Wednesday, 31 October 2018

He Really is a Scre-am

Creepy and kooky? Mysterious and spooky? Well, their theme song said they were. But I suspect a lot of people didn’t think that of the Addams Family. I can’t help but wonder if the show was liked by kids who didn’t quite fit in because it showcased other people who didn’t quite fit in, too. And, like animated cartoons that kids love, there’s no explanation for any of the oddness on the screen. That’s just the way things are.

Is it any wonder, then, that Ted Cassidy, who played the Addams’ butler, soon found himself working in animated cartoons. Hanna-Barbera hired him starting in 1965. Cassidy had been in radio, as had others at the studio (albeit, most as actors in the Golden Age).

Today being Hallowe’en, we’ll post a couple of newspaper stories about “spooky” Ted Cassidy from the time when he first made his name answering a loud gong that shook the camera on the Addams’ set. First stop is the Binghamton Press of September 18, 1965.

Cassidy 'Lurched' to Stardom

Special Press Writer
Hollywood—Take heart, all you nervous unknowns who are listed as "stars" of your own new television series. Some of you are destined to survive the success or failure of your series. But you would be well advised not to count on the series to establish you. Now is the time to start doing something, about it.
Take the case of one Ted Cassidy, professional identity: Lurch.
"I came from a good job to an excellent job," Ted sums it up. "I was lucky. I missed the struggle. I don't feel I have to pay anyone back for the miserable years. I never had them."
But when you're six feet nine inches tall and you're elected to go into show business, nothing comes without a struggle. You've got to have perseverance and the intelligence to realize you're not like everybody else and to do something about it.
• • •
BORN in Pittsburgh, Cassidy attended Wesleyan College and Stetson University, studying music and drama. His voice was good enough for him to be considered by several big bands as their vocalist. He moved to Dallas where he won recognition as a disc jockey. Then gambled on a trip to Hollywood, carrying his own screen test with him.
Visits to studios and casting directors accomplished nothing and he returned to Dallas. But one of the people he saw remembered him when The Addams Family series was proposed and he was contacted and asked to audition for the role of Lurch.
One of last season's episodes, "Lurch, The Teenage Idol," pretty much sums up what's happened to Ted since. Kids all over the country are wild for him. "It's shocking to me," he told me during our conversation on the Patio of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. "I don't get the sense of doing anything of national importance. I travel to the studio, work and go home. I don't get the sense of people in Philadelphia or Detroit. I don't even realize what's being put on film.
• • •
"ONLY when I tour, or when the Georgia Tech football team visits me, or when a stream of kids come to my door do I realize the impact I have. The kids are constant, kids by the carloads, kids on skateboards, kids looking for any excuse to come up to look or to talk to me. The only way I've found to preserve any normalcy is to give them the autographs and pictures they want. Then they'll finally accept the fact I'm human and after that they won't come to stare but they'll wave at me when they go by.
"I think kids like Lurch because he's kind of an earthbound superman. They know he's physically strong and they sense that he's a gentle man who loves kids. About the only prototype I can think of is the family dog. Lurch isn't voluble, but he's an aesthete. He plays the harpsichord and he appreciates Mozart and Bach. And he's big and strong enough to get away with it.
"There is no gainsaying that Lurch has put me where I am today," Cassidy said. "Lurch bought the house I live in. But what's going to happen to a guy like me when it's over? What happens when the show dies in maybe five years? Do I die too? No! I want to go on with other things.
"I went to Capitol Records a while ago with an idea that's finally come to fruition. We've made a record. Half the character of Lurch is the sound, So, how do you get the sound on a record? With a dance! "The Lurch,' of course. Capitol dug it and it took us three sessions to cut it, but it's out now.
"How can it miss being a smash, it's a presold item! What I'm banking on is the other side called 'Wesley.' It's kind of like the Walter Brennan treatment of 'Old Rivers,' a philosophical, down home narrative with a country and western beat.
"But acting is unlike any other profession in the world. It's a succession of jobs. When The Addams Family ends, however good you may be, if you're the greatest talent in the whole world, when that job ends, you end. My getting the show was a million-to-one shot. Everything broke just right. When you think about it, I'm the only one in the series who isn't an experienced professional. I don't even know if I'm an actor yet. "Will I be able to make it in films because of my size? I wish I knew."
Cassidy hit the road promoting the show. A reporter with the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle tagged along with him on one leg of a publicity junket and put this into type on December 5, 1965. There’s good news for cat lovers in this story.
He's a 'Most Likable Person'

Democrat and Chronicle TV-Radio Editor
"Hey man," the cabbie said apprehensively as he looked up at the brute of a man who had just slid into the front seat beside him, "you're bigger 'n John Wayne."
"Well, maybe physically," the big man boomed forth, "but not as a box office attraction."
"Yet..." a voice quietly opined from the rear of the cab.
The big man—he's 6 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs in at 250 pounds, give or take a ton—was Ted Cassidy, perhaps better known as Lurch of TV's "The Addams Family." The voice from the back seat belonged to one of our small party. And if the cabbie felt a bit crushed in the driver's seat of the taxi, we weren't doing much better on the other side of Cassidy, squeezed against the door.
A few minutes later we scrambled from the cab at the University Club, where we dined prior to heading out to Hedges Nine Mile Point establishment in Webster and, it was hoped, a little relaxation for Cassidy. He had been signing autographs, making appearances and in general working like a numb zombie all day long in Rochester in behalf of his show. But it just wasn't going to be that easy.
As we left the University Club a passerby gave a double take, walked back to our group, tapped one of us on file shoulder and asked, almost whisperingly, "Say, isn't that fellow Lurch?"
Advised that he was indeed Lurch, the man stuck his hand at tbe big fellow and said, "Hey, I just want to shake your hand. Boy, wait'll my kids hear about this!"
He turned and wafted away, but grabbed another passerby by the shoulder, pointed in our direction, and started talking.
Later, at Hedges, it was the same way. People would walk in, look at Cassidy, and ask him to sign just about anything they could get their hands on.
"Doesn't this get to you after awhile?" we asked.
"Sure," he replied, doing his best to autograph a tissue for a woman with the sniffles. "But you kind of get automatic about the whole business. You know, a piece of paper appears in front of you and you sign it, hardly thinking about it."
We liked as how that could get a bit dangerous if one became careless, and he agreed, doing his best to sign something that looked like a mutilated label from a beer bottle.
Maybe it's because he's relatively new at this star business—he had had no great experience before the movie cameras or with toe intricate demands of Hollywood-type TV production prior to getting the rote on "The Addams Family"—but Ted Cassidy is the most personable, easy talking and downright likable person we have talked with from the world of show business in many a moon.
Our conversation ranged over such topics as how shocking it often is to people if they try to go back to times and places of their childhood, through such things as how so much of our humor is based on the failings of people or the trouble in which they find themselves, to an explanation of why Cassidy likes cats.
"They can't be ruled," he said. "Cats are different from dogs in that you can train dogs to do just about anything. But cats..". well, it's a different matter with them. You can love them, pet them, and take excellent care of them, but if they don't want to do something, well, you'd better give up.
"It's their independence that I admire," he explained. Perhaps it's the same kind of independence that Cassidy possesses. He wants to go far in his chosen profession, beyond and up from his current role.
He says he'd like to portray villains, that he feels he should be pretty good at it.
And if the initial look on that cabbie's face as he watched that 6-foot, 9-inch giant slip into the taxi next to him is an example of how Cassidy would affect viewers, then it doesn't take much to imagine how he would make out as a TV or movie villain.
The Addams Family lasted only two seasons in prime time but found a lot of popularity in daytime syndication until black-and-white shows disappeared from the small screen. But that wasn’t the end of Lurch for Cassidy; he continued to play the character in various animated cartoon versions. He could have been known for something else. Jack Martin of the New York Post reported on May 25, 1979 that Cassidy had beat Atlanta Falcons lineman Pat Howell for the role as the Incredible Hulk, but Lou Ferrigno was cast. That’s because Cassidy died the previous January. His fiancée, actress Sandra Griego, told Dick Kleiner of the Newspaper Enterprise Association in March that Cassidy was “registered in the hospital where he died under an assumed name (Theodore Case). She says that was done ‘to protect his humanity from the Lurch image’.”

Regardless of how Cassidy eventually felt about being known only as Lurch, Addams Family fans, I suspect, think he was altogether ooky.

1 comment:

  1. In the fall of 1974, Ted and Chris Robinson made an appearance for the premiere of " Thunder County " at the Newmarket Theater in Hampton, Virginia. Our high school band was there that night. He was very approachable and nice. Both actors walked right into the band and freely talked to us. I lot of teenagers and kids gathered around him yelling: " Say You Rang!!", but he wouldn't. Very nice about it, but refused. He was trying to distance himself from " Lurch " at the time.