Morticia, Gomez & Cousin It
I recently read the biography of the cartoonist Chas Addams (Charlie to those who knew him), popularized both by his New Yorker cartoons and the 1960’s television show, The Addams Family. His multiple marriages and many love affairs with socialites, actresses and literati made him the “talk of the town” in New York City. He was a sought after dinner guest, and a great friend to women and men alike. Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine, and Jacquie Kennedy Onaasis were all women with whom he had relationships. Such was his outer life.
Addams also had three marriages. Each 120 degrees apart. As I read his life’s story, I became more and more curious about his inner life. Charlie kept a meticulous journal of events (his outer life), yet he never delved into the substance of those happenings (his inner thoughts and feelings). He expressed himself through cartoons, yet seemed to feel misunderstood by the public’s interpretation of his often-dark humor. He was fascinated with oddities, eccentricities and human disfigurement, yet attentive to his own rather calculated appearance and presentation.
Charlie’s first two marriages were to “Barbaras”- his second marriage to a woman whom he called the bad Barbara (BB), (the good Barbara having been his first wife). Addams seemed quite happy in his first marriage, which seemed relatively uncomplicated. However, his first wife wanted to have children and he found himself unwilling to father children. Their marriage reached an impasse and although he was sad to end his marriage, he found ending it inevitable as his wife wanted children and he knew he would never accede to her wishes. Barbara left amicably and of her own accord, and asked for and received no settlement. In stark contrast, his marriage to the second Barbara was rife with discord and complications. His many close friends didn’t like BB nor could they make sense of their relationship, yet he didn’t seem to care about their opinions. Addams seemed to either be “self-punishing’ and/or somehow “under BB’s spell”. He cowered before her, and equivocated to her every whim. BB was a creation of her own making- a lawyer consumed with moving beyond her humble family of origin, who spun fictions about her education and her personal background. After a very short-term marriage to BB, Addams signed over to her his home and rights to his cartoons. Years after their divorce (and her remarriage to a British Lord) he found himself negotiating with her over her rights and interests in his work, and much to his lawyer’s chagrin too often agreeing to her incessant demands.
After many years as a very eligible bachelor, Addams married again. This time to Tee, an old friend, a woman whom he’d loved for many years (although she was married to another man for much of that time). During his third marriage, Addams kept his apartment in Manhattan and lived with Tee only on the weekends when he went to her home in Westhampton. They seemed to have a simpatico; a similar sense fun, of bawdiness, a love of good food, beautiful craftsmanship, fine art, great dogs (Addams’ own dog was his constant companion) and recognition of the absurdities of life.
Addams expressed his love of design in his love of cars- it was a sad day for him when he could no longer keep his Bentley safely on the road. It seems somehow fitting that he died a quiet death behind the wheel of his parked car (albeit his Audi as his Bentley had predeceased him) after having had a terrific day of driving. And just as he wished Tee gave him a party, not a funeral.