Two Fridays ago, I talked about the classic television program, The Addams Family. The program ran on television from 1964-1966 and managed to earn an audience during its two season run. For those of you who have not yet read the entry, you can click on this link to revisit it, but for those of you who have, you may have been entertained by some of the background information behind the show's creation, as well as some trivia bits about the actors playing the characters, as well as the characters themselves.
Now, what if I told you that The Addams Family wasn't the only family sitcom that dealt with an eccentric family that lived in a house that looked as if it were Halloween every day? What if I told you that the sitcom aired in black-and-white just like The Addams Family? What if I told you that this sitcom debuted the same year as The Addams Family, and actually had the same two season run that The Addams Family enjoyed?
Really, the similarities between the two sitcoms are more than I initially thought when I began the research for today's blog subject. But, there are main differences as well.
So, why don't we just get into the nitty-gritty?
Today's blog topic is all about The Munsters, a television sitcom that aired on CBS from September 24, 1964 to May 12, 1966. Seventy episodes were produced. The show starred the late actors Fred Gwynne and Yvonne DeCarlo as Herman and Lily Munster, and the program dealt with the day-to-day hassles that the Munsters had to endure while raising their only child, Eddie (Butch Patrick) at their home on 1313 Mockingbird Lane.
Oh, did I mention that the Munsters were a family of monsters, and that some of their house pets included a bat, a dragon, and a cat that roared like a lion?
In many aspects, there are quite a few similarities between The Addams Family, and The Munsters. As explained earlier, both were in black-and-white, both families were designed with a spooky edge, and both series ran from 1964-1966.
But here's the kicker. Although The Addams Family debuted six days before The Munsters did, and although the concept for The Addams Family was developed long before The Munsters ever came along, The Munsters always seemed to rank higher on the Nielsen ratings scale than The Addams Family, and ran about one month longer than The Addams Family had. Had it not been for the success of the full-color Batman television series which debuted in 1966, it's entirely possible that The Munsters could have been greenlighted for a third season.
And there were major differences between the two families. While the Addams Family were more gothic, and enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle, the Munsters seemed to live a more working-class lifestyle, with Herman being the sole wage-earner of the family. Also, unlike the Addams Family, who mostly stayed at their home to entertain guests, the Munsters were more outgoing, and had just as many adventures outside the family home as they did within. Now, this is only speculation, of course, but my theory as to why the Munsters seemed to do better in the ratings is because their family structure was one that more people could relate to. The family dynamic in the Munsters family was one that was not uncommon with the average family of the 1960s where the dad was the main breadwinner, and the woman stayed home to take care of the children and the house.
Keep in mind that I said 1960s, and not 2010s.
Where The Addams Family began as a cartoon featured in The New Yorker, the idea for the creation of the Munsters began as an idea by animator Bob Clampett. In the late 1940s, Clampett pitched the idea to Universal Studios initially as a cartoon series, but it wasn't until the 1960s that these plans started to be developed. By then, a format for a similar idea that Clampett presented was submitted to Universal Studios by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward (who worked as writers for the classic cartoon Rocky & Bullwinkle). The format was then handed to writers Norm Liebman and Ed Haas, who immediately penned a pilot script, entitled Love Thy Monster.
Many network executives believed that the show would work best as a cartoon series, while several others argued that the show would be better presented in the live-action format. Eventually though, a live-action presentation was made to CBS, courtesy of MCA Television. This presentation only lasted about fifteen minutes, and unlike the television series, this pitch episode was filmed entirely in colour. The executives seemed to like the idea of the series through the episode, but several changes were soon made (which you'll read about further down in the trivia portion), and while the necessary parts were recast, CBS officially greenlighted the production for The Munsters on February 18, 1964. The pitch episode would eventually be expanded and used as the basis for the Munsters episode 'My Fair Munster'.
So, what sorts of trivia, behind-the-scenes action, and miscellaneous tidbits can I share with all of you for this television series? Oh, lots of things! Let's start off with the patriarch of the series, Herman Munster, and go from there.
#1 – Herman Munster was played by Fred Gwynne (1926-1993). Although Gwynne would go on to say that he loved playing Herman Munster, he grew frustrated after the show was cancelled because he kept on getting typecast as a result of his role.
#2 – Part of the reason Gwynne was cast as Herman Munster was because of his size. At 6'5”, he easily could step into the role of what was designed as a 'goofy parody of Frankenstein's monster'. Although, you may not know that he actually wore elevator shoes that made him an additional four inches taller.
#3 – Since the show was filmed with black-and-white film, the crew had to improvise with make-up to capture the light of the character faces on the film. They managed to find a way to do this with Herman Munster by covering Fred Gwynne's face with bright violet face paint. So, the next time you watch an episode of The Munsters, know that in each episode, Herman Munster had a purple coloured face! Kind of ironic, given that in the television show, Herman Munster is actually supposed to be green!
#4 – Fred Gwynne's costume was incredibly heavy to wear. The entire costume forced Gwynne to wear 40-50 pounds of padding. The costume, combined with the heat from the studio lights caused Gwynne to perspire heavily to the point where he actually lost weight! Gwynne attempted to cool down by downing glasses of lemonade, ingesting salt tablets, and having an air hose inside his costume.
#5 – In the pitch episode, the characters of Lily Munster and Eddie Munster were played by different actors. Lily was initially named Phoebe Munster, and was originally played by actress Joan Marshall. Eddie was initially played by Nate “Happy” Derman. Unfortunately, Happy's...um...happiness came to an end, when he was recast because he had made Eddie's character bratty and nasty, and just plain unlikeable. As for Joan Marshall being replaced by Yvonne DeCarlo, it was because producers believed that Marshall looked too much like Morticia Addams, and that they needed an actress that had her own individual look.
#6 – Yvonne DeCarlo's casting as Lily Munster initially wasn't well-received by Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis (who played Grandpa). Both actors had said that because of DeCarlo's lengthy film career, they felt that she may not fit in on the set of a television sitcom. Fortunately, after filming a few episodes, both Gwynne and Lewis admitted that they were wrong in their opinions, and all three actors got along throughout the duration of the series.
#7 - For Yvonne DeCarlo, the role could not have come at a better time. 1964 was a rather difficult year for her, as her work in Hollywood had dried up, she was deep in debt and was showing signs of depression. By getting the role in the series (she was producers first choice to fill in after Joan Marshall was let go), her career continued on.
#8 – Yvonne DeCarlo loved playing the role of Lily Munster. She said about the role that “it meant security. It gave me a new, young audience I wouldn't have had otherwise. It made me 'hot' again, which I wasn't for a while.” As well, when asked by people how a glamourous actress such as herself could play such a ghoulish matriarch of a haunted house, she simply replied that “I follow the directions I received on the first day of shooting...play her just like Donna Reed.”
#9 – The car that Grandpa drove on The Munsters was built from an actual coffin that was purchased from a real Hollywood funeral home, and was dubbed the DRAG-U-LA. This car inspired a Rob Zombie single, released in 1998.
#10 – Take a close look at the headstone on the front of Grandpa's DRAG-U-LA. It reads (Born 1367, Died ?). 1367 is the birth year given for Grandpa.
#11 – Grandpa is designed to look like Dracula. In fact, his name is later given in the series as Sam Dracula. He is Lily Munster's father.
#12 – The role of Marilyn Munster was recast during the filming of the series. For the first thirteen episodes of the series, the role was played by Beverley Owen. From episode 14 to 70, Pat Priest took over the role of Marilyn.
#13 – The role was recast a third time for the feature film Munster, Go Home. In that movie, the role was played by Debbie Watson. Reportedly, Pat Priest was devastated at not being included in the film.
#14 – The reason why Beverley Owen was replaced as Marilyn Munster was so she could get married to her boyfriend Jon Stone (who directed and wrote many episodes of the children's television program Sesame Street). But the lead-up to her leaving the show was quite emotional. Because the television show filmed in California, Owen was forced to leave New York City to commit to the role, which meant that she and Stone had to endure a long-distance relationship. This caused Owen to become very unhappy, and it was reported that she broke down in tears quite often on the studio. It was later revealled that the only reason why she took on the role was because she didn't think the show would last.
#15 – When Pat Priest was brought on board to replace the departing Owen, the costume department didn't need to take in or create new outfits, as Owen and Priest had almost exactly the same build. With Priest even resembling Owen physically, when the switch was made in episode 14, many viewers didn't even know that the switch had even happened!
#16 – Somehow, despite the fact that his father looked like Frankenstein's monster, and his mother was a vampire, Eddie Munster ended up becoming a were-boy. Though on the series, Eddie Munster did display signs of being part vampire.
#17 - Butch Patrick was the second actor to play Eddie Munster, after Happy Derman was recast after the pitch episode. He would later spoof his role on a 1999 episode of The Simpsons.
#18 – In real life, actress Yvonne DeCarlo drove a Jaguar sedan that was custom-fitted with spooky ornaments, but had to give it up after repeated vandalism by fans who were seeking souvenirs from the actress.
#19 – A couple in Waxahachie, Texas, built a fully liveable recreation of 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the home that the Munsters lived in on the series.
#20 – The exterior shots of 1313 Mockingbird Lane have also been reused for other television and film productions. It was initially built in 1946 for the movie “So Goes My Love”, and put into storage until the 1950s where it could be seen as a backdrop for other sitcoms such as Leave It To Beaver. The house was remodeled in the mid-2000s and has been featured in the ABC dramatic series, Desperate Housewives.
#21 – Contrary to popular belief, Lily and Herman Munster were NOT the first television couple to be seen sharing the same bed.
And, there you have it. Twenty-one things you may or may not have known about The Munsters. I hope you enjoyed this look back on this classic sitcom. I know I had a blast remembering it.