Thursday, December 11, 2014
RIP KEN WEATHERWAX, AKA “PUGSLEY ADDAMS”
Earlier this week Ken Weatherwax, the actor who, as a child portrayed Pugsley Addams, son of Gomez and Morticia and brother of sister Wednesday in the classic sitcom (or should I say, “goth-com”), The Addams Family, passed away at the age of 59 after suffering a heart attack.
The Addams Family TV series ran from 1964-66 – one of a handful of two-season shows to attain immortality through constant reruns (like that other monstrous family, The Munsters and F Troop, the cavalry comedy featuring Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker in pre-Ghost Busters days). Of course, it wouldn’t be immortal if it wasn’t also good.
(Side note: 1964 was a magical year… the “Monster Kid” craze was in full force – at least eight years young and showing no signs of slowing down… and with the simultaneous debuts of The Addams Family and The Munsters the “mainstream” acknowledged the craze as more than a passing fad).
It couldn’t help but be good, given its pedigree. The show was based on the long-running New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams (pre-dating the show by some 30 years!) depicting an offbeat and more than slightly macabre family who had an allegedly (alleged by “normal” folks) skewed view of life that was in actuality totally unpretentious. Both the New Yorker cartoons and the sitcom that followed were steeped in black humor that was both stinging in its social commentary and probably more sophisticated than the majority of each’s contemporaries in magazine cartoons and television comedies.
It is my assertion that The Addams Family, perhaps more than many classic sitcoms, works so beautifully because every single element of the show – every actor from featured player to guest-stars to bit players – and every element from costumes, makeup, set design and special effects – was handled at the highest level of excellence at all times. No one piece or detail was greater than another – all elements were treated as equally important (astounding when one considers the sheer comedic brilliance of John Astin – who could have stolen every episode with his eyes closed – and yet his performances always organically play into the whole) and so the show continues to get better and better with age, like a fine wine.
A vital part of the mix were the parts played in the stories by the Addams children, Pugsley (Weatherwax) and Wednesday (Lisa Loring). Inventive, shrewd and free-thinking, the Addams children were responsible for several hysterical set-pieces. Pugsley’s stock-in-trade was creating creepy contraptions that would be more at home either on the battlefield (explosives a specialty!) or a medieval torture chamber. He’d win first prize at every science fair if Professor Tim Burton were the judge. Ken Weatherwax portrayed the character in a droll, matter-of-fact manner, a layer of shellacked innocence camouflaging the twisted genius within.
The Examiner’s James Neibaur was the first in the newsmedia to break the news of Weatherwax’s untimely passing, which had originally been relayed by Weatherwax’s niece via social media. In addition to being a journalist, Neibaur is a celebrated pop culture historian who has researched and authored several books on classic movies, television and music and the folks behind it all. Click here to see a selection of Neibaur’s available books (highly recommended by me!), and click here to read his obituary of Weatherwax.
Now enjoy this short clip of Weatherwax at work: