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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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Chas Addams, A Cartoonist's Life, Linda Davis; Random House (2006)
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.
Addams knew his way around a tux, but he never exhibited any desire to do anything other than to race sports cars & draw brilliant illustrations later to be united with punch lines (many of which were not his own).
At the tail end of a (probably platonic) fling with (the post-JFK, pre-Onassis) Jackie Kennedy, she thoughtlessly wounded him with a cruel remark.
" 'Well, I couldn't get married to you,' she told him. 'What would we talk @ at the end of the day - cartoons?' "
(She probably said the same thing to the pool boy.)
But I'll give it this. It was a pleasant change to read a book @ The New Yorker that hadn't been written in anger by ex-staffers with their "How It All Went Wrong" axes to grind.
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.Read more ›
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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.Read more ›
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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.