Full of Woe: Wednesday Addams Through the Ages

For roughly a quarter of a century, Wednesday Addams was the sullen nameless daughter in a recurring New Yorker cartoon drawn by Charles “Chas” Addams. Only as his imagined family was headed to television screens, did Addams name his characters. While he struggled with some, like Pugsley (formerly “Pubert,” a crass impossibility for television in 1964), the name Wednesday—a nod to the child full of woe from the nursery rhyme—stuck from the moment of suggestion. “It’s perfect,” Kevin Miserocchi, an old friend of Addams’s and now director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, tells Vanity Fair of Wednesday’s unconventional moniker. “It tells you everything you need to know about her.”

Of course, everyone already knows Wednesday Addams—at least, they think they do. The only daughter of Gomez and Morticia Addams is pale with dark braids, wears a white collar atop an all-black outfit (sometimes accessorized with a handheld skull), and obsesses over the macabre while delighting in torturing (literally, usually) her younger brother. , a lovable dummy in contrast with her deep-thinking sensitive soul. Look beyond these key touch points, however, and you’ll see the gothic tween Wednesday Addams has changed, in subtle and extreme ways, over the more than 80 years we’ve known her. As yet another version and variety of the iconic child goth lands, this time as portrayed by jenna Ortega, from the mind of Tim Burton on the new Netflix drama wednesday, Here’s a retrospective look across mediums at the ever-evolving Wednesday Addams.

In print: The New Yorker

Two years after he began drawing his namesake family for the New Yorker, where he’d been publishing cartoons as a freelancer since his early 20s, Chas Addams introduced a child into his macabre world. According to Miserocchi’s the Addams Family: An Evilution, In June 1940, “the first inkling of an idea about a sad little girl possibly facing the world on her own” skipped rope beneath a street light all alone on a city sidewalk. The caption below: “Twenty-three thousand and one, twenty-three thousand and two, twenty-three thousand and three…” The character’s big round eyes are anxious and sad, but “unlike the other cartoons,” Miserocchi explains, “Wednesday’s Her pupils are all black with no whites in her eyes. From that alone, we know that Wednesday is dark.” As sad as she is in the outside world, however, she’s content and even happy within her own family—whether guillotining her doll alongside Pugsley, baking bat cookies with Granny Frump, or playing This Little Piggy at bedtime with Gomez. (This Wednesday, by the way, she has six toes on one of her feet.)

While today Wednesday is immortalized wearing all black and white likely because of The New Yorker‘s comic—when Wednesday appears in full color in this era, her familiar collared tunic is sometimes revealed to be teal blue. Her trademark long braids, meanwhile, took form over time. “[Chas] was an artist who was always experimenting,” says Miserocchi, author of The Addams Family: An Evilution. Even though a daughter was a later addition to the family, he adds, “Wednesday developed as he did, and I think he appreciated her more and more as he went along.”

On television: the Addams Family, 1964–66

Lisa Loring in 1966. ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images.

Some still don’t agree on which came first, but safe to say that neither The Addams Family (on ABC) nor The monsters (on CBS) would have been greenlit had the other not existed. After a few squeaky-clean decades of perfect American families, two similarly ghoulish clans debuted days apart in September 1964. They aired for two parallel seasons, on Thursday and Friday nights, and were endlessly compared and conflated. Even today, Miserocchi says he has fielded questions about Addams’s lost blond daughter.

Wednesday’s counterpart was Marilyn Munster, the teenaged adopted niece and only “normal” member of her family of monsters—that is, she’s blond and beautiful, though in her particular world, a pitiable freak. Wednesday of this era is played similarly by Lisa Loring As a normal happy child in a normal happy family who just happens to be morbid goths. The first Addams family member introduced on the premiere episode Wednesday politely answers the door. She’s shorter than the height of the doorknob and is promptly revealed to be six years old and the younger sibling of eight-year-old Pugsley. Miserocchi suspects the inversion was related to casting, though, like most every other character in the series, Wednesday has been noticeably softened for TV. Her hair is a natural brown rather than severe black, though her always-worn tunic is otherwise entirely faithful to the cartoon—appearing black on the screen and blue-green in real life. Colors were often not what they seemed, as when a color photo of the set was shared a few years ago, fans were shocked and horrified to learn the family’s living room set was actually bright bubblegum pink.

In the movies: the Addams Family, 1991, addams Family Values, 1993

Christina Ricci in 1991. © Paramount/Everett Collection.


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