Private Charles Samuel Addams: Creator of the Addams Family

Today’s post comes from Thomas Richardson, an expert archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.

He’s creepy and he’s cooky, mysterious and spooky, he’s altogether ooky, he’s Charles Samuel Addams.

A noted cartoonist and artist whose most enduring creation is the Addams Family, his artistic skills were used by the U.S. Army during World War II. During his service, he worked at the Signal Corps Photographic Center (SCPC) creating animated training films for the Army. For a man who loved to work with the macabre, wartime made use of his artistic skills for the U.S. military.

Charles Samuel Addams was born on January 7, 1912, in Westfield, New Jersey, to Charles Huey and Grace Addams. From an early age, the younger Charles had a fascination with the macabre. He often spent time visiting graveyards and cemeteries, wondering at the fascinations of death. His father Charles encouraged him to draw, and he first started drawing cartoons for his high school magazine, the Weathervane. In 1930, Addams began attending the University of Pennsylvania and then the Grand Central School of Art, where he refined his cartooning and artistic skills. Addams freelanced for the New Yorker magazine and other publishing offices, drawing advertisements between 1932 and 1942, earning approximately $100 monthly. (nearly $1,800 a month in 2022 dollars).

Following the United States’ entry into World War II, he was high on the eligibility list for the draft since he was unmarried with no children. On December 29, 1942, Addams was inducted into the U.S. Army in Newark, New Jersey. Addams completed basic training at Fort Dix and was assigned to the 846th Signal Service Photo Battalion at Fort Monmouth on March 15, 1943. Only four weeks of basic training was needed for someone with his particular skill set. Being that he was already 30 years old and with experience as a cartoonist and illustrator, he was assigned a unique MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) as an Animation Artist. 

Not everything in Addams’s Army life was centered on the military. He married his first wife, Barbara Jean Day on May 29, 1943, during basic training. Many of Addams’s contemporaries would claim she was the inspiration for the Addams family matriarch, Morticia, as she shared some physical features and personality traits. 

He remained at Fort Monmouth until October 2, 1943, when he was reassigned to the Signal Corps Photographic Center on Long Island. He received a specialized qualification as Animation Artist Motion Picture and spent the majority of his wartime service creating training films for the U.S. Army. One campaign to which Addams significantly contributed was “Ideas for Victory.” This was a series of posters aimed at sharing messages on how people could contribute to the war effort on the home front. 

The skills he acquired during his military service greatly expanded his already established illustrating and writing career. He never fully gave up his macabre personality while in the Army. Colleagues remembered him always doodling gothic imagery in his spare time. His mother, who died while he was finishing basic training, had encouraged many of his macabre pursuits and in many ways motivated him to create the future Addams Family characters.

Supervisors at the SCPC rated him as non-commissioned officer and Officer Candidate School qualified, but Addams skirted many opportunities for promotion. Many appreciated his work and creativity. In a letter dated August 12, 1943, Maj. Gen. W. H. Harrison commended him for his “real imagination” on recently making cartoon reels named “Harrison’s APS.”

Addams’s colleagues at the New Yorker never forgot him, though. In November 1945, magazine publisher R. H. Fleischmann wrote to Addams asking when he could return to work:

“We have been waiting with all the patience at our disposal for your return from the Army. At the modest risk of turning your head, I want to go on record as saying that your return to work is a matter of great importance to us. Your gooseflesh-creating subjects add a certain quality to our group of cartoons in each issue which is sorely missed and definitely unfavorably affects our business.”

Addams had a sterling reputation with the magazine that treated him well for a decade, and without hesitation he asked for a discharge from the U.S. Army. His reasoning was well founded and not without some witty sarcasm and self-promotion:

“For the past ten (10) years I have been employed by the “New Yorker” to do ideas and cartoons for them. My induction into the Army in December 1942 terminated this relationship and according to Mr. Fleischmann the loss was not entirely one sided. I had been fulfilling an important need at the magazine and although I have no illusions of being the indispensable man, it is a highly specialized type of work and not easily replaced. There have also been a good number of advertisers who have wanted to use my work and had to be turned down. I am very sure that I could do good service to the “New Yorker”, other national publications, and advertising in general if this request were granted. A number of servicemen have written to me to ask why I don’t publish a collection of my drawings. That is something I would very much like to do too, but find it impossible under the present circumstances.”

The Army approved Addams’s request for a discharge. On February 7, 1946, Addams was honorably discharged after completing three years and three months of active duty with the final rank of Technician 4th Grade. He earned a handful of awards as well: Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Honorable Discharge Lapel Button, and Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar (.30 caliber to be exact).

Addams made good on his idea to publish collections of his drawings. Between 1947 and 1981, he published 10 anthologies of his cartoons, drawings, photographs, and writings. His 1957 publication Dear Dead Days featured the Addams Family on the front cover for the first time. The rest is history, with a live-action and animated TV series, films, books, video games, and the best-selling pinball game of all time. The world certainly gained a more macabre sense of humor with the Addams Family. Not even basic training could rid Addams of his spooky gothic personality. 

Happy Halloween!

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