More of my conversation with
NightGallery, Batman, The Addams Family
(Transcribed by Liza Delgado)
Once upon a midnight .....
at the stroke of midnight (neither one of us would have it any other way) in a small
coffee shop somewhere in the heart of the city of the big shoulders, and right on time, as
if the peel of that twelfth bell was the cue for his entry, he came strolling in with his
lovely wife Valerie. What I noticed first was when he looked at her I could tell he loved
her, and when she returned his gaze it was magnified and reciprocated. More than just a
cute couple, but a loving team. (I was jealous of both of them.) Before I knew it, I was
shaking his hand and basking in the glow of his wonderful smile. It was surreal for me at
first, because there I was talking to a life long, familiar friend, for the first time!
But just the presence that emanates from this exceptional man put me at ease. Although I
was told not to take up more than one half hour of his time, he talked to me for two and a
I dont think a lot of people realize that your an accomplished director too,
Oh yeah, I wrote it, directed it, and acted in it.
And it got nominated for an Academy Award?
For what, what was the....
Best Short Film.
Did you also direct an episode of NightGallery?
I directed 3 of them, and performed in 3.
Any memories on that?
Yeah, in fact they are coming out with a book, a huge book. Seracusse
University Press is doing it. Theyve got every episode in it, with commentary and
background related to the production. Its the best television book I have ever
looked at. They wanted me to write the introduction or the forward to it, and Ive
got to get it done.
Whats the name of the book?
I dont know, I guess its going to be called Night Gallery.
I had to make a couple of corrections, not nearly as much as I thought
Id have to. I didnt know how it would come out, it just had to do with the
dialogue between Kim Stanley and me. I directed Fear of Spiders which she and
Patrick ONeil were in. Do you remember that one.
No, I dont.
The spider keeps getting bigger.
Oh, Yeah. That's one of my favorite ones, that and the earwig.
Another one I did called The House with Joanna Puditt, this woman
has a strange dream about a house that's haunted. She's driving to this house, then you
realized she's telling this to a psychiatrist and its her last day in an institution
and she's being released. When she's released, she gets in her car and starts to drive and
this dream begins to take place in real life and she drives to this house, and then she
gets out and starts to look around and out of the trees appears Paul Richards. He says
hes a real-estate agent and that the house is for sale. She buys it and then she
falls asleep in the house and has the same dream. The fact is that she is her own ghost,
and she try's to catch herself at the door. I get more mail on that then any other ones.
That one was pretty cool.
Do you remember the one called the "Dark Boy"? That was were a
school teacher comes in this place in the West, starts teaching school and there's one
extra kid. It turns out its a kid who has died.
I havent seen that one.
Ah, its beautiful.
Was Rod Sterling part of the creative part of that show.
Yeah, Rod was involved with The House and Fear of Spiders.
I dont remember Rob being around for Dark Boy. I acted in 3 of them too. I
did one with Phyllis Diller. I did one were I play a hippie that goes to hell or a music
producer actually. Thats well known, everyone remembers that one for some reason.
That was Directed by Ted Flicker who did the Presidents Analyst.
Then you also played the Riddler on Batman. It seems to me when you played the
Riddler, he turned into a more complex, cerebral, character, with riddles that made you
think with very specific clues. Did you have any input in that?
I dont think so. My recognition is I did not. But I got into it. Maybe
they decided to write it that way for me. I dont know.
How about the scepter, was that your idea? Was it a scepter or cane?
It is the most provoking thing when a man doesnt know the difference between
a scepter and a cane.
It was cane, well it was both, it served the Riddler as an all purpose tool.
I have to acknowledge it was the prop department. I was called, "Would I do it?"
I said sure, I always wanted to run around in my underwear. I was working out then, so
that helped out.
I have to ask about the muscular pose, you would say something maniacal, and then
you would do that pose. You werent told to do that, obviously, that was you.
All of that stuff. All of that stuff, that was purely yours truly. None of
that was written.
Once you took on Batman, Batman had a machete, and you simply walked away saying
"You know why you're going to let me walk away" and you pulled out a human
puzzle out and you totally confounded him every time. You never ran away from him. You
always walked away twirling your cane.
Part of that was me. At least the manner of doing it, just internally I had
a certain amusement at the aspect of these two guys, and I think there was a part of me
that wanted to manifest that opinion in the show.
The character definitely did some developing.
Thats what tickles me, that you guys pick up on that, because that's
what was exactly in my head and that's very gratifying to know that we connected.
I have a friend in Florida, Warren Gavin who is also a big fan of yours. I had him
FedEx me a copy because I couldnt find mine and I had made him a copy a years ago. I
just got it last night.
A Ridding Controversy or something like that, Batmans Anniversary...
Yeah, and the one that sticks with me, that I remember sitting in front of the T.V.
when I was a little kid, is the question who starts off the day on four legs, and then
moves on to two in the afternoon and then in the evening goes on to three? That riddle has
always stuck with me, just the way it makes you think...
Its called the Sphinxs riddle.
And then all your riddles in both episodes came together and you combined them and
they gave a clue to the finale thing at the end. Ohh, and I had a problem with my spell
check, demolecularizer. How do you spell that?
I dont think that word is going to cut the mustard...I know there is a
molecule. I dont know if there is a verb to molecularize, because molecules make up
stuff. Obviously what was meant from that is that we are going to reduce you from
molecules from which you are made, but I dont think that's a verb and I dont
think that a spell check is going to hold that one.
Talking about stunt work, I know you did a lot of your own stunt work on the Addams
Family. You did the sword fighting with Lurch, knife throwing with Mortica, I do knife
throwing too, standing on the head, explosives with Fester, disintegrating ray gun with
Pugsley, Wednesdays intense enough by herself. But did you do any of the trampoline
work? Where you bouncing around on that thing?
Some of it, yes. There were other parts of it that were done by Chuck Couch,
and Chuck was wonderful because he learned my moves and sometimes Id look at a film
and I wasnt sure if that was Chuck or me.
I thought it could have been you.
Some of it was, but I know one time, I did a flip and came down and that was
Chuck. There was one where Gomez was on a Trapeze hanging by the legs upside down. He
taught me how to do that. I remember how much the backs of my knees would hurt until I got
use to it. It was hard. Chuck was a catcher in a trapeze act in the circus and he never
got hurt. He was such a good acrobat and he used to do a lot of wing walking. I used to
ask him "Isnt that dangerous?" He said "No, it really isnt
unless you make a mistake."
Right, same thing with fire eating. Its not dangerous at all unless I hiccup.
Chuck later doubled Jack Lord on Hawaii 5 0.
Do you still practice yoga? You did bring that to the Gomez character.
I get into certain yoga positions at times, when Im working out and
for exercises. I use a little of it in some of my meditation, but I chant now and that
sort of replaced it. Its interesting because I got things like the lotus position on
T.V. long before anybody else did, or at least in the mainstream. But I had fun, I guess
my legs are pretty flexible, so I used to get a kick out of doing things like that. I
would get into a full lotus with my legs and then roll around.
While standing on your head one time and you rolled up and bounced to a standing
position, and said "ale oop, up" that's what Im laughing about right now,
just thinking about it. There had to be a lot of takes on that show. You guys had a
grueling schedule, too. A couple of episodes a week and to have those kind of prop things
going on and the physical humor, was it because you guys were meticulous about it or were
you guys just that good?
We rehearsed a lot, we didnt do a lot of takes. There were a couple of
times were I would to do it again because I thought maybe it was a little to much, but
most of the times we were o.k. on the first or second take.
Because everyone there was very well experienced in their craft.
There were some really good people there, and our Director was very
professional. Sometimes it was tough doing take after take upside down.
For the headstand?
Yeah, that's what I meant, the three point thing.
And smoking a cigar and reading a newspaper at the same time...
Well, sometimes for a close up I was hanging upside down from a trapeze.
I thought somebody was holding your legs or something.
Yeah, we did that...Im trying to remember....I did a lot of that sort
of thing... Sometimes I was able to do it without a spot, you know I could hold that
balance for a moment and put the cigar out.
...and then turn the page...
Yeah, I cant remember clearly but to my recollections I think to turn
the page I had to have some help.
I know it was very rushed. If someone was holding your legs, you were selling the
fact that you were doing this because.....
You have to do that just for it to be believable, even if I was somewhat
But it looked like you were just almost losing your balance as you would catch
I might well have been.
Now I also read that during the show you recorded a single called "Quida
Mia". Do you have a copy of that, is that out of print totally?
Its out of print, sure..
But you have a copy of it?
How does that go?
Well, it ended up (He sings) I cant really remember all the notes in
the tune. I talked a lot of it. The music was playing and I would say Quida Mia, QUIDA
MIA. . I appeared on quite a few shows. Back then they had shows like Shindig, Shivery,
and Hollywood a Go Go, and that kind of stuff. I did guest shots with that
number. Then it had the backside was a sort of rap like thing, kind of early rap called Wall
Flower Pete it was completely different kind of song but we wanted to try it out. It
got a lot of plays. So United Artists wanted to do records with me. I had no idea, what a
rare thing that was in order to make an album. And they put a guy with me working on
songs, and I got busy with films. I just kind of let it slide. Isnt that amazing?
This is 65 or 66.
You had other priorities.
I guess I did, but to let that slip threw...there was a guy named Ernie
Sheldon who had done stuff with a lot of big folk rock groups and so on. A good man, he
had a lots of great ideas. I just kind of drifted away from it. I did get some insight
into the record business though. I remember selling more records personally than they gave
me credit for in my report. I made some public appearances and sold record after record.
Then I would look at the LA report and I sold more personally. It was amazing, I actually
moved more myself then what the final total was.
How about all the Addams Family paraphernalia, all the products listed, what kind
of deal did you get for that stuff?
No, they book kept it to death. In fact there was story in Variety Astin
is Askin' where is the merchandizing coin?" I guess it was Variety
or maybe it was the Reporter. I just remember "Astin is Askin". You
know, where is it? There were millions of dollars that got sold. I probably made a
thousand dollars. I did a product on my own and the guy who who marketed it and sold it is
kind of a flaky guy. He actually flew the coop after 2 months of selling. He just
disappeared. I dont know what he took, but he disappeared. I still made more in that
in 2 months with that one item, then the millions and millions of dollars made on The
Addams Family merchandise. I made 10 times as much. I actually made some real money on
that. Do you remember the superball? Well, this was called the John Astin Screw Ball and
that's a collectors item. As a matter of fact Steve Cox came up with one and has a friend
that owns a mint John Austin Screw Ball.
And I can go on talking to you forever and ever. I just have one more question,
that I want to know about. I heard that one of the reasons The Addams Family was cancelled
was because of Gomezs libido and that you didnt want to tone that down, was
there anything to that?
Thats a good story but not to my knowledge. There were some people who
were uptight by that but we were so shielded to that by the Producer, he took care of that
stuff we never had to worry about that.
I really do think that the Gomez character, and just about everything you've done,
and you yourself are a good role model, Gomez was a role model for me, that's why I
swallow swords right now because Gomez had a little congestion that one day. I think that
would disturb a lot of parents, but if you really look at it, the family man, the way he
was in love. I mean, Im looking for that kind of relationship. Someone who makes me
feel that way about somebody else. The way you lost your mind over her even when you guys
had an argument. I can really only remember one argument you two had. She had
misunderstood something you had done or said and you knew you were in the right and you
were very frustrated. Then she spoke some French and you didnt even care who was
right or wrong anymore. "Its my fault! Im a fool and a cad." I think
that is so awesome. That's what Im looking for, I think its a great model for
a relationship. And like I say, Im a performer and MC at times, and a little bit of
Gomez goes a long way. It really does.
Well, that philosophy in my life is a very important one. I think those
characters may have appeared to look for blame, they didnt. They just went forward.
They took responsibility for their lives.
Yeah, it must nice to be so identified with something that's positive like that,
because it could have been just as well for a negative character.
Thats my heart out there on its sleeve basically, and
thats what I believe. I think people want to live that way, people really want to be
happy. I guess one of the reasons Im doing the Poe piece is that I think Poe
demonstrates that no matter how difficult things are, if you continue to move forward in
life, you can eventually become victorious, even if its later in life. Hopefully
more and more people will become interested all over again, not just in Poe but in his
ideas and in his work, his heart, and his soul.
I know you did a lot to stir me in that direction.
Hes quite a guy.
One last favor, can I get a picture with you?