The Addams Family legacy lives on

Former Penn student Charles Addams’ creations are back on the silver screen

Illustration of six Addams Family characters standing in front of College Hall.
Charles Addams took this “new look at College Hall” for the March 1973 cover of The Pennsylvania Gazette magazine. And, he said, “I did enjoy working on it.” Design by Charles Addams. (Image courtesy: The Pennsylvania Gazette)

Inspiration for many a Halloween costume, the delightfully macabre Addams Family is back in movie theaters in a new 3D computer-animated film, more than 80 years after the characters were created by artist and former Penn student Charles Addams.

A Penn architecture student in 1930-1931, Addams created cartoons about the creepy, aristocratic family that first appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 1938. Television shows and movies, along with books and exhibitions and even a Broadway musical, have continued the family’s story throughout the decades. 

College Hall at dusk lit with colorful lights.
College Hall is said to have been the inspiration for the fictional Addams Family mansion created by Charles Addams. (Image: Eric Sucar)

The characters include Gomez and Morticia Addams; their daughter, Wednesday, and son, Puglsey; family members Uncle Fester, Grandmama, and Cousin Itt; the butler, Lurch, and a disembodied hand named Thing.

A closeup of a detail on a metal gate showing two hands, one holding a pencil..
The Kelly Family Gates are at the entrance of the Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall, part of the Weitzman School of Design. The two gates each have eight horizontal bars supporting sculptures of hands engaged in artistic endeavors. (Image: Scott Spitzer)

Despite his short time at Penn studying architecture, Addams’ legacy is still evident on campus and in American culture.  

“Charles Addams is important for his calling attention to difference and diversity in society, as what makes American life rich and wonderful,” says Kenneth Lum, professor and chair of the Fine Arts Department in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design. “I feel that Penn very much agrees with Addams’ belief that difference and diversity are something to be celebrated.”

While leading visitors through campus, student tour guides will note that the fictional Addams Family mansion bears a striking resemblance to the architecture of Penn’s historic College Hall.

Sculpture of Charles Addams’ Addams Family silhouettes on Penn’s campus.
An Addams Family in silhouette sculpture stand in front of Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall. (Image: Tina Rodia)

In front of Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall, named after the famous alumnus, is a metal sculpture depicting the characters in silhouette. Linking the campus to the building are the bronze Kelly Family Gates, distinguished by the decorative hands holding a variety of art tools, including paintbrushes, pencils, a camera, and scissors. Mark Lueders, who graduated from Penn with an MFA in 1993, won a juried competition with his design, inspired by the Thing character. 

Addams received an honorary doctor in fine arts degree from Penn in 1980, and the annual Charles Addams Memorial Prize awards $10,000 through the Weitzman School to a graduating MFA student “who shows promise of outstanding talent and achievement as an artist.”

Kenneth Lum is the Marilyn Jordan Taylor Presidential Professor and chair of the Fine Arts Department in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design.