Charles Addams, longtime New Yorker cartoonist and creator of “The Addams Family,” was a gentle soul manipulated by women, according to Davis’s largely anecdotal biography.
Davis, who has written about Stephen Crane (Badge of Courage, 1998) and Katherine S. White (Onward and Upward, 1987), plays up—without delving too deeply—the contrast between Addams’s public persona and how he was in real life. The author apparently spoke with legions of people to recreate this teeming life, and the problem may be that Addams, born in 1912 in Westfield, NJ, was generally well-liked. A gifted illustrator as a kid, and persistent in submitting his work to the New Yorker, he got his first decorative spot accepted in the magazine at age 20 and his first cartoon a year later. He grew racier in style, moving from line drawings to wash, often relying on gag writers for material. He made a name for himself drawing “aberrations in life,” with a hint of violence—never actually shown. The “dark lady” of Addams’s cartoons—Morticia Addams—made her debut in the New Yorker on Aug. 6, 1938. Editor Harold Ross encouraged Addams to further develop the characters of this intriguing family when the series became a TV show. Meanwhile, Addams lived the high life. He married three times and became entangled with a series of women named Barbara, including his second wife, Barbara Barb, a manipulative lawyer who managed to finagle the rights to much of Addams’s real estate and art work. The homely, big-eared artist was still squiring beauties into his golden years, namely Joan Fontaine and Greta Garbo. He died in 1988.
A bemused and indulgent look at the artist, all in good taste.