The Parody Party of the Networks
In the early 1960s, network television was having a grand time poking fun at established genres of programming. The Westerns that had proven so reliable were satirized in “F Troop.” The secret agent fad was explored and exploited by “Get Smart.” The adventure of Robinson Crusoe was played for laughs in “Gilligan’s Island.” The cultural tidal wave of surf music and movies was distilled in “Gidget.” It was inevitable that the classic movie monsters should be resurrected and they were the subject of two popular incarnations.
Universal Studios, which had been the home of many of the best recalled movie monsters were able to draw on their vast treasure of resources to create “The Munsters.” For instance, the copyrighted makeup of the Boris Karloff “Frankenstein” was used as a familiar reference. The Dracula myth was applied for several characters and even a cute young Wolf man showed up.
The Munsters were conceived as a cartoon program in the late 1940s and the concept was kicked around for years. Finally, the idea blossomed with a pilot film that convinced CBS to take a chance on a series. Veteran actors, Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, were recruited after their success in the cop comedy, “Car 54, Where are you?”
A beautiful movie star, Yvonne De Carlo, of “The Ten Commandments,” joined the cast and the other members of the fearsome family were amusing as well. There were some impressive guest appearances like John Carradine and Paul Lynde.
The production was polished with excellent sets, outrageous funny cars by George Barris, and a rousing theme song. The show ran with modest ratings for several seasons and later achieved it’s greatest success in reruns and marketing spin offs, like Halloween costumes and lunch boxes, and including a slot machine in Las Vegas!
Strangely, the show found itself canceled because of the introduction of “Batman” which also featured the most famous Barris concept car of all time, the Batmobile. Competing in the same time slot was not good for Herman.
“The Munsters ” was filmed in black and white, but the campy version of the Gotham City knight was in blazing color. It was unfortunate for the Munsters to meet such an untimely end, but these characters had more life in them.
“The Munsters” was often compared to “The Addams Family,” but there was a unique character in Marilyn Munster. Although an obvious reference to Marilyn Monroe, the modest, blonde beauty was well aware that she was the “plain jane” in an exceptionally charismatic family. The part of Marilyn was played by three different actresses during the course of the show.
Beverly Owen, Pat Priest, and Debbie Watson each took a turn as the stand -in for a woman who was an international sex symbol as well as a proven comedic talent. All three were reliable straight “men” in setting up the best comedy lines for the other cast members, but one can only imagine if the real Marilyn could have had a chance to inhabit the role.
After movies like “Some like it Hot” and “Seven Year Itch”, Marilyn had nothing left to prove in the comedy department.
Even after a half century since her mysterious exit, the world remains enthralled by the image and aura of Marilyn Monroe. A popular fad of t-shirts now features the golden goddess in the guise of a zombie, creating a sad, Gothic gloominess that reminds us of a certain haunted mansion on Mockingbird Lane.
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