Charles Addams: The Long Island Macabre Master Who Created The Addams Family

Charles Addams posing with a mural he painted that once hung in a Hamptons hotel. (Look magazine Library of Congress)
Charles Addams posing with a mural he painted that once hung in a Hamptons hotel. (Look magazine Library of Congress)

Halloween was his holiday. Fascinated by coffins and tombstones, as a boy, he played in a cemetery next to haunted-looking old homes, some say.

Years later, he was married in a pet cemetery in Water Mill. His bride dressed all in black and carried a feather fan — black, of course — because the groom just liked black.

“He thought it would be nice and cheerful,” she said.  

His neighbors described him as a fairly regular guy, though, an animal lover with lots of dogs and cats who was actively involved in East End life.

Who was the true Charles Addams? He indulged his obsessions to famously combine Gothic images and gallows humor — and he was also a “cheerful,” regular guy.


Born in 1912,  the only child of devoted parents in comfortable Westfield, N.J., Charles Samuel Addams was not your typical middle-class kid.

He broke into a deserted Victorian house to draw pictures of skeletons on the garage walls at age 8. He explained his obsession to biographer Linda Davis: “I was always aware of the sinister family situations behind those Victorian facades.”

When he was 12, a New York Herald newspaper cartoonist said he was untalented and should forget his dream of an art career. But the kid nicknamed “Chill” kept drawing, creating cartoons as art director of his high school paper before brief stints at college.

In 1931, he enrolled in Manhattan’s Grand Central School of Art. He set his sights on The New Yorker magazine. The next year he sold them his first spot sketch for $7.50. In 1933, the magazine bought the first of many drawings.

After his father died that year, he went to work for True Detective magazine. He relished retouching and removing the blood from the pictures of corpses.

In 1935, he joined the New Yorker staff. America was transfixed by the dark, shadowy Frankenstein and Dracula films, which likely inspired Addams to create his signature subjects: a slinky, pale, black-gowned vixen and her weird-looking clan in front of a dilapidated, haunted-looking Victorian mansion. Unlike movie monsters, Addams’ characters had an eerie yet healthy sense of humor.

The New Yorker started running his immediately recognizable Addams Family artwork that year. In 1942, his first anthology of drawings was published.


People talked about breakdowns and mental hospitals. They said he tricycled around parties smoking a cigar. They talked about the beauties he bedded, from Greta Garbo to Jacqueline Kennedy. They viewed his apartment collection of crossbows, maces, and a Civil War embalming table.

But in public, the stylish sophisticate in tailored Brooks Brothers suits was a throwback to the big-band, cigarette-girl era. Random House founder Bennett Cerf called Addams “the gentlest and kindest old schizophrene.”

Every celebrity from Cary Grant to Alfred Hitchcock admired him. Alfred Hitchcock once knocked on his door to see how he lived; Hitch was said to depict Addams’ Victorian mansion in his 1960 masterpiece Psycho. Over the next 40 years, The funny, lovable, creepy Addams Family starred in a TV series, feature films, and a Broadway musical.


Addams often worked at his Westhampton Beach weekend home and later in Water Mill. He called the East End “Bugatti heaven” and raced his Alfa Romeo Castagna in the early 1960s, went to vintage meets in Bridgehampton, and entertained glamorous stars, including Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine, before marrying his third wife, Tee, in Water Mill.

Made for each other, they loved picnicking in graveyards.

In 1985, they bought the Sagaponack home they named “The Swamp.” In late September 1988, Addams drove to Manhattan and died of a heart attack in front of his apartment. Tee reacted in classic Addams style, saying “He’s always been a car buff, so it was a nice way to go.” She passed away in 2002.

Their ashes, along with those of their pets, were buried in their pet cemetery.