The Addams Family
When it first aired, The Munsters aired on CBS opposite The Addams Family, on ABC, another monstrous family. Despite common belief to the contrary, the two shows were written and produced independently with neither network having prior knowledge of the other show. Eventually, The Addams Family had the better following and bested The Munsters in ratings.
Monsters Eat Breakfast Too
The Munsters was at least popular enough to attract enough attention from General Mills, which approached the show about making a television commercial for Cheerios. A spot was produced with Herman and Eddie endorsing the product.
Munsters On Parade
The Munsters was also popular enough at the time to be invited to be in the 1964 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
If you were lucky enough to grow up during the original run of The Munsters, you were fortunate enough to be introduced to the concept that, although we all have our differences, we are really more alike than not.
Tags: A Brief History Of... | The 1960s | The Munsters | TV In The 1960s
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