Before ‘Wednesday’: The Confusing Addams Family Tree Explained

in Movies & TV

Jenna Ortega in Wednesday

Credit: Netflix

The Addams Family has been part of global pop culture for nearly a hundred years now, but how well do you really know them?

The Addams Family (Gomez, Wednesday, Fester, Morticia, Lurch, Grandma, and Pugsley) standing in front of a staircase
Credit: ABC

Since the most spooky (and ooky, whatever that means) of families were created by cartoonist Charles Addams for a series of one-panel comics in The New Yorker in 1938, they have appeared in virtually every form of entertainment that exists.

There have been Addams Family movies, both live-action and animated. There have been sitcoms. There have been Saturday morning cartoons, television specials in which they crossover with Scooby-Doo and his gang, and a musical variety show in which everyone sang and danced.

There have been video games from the early days of the NES, a highly-regarded pinball machine, young adult novels, a series of commercials for Honda in Japan, and a Broadway musical. We won’t even get into the mammoth amount of merchandise that the Addams Family franchise has spawned over the decades.

The Addams Family (Morticia, Wednesday, Gomez, and Puglsey) posing in Wednesday
Credit: Netflix

Currently, the critically acclaimed and enormously popular Netflix streaming show Wednesday has brought the family back to prominence, with Jenna Ortega playing a teenaged version of everyone’s favorite deadpan, probably murderous daughter. Season 1 of the Tim Burton-produced show wrapped up with the lead character finally settling down at Nevermore Academy after a rough semester of supernatural murders and resurrected Puritans.

Wednesday season 2 is currently in production, so this seems as good a time as any to break down the illustrious family tree of the Addams Family.

Here’s a caveat: there are at least 14 significant television and film adaptations of The Addams Family, including oddballs like The New Addams Family and Adult Wednesday Addams. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to stick to the three most significant adaptations of the franchise.

The Addams family (Lurch, Pugsley, Grandma, Wednesday, Gomez, Morticia, and Fester) standing in front of a staircase
Credit: Paramount

Those are: The 1960s ABC sitcom The Addams Family, the Barry Sonnenfeld feature film The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993), and the ongoing Wednesday series on Netflix.

And without much further ado, here’s the family:

Gomez

Gomez Addams (John Astin) smoking a cigar
Credit: ABC

Like all of them, the patriarch of the Addams Family was initially not given a name but was merely portrayed as a short, squat, mustachioed man who clearly had a whole lot of money and time on his hands.

However, when ABC began developing The Addams Family for a sitcom adaptation, it came up that the family members would need names. Charles Addams himself came up with either “Repelli” or “Gomez” and left it to actor John Astin to pick, and, voila, Gomez Addams was born.

Gomez Addams (Raul Julia) staring into space while wearing a striped suit
Raul Julia
Credit: Paramount

Charles Addams described Gomez as “Husband to Morticia (if indeed they are married at all) … a crafty schemer, but also a jolly man in his own way … though sometimes misguided … sentimental and often puckish — optimistic, he is in full enthusiasm for his dreadful plots … is sometimes seen in a rather formal dressing gown … the only one who smokes.”

Over the years, his character and backstory have been more fleshed out. It was eventually decided that Gomez (and thus the Addams family) was of Castilian Spanish heritage and came from mysterious old money, which made him enormously wealthy. However, the ABC sitcom also makes it clear that he is a wily, if unserious, businessman who simply cannot help but be successful at everything he attempts.

Gomez Addams (Luis Guzman) looking startled in Wednesday
Luis Guzman
Credit: Netflix

Gomez has been played by John Astin, Raul Julia, and Luis Guzman (among others) in various adaptations.

Morticia

Morticia Addams (Carolyn Jones) smiling serenely
Carolyn Jones
Credit: ABC

Morticia Addams, on the other hand, got her name in a much more direct way: Charles Addams was inspired by the word “mortician,” which tracks for this family. Her maiden name before marrying into the family has consistently been “Frump.”

The cartoonist described her as “The real head of the family … low-voiced, incisive and subtle, smiles are rare…ruined beauty … contemptuous and original and with fierce family loyalty … even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly … given to low-keyed rhapsodies about her garden of deadly nightshade, henbane and dwarf’s hair,” which just goes to show, the man had a gift with words.

Morticia Addams (Anjelica Huston) smiling while light shines only on her eyes
Anjelica Huston
Credit: Paramount

Morticia has often been called a witch, though the actual nature of the family’s seeming indestructibility and possible magical powers are up for debate. In the Netflix Wednesday series, Morticia seems to have mystical visions of the past and future, which certainly makes it possible. In some versions, she is a descendant of witches from Salem, Massachusetts, which raises some questions about what actually went down there and who else is in her family tree.

As Addams himself alludes to, Morticia is far more realistic and pragmatic (in the family’s own peculiar way) than her husband, often being a relative source of reason in crises. She also plays the Japanese stringed instrument known as the shamisen, and is an avid gardener, owning a carnivorous plant named Cleopatra.

Morticia Addams (Catherine Zeta-Jones) smiling oddly in a car
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Credit: Netflix

Over the years, Morticia has been played by Carolyn Jones, Anjelica Huston, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, among others.

Wednesday

Wednesday Addams (Lisa Loring) holding a headless doll
Lisa Loring
Credit: ABC

Over the many years and adaptations of The Addams Family, it has become unclear if Wednesday is the eldest child of the family, but more frequently than not, she is treated as such, which might just be the Addams men’s tendency to irresponsibility.

Reportedly, actress Joan Blake suggested “Wednesday” for the given name of the child, based on the traditional children’s poem “Monday’s Child,” which reads:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
And the child born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, good and gay

Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci) looking skeptical in Addams Family Values (1993)
Christina Ricci
Credit: Paramount

Notably, it has been regularly stated that Wednesday was actually born on a Friday.

In many ways, Wednesday has become the single most famous member of the family, particularly with the breakthrough performance of Jenna Ortega in the Netflix series. Her all-black fashion sense and everpresent pigtails have become a classic of the goth style, while her deadpan delivery and morbid curiosity have made her an icon.

Interestingly, in the 1960s ABC show, Wednesday had little of her flat effect and brusqueness, being portrayed as a cheerful, generally playful child.

Through the various versions of the family, Wednesday frequently carries a headless doll of Marie Antoinette, the young people’s favorite, and studies the Bermuda Triangle. She also has a longstanding habit of trying to kill her brother Pugsley, because family will be family.

Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams
Jenna Ortega
Credit: Netflix

Wednesday has been portrayed in live-action by Lisa Loring, Christina Ricci, and Jenna Ortega.

Pugsley

Pugsley Addams (Ken Weatherwax) smiling in The Addams Family sitcom
Ken Weatherwax
Credit: ABC

Whether his sister Wednesday or he is the older of the siblings tends to change from adaptation, but Pugsley Addams is always portrayed as being an overweight child with a number of violent but not malevolent hobbies.

According to Charles Addams, Pugsley is “[a]n energetic monster of a boy…blond red hair, popped blue eyes and a dedicated troublemaker, in other words, the kid next door…genius in his own way, he makes toy guillotines, full size racks, threatens to poison his sister, can turn himself into a Mr. Hyde with an ordinary chemical set…his voice is hoarse…is sometimes allowed an occasional cigar.”

Pugsley Addams (Jimmy Workman) looking surprised in Addams Family Values (1993)
Jimmy Workman
Credit: Paramount

The Addams son is frequently portrayed as something of a scientific genius, with the 1960s series showing him building an early computer with his father, as well as inventing devices like disintegration rays. He also has a hobby of stealing road signs to decorate his room, causing any number of presumably horrific accidents in the process.

The original New Yorker cartoons often showed the then-unnamed Pugsley and Wednesday terrifying “normals,” and the siblings notably have a very close, if bizarre, relationship in the various adaptations since. Most brother-sister friendships involve less physical torture and attempts at murder, but who are we to judge?

Pugsley Addams (Isaac Ordonez) riding in the family car in Wednesday
Isaac Ordonez
Credit: Netflix

Pugsley has been portrayed in TV and film by Ken Weatherwax, Jimmy Workman, and Isaac Ordonez.

Fester

Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan) twisting his face in The Addams Family sitcom
Jackie Coogan
Credit: ABC

It turns out that the Pugsley-Wednesday dilemma is not the only confusing sibling relationship in the Addams Family. “Uncle” Fester Addams was initially portrayed as being Morticia’s mother’s brother, which confusingly would make him not actually an Addams. In later adaptations, Fester has often been portrayed as Gomez’s elder brother, which seems to be the most consistent depiction. Wherever he lands on the family tree, he is clearly in line with their general ethos of cheerful morbidity.

Across nearly every version of the family, however, a number of aspects of Fester have remained the same. He nearly always wears a long, monk’s habit-style robe, which was originally a long fur coat in the New Yorker cartoons. He is typically portrayed as completely bald, even when shown in flashbacks as a child.

Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) standing in the rain in The Addams Family (1991)
Christopher Lloyd
Credit: Paramount

Most bizarrely, it seems that Fester has some control over electricity, though it is unclear whether this is innate or the result of some kind of experiment. In the original show, he was often shown powering a lightbulb by placing it in his mouth, while, more recently in Wednesday, he is actually able to produce crackling lightning out of his hands.

Although Fester has the most overly scary appearance, he is also notably a helpful man who dotes on his niece and nephew. Don’t judge a Fester by its cover, everyone.

Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) looking creepy in the woods in Wednesday
Fred Armisen
Credit: Netflix

Fester has been portrayed by Jackie Coogan, Christopher Lloyd, and Fred Armisen.

Grandmama

Grandma Addams (Blossom Rock) laughing in front of a wall of knives in The Addams Family sitcom
Blossom Rock
Credit: ABC

The confusion never ends! Grandmama might be Morticia’s mother. She might be Fester’s sister. She might be Gomez’s mother. She might be Gomez and Fester’s mother.

Grandma Addams (Judith Malina) standing in a dust-covered room in The Addams Family (1991)
Judith Malina
Credit: Paramount

Of all the members of the Addams Family, Grandmama’s backstory is the most thinly developed, with Charles Addams describing her as “a disrespectful old hag” and “foolishly good-natured … a weak character [who] is easily led.” Still, she seems to be a pretty nice woman overall, if a little obsessed with potions.

In the original 1960s sitcom, Grandmama was played by Blossom Rock, while the Barry Sonnenfeld films stared Judith Malina as the character.

Lurch

Lurch (Ted Cassidy) rolling his eyes in The Addams Family sitcom
Ted Cassidy
Credit: ABC

While Lurch might not be an official member of the Addams Family, the Frankenstein’s Monster-like butler has sometimes been described as being “part Addams,” suggesting that he might be composed of limbs and organs from some members of the family.

Lurch (Carel Struycken) smiling in The Addams Family (1991)
Carel Struycken
Credit: Paramount

Charles Addams described him as “This towering mute has been shambling around the house forever … He is not a very good butler but a faithful one … One eye is opaque, the scanty hair is damply clinging to his narrow flat head … generally the family regards him as something of a joke.”

Like his employers, Lurch seems a good-natured, friendly individual who appears mostly unaware that his appearance or actions might be considered weird to others.

Lurch (George Burcea) standing in front of a stone building in Wednesday
George Burcea
Credit: Netflix

Lurch has been portrayed in live-action by Ted Cassidy, Carel Struycken, and George Burcea.

Thing

Thing giving the peace sign in The Addams Family sitcom
Credit: ABC

Thing is…something. That’s about all anyone knows.

Who’s your favorite Addams family member? Call them out in the comment section below!

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