Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Off Kilter TV: Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television
The Addams Family Meets a Beatnik, Season 1, Episode 15 (1965)
Stars John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan. 
Guest stars Tom Lowell & Barry Kelly.
Directed by Sidney Lanfield. 
Story by Jack Raymond.
Based on the characters by Charles Addams.

Analysis by Anthony Servante


A young biker on the run from his domineering tycoon dad ends up hiding out in the Addams house, and the Addamses couldn't be happier.


The Addams Family was the macabre answer to The Brady Bunch, a distorted point of view of family values. But let’s get one thing straight here: The Addamses are a normal nuclear family. They just have strange tastes. Gomez Addams is a wealthy man who takes care of his kids and isn’t afraid to show affection to his wife, while indulging his own time for yoga and fencing. Morticia Frump Addams is a caring mother who dotes on her children, while spending time on gardening, knitting, and reading, when not feeding her carnivorous plants. Pugsley and Wednesday Addams, the children, share a passion for explosives and grotesque pastimes such as grave digging or mutilating their toys (note Wednesday’s doll Marie Antoinette has no head). The extended members of the family include Uncle Fester Frump, handyman, tutor, babysitter, and advisor for the clan, and has a pendant for shooting people in the back, Grandmama Eudora Addams, who dabbles in witchcraft (she rides a broom, though never seen on-screen), cooks, and acts as family physician, and Lurch, the butler, who shares cooking duties with Grandmama and handles all household duties, and whose presence reminds one of Frankenstein's Monster with a civil job. They have weird hobbies, yes, but they are a regular nuclear family seen through grotesque lenses.

Wednesday "digs" it.

Pugsley & pet.

In our episode at hand, writer Jack Raymond poses the question: What if someone weirder than the Addams met with the kooky family? Thus we have The Addams Meets a Beatnik, in this case, biker Rockland 'Rocky' Cartwright III. Let’s discuss this possibility. We can assume that the episode takes place in 1965, the year it was taped. By this time, the Hip Generation was in full swing; The Beats had been replaced.  According to Wiki, “During the 1960s, aspects of the Beat movement metamorphosed into the counterculture of the 1960s, accompanied by a shift in terminology from "beatnik" to "hippie"… There were stylistic differences between beatniks and hippies—somber colors, dark sunglasses, and goatees gave way to colorful psychedelic clothing and long hair… Beyond style, there were changes in substance: The Beats tended to be essentially apolitical, but the hippies became actively engaged with the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.” Rocky would have been an anachronism by 1965. But it was important to select a character who was out of place in his day and age to match the Addamses in their eccentric lifestyle. It becomes a case of the weird meeting the grotesque.

Hollywood Beatnik
Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver)
Circa late 1950s

Hollywood Hippie
Tommy Chong (Stoner)
Circa late 1960s

Hollywood Biker
The Wild One (Marlon Brando)

Consider also that Rocky incorporates two outdated styles: The Beatnik and The Biker. Hollywood has always been playing catch-up with counter-cultures. By the late 70s, mainstream TV had begun to show Hippies on their shows while Disco, Glitter Rock, and Progressive Metal were blossoming on the radio and on the streets. The days of The Wild One with Marlon Brando were long gone. Be that as it may, Rocky the Beatnik-Biker crash-lands on the Addams doorstep.

Rocky Cartwright III
(note leather jacket & scarf, circa 1953)

While this type of cultural character was out of place in mainstream America, he was a welcome addition to the Addams household. At first, he finds their macabre tastes even too extreme for his apolitical beliefs. He is escaping from his father, Rockland Cartwright II, a tycoon who wants his son to follow in his corporate footsteps. Rocky sees his father as “The Man”, “The Establishment”, enemy of the free spirit. This belief is more akin to the political agenda of the Hip Movement, who preached free love, social reform, and an end to the War in Viet Nam. Although Rocky uses the current lingo of the Beats (cool, dig, square, etc.), he does convey a sense of the 60s in his rebellion against his father. So, when he comes across the Addams Family, he finds their eccentric values more akin to his individualistic beliefs than to those of his own family’s.

Rockland Junior & Senior
(T-shirt vs. suit)

As played by actor Barry Kelley, Cartwright Senior is an iconic representation of a Capitalist hardliner. He rejects the Addams as “oddballs” (who hasn’t on this show?!) and demands that his son maintain the corporate family rather than waver from it with such thoughts as free spirit and individualism. But when the patriarch attacks the Addams way of living, Rocky stands up for them, saying that they accept him for who he is, not for who they want him to be. Here Rocky’s father sees the error of his ways and accepts his son for who he is, offering him the keys to his motorcycle as a sign that he is letting him choose his own way. Given the freedom to choose, Rocky chooses his father’s way and gives up his “Beatnik” clothing to Pugsley and Wednesday and his motorcycle to Uncle Fester. We hear over the radio later that Rocky has joined his father’s firm, and it is nice to think that maybe his individualistic thinking will pave a new way for the corporation that he will eventually inherit, thanks to the Addams Family.

A few words on the language of the Beats as understood by the Addams:

Rocky, when invited to eat with the Addams, comments on the table setting:  “Satan’s coming to dinner.”
Wednesday: “That was last week.”

Rocky: “Do you dig?”
Wednesday: “Only graves.”

Morticia Frump Addams: Now, darling, we want this to be a real surprise to Rocky, so I'll instruct the children to keep it an absolute secret. They're not to tell a living soul - or anyone else for that matter.

Rocky: “You kids really live in this crumb box?”
Wednesday: “We like it. It’s nice and eerie.”

When a creepy family like the Addams meets a counter-culture outsider, they warm to him immediately and cherish the influence he has on the kids (he helps them to make hand-grenades), but so too does Rocky take, albeit gradually, to the Addams, finding his way back to his own family by living with a family whose macabre ways paralleled his own strange (in the eyes of society and his father) lifestyle. One of the more sentimental shows of the Addams Family by way of Kerouac's "On the Road", the Biker culture, and the Hippie Era, this episode used the Addams weirdness to show the audience that family values can be found in every home, even the ooky, spooky Addames.

Watch the episode here:

Part One

Part Two

1 comment:

  1. I was going to ask if you've read ON THE ROAD, but you answered my question. Lovely analysis, Anthony. Really, whom does THE ADDAMS FAMILY represent if not the counterculture? I'd like to think there's a little Addams in each of us ... at least the creative types ... or, at the very least, the horror writers of each generation.