This week in from the Vault we take a fond look back at The Munsters TV series, perhaps the greatest TV series ever for “Monster Kids” including a look at the 2008 DVD release of the complete series from Universal.
NBC 1964 - 1966
Cast: Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo, Al Lewis, Pat Priest, Butch Patrick
While it lasted only two seasons, The Munsters made an indelible mark on pop culture and became a genuine American Institution. The iconic TV show has never been out of syndication in the over forty-five years since it went off the air. Debuting on CBS on September 24, 1964, the Munsters ran for a total of 70 episodes (sitcom seasons were much longer in the 1960s than they are today). In addition there was a theatrical film “Munster Go Home” in 1966, and three made-for-TV films. NBC is producing a new, darker version of the Munsters called Mockingbird Lane which will premiere in 2013.
The Munsters worked because at its heart it was the All-American sitcom...they just happened to be monsters. They faced the same situations that all families face...issues at home, in school, and on the job; relationships with neighbors and family members, etc... The series was highlighted by numerous guest-stars who were well known TV personalities of the period including: Paul Lynde, Harvey Korman, Don Rickles, Dom DeLuise, John Carradine, and Frank Gorshin.
Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster and Al Lewis as Grandpa had previously worked together on another hit sitcom, "Car 54 Where Are You?" Their chemistry was perfect from the opening episode as they sometimes fought, and sometimes schemed together, but were always a hilarious pair. Yvonne DeCarlo was a Hollywood starlet during the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps best known for her role as the wife of Moses opposite Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments”. As Lily, she frequently found herself having to play referee to Herman and Grandpa’s ongoing feud. The series began with Beverly Owen playing niece Marilyn. When a homesick Owen wanted to go back to New York, Pat Priest replaced her in episode #14 until the end of the series. Butch Patrick rounded out the cast as werewolf son, Eddie Munster,
Herman’s look closely resembled the monster makeup and costume worn by Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein”. There were two reasons for this…first, the series was produced by Universal Studios who had their monster look copyrighted. Thus Herman had the flat head, bolts in the neck, ponderous boots, and similar outfit. Secondly, the makeup was done by Bud Westmore. Westmore had succeeded the great Jack Pierce as the head makeup man at Universal and had learned his craft from Pierce who created the monster’s look for the original 1931 film.
Ironically, it would be another iconic TV show that led to the Munster’s cancellation. In January, 1966, ABC put their new show “Batman” on opposite The Munsters and ultimately the monster family could not compete with the Caped Crusader. Still, the Munsters had one more trick up their sleeve. "Munsters Go Home" was shot after the show ended. The theatrical film was released on July 15, 1966. The Munsters learn they have inherited an English estate known as Munster Hall. This does not set well with some of the other stuffy English relatives and they try to scare the Munsters off once they get there and even plot to kill Herman.
A highlight of the movie is Herman racing the famous "Dragula" dragster, one of the two famous custom cars from the show along with the Munster Koach". Again in an ironic twist, the two Munster Mobiles were created by George Barris who also designed the Batmobile for the 1966 TV series. Two things about the film, first, it gave audiences the chance to see the Munsters in color for the first time. Second, the lack of a laugh track really hurts the feel of the film compared to the TV show. Debbie Watson replaced Pat Priest in the role of Marilyn for this film. Gwynne, Lewis, and DeCarlo would reprise their roles for the 1981 made-for-tv movie, "The Munsters Revenge". While not very good, it did give fans a chance to see the stars one more time in their familiar make-up.
The Munsters would become one of the most marketed TV shows in history. Hundreds of products were produced in the 1960s featuring their image including comic books, model kits, lunch boxes, and numerous toys. The popularity of these items, as well as new items is still high among collectors today.
In 2008, Universal released the Complete Munsters series on DVD. In addition to all 70 episodes of the series run the set also includes films “Munsters Go Home” and “Munsters Revenge” as well as the following bonus items:
Unaired TV pilot: The 14 minute pilot episode featured a very different looking Munsters family. Joan Marshall played "Pheobe" Munster, Herman's wife and her look was almost identical to Morticia Addams. Happy Derman played a truly maniacal Eddie Munster, who hissed and growled throughout. Thankfully he was replaced!
There are four documentaries that first appeared on The A&E Channel's biography series back in 2000, and 2002. They include:
"America's First Family of Fright"
"Fred Gwynne: More than a Munster"
"Yvonne DeCarlo: Gilded Lily"
"Al Lews: Forever Grandpa"
Each documentary runs approximately 45 minutes and if you haven't seen them on A&E previously they are all outstanding, especially "America's First Family of Fright". This documentary covers the entire history of the show. You get to see rare footage of the cast in full make-up doing publicity appearances at Marine Land and at a Thanksgiving Parade. It is truly a fantastic set and a must-have if you are a Munsters fan. Hopefully we will see a blu-ray release of the series in the near future.
Take a look at the original trailer from Munster Go Home!
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