It’s a clear measure of how big the sixties’ Monster Boom was when two network fielded monster-themed sitcoms in 1964. ABC went with a satisfying adaptation of Charles Addams’ deliciously macabre The Addams Family while CBS put out the sweet and silly The Munsters, turning the iconic Universal Monsters into comedy characters.
The Munsters were originally planned as a cartoon show. The original idea has been tracked back all the way to a 1943 “Monster Family” concept by animator Bob Clampett, and the TV project submitted to Universal in the early sixties was penned by Rocky and Bullwinkle writers Alan Burns and Chris Hayward. Somewhere along the line, Universal ordered a pilot to be made as a sitcom with live actors, and that’s how The Munsters played out, though the characters did assume cartoon form in comic books and a 1973 animated short, The Mini-Munsters.
The strength of The Munsters lies, no doubt, with it’s inspired casting, led by the muggings of Fred Gwynne as a doofus Frankenstein Monster named Herman, Al Lewis as an irrepressible borscht belt vampire Grandpa, and actress Yvonne De Carlo displaying perfect comic flair.
The series had decent ratings, outperforming The Addams Family, and it even earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Show, but it was cancelled after only two years on the air, murdered in the ratings by ABC’s new, flashy, color Batman series. Despite its short run, the series’ 70 episodes would go into syndication and its ongoing popularity led to cast reunions for specials, a TV movie and a theatrical feature, Munsters Go Home! (1966). New casts were used for a revival series, The Munsters Today in 1988, a TV movie, Here Come The Munsters in 1995, and a Christmas Special in 1996. Through it all, The Munsters would jump around from CBS to ABC, NBC and eventually Fox. It is said that The Munsters was one of the most merchandized series ever, its instantly recognized characters turned into toys, model kits, dolls and Halloween costumes, their likenesses stamped on apparel, games, squirt guns, and lunch boxes.
There were three different pilots made as the series was taking shape, the first one shot in color. It’s interesting to note how the characterss appearances evolved. Gwynne appears thinner, without the bulked up chest padding and the Monster’s prominent brow is high on the forehead, above the actor’s eyebrows, perhaps in an attempt to make the face more expressive. Grandpa Al Lewis’ pointy nose is even pointier, thanks to a makeup appliance he must have been thrilled to abandon for the series. A different child actor plays the werewolf boy part that would be toned down and given to Butch Patrick and, most significantly, Herman’s wife — here called Phoebe — is played by Joan Marshall as a Morticia Addams-type character, far sexier than Yvonne De Carlo’s glamorous but motherly Lily Munster.
An amazing site devoted to Fred Gwynne.