"The Addams Family" debuted on September 18, 1964 on ABC Television. A mere six days later, "The Munsters" debuted on CBS Television on September 24, 1964. Both shows had three season runs, with the Addams producing 64 episodes to 70 for the Munsters. So there is a close parallel, even in the run of the two programs.
Now there are some basics you need to understand about these two groups. The Addams Family were extremely well to do. Gomez Addams was a Wizard of Wall Street, despite his ridiculous track record of making terrible investments. Somehow, everything he did worked out and he continually made tons of money, which he then invested in other insane projects that always paid off. As such, The Addams family were something of the Idle Rich, and had time for such far flung pursuits as fencing, yoga, collecting exotic pets and artwork and playing model trains and explosives. And of course, they had their manservant, Lurch to tend to the household chores and provide musical entertainment on the harpsichord.
On the other hand, The Munsters were decidedly middle class. Though they lived in a large home that perhaps approached the size of the first couple of floors of the Addams Mansion, Herman Munster was a working stiff, if you will, going to his job in a Funeral Home, or as it was usually referenced on the show, "The Parlor." Occasionally Lily would find work to bring in some extra funds as well, so there was a need for some kind of support system in place for this group. Their big splurge was Grandpa's laboratory in the basement, which is where he would literally work his magic, scheming up some potion or disguise for whatever adventure the family faced.
Now that we have a brief overview, let's begin with the Beginning: The title sequences. There are actually two parts to this: the visuals and the theme songs.
First "The Addams Family."
and next, "The Munsters."
Now, to be fair, "The Addams Family" did not change their title sequence or theme music ever during the show's run. "The Munsters" changed both a couple of times (and even changed one of the characters, but I'll come back to that later).
Credits: "The Addams Family" theme: Written by Vic Mizzy.
"The Munsters" theme: Written by Jack Marshall.
In the original "Munsters" theme, the pacing of the song was a slow swing, and the focus on the bass and organ pairing which made it a lot duller than it might otherwise be. Midway through the first season came a redone theme where they brought the Electric Guitar to the fore and picked up the tempo significantly which is what you see and hear above. The results were far better, as the later version sounded like a "surf music" riff!
The "Addams" theme has been and continues to be heard in stadiums and arenas all across the country. That's because the "snap snap" is a great way to get a crowd to clap clap! I suspect it will remain a stadium favorite, forever, on this point alone.
But looking at how the title sequences work, you'll see something interesting.
The Addams Family are snapping together, appropriate to the stadium concept, almost like a team. It actually makes a statement about the group before you even know anything more. But, of course, they each are snapping in their own individual way, which lets you know that these people are each unique, even in their uniformity.
The Munsters are, at least in the titles, all about their "oneness." In their original title sequence (which you can see HERE which also lets you hear the original take on the show's theme song) Lily is the connector, greeting each and every member of the family, as you might expect a Matriarch to do. But again, you get the sense that they aren't terribly connected, especially when big hubby Herman walks away, forgetting to kiss his wife before heading to work.
Also notable is, "The Addams Family" theme has lyrics, which means you can sing along with it. It also tells you more info about the people you're watching. (Though there were lyrics written for the Munsters' theme, they were never used.)
So let's score the titles.
The original Munsters theme would lose to the Addams Theme, just because it's sorta dull and lifeless (pun intended), but the revamped Munsters theme definitely defeats the Addams' standard song. However, the visual title sequence goes to the Addams for giving you a true sense of what the program values and represents and for letting you into their sense of togetherness and fun.
Winner of the Title Sequence: "The Addams Family"
Let's deal with the Ladies of the Households next. Lily Munster v. Morticia Addams
Both programs made sure to attach the feeling of death to names of the female heads of household, with "Lily" being the representative flower placed on or inside of someone's coffin and "Morticia" being a diminutive of mortician, the person who takes care of handling dead bodies for burial or cremation.
But we have two really great, talented and extremely attractive actresses in the roles: Yvonne DeCarlo as Lily and Carolyn Jones as Morticia.
Here's where we start to have an issue about the programs and how they handled things. Thanks to the heavy make up required for Lily, Yvonne's natural beauty was all but smothered. She was, after all, the Bride of that Frankenstein monster! It just meant that you weren't seeing all of what Ms. DeCarlo could offer. To rectify that immediately, I present the following:
Conversely Carolyn's Morticia was far less encumbered by pancake and her beauty always shone through. Although, if we are to be completely fair, it should be noted that Carolyn was eight years younger than Yvonne.
Morticia's exquisite column dress (with tentacles) showed off her figure, compared to Lily's frumpy outfit which looked more like flapper material from the 1920s. But this related back to the themes of the programs. The Addams Family were definitely being a bit sexier than The Munsters ever intended to be.
Also, it seems that generally, Morticia had more to do overall than Lily, who frequently took a back seat to the male stars of her show. Morticia would often be seen having tea, or doing some activity with or without her husband. This was much more uncommon for Lily who rarely got that sort of treatment, attention or freedom within the framework of the scripts.
Additionally, Vic Mizzy prepared a beautiful theme for Morticia, frequently used when she was gardening with her strangling plant, Cleopatra. Lily had no adequate and comparable music cue.
So, the nod, in this case, goes to Morticia Addams.
Next, time to examine the gentlemen of the programs.
Gomez (John Astin), as previously noted, was a businessman who simply never had to leave his home. He could read his personal Stock Ticker, phone in instructions to his broker, and make a million before dining on his Eye of Newt for lunch. Gomez was a man of the world, having experienced travels to far off places and was particularly fond of shouting "Capital!"
Herman (Fred Gwynne) never had that sort of luxury. Instead, he was lunch pailing to work daily, and had to pay the bills on his place, including utilities. But he was a upbeat and happy fellow, and hardly ever complained about his lot in life. Herman was particularly jovial, and his laugh shook the rafters at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. But he would also throw a tantrum if things didn't go well, and that also caused seismic activity!
Now, let's mix in the spouses. Gomez and Morticia were the sexiest couple on television at the time, and arguably are still holders of that title! Between the flirtations, the dancing, the pet names and smoldering looks, I almost wonder how the show snuck past the 1960s censors! Hot blooded Gomez was kept in line by his woman, who always brought him back to equilibrium, and their chats certainly proved that they were intellectual equals in every way.
Herman and Lily didn't have nearly the same amount or quality of interactions throughout their series, and all too often the conversations fell into typical sitcom style discussion. It could have just as easily been Fred and Wilma Flintstone for all it mattered.
Some final notes about our two couples that may be a negative: Both of the Addams' smoked. Gomez with his omnipresent cigars and Morticia who, quite literally, smoked. This may not have been a positive message to send to children viewing the program.
And despite sleeping in the same bed, the Munsters pair actually seemed a lot more chaste than the Addams duo. In the opening sequence, Lily offers her cheek for Herman to kiss. This, as the opening titles of the unaired pilot showed Herman kissing Phoebe (Joan Marshall) on the forehead before thinking twice and going back to give her a back-bending "soul kiss" before heading off to work with a big smile!
But in the battle between these two, the winner is Herman. His positive attitude, his gentle, yet firm and decisive manner and his levelheadedness (pun intended again!) made him the champ over his hyperactive manchild multimillionaire.
Now Speaking Relatively...
It's Grandpa against Uncle Fester!
These were two actors that had a vast amount of experience for audiences. Al Lewis, who basically BECAME Grandpa in his latter days (and even owned a Greenwich Village eatery with that moniker), started as a clown on the Ringling Bros. Circus way back in the day. So, his experience and expertise was certainly in slapstick.
Jackie Coogan got his start in a higher profile, but no less slapstick way, as Charlie Chaplin's sidekick and the titular character the classic silent film, "The Kid."
But both of these actors had a host of roles through the years prior to these signature appearances on these television series.
Lewis added his vaudeville experience to the program and his previous experience with his co-star from "Car 54, Where Are You?"
And Coogan had done dozens of appearances on both comedy and drama programs throughout the Golden Age of Television leading to this moment.
But to stick with the characters, Uncle Fester was a surprisingly sweet and gentle character, when he wasn't threatening to "shoot'em in the back!" with his musket. Meanwhile, Grandpa was a schemer and a dreamer, a kind of Ralph Kramden to Herman's innocent Ed Norton.
So, who wins? Fester really was more of a spice, adding some flavor to episodes, while Grandpa tended to be directly involved in most everything that happened pretty much all the time. With that, we have to give it up to Grandpa.
Time for the kids...
Marilyn & Eddie v. Wednesday and Pugsley
In both cases, the younger people were more or less extraneous to the typical plots. That isn't to say they didn't play a role, but that they were certainly secondary, not central, to the story.
In the case of Marilyn, we have what we used to call for "Jump the Shark," the category "Same Role, Different Actor." That's simply a case of a new performer coming in to take a role created by someone else and have no one acknowledge the differences. Beverly Owen originated the role of Marilyn but then left to get married, and quit the show, leaving Pat Priest to take over.
Marilyn was there for a couple of reasons. The first was clearly to have someone attractive to look at, and one can never underestimate that for being a legitimate reason for a character to exist on a show. But she was also there to represent the audience: a kind of fish out of water in reverse. Marilyn is normal, healthy, attractive and totally doesn't fit in with the rest of the family.
Eddie, meanwhile was a hybrid: the little monster every suburban family had in their home. Part good boy, part werewolf, Eddie was, as most kids were, a mix of bad and nice, a hairier Dennis the Menace.
On The Addams Family, Pugsley and Wednesday were typically window dressing. Occasionally an episode would feature the kids, but they were not often the focus of things. And both Pugsley and Wednesday were younger and less active, making them less likely to do things that would put them center stage.
Meanwhile Eddie and Marilyn had to deal with issues their personalities and psychology created and needed their family to help them through.
With that in mind, and despite the JTS elements of it all, we give this round to the Munsters.
We are stacking the deck here a little bit. Really, the Addams Family's house is a museum! And what museum pieces they have! Giant taxidermy bears, a tiger rug that roars when you step on it, suits of armor worthy of the Met, and sundry goodies of all sorts from every part of the globe. And nooses in every room with which to summon Lurch.
What do the Munsters have that can even compare? They do keep their home phone inside a large coffin built into their wall, which seems rather appropriate since land lines are basically dead now. They also have a pretty great main staircase that I'll talk about again momentarily. And there's Grandpa's lab through a trap door in the living room.
But let's not forget the rest of the Addams' house, with the play room, with the rack, bed of nails, iron maiden and other torture devices, the train room, where Pugsley and Gomez would cause many a rail catastrophe, The greenhouse, where Morticia would grow her roses and snip off the ugly buds to leave those beautiful sharp thorns, and the backyard cemetery. Nuff said!
This easily goes to the Addamses.
Family Pets: It's tough to beat a fire breathing dragon that lives under the stairs. That's Spot who dwells with the Munsters. And Grandpa did sometime actually manage to turn into a bat. I guess that almost counts.
The Addams Family counters with Kitty Cat, their pet lion who may have been the most frightened creature in the series. There's also Cleopatra, the previously mentioned Meat eating plant, and the always hungry piranha, that typically feeded on large turkey legs before spitting the bone back out of the aquarium in which they were kept!
the Munsters grab that.
Other Relatives: The Addams Family had a grandparent too: Grandmama, who had a pension (pun intended, yet again) for playing with knives. They also had their famed Cousin Itt, who tended to live halfway up the chimney. Still he always managed to let his hair down, even if only his family members could ever understand him.
The Munsters really had no recurring relatives, so we give it to Addams.
Lurch served as the chauffeur for the Addams family limo, a big, roomy and vast vehicle, that looked like a stretch Model A Ford convertible.
Meanwhile the Munsters had a special jalopy or two made for the show, and they were gorgeous cars, coveted much like the Batmobile. No contest! The Munsters take home the vehicle prize.
And for the sake of completeness, there was "Thing," a creature that had various boxes scattered around the entirety of the Addams mansion that could give Lurch a hand (yes, another pun). And I meant that literally, as Ted Cassidy, who played the role of Lurch also was the hand you saw on the show.
The Munsters were a little bit more broad with their comedy, while The Addams Family used more word play and clever quotations, and that sometimes worked and it sometimes did not.
So after all of this analysis, I find that I am right back where I began. Tied. So, maybe you can help? Go for it!
Which Is Best?
The Addams Family