Westfield Honors Native Son Charles Addams
By Taylor Smith
Westfield, New Jersey, transforms into all things Charles Addams this October for AddamsFest — a month-long series of events including movie screenings, art exhibits, a masquerade ball, paranormal investigations, a costume contest, and a Halloween House Decorating Contest.
Charles Samuel Addams was born in 1912 in Westfield and lived on Summit Avenue and Elm Street. As a student, Addams drew cartoons for the Westfield High School literary magazine and was said to have a lifelong fascination with the macabre. After graduating from University of Pennsylvania, Addams moved to New York City to pursue further art study at Grand Central School of Art.
The New Yorker published Addams’ first drawing in 1932. Signing his work “Chas Addams,” he became a frequent cartoonist for The New Yorker in 1935. His subsequent drawing entitled ‘Downhill Skier’ was so popular that The New Yorker offered him a permanent staff position in 1940.
The ghoulish Addams Family cartoons were a major hit for the artist, garnering him fans like Alfred Hitchcock and resulting in a 1964 ABC television adaptation. The comedic show depicted the odd and creepy gags of the sinister Addams Family. The catchy theme song and scriptwriting led it to become a cult classic with multiple spinoffs.
Speaking about Addams’ appeal, Robert Mankoff, editor of The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, wrote, “He tapped into that vein of American gothic that has a touch of paranoia about it, seeing behind every comforting façade the uncomfortable truth about the duality of human nature. But where Gothic literature usually combined these themes with romance, Addams made the horror hilarious: disturbing, but at the same time friendly, identifiable, and acceptable.”
Addams received the Edgar Award (named after Edgar Allan Poe) in 1961. Although typically awarded for excellence in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film or theater, the Mystery Writers of America presented Addams with a Special Edgar Award for “Cartoonist of the Macabre.” Previous recognitions include the Yale Humor Award in 1954, presented by The Yale Record of Yale University.
University of Pennsylvania erected a Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall on its Philadelphia campus in 1959. The building houses student work and studios for fine art students. Addams continued drawing for The New Yorker until his death in 1988, and his influence and legacy lives on to this day. On January 7, 2012 (Addams 100th birthday), the artist was honored with a Google Doodle.