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More of my conversation with
Including:
NightGallery, Batman, The Addams Family
John Astin
By

(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 half hours.
(Thanks John)

Dagon
I don’t think a lot of people realize that your an accomplished director too, like Prelude.

Astin
Oh yeah, I wrote it, directed it, and acted in it.

Dagon
And it got nominated for an Academy Award?

Astin
Yep.

Dagon
For what, what was the....

Astin
Best Short Film.

Dagon
Did you also direct an episode of NightGallery?

Astin
I directed 3 of them, and performed in 3.

Dagon
Any memories on that?

Astin
Yeah, in fact they are coming out with a book, a huge book. Seracusse University Press is doing it. They’ve got every episode in it, with commentary and background related to the production. It’s the best television book I have ever looked at. They wanted me to write the introduction or the forward to it, and I’ve got to get it done.

Dagon
What’s the name of the book?

Astin
I don’t know, I guess it’s going to be called Night Gallery.

Dagon
Oh O.K.

Astin
I had to make a couple of corrections, not nearly as much as I thought I’d have to. I didn’t 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 O’Neil were in. Do you remember that one.

Dagon
No, I don’t.

Astin
The spider keeps getting bigger.

Dagon
Oh, Yeah. That's one of my favorite ones, that and the earwig.

Astin
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 it’s 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 he’s 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.

Dagon
That one was pretty cool.

Astin
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 it’s a kid who has died.

Dagon
I haven’t seen that one.

Astin
Ah, it’s beautiful.

Dagon
Was Rod Sterling part of the creative part of that show.

Astin
Yeah, Rod was involved with The House and Fear of Spiders. I don’t 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. That’s well known, everyone remembers that one for some reason. That was Directed by Ted Flicker who did the President’s Analyst.

 

Dagon
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?

Astin
I don’t think so. My recognition is I did not. But I got into it. Maybe they decided to write it that way for me. I don’t know.

Dagon
How about the scepter, was that your idea? Was it a scepter or cane?

Astin
A cane.

Dagon
It is the most provoking thing when a man doesn’t know the difference between a scepter and a cane.

Astin
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.

Dagon
I have to ask about the muscular pose, you would say something maniacal, and then you would do that pose. You weren’t told to do that, obviously, that was you.

Astin
All of that stuff. All of that stuff, that was purely yours truly. None of that was written.

Dagon
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.

Astin
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.

Dagon
The character definitely did some developing.

Astin
That’s 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.

Dagon
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 couldn’t find mine and I had made him a copy a years ago. I just got it last night.

Astin
A Ridding Controversy or something like that, Batman’s Anniversary...

Dagon
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...

Astin
It’s called the Sphinx’s riddle.

Dagon
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?

Astin
I don’t think that word is going to cut the mustard...I know there is a molecule. I don’t 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 don’t think that's a verb and I don’t think that a spell check is going to hold that one.

Dagon
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, Wednesday’s intense enough by herself. But did you do any of the trampoline work? Where you bouncing around on that thing?

Astin
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 I’d look at a film and I wasn’t sure if that was Chuck or me.

Dagon
I thought it could have been you.

Astin
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 "Isn’t that dangerous?" He said "No, it really isn’t unless you make a mistake."

Dagon
Right, same thing with fire eating. It’s not dangerous at all unless I hiccup.

Astin
Chuck later doubled Jack Lord on Hawaii 5 0.

Dagon
Do you still practice yoga? You did bring that to the Gomez character.

Astin
I get into certain yoga positions at times, when I’m 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. It’s 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.

Dagon
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 I’m 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?

Astin
We rehearsed a lot, we didn’t 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.

Dagon
Because everyone there was very well experienced in their craft.

Astin
There were some really good people there, and our Director was very professional. Sometimes it was tough doing take after take upside down.

Dagon
For the headstand?

Astin
Yeah, that's what I meant, the three point thing.

Dagon
And smoking a cigar and reading a newspaper at the same time...

Astin
Well, sometimes for a close up I was hanging upside down from a trapeze.

Dagon
I thought somebody was holding your legs or something.

Astin
Yeah, we did that...I’m 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.

Dagon
...and then turn the page...

Astin
Yeah, I can’t remember clearly but to my recollections I think to turn the page I had to have some help.

Dagon
I know it was very rushed. If someone was holding your legs, you were selling the fact that you were doing this because.....

Astin
You have to do that just for it to be believable, even if I was somewhat unstable...

Dagon
But it looked like you were just almost losing your balance as you would catch yourself.

Astin
I might well have been.

Dagon
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?

Astin
It’s out of print, sure..

Dagon
But you have a copy of it?

Astin
Yeah.

Dagon
How does that go?

Astin
Well, it ended up (He sings) I can’t 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. Isn’t that amazing? This is 65 or 66.

Valerie
You had other priorities.

Astin
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.

Dagon
How about all the Addams Family paraphernalia, all the products listed, what kind of deal did you get for that stuff?

Astin
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 don’t 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.

Dagon
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 Gomez’s libido and that you didn’t want to tone that down, was there anything to that?

Astin
That’s 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.

Dagon
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, I’m 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 didn’t even care who was right or wrong anymore. "It’s my fault! I’m a fool and a cad." I think that is so awesome. That's what I’m looking for, I think it’s a great model for a relationship. And like I say, I’m a performer and MC at times, and a little bit of Gomez goes a long way. It really does.

Astin
Well, that philosophy in my life is a very important one. I think those characters may have appeared to look for blame, they didn’t. They just went forward. They took responsibility for their lives.

Dagon
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.

Astin
That’s my heart out there on it’s sleeve basically, and that’s what I believe. I think people want to live that way, people really want to be happy. I guess one of the reasons I’m 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 it’s 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.

Dagon
I know you did a lot to stir me in that direction.

Astin
He’s quite a guy.

Dagon
One last favor, can I get a picture with you?


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Part I

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