In 1964, Americans were up to their necks in creepy monsters, and loving every minute of it!
Films that premiered that year included "The Creeping Terror," "Curse of the Living Corpse," "Curse of the Mummy's Tomb," "Curse of the Stone Hand," "Devil Doll," "The Evil of Frankenstein," "Face of the Screaming Werewolf," "The Horror of Party Beach," and on a more surreal note, "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians."
Did television reflect this obsession with corny macabre? As a matter of fact, it did. In 1964, we were introduced to that all-American family, "The Munsters." Join us for a look at a suburban family that was a direct reflection of the times we once lived in, believe it or not.
Created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, (veterans of "The Amos and Andy Show" and "Leave It To Beaver"), "The Munsters" debuted on September 24, 1964 on CBS, and remained a prime time staple with new episodes airing through May 12, 1966. The series was canceled on September 1, 1966.
The show spoke to the changing times we lived in. "The Munsters" poked fun at the establishment by giving us a mirror image of the typical American family. In a clever twist-on-a-twist, one member of the family was actually a typical wholesome, pretty, teenage girl. Of course, the rest of the family felt nothing less than pity for her condition. The Munsters were the epitome of counterculture, and arrived just as we were learning the meaning of the word.
The mid-60's also saw the fad of outrageous custom cars (or Kustom Kars as we called them back then) - dune buggies and drag racers were our obsessions. The Munsters once again reflected the times, with Herman's Munster Koach and Grandpa's Dragula vehicle, both of which were designed by George Barris, who also designed the MonkeeMobile and the BatMobile.
Lest you think that we're about to write a thesis on the deeper meanings of "The Munsters," we'll be the first to admit that the show was basically Leave It To Beaver dressed in black. Take away the bolts in his neck and that greenish skin, and Herman Munster was really just a working dad trying to do his best to raise his family. The plotlines were as fluffy as any sitcom of the day, usually having to do with the basic "a misunderstanding occurs, hilarity ensues" classic theme. It's often compared with "The Addams Family," but other than the obvious premise and looks of the series, we don't recommend lumping them together. "The Addams Family" showed a darker brand of wordplay and humor, while "The Munsters" was content to rely on slapstick and goofy camera tricks.
The Regular Cast
Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster
Yvonne DeCarlo as Lily Munster
Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster
Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster
Beverly Owen as Marilyn Munster (Episodes 1-13)
Pat Priest as Marilyn Munster (Episodes 14-70)
"My Fair Munster" was produced first as a pilot (in color, even), and shown to the networks in hopes that the premise would be picked up as a regular series. This first pilot did not reflect the final casting, as Joan Marshal played Lily Munster, and Happy Derman played Eddie Munster. This pilot was not well received, and so a second pilot was filmed. Rather than changing the actors or the premise, however, the main difference was that it was not filmed in color, but instead was done in black and white, and the opening scene was altered.
Again, the pilot was not deemed acceptable - which isn't that surprising, considering. Finally, cast changes were introduced. Yvonne DeCarlo was brought in to play Lily Munster, and Butch Patrick joined the cast as Eddie Munster. This time, the pilot did well and the rest is history.
The Movies and Beyond
"Munster, Go Home"
1966 saw the cancellation of the television series and the theatrical release of "Munster, Go Home." The plotline was simplistic - the family inherits a mansion, which of course comes with lots of problems. The cast included Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo, Butch Patrick and Al Lewis reprising their roles from the series, but Debbie Watson played the part of Marilyn instead of Pat Priest - since the network suits decreed that Pat was already too old to play her part. This change did not go over well with the fans.
"The Munster's Revenge"
The second movie was not a theatrical release, but rather a made-for-television movie which aired on NBC in 1981. Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo and Al Lewis returned once again. Marilyn was played by Jo McDonnell (the fourth actress to play Marilyn), and Casey Martell portrayed Eddie Munster. In brief, the movie was a flop.
Also, "The Mini-Munsters" hour-long animated movie aired in 1973, "The Munsters' Revenge" was released in 1981 as a TV movie, and "Here Come the Munsters" debuted on the small screen in 1995. That was followed by "The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas" in 1996. But the Munsters weren't destined to remain in TV-movie purgatory.
In 1988-1991, "The Munsters Today" actually lasted for 72 episodes, based on the premise that a lab accident put the family to sleep, and they awaken in the present day. Actors included John Schuck as Herman, Lee Meriwether as Lily, Howard Morton as Grandpa, Jason Marsden as Eddie and HIlary Van Dyke as Marilyn.
Today, word has it that a new remake, called "Mockingbird Lane," is in development for a 2013 release - fitting, if you consider how supernatural characters have permeated our pop culture within the last few years. We see paranormal teen romance in our TV future!