Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fred and Ted's Excellent Adventure

There are life lessons lurking just about everywhere, including sometimes in Hollywood and in the wayward winds of popular culture. The actors who portrayed Herman Munster and Lurch, on television's The Munsters and The Addams Family, respectively, came to resent their mega-popular on-screen characters. Ultimately, the pair felt typecast and unappreciated for the width and breadth of their thespian and artistic abilities.

Apparently, Fred Gwynne came to loathe, for a period of time at least, the genially naive Frankenstein monster he played with such aplomb on the small screen in the mid-1960s. And Cassidy desperately wanted his fans to know that he could do Shakespeare, too, and not just a hideous giant who grunted and mumbled in the richest of rich baritones. But these two characters were true originals given life by two fine actors. Their iconic popularity, which has stood the test of time, is the proof in the pilaf.

It's quite understandable how achieving monumental and longstanding notoriety for playing TV parts could get under one's skin, particularly when the public will not similarly applaud anything else that the actors ever do. But what exactly are actors' jobs anyway? Entertaining the viewing public, I'd say. They are charged with touching us in some demonstrable ways, whether it's to make us laugh, cry, or think—or some combination of the three. To have breathed life into a character like the universally beloved Herman Munster should have brought Fred Gwynne a mother lode of joy, not misery, after the series ended. And Cassidy's charismatic Lurch ideally should have lifted his spirits for all time. The six feet-nine inches tall Cassidy died unexpectedly in 1979 at the age of forty-six, a not especially contented man from all that I've read.

Really, how many of us in our lifetimes will bequeath the world decades of unbroken entertainment? And with their timeless shows in syndication, there are no ends to the yuks in sight from Gwynne's "Herman" and Cassidy's "Lurch." That's quite a legacy and a powerful life lesson, too.

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