The Munsters premiered on September 24, 1964, and was an immediate ratings success. The wacky antics of childlike patriarch Herman and his unusual (but not really scary) family originally ran for two seasons (70 episodes), but has remained on the air in some form ever since in syndication. Here are some behind-the-scenes facts about the goings-on at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.
1. THE SHOW WAS CREATED BY THE SAME TEAM BEHIND LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.
Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher’s credo while producing and writing for the classic family sitcom Leave it to Beaver was “write what you know.” Between them they had six children and they based a lot of their plots on their own home lives. They used this same philosophy when they created a sitcom about a suburban blue-collar family that just happened to be comprised of monsters. They didn’t want children to be frightened of the characters (as they might be when watching Frankenstein or Dracula during the Saturday afternoon “Creature Feature”), so they made Herman a typical working dad who carried a lunch box to work every day and who imparted homespun wisdom to his young son. The mother was caring and nurturing, even if she did serve rolled hyena foot roast for dinner, and an aging grandparent (who had a laboratory in the dungeon) lived with the family. All in all, a nice slice of down-home Americana.
2. THE CHOICE OF MONSTER CHARACTERS WAS STRICTLY INTENTIONAL (AND ROYALTY-FREE).
Universal Studios owned Universal Television, which owned The Munsters. Universal Studios also owned the copyrights to most of the classic monsters, including Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster. The studio had been running their old classic horror films on television since the 1950s and found that there was still an impressive audience for these decades-old monster movies. When Connelly and Mosher pitched their series idea, CBS executives knew that they had one advantage that ABC lacked with The Addams Family: the ability to use the Universal monster characters. The Munsters regularly topped The Addams Family in the ratings, mainly because of the instant identifiability of (and built-in fan base for) Dracula, Frankenstein’s bride, et al.
3. HERMAN AND GRANDPA HAD THEIR COMEDY TIMING DOWN PAT BEFORE THE SHOW BEGAN.
Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis played so well off one another because they’d had a couple years of practice. They’d co-starred as Officers Francis Muldoon and Leo Schnauser on the hit sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? from 1961 until 1963. The two remained close friends long after The Munsters was cancelled.
4. “LILY” WAS ORIGINALLY “PHOEBE.”
She was also played by a different actress. In the unaired pilot, Mrs. Munster was played by Joan Marshall. But when the show was picked up as a series, CBS brass worried that Marshall’s look and onscreen demeanor were too similar to Carolyn Jones’ portrayal of Morticia Addams on rival network ABC. The producers were asked to recast the role, and along with a new actress came a new name for the character.
5. THE NEW “LILY” WASN’T EXACTLY WELCOMED BY HER CO-STARS AT FIRST.
Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were not pleased when they heard that Yvonne De Carlo had been hired to replace Joan Marshall. They’d never met the film actress, but they were intimidated by her reputation as a Hollywood glamour queen. “She was a bona fide movie star,” Al Lewis recounted in a 2003 interview for A&E’s Biography, “and we didn’t think she would fit in with our brand of comedy. We were wrong.”
6. THEIR ONSCREEN CHEMISTRY WAS GREAT, BUT ALL WAS NOT ROSY BEHIND THE SCENES.
De Carlo’s comedic timing was great and she fit in fine while the cameras were rolling, but in between scenes she kept mainly to herself in her trailer. She often held up production while having minute adjustments done to her hair (she went through five different hairdressers during the show’s two-year run), makeup, and nails, which aggravated the cast and crew.
7. EDDIE WAS ALSO RECAST AFTER THE PILOT.
Nate “Happy” Derman played wolf-boy Eddie Munster in the pilot, but his growling, clawing characterization was a little too lycanthropic for the network’s taste. He was replaced by Butch Patrick, who played Eddie more like a pointy-eared version of Beaver Cleaver.
8. MARILYN WAS PLAYED BY TWO DIFFERENT ACTRESSES.
But in this case it was the actress’s decision, not the producers’: New York-based Beverley Owen played Marilyn for the first 13 episodes, but she was desperately unhappy working in California and missed her fiance, who was back on the east coast. Gwynne and Lewis intervened on her behalf and talked to the producers to get her released from her contract. She went home, got married, and eventually got a role on the soap opera Another World, which was filmed in New York.
9. PAT PRIEST GOT THE ROLE IN PART BECAUSE OF HER SIZE.
Pat Priest, the daughter of Treasurer of the United States Ivy Baker Priest, was not only blonde (brunette Owen had worn a wig as Marilyn), she was also the same height and had almost the exact same measurements as Owen. Which meant that all of the existing “Marilyn” costumes and accessories fit her perfectly, so there would be no need to spend money on a replacement wardrobe once she was hired.
10. HERMAN’S COSTUME WAS A PERSONAL TORTURE CHAMBER FOR FRED GWYNNE.
Even though Gwynne would eventually reminisce that Herman was one of his favorite characters, the time he spent on The Munsters set was often fairly miserable, thanks to the various devices necessary to transform him into the lovable Frankenstein monster. On his feet he wore asphalt paver’s boots with four-inch soles, and his thighs, arms, and torso were covered in 40 pounds of foam rubber padding. He contended with back pain daily caused by the weight of the suit and inflexibility of the shoes. His head was fitted with a foam latex piece to flatten the top of his head and then he had to endure two hours in the makeup chair. He perspired freely under the heavy costume and hot studio lights and lost 10 pounds in one month despite consuming gallons of lemonade between takes. The producers eventually rented a compressed air tank and would poke the nozzle inside Gwynne’s collar to blow cool air on him.
11. THE COSTUME HAD ONE BENEFIT: IT EXCUSED GWYNNE FROM PERSONAL APPEARANCES.
As The Munsters gained popularity, its stars received more and more requests to appear at various functions. The producers, of course, sent the actors out as often as possible since such appearances not only promoted the show, they also propelled the sales of the various Munsters merchandise that saturated the market at the time. Only Fred Gwynne was able to relax on his days off (for the most part), since the time and expense required to get him into character outweighed the publicity value of cutting ribbons at supermarket openings. One of the rare times he played Herman in public was alongside Al Lewis in the 1964 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Gwynne confessed to TV Guide that he’d been taking slugs from a bottle of whiskey the entire time, because he “had to get bombed so I could say ‘hello’ to the little kiddies for 40 blocks.”
12. THE MUNSTER KOACH WAS BUILT BY THE SAME COMPANY THAT CREATED THE BATMOBILE.
Hollywood custom car builder George Barris used three Model T Ford bodies to construct the 18-foot-long Munster-mobile. The brass radiator and fenders were hand formed and the velvet upholstery was “blood red.” It took 21 days to complete at a total cost of $18,000.
BONUS: EDDIE MUNSTER +
Eddie Munster actor Butch Patrick is clearly enthralled.
TV Guide, July 10-16, 1965
The Munsters: A Trip Down Mockingbird Lane, by Stephen Cox
“The Munsters: America’s First Family of Fright,” A&E Biography
“Putting a New Face on His Career” by Richard Warren Lewis
“The Myths and Politics of Grandpa Munster,” by Kliph Nesterhoff