Sunday, October 31, 2021

AddamsFest 2021 Concluding in Westfield, NJ

Early last week, finding myself in Westfield, NJ, I started wandering around the downtown of this railroad suburb of New York. Catching sight of the local theater, the Rialto, I was struck by the door illustrations of figures I knew from a TV sitcom of my childhood: Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester, and Grandmama—i.e., the Addams Family. That ghoulish crew appears in the photo I took then that accompanies this post.

The Rialto, as it will be for the last time on Halloween today, was the center that day of AddamsFest2021, centered on the macabre genius of Westfield native Charles Addams, who created the above-mentioned figures in a series of cartoons for The New Yorker.

From that prestigious perch, Addams’ comically bent characters have gone on to appear in the Sixties series starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones as couple Gomez and Morticia; a pair of early 1990s films with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston in the same roles; a Broadway musical; and, in the last couple of years, two animated features.

For the fourth year, Westfield celebrated Addams with a series of exhibits, family-themed events, and movie screenings (including Addams Family II, which premiered this past weekend at the Rialto). East Broad Street, for instance, became “Morticia Drive” for the past four weeks. There was also Morticia and Gomez's Mask-erade Ball, Charlie's Ale Garden, Addams Family Fun Day, talks on the origins of Addams’ artistry and his life in Westfield, and a joint exhibit of his work with that of “texturalist” Suzanne Heilmann.

When I walked into the Rialto for a peak at this exhibit, the theater included an artwork from Addams’ teens in the late 1920s that prefigured his later fascination with the creepy environment of the Addams family: “Dudley,” a life-size illustrated skeleton that resided for almost a century on the second floor of a barn on the town’s East Dudley Avenue before it was removed for this occasion.

Young Addams found plenty in the environment of Westfield to feed his future work, including cemeteries and scary old Victorian homes that led him to “stare at them for hours imagining the ghosts inside,” he recalled in a 1976 People Magazine profile.

The work of Addams, in a career spanning 50 years, now resides in the permanent collections of The New York Public Library and The Library of Congress. As seen in AddamsFest, Westfield is where it all started. 

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