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The Munsters

The Munsters is a 1960s American television Sitcom depicting the home life of a family of monsters. The show was a satire of both traditional monster movies and popular family entertainment of the era, such as Leave it to Beaver. It ran concurrently with the The Addams Family. Although the Addams were well-to-do, the Munsters were a more blue-collar family. The Munsters also had higher Nielsen ratings than The Addams Family.

The idea of a family of funny monsters was first suggested to Universal Studios in the late 1940s by animator Bob Clampett, who wanted to do a series of cartoons. He never got a reply.

In the early 1960s, a treatment or "format" for a similar idea was submitted to Universal Studios by Rocky & Bullwinkle writers, Allan Burns and Chris Hayward. This format was later handed to writers Norm Liebman and Ed Haas who wrote a pilot script entitled, "Love Thy Monster." For some time, there were executives who believed the series should be made as a cartoon and others who wanted to see it made using actors. Finally, a presentation was filmed by MCA Television for CBS, using actors.

The show aired at night once a week in black-and-white on the CBS Television network from 1964 to 1966 for 70 episodes. It was cancelled after ratings dropped to an all-time low due to the premiere of ABC's Batman, which was in full color. The Munsters have continued in syndication ever since. It was popular enough to warrant a clone series and several movies.

The Presentation

The first presentation was 15 minutes long (later cut to just over 13 minutes) and was used to pitch the series to CBS and its affiliates. It was made in color, and though it never aired, it was re-shot and used as the basis for the episode, "My Fair Munster". The cast in order of appearance in the title sequence were: Joan Marshall as Phoebe (instead of Lily), Beverley (not Beverly) Owen as Marilyn, Nate "Happy" Derman as Eddie, Al Lewis as Grandpa and Fred Gwynne as Herman. They used the same house (exterior) but before changes were made to it to make it look more gothic and "spooky" -- such as the addition of the tower deck and Marilyn's deck, a new coat of paint, and enlargement of the living room. Grandpa had the same dungeon. Herman did not have padding and was broad but thin. Most noticeable was his sombre, almost sad face much of the time, unlike his comical happiness during the series. Eddie was a nasty brat. All characters, except Marilyn, had a blue/green tint to their skin. Marilyn was Phoebe's niece. The title sequence had light happy music (it came from the Doris Day movie, The Thrill of it All ) instead of the more appropriate zany theme that was to come. The presentation is available on the complete first season of "The Munsters" DVDs.

It was decided that Joan Marshall looked too much like Morticia Addams and that Happy Derman was too nasty as Eddie, so both were replaced.On the basis of the first presentation, the new series, still not completely cast, was announced by CBS on February 18, 1964. A second black-and-white presentation was made with the new actors. In this version, Eddie (Butch Patrick) looked more "normal", so his hairstyle was later altered to include a widow's peak.

Characters

The Munster family

The family, while decidedly odd, consider themselves fairly typical working-class Americans of the era. Herman, like so many husbands of 1960s, is the sole wage-earner in the family, though Lily and Grandpa make (short-lived) attempts to earn a little money from time to time. While Herman is titular "head of household," it is Lily who actually makes most of the decisions.

Despite superficial similarities of eccentric characters incongruent with their communities and a generally gothic look, this and Addams Family have key differences in the style of series, and the characters. Some members of the Addams family considered their lifestyle superior to that of their neighbors, whom they considered to be the odd ones. The Munsters felt that themselves and their neighbours were all normal and didn't seem to recognize that they were unusual, and actively made friendly efforts to integrate with their community. Eddie occasionally had school chums over, and Herman was well-liked at his job. They occasionally made pop culture references, which would indicate that they read newspapers or listened to news on the radio. Overall, the characters of The Addams Family were eccentric people with a gothic look, while The Munsters were a regular, blue-collar family of legendary monsters, who try to be good citizens, and role models to the society.

The costumes and appearances of the family members - other than Marilyn - were based on the classic monsters of Universal Studios films from the 1930s and 1940s. Universal produced The Munsters, as well, and thus were able to use these copyrighted designs, including their idiosyncratic version of Frankenstein's monster for Herman. Other studios were free to make films with the Frankenstein creature, for example, but could not use the costume and makeup originally created for the 1931 Universal Studios film, Frankenstein.

Regulars

Character Actor/Actress
Herman Munster Fred Gwynne
Lily Munster Yvonne De Carlo
Grandpa Al Lewis
Eddie Munster Butch Patrick
Marilyn Munster Beverley Owen / Pat Priest
The Raven Mel Blanc

Recurring guests

Character Actor/Actress
Edward H. Dudley, MD Paul Lynde / Dom DeLuise
Mr. Gateman John Carradine
Clyde Thornton Chet Stratton
Ms. Fairchild Alice Backes
Yolanda Cribbins Claire Carleton
Elmer Dudley Peter Robbins
Mrs. Dudley Marilyn Lovell

Production

The show was produced by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, who were already known for creating the Leave it to Beaver television series. Prior to that, they wrote over 1,500 episodes of Amos 'n' Andy, a presence on network radio for nearly its entire history.

While its humor was usually broad, the series was visually sophisticated, particularly for an early-sixties sitcom. The Munsters' home was a burnt, crumbling Gothic mansion, riddled with smoke, filthy with dust and cobwebs. Rich, shadowy photography echoed James Whale's expressionistic Frankenstein films, emphasizing the family's ghoulishness. The moving camera (a rarity in television comedies even today) often paused on busy compositions, focusing on multiple characters amid detailed settings.

The Munsters was filmed in black-and-white, though the never-aired pilot episode was filmed in color.

Munstermobiles

George Barris built two automobiles for the show: "Munster Koach", a hot rod built on a lengthened 1923 Ford Model T chassis with a custom hearse body. It was 18 feet long and cost almost $20,000 to build. Barris also built the DRAG-U-LA (which inspired a Rob Zombie song by the same name), a dragster built from a coffin, which Grandpa used to win back "The Munster Koach" after Herman lost it in a race. (According to Barris, a real coffin was, in fact, purchased for the car.) In real life, Yvonne de Carlo drove a Jaguar sedan fitted with custom-made "spooky" ornaments, for example spider webs on the rims. She had to give up on it, as the car was repeatedly vandalized by fans hunting for souvenirs.

The Munster Mansion

The original Victorian home of the Munster family was at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in the fictional Mockingbird Heights. (The town's location is not specified in the series, but in later incarnations is described as a small town outside of Los Angeles, California.) In reality, the exterior shots were filmed on the Universal Studios backlot. The house was built in 1946 for the movie So Goes My Love. It was then put into storage for several years. Then sometime in the fifties, it, along with other Facades, were assembled with other homes on the back lot which was called River Road. Until production of The Munsters in 1964 the house could be seen as a back drop on many shows including Leave it to Beaver. It was remodeled and featured on Desperate Housewives and located on Colonial Street in the backlot. It was also the home of the family in Shirley (ABC, 1979-80) and has also appeared in other TV shows such as Coach and Leave it to Beaver. The interiors were contained entirely on an enclosed sound stage. In the spring of 2001, Sandra and Charles McKee of Waxahachie, Texas began construction of a fully livable recreation of the Munster home, inside and out. With initial construction completed in 2002, cast alumni Al Lewis and Butch Patrick appeared at the public grand opening. Lewis exclaimed, with tears in his eyes, "This brings back warm memories." The house comes equipped with a grand staircase (which opens up to reveal Spot), a rotating suit of armor, trap doors, secret passages, Grandpa's electric chair, a pipe organ, raven cuckoo clock, a crooked bat weather vane on the roof and even a dungeon complete with trap door.

Since then, the McKees have opened their private home to the public for two nights each year on the weekend of Halloween. Since the death of Lewis, Pat Priest has returned to appear multiple times. The Munster Mansion Halloween Bash each year selects a local charity and donates all proceeds from the event.

Episodes

Spinoff series

The Munsters Today ran from 1988 to 1991 and lasted for 72 episodes. The unaired pilot episode, written by Lloyd J. Schwartz, explained the 22 year gap through an accident in Grandpa's lab that put the family to sleep. They awake in the late 1980s and have to adapt to modern life in the 80s. It featured John Schuck (Herman), Lee Meriwether as Lily, Howard Morton (Grandpa) and Jason Marsden (Eddie). Marilyn was portrayed by Mary-Ellen Dunbar in the first episode, and by Hilary Van Dyke thereafter.

The show used many props and set pieces from the original series, and also reworked some old story-lines. From the second season onwards, the show developed a more modern approach, with colorful new costumes and more contemporary storylines, as the Munsters embrace their new lives. In the living room above the fireplace, there a small picture and portraits of the original cast members.

Films

Several Munster films were released, two with the original cast.

  • Munster, Go Home! (1966). The Munsters go to England to claim the Munster Hall after the death of an old relative. The film starred the series' cast, with the exception of Pat Priest who was replaced by Universal Pictures by its teenage contract player Debbie Watson. Priest commented on the DVD interview that she was devastated at the producers' decision not to include the then-30-year-old actress. The film gave fans a chance to see the Munsters in color during their original 1960s run for the first and only time. The film also featured the "Dragula" car. The film was created to cash in on the success of the "Batman" movie (1966) but did so poorly at the box office that other TV series canceled plans for theatrical releases, including "Get Smart" (the script for which was turned into the 3-part episode "A Man Called Smart").
  • The Mini-Munsters (1973), a one-hour animated TV-movie that was part of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie.
  • The Munsters' Revenge (1981), a made-for-TV movie. The owner of a museum with a Munsters exhibit makes robots of Herman and Grandpa and uses them to rob a bank. Gwynne, De Carlo, and Lewis recreated their roles, but Eddie and Marilyn were played by K.C. Martel and Jo McDonnell respectively.
  • Here Come the Munsters (1995), another made-for-TV movie. The family search for Herman's brother-in-law Norman Hyde, only to find out that he has unknowingly turned himself into Brent Jekyll, who is running for congress, and Grandpa must make a formula to change him back. The film featured a cameo scene of DeCarlo, Lewis, Priest, and Patrick as a bickering family in restaurant who were served by (the new) Herman Munster who was a waiter.
  • The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas (1996). Grandpa has accidentally captured Santa Claus and two of his elves, while Lily is trying to win the local neighborhood Christmas home decorating competition, and Marilyn has invited family and friends from the "old country" to stay for Christmas.

Future film

In August 2004, the brothers Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, and Marlon Wayans negotiated a deal with Universal Pictures to produce a contemporary film adaptation of The Munsters. In September 2006, Shawn Wayans revealed that The Munsters would be produced and written by the brothers and that it was slated for a 2007 release. Shawn also indicated that the cast would not be all-black in the adaptation like The Honeymooners (2005), instead continuing to have a green appearance like its '60s predecessors. Shawn also reported that the film would be rated PG-13 in the United States to continue moving away from the R-rated comedies that attracted minors.

Parody by Hustler

Huslter has always been known for pushing the envelope and released a porn parody called This Ain't the Munsters XXX on September 26, 2008 directed by Anton Slayer. The cast included mainstream actor Gavin Wells in a non-sexual role as Grandpa Munster.

Comic book

Gold Key Comics produced a "Munsters" comic book which ran 16 issues from 1965 to 1968 and had photo covers from the TV series. When it first appeared, the Comics Code Authority still forbade the appearance of vampires in comic books. However, this was not a problem at Gold Key, because Gold Key was not a member of the Comics Magazine Association of America and therefore did not have to conform to the Comics Code. Lily and Grandpa appeared in the comics without controversy.

A false first

Herman and Lily Munster are often mistakenly named as the first couple to share the same bed on American television, in the episode "Autumn Croakus" on November 26, 1964. In reality, that distinction goes to Mary Kay and Johnny, in an episode aired on November 18, 1947 on the DuMont network. The first television couple to share a bed when the actors were not married in real life was Samantha and Darrin Stephens of Bewitched, on October 22, 1964.

DVD releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released both seasons on DVD:

DVD Name Ep# Region 1 Region 2 Additions
Season 1 38 August 24 2004 October 17 2005
  • Original un-aired pilot

Season 2 32 October 25 2005 May 1 2006

  • America's First Family Of Fright
  • Fred Gwynne: More Than A Munster
  • Yvonne De Carlo: Gilded Lily
  • Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa

The Complete Series 70 October 7 2008 N/A

  • Original un-aired pilot
  • America's First Family Of Fright
  • Fred Gwynne: More Than A Munster
  • Yvonne De Carlo: Gilded Lily
  • Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa
  • Family Portrait Color Episode
  • Munster, Go Home
  • The Munsters Revenge

Seasons 1 & 2 (Closed Casket Collection) 70 N/A October 8 2007
Also, the "Family Portrait" episode, which was absent from the season 1 & 2 standalone box sets, will also be released on a standalone DVD.

Notes

  • Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher. (1964). The Munsters. Hollywood: Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
  • Munsters, The Complete First and Second Seasons [DVD Commentary]. (2005). Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
  • The Munsters: A Trip Down Mockingbird Lane

References

External links

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