“The Munsters” – A Mini Documentary
Season one of the comedy-horror TV series 'The Munsters', 1964. Left to right: Beverley Owen as Marilyn Munster, Al Lewis as Grandpa, Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster and Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
The Munsters originally aired on CBS from 1964 to 1966. It was a sitcom about a family of monsters who lived amid a non-monster world. 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.
Marilyn Munster was the only family member that 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.
The Munster family lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. That was intentionally significant considering that the number, 13, is considered unlucky, and at times, cursed. Herman was an intimidating presence, but was actually harmless and childlike. Lily was a doting wife, mother, daughter and aunt. Grandpa was an obstinate father in law at times. Eddie was a “regular” kid with regular kid issues and Marilyn was the beautiful, blond niece who was frequently misunderstood by her family.
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. Eddie, the young son, went to school, struggling with typical “kid stuff.”
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 moral fundamentals that actually compared to the Cleaver family.
Unlike other families, the Munster family had a fire-breathing, pet dragon named, Spot; not to mention that their telephone was encased in an upright coffin in the hallway of the family home.
All of that being said, much went into the production of the show. Many don’t know that the roles of Grandpa, Eddie and Herman that were eventually cast for the show, 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. As it turned out, those actors would not be cast, and we probably couldn’t image anything other how it turned out.
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 to relieve some of the heat. Despite all of their efforts, the actor consistently lost weight due to excessive sweating. Besides Herman’s character’s suffering, Lily’s wig reportedly weighed about 20 pounds… hot AND heavy!
Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis reportedly, initially, protested the addition of Yvonne DeCarlo to 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… that 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 pilot show included many differences than the series itself. Besides the change in cast members and their personalities, the pilot was filmed in color, but the television series was filmed in black and white. The reason being that it was a way to save money. Filming in black and white actually ended up complementing the show because of its content.
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 2 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 beat out The Munsters in ratings.
The Munsters was at least popular enough to attract enough attention for General Mills to approach the show about making a television commercial for Cheerios. A commercial ad was produced with Herman and Eddie endorsing the product.
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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