Review: Charles Addams, A Cartoonist's Life.

Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life - Linda H. Davis, Charles Addams

This book is an example of Books That Get Set Aside For A While Because I Become Annoyed With a Person Within. Currently Addams has divorced wife two, who seems absolutely horrible. But because she continues to harass him in various ways he signs over certain rights to his work to her. She is awful, he capitulates to her whims and then is still bullied about by her - ugh. I just had to put the book aside for a bit because I like the guy, but signing away what could make him money (which he needs) to someone both awful and annoying is really frustrating to read.

I'll come back and finish it, because Addams and his art has always been a favorite topic for me, and the book has been great until this point. But I am not the type to enjoy spending time with "divorce angst." I realize most folks find this the juicy real-life gossip stuff, but I would rather not read more of his making bad business decisions which Foreshadows Bad Things in the Future. Will be picking this up again when I'm more in the mood to deal with this.

Some weeks later:
So the above was my blurb after setting the book aside for awhile. Now that I've finished I have to add that I did think the book was wonderfully researched and gave a really clear view of what Addams was like. It was because I completely liked the man so much that I really, REALLY hated his wife - #2, Barbara Colyton, as she was known after she married the next husband after her divorce. Oddly her next marriage didn't make her any less controlling of Addams, probably because he was a continued source of money for her, and she was a greedy person. She was also one of those sort of people who surround artists and try and take credit for their work - the "well, they'd never have been anything without my help and inspiration" type of person.

I might be hesitant to believe how awful she was if the book wasn't so thoroughly documented and if I didn't remember reading in multiple other articles and books before this about the difficulty with "the Addams estate" and Hollywood in issues dealing with the Addams Family (television show, cartoons, and films, repeated issues). It was never Charles Addams that was the problem - it was his representative, Colyton, that had unreasonable demands.

Anyway, I should have just churned on through the parts with her in it. In fact in the future I'll probably just go right into my new mode of attack: Killing Them Off Via the Index. This is where I head to the end of the book, find the last occurrence of the person in the index, and skip ahead to read of their death. Yes, all the nice people have often died off by that too, but the horrible person's awfulness is at an end. And in this case I'm pretty sure that the family of her post-Addams husband didn't have any great love for her either. (It sounds as though she cleaned out all their family antiques, not to mention had the family estate signed over to her rather than the husbands former children. Lovely woman, huh.)

So now that I've gone on and on about Colyton, let's focus on the proper person - Addams. The book is best at describing his work, what it meant to him, how he worked, and how he enjoyed it. The cartoons that aren't in the book are described such that you easily have a mental image of them - or you recognize them from having seen them in the past. The author cites interviews in print and video, and many, many conversations, which are all carefully footnoted and documented.

While I really enjoyed - and felt I got to know - Addams, this is very much a "warts and all" book. It doesn't sugar coat things like how Addams was with women and his continual pursuit of them. But even with those warts, I can't help but liking Addams, and being delighted with his weird sense of humor. He was said to be charming and his dark humor that somehow wasn't morbid - and the stories in the book really back this up. I was glad that, with marriage number three plus his work and friends, it seems he finally had some time to be happy. (Grrr, yes I'm still annoyed at wife two.)

As usual, some quotes. I should add here that I've always delighted in blaming my decorating style on Addams, which will explain some of the choices:

p. 12 "The Addams dwelling at 25 West Fifty-fourth Street was directly behind the Museum of Modern Art, at the top of the building. It was reached by an ancient elevator, which rumbled up to the twelfth floor. From there, one climbed through a red-painted stairwell where a real mounted crossbow hovered. The Addams door was marked by a "big black number 13," and a knocker in the shape of a vampire.

...Inside, one entered a little kingdom that fulfilled every fantasy one might have entertained about its inhabitant. On a pedestal in the corner of the bookcase stood a rare "Maximilian" suit of armor, which Addams had bought at a good price ("a bargain at $700")... It was joined by a half-suit, a North Italian Morion of "Spanish" form, circa 1570-80, and a collection of warrior helmets, perched on long stalks like decapitated heads... There were enough arms and armaments to defend the Addams fortress against the most persistent invader: wheel-lock guns; an Italian prod; two maces; three swords. Above a sofa bed, a spectacular array of medieval crossbows rose like birds in flight. "Don't worry, they've only fallen down once," Addams once told an overnight guest. ...

Everywhere one looked in the apartment, something caught the eye. A rare papier-mache and polychrome anatomical study figure, nineteenth century, with removable organs and body parts captioned in French, protected by a glass bell. ("It's not exactly another human heart beating in the house, but it's close enough." said Addams.) A set of engraved aquatint plates from an antique book on armor. A lamp in the shape of a miniature suit of armor, topped by a black shade. There were various snakes; biopsy scissors ("It reaches inside, and nips a little piece of flesh," explained Addams); and a shiny human thighbone - a Christmas present from one wife. There was a sewing basket fashioned from an armadillo, a gift from another.

In front of the couch stood a most unusual coffee table - "a drying out table," the man at the wonderfully named antiques shop, the Gettysburg Sutler, had called it. ("What was dried on it?" a reporter had asked. "Bodies," said Addams.)..."

p. 281 "...On their first day in the new house, Addams had gotten up in the dark. From the surrounding swamp came bloodcurdling screams - the sound of possums mating, Tee later speculated, though it was perhaps a fisher, the dark-colored marten who stalked the wetlands, rooting rabbits from their nests. Addams returned to bed. "Someone is murdering babies in the swamp," he said. "Oh darling," came the sleepy reply from the pillows, "I forgot to tell you about the neighbors."

"All my life I wanted to live in one of those Addams Family houses, but I've never achieved that," Addams had recently told a reporter. "I do my best to add little touches," he said. ...Still, he conceded, "it's hard to convert a ranch-type house into a Victorian monster." "

p. 291-292 "...He had been pleased to learn that some critics had described his characters as "repulsively demonic [yet] constantly coping in appropriate ways with everyday situations."

"I think that's right," he said, smiling. "They're just getting along.

On the other hand he was tired of people focusing on the black side of his humor. "I'm sick of people calling it macabre," he had told Drue Heinz. "It's just funny, that's all." "