If it can be said that an artist evokes images of a place or time, then surely the work of Charles Addams should bring to mind New York City in the 20th century. While his name is immediately associated with his ghoulishly delightful Addams Family cartoons, Linda H. Davis shows us in Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life that his impact on popular culture stretched far beyond the fame the 1960s television show brought him.
Charles Addams was born in 1912 to a middle-class New Jersey family, raised by humorous and affectionate parents, got into the normal amount of childhood mischief, and grew from a smiling child to a smiling adult. He was a bright, normal boy with a talent for art and an eye for the absurd some would say the macabre in life. As a young man he was in the right place at the right time when he sold his first cartoon to the New Yorker, beginning a relationship that lasted half a century. As his sly, wicked cartoons graced the pages and covers of that magazine as well as others, he became friends with a who's who of American literature, from Thurber to Hemingway to Capote.
While Addams might be pictured as a connoisseur of the gruesome an autopsy platform turned into a coffee table he was charming and personable. Tall, dark, but not exactly handsome (he was often mistaken for a friend of his, the actor Walter Matthau) he had a bevy of female companions, his harem as he sometimes called them, for most of his adult life. His conquests were legion and legend; he squired everyone from Greta Garbo to Jacqueline Kennedy, and in some sense was defined, and haunted, by his three marriages.
Davis has written a loving, meticulously detailed account of the life of a man whose cartoons juxtaposed the absurd with everyday life, and were as ironic as they were affectionate. Addams had his share of minor travails usually about women and money but he was loved by most people that knew him, and had a happy, productive life. We should all be so lucky.