The cast of ABC's "The Addams Family," 1964.
The cast of ABC's "The Addams Family," 1964.Don Cravens—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
The cast of ABC's "The Addams Family," 1964.
An unidentified actor auditions for the role of Uncle Fester, 1964.
John Astin (Gomez) with various actresses auditioning for the role of Morticia Addams, 1964.
John Astin with an actress auditioning for the role of Morticia Addams, 1964.
The Addams Family 1964
Girls auditioning for the role of Wednesday Friday Addams -- including Lisa Loring, at left, who was eventually cast.
A makeup artist with actor (possibly Jackie Coogan) auditioning for the role of Uncle Fester, 1964.
A would-be Morticia Addams, 1964.
The Addams Family 1964
Actors who tried out for the part of Lurch, 1964.
Ted Cassidy, who was cast as Lurch -- and whose hand was also occasionally seen onscreen as Thing.
The Addams Family 1964
The Addams Family 1964
Boys who tried out for part of Pugsley -- including Ken Weatherwax, at right, who was cast in the role.
John Astin with an actor auditioning for the role of Uncle Fester, 1964.
The Addams Family 1964
Unidentified actresses who tried out for the role of Morticia Addams, 1964.
Actress who tried out for the role of Morticia Addams, 1964.
An actress who tried out for the part of Grandmama Addams. (Blossom Rock eventually won the role.)
The Addams Family 1964
The Addams Family 1964
The cast of ABC's "The Addams Family," 1964.
Don Cravens—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
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'Addams Family' Hopefuls: Photos From Auditions for a Classic TV Show

Sep 16, 2014

Some familial surnames are so much a part of the American landscape that it's difficult to discuss the country's history, its highs and lows or its complex and often contradictory legacy without mentioning them. The Roosevelt family. The Kennedy family. The Addams family.

Consider the relevance and the cultural reach of the latter. Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch and the rest have been around, in various incarnations, for eight decades. Created in the 1930s by the legendary cartoonist, Charles Addams (see below), the endearingly macabre family and assorted friends, neighbors and things have appeared in magazines (most notably The New Yorker), books, movies, on Broadway and, of course in a short-lived but fondly remembered 1960s TV series. A later, not-terrible animated series ran for a few seasons as a Saturday morning cartoon in the mid-Seventies.

Here, on the 50th anniversary of the broadcast premiere of the original TV seriesit debuted on ABC on Sept. 18, 1964LIFE.com takes a look back at the auditions for the show; some of the actors and actresses who ended up in the cast; and a number of others (largely unidentified in LIFE's archives) who gave it their best shot, but evidently weren't quite what producers had in mind.

In an article titled, "TV's Year of the Monster," meanwhile, in the Aug. 21, 1964, issue of LIFE, the magazine referenced The Addams Family as well as Bewitched and The Munsters in its preview of the networks' fall lineups:

They've come alive, the whole creepy, crawly Charles Addams family! And what's more . . . Mr. Addams' ghoulish people will be but a small part of the monster population explosion at prime evening time.

Cowboys, surgeons and hillbillies have had their day. Now it's the Year of the Ghouls, and the new fall season, which will burst upon us next month like a spray of lightning over Frankenstein's castle, will be strictly from beyond the grave. Only—let parents have no qualms—it will be played solely for guffaws.

Finally, it's worth noting that while Charles Addams himself was often depicted as a perverse and perhaps even sinister character straight out of one of his own cartoons, that persona was largely for show. As one of his obituaries pointed out when he died in 1988, at the age of 76, "a colleague at The New Yorker once described Addams as 'an urbane, relaxed, congenial man of great civility. He doesn't eat babies.'"

"He doesn't eat babies." What higher praise for any man?

Al Fenn—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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