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Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life Hardcover – October 24, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this buoyantly written first biography of Charles Addams, Davis dispels the myths surrounding the cartoonist and challenges facile assumptions that Addams was the archetype of his own creepy creations. Though fascinated by "the aberrations of life," he loved Aston Martins and Bugattis, cigars, drinking and beautiful women (he often dated famous ones, including Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Jackie Kennedy). Addams—whose living room centerpiece was a draining device for corpses called a "drying out table"—gleefully perpetuated the myths surrounding him. He liked to imagine "that if he hadn't been a cartoonist, he might have been a criminal." However, a more sustained exploration of Cecil Beaton's comment that Addams's work "introduced a gothic element into daily life" would have added a deeper dimension to this portrait. Overall, it's more affectionate than critical, and never fully explains why Addams's work became so beloved or significant. Yet the book, which includes previously unpublished artwork, photographs and personal drawings, is sure to interest Addams fans and New Yorker history buffs. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

Charles Addams eventually became famous for his morbid, mordantly witty New Yorker cartoons and the ghoulish, gothic family that appeared in them, and later a 1960s TV series and several movies. But as a struggling cartoonist in the 1930s, he was hardly the most original, or even the funniest, out there. As Davis shows in this well-researched valentine to Addams, some of his early cartoons were so run-of-the-mill that it's hard to believe he would soon develop a personal, highly eccentric, taboo-breaking style. Davis charts Addams' transformation from adequate apprentice to inspired master, tying the darkening of Addams' wit to events in his life: an army hitch, falling in and out of love, the failures of several marriages. At times it seems that Davis' strong love for Addams and his work forces her to soft-pedal the most problematic parts of his biography--Addams' darkest, often sadistic projections, as though from out of the national id, where did they come from? Still, all true fans will enjoy the multitude of facts Davis packs in. Jack Helbig
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679463259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679463252
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Linda H. Davis is the author of three biographies: Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life (Random House, 2006, now an audio book marvelously read by Don Hagen), Badge of Courage: The Life of Stephen Crane (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), and Onward and Upward: A Biography of Katharine S. White (Harper & Row, 1987). Born in Portland, Oregon in 1953, she has spent most of her life in Massachusetts. She is married to Chuck Yanikoski and is the mother of two. She is the founding president of the SAGE Crossing Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to offering creative farm based programs, and ultimately lives, to adults with autism.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fantastic biography of this mysterious man, this legendary cartoonist! It's about time someone explored fully the life of Charles Addams, father of "The Addams Family" and master of the macabre and bizarre cartoons from The New Yorker magazine. The tales from his odd childhood and woes of his wives (well, two of them) make for a terrific story here and Linda Davis has given Addams the proper send-up with this highly detailed and smartly written biography. (There are a few small pebbles in the shoe: for instance, The Addams Family television sitcom in the 60s was filmed, not "taped"...) But all in all, superb research and insight into this talented being with an eerie twist to him. The book makes you wish you'd met the man. There are ample illustrations inside, examples of Addams artwork, snapshots, diary entries, family photos, etc. Bravo!
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Format: Hardcover
Chas Addams [1912-1988], A Cartoonist's Life, Linda Davis; Random House (2006)

"She is one of that all-too-common breed that idolizes The New Yorker & is constantly reminding you of cartoons that appeared in it years ago, which she then proceeds to describe in detail (guffawing) & then "Oh, dear, if I could only remember the caption!" She also remembers everything I ever wrote, & quotes passages from it written by Max Shulman & Geoffrey Hellmann..."

--- S.J. Perelman, "The Selected Letters of..." (p. 117 .)

Not a waste of time, & informative; but Tom Kunkel, author of the great Harold Ross biography, is not even remotely in jeopardy of being eclipsed.

The artist infused with an abundance of charm needed a writer equally blessed with a warm sense of humor & wit - not an author with a compulsive need to describe each & every detail in his cartoons (particularly if the cartoon itself is on the opposite page).

She did do an excellent job of it in some respects. Her exposure of the frauds of his maniacal & manipulative 2nd wife, & the inane brain of the vain Joan Fountaine (one of his paramours), was first-rate.

But as with the anemic Fred Allen bio (by Robert Taylor), Davis never really got a feel for her subject until at the very end, in the chapters that describe a trip out to Connecticut taken by Addams (by now, in his mid-70s) & Frank Modell, only a few days before Addams passed away.

It also might have been the subject matter, Addams himself - something along the lines of, when astonished acquaintances of Cary Grant would discover what a remarkably un-debonair man he could be, in real life.
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Format: Hardcover
Who was Chas (Charles) Adams? While you won't know by the time you finish this revealing biography, you'll certainly expand beyond the line sketch you probably have now of his life. If you are a New Yorker fan, you'll know him from his hundreds of cartoons and dozens of covers that expressed a most unique and other worldly perspective. If you are a fan of celebrities, you may know more about him as someone who drove classic cars, dated high-profile women, and favored allusions to death and dying. If you are a classic television fan, you'll know that his cartoon characters were the foundation for The Addams Family. If you favor camp, you know about his armor collection, his preferences for cross-bows, and other lethal items which he liked to display in public.

The biography also reveals a kindly man who was patient with everyone, including those he didn't particularly like. You'll also learn of his fascination with the Morticia appearance (based on having married two women who met the bill). More surprisingly, you'll find him to have been victimized by his second wife . . . even long after they were no longer married. The book also portrays a heterosexual version of Truman Capote who fascinated many of the most desirable women.

Most pleasingly, Ms. Davis does a delightful job of portraying the development of his cartooning style and art . . . including dozens of prime examples that are well reproduced. Even when there's no reproduction, Ms. Davis is good at capturing the essence of an image in a few words. She also provides a history of 20th century New Yorker cartooning, including how many of the final cartoons represented the influences of many people other than the artist who signed the final version.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the most commonly asked questions of cartoonists is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

And of course when the cartoonist is Charles Addams, this question leads to unrivaled speculation and disinformation, which over the years created its own brand of peculiar mythology.

Now comes an impressive new biography by Linda H. Davis. In "Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life" Davis takes on the stories that Addams slept in a coffin and drank martinis with eyeballs in them. Instead, what emerges is a surprising portrait of an amazing artist who led a full and colorful life.

Yes, Addams certainly had quirks and odd obsessions. But he was also universally loved, and so charming that he dated the likes of such luminaries of his time as Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Jackie Kennedy Onassis (along with untold numbers of others). He drank hard, raced cars, and no party or social gathering was considered complete without him. His fan base ran the gamut from the criminally insane to Sean Connery and Alfred Hitchcock.

In this first ever biography of the subject, Davis charts Addams' meteoric rise and more than 50-year career as the most esteemed cartoonist at The New Yorker. With his cartoons, Addams became a significant cultural force by combining horror and humor, a genre that continues to flourish today. His impact and influence on generations of cartoonists is impossible to calculate, but it's fair to say that Gary Larson's Far Side would not have existed without him.

Addams' own unique creation of The Addams Family began as print cartoons which went on to inspire a popular TV series, animated cartoons and two Hollywood feature films. With these characters, Addams provided role models for eccentrics and nonconformists everywhere.
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