Monster Mash: Untold Stories of the Munsters

What made The Munsters so fun to watch was how relatable they were. Yes, they were monsters. And yes, they drove around in a coffin-like vehicle. And yes, the family’s grandpa had a lab where he concocted different potions and fooled around with spooky artifacts. But putting all of that aside for a moment, they were just like any other all-American, suburban family.

Fred Gwynne / Pat Priest, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick, Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo / Yvonne De Carlo / Al Lewis
Source: Getty Images

The monstrous bunch instantly captivated its viewers when it first aired in the mid-‘60s. Now, more than five decades since it wrapped up, we believe it’s time for a homey, good-feel nostalgic throwback. Let’s take a look at this humorous black and white sitcom that revolves around Frankenstein-ish-looking fellas.

Herman and Grandpa Were Best Friends

You might not know this, but two of The Munsters’ central figures were played by actors who were already good friends before joining the show. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis (Herman and Grandpa) starred together before in the show Car 54, Where are you? which ran from 1961 to 1964. Straight from the get-go, it was obvious that the comic pair had great chemistry.

Al Lewis, Beverly Owen, and Fred Gwynne smiling for the camera at the opening of Al Lewis Restaurant ‘’Grampa’s’’.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

The show was so successful that it won an Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy and earned several nominations, including one for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Comedy and another for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy. Fred and Al’s stage presence was, among other things, what made the show an absolute joy to watch.

Hastings’ Unique Set of Talents

Robert Francis Hastings took on a string of different roles throughout his career. From the big screen to the small screen to radio shows and even voice acting, Hastings did it all. He began performing and singing as a kid on a few radio shows like Doug Gray’s Singing Gang.

The raven character from ‘The Munsters’ inside his clock house.
Source: Pinterest

Hastings also took on various roles in cartoons. One minor role he’s well known for is his part as Lt. Elroy Carpenter, an annoying, brown-nosing subordinate in the movie McHale’s Navy. And in The Munsters, he once stood in for Mel Blanc, the voice actor who voiced The Raven.

Herman and Lily’s Monstruous Lives

When The Munsters aired in the early ‘60s, people weren’t used to seeing couples in the same bed on TV. The general atmosphere was a lot more conservative back then, so when the pair was seen on the small screen together, it ignited some debate. Looks like the prudish public wasn’t ready for such scenes.

Herman is sitting holding long tweezers next to his face while Lily stares.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

But producers weren’t worried about it. They explained that Herman and Lily weren’t technically a couple, so the scenes were fine. That being said, I think we can all agree that love between humans and monsters can be just as steamy as any human relationship. (Twilight, anyone?)

The Extra Long Munster Ford

The Munster Koach was one incredible vehicle! To make this impressive wagon, suitable for a colorful family of different Munsters, a designer named George Barris was assigned to the job and worked hard to put together the 18 ft. wonder.

The whole Munster’s family ridding The Munster Koach.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

The car was designed in order to make sure that the family’s patriarch, Herman Munster, could fit behind the wheel. It was probably one of the most incredible modifications ever done on a normal-sized car. The wacky design was unforgettable and soon become the show’s trademark.

Grandpa Munster’s Drag-U-La

Another superb vehicle from the series was Grandpa Munster’s morbid race car. It took the producers a lot of effort to get their hands on an actual coffin because, apparently, it’s illegal to buy one in America without an actual death certificate.

Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Ultimately, the vehicle’s designer Tom Daniel got his hand on the coffin by paying for it in cash and sneaking it onto the set during the night. We’re glad he didn’t give up! What would the show have been without the Drag-U-La to move Grandpa Munster around?

No Vampires Allowed in Comic Books

In 1954, the use of vampires in comic books was apparently prohibited. An obvious reflection of how uptight things were at the time, with binding laws looming above every area in the entertainment business. But the producers managed to find a way around it.

The Munsters poster ‘Go Home’, Fred Gwynne, Hermione Gingold, Terry Thomas, Yvonne DeCarlo, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick, Debbie Watson.
Photo by LMPC/Getty Images

With the help of an independent body called Gold Key Comics, the show still managed to print sixteen issues of The Munsters comic series. The Munsters was so successful that the first comic is considered one of Gold Key Comics’s most cherished assets.

Fred Gwynne’s Three Roles

Fred Gwynne was a huge star in the 1960s. He played many different characters throughout his career, finding jobs as not only an actor but also as an artist and writer. He acted in Car 54, Where Are You? and also as Herman Munster in The Munsters. What you might not have noticed, though, is that Gwynne starred as three different people in the show.

Fred Gwynne characters from the show.
Photo by Bettmann, Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection, Archive Photos, Getty Images

He performed as Herman, Herman’s twin brother Charlie, and as Johann (Dr. Frankenstein’s weird creation). This just goes to show great of a star he truly was and what a valuable asset he was on set. No other person could have played Herman as well as Fred did.

Too Young to Play Grandpa?

Yes, he was a vampire, but he was just like any other old grandpa you saw in the sitcoms. With a wide-eyed grin and a glimmer in his eye, he loved talking about “the good ole’ days.” But even though he was a grandpa on set, he was actually a year younger than De Carlo, the actress who played his daughter, Mrs. Munster.

Al Lewis as Grandpa gazing at the camera.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s mind-blowing the things make-up artists can do! With a little powder and a little shadowing, you can turn someone old or make them look ten years younger. Given this particular show’s theme, the costumes, as well as the spooky looks, allowed make-up artists to really go wild on the actors and do more or less as they pleased.

Why Was The Munsters in Black and White?

Color TV was already available in the 1960s, yet The Munsters was filmed in black and white. Fans were quick to speculate, with theories revolving around lack of money or the fact that “the monsters in color might be too scary for the kids.”

A still of Grandpa and Herman Munster holding torches in a foggy corridor.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Only the pilot aired in color, and the rest of the episodes were shown in black and white. Could it be that the show’s creators used black and white to cultivate a nostalgic feel and remind viewers of Universal Studio’s good ole’ monster films of the past?

Transylvania’s Marilyn Munster

Actress Beverley Owen starred as Marilyn Munster from episodes one to thirteen. Her character was said to have arrived from Transylvania, which explained her different, human-like appearance. She stood out and became the target of many jokes made by The Munsters family.

Portrait of the charming Marilyn Munster smiling at the camera.
Source: CBS

Interestingly, Owen didn’t like being on the show too much. She said she never wanted to be in it in the first place. She hated having to move to California but somehow ended up auditioning anyway. When she wanted to back out, talent agent Monique James threatened to take her to court, so she had no choice but to stay. She suffered miserably on set. She cried and cried and cried until all her crying got her out of the contract.

Beverley Owen After The Munsters

Beverley Owen was in a relationship with Joe Stone, the show’s writer and producer. And when it crumbled, she fell into a downward spiral. She eventually got over the split and revived her career by playing Audie Murphy, the lead in the 1964 Western Bullet for a Badman.

Close-up on Beverly Owen, who is leaning her arm on a wooden door frame.
Source: Tumblr

Then, a few years later, in 1971, she was cast in another role. This time, on the small screen. It was in a show called Another World. However, this show became her final TV gig. Afterward, she decided spend her workdays performing as part of the Cambridge Theatre troupe.

Herman Munster Sizzled Under His Costume

The things Fred Gwynne had to go through to get into character were tough. You can’t say the guy wasn’t dedicated to his craft. From hours in make-up to the sweltering costume he had to wear, Fred Gwynne put up with some harsh conditions.

Fred Gwynne in Herman Munster costume inside the laboratory.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Fred was so hot inside that costume that his make-up would often melt. The producers even had to bring an air compressor for someone to hold and shoot a quick burst of cold air into the costume between takes. His discomfort was so severe that we should all give him a huge thanks for pulling it off.

Grandpa Munster’s Familiar Laboratory

If Grandpa Munster’s lab reminded you of something you’ve seen before, you’re not alone. Strickfaden was the man in charge of the show’s special effects, and he is also the one who created the lab for the one and only iconic monster film – Frankenstein.

Massive spider web at Grandpa Munster laboratory.
Source: Pinterest

After Frankenstein, Strickfaden became Hollywood’s leading special effects artist and was in charge of decorating many famous sci-fi sets. For The Munsters, Strickfaden used some of the old props from Frankenstein’s adaptation. They suited the show perfectly!

Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster

Herman Munster was the crowd’s favorite giant. Even though he appeared menacing, he was as gentle as a feather. He was an endearing character who loved to joke around and never intentionally hurt anyone. Despite being the family’s patriarch, there was something extremely childlike about him.

Fred Gwynne in classical bow and tie shot at an event.
Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis/Getty Images

From his unlikely schemes to his occasional tantrums, Herman Munster was just like any other American, despite his Frankensteinish appearance. The gentle giant was so popular that most of The Munster’s success has been attributed to him.

Fred Gwynne After The Munsters

Fred Gwynne’s career after The Munsters didn’t slow down one bit. He continued working as an actor until his untimely death in ’93, at the young age of sixty-six. However, The Munsters did give Gwynne a reputation that was hard to escape from.

Fred Gwynne is posing in a studio portrait of CBS main television stars among John McGiver, Sterling Holloway, Yvonne De Carlo, Paul Ford, Cara Williams, and Tina Louise.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The show was extremely popular, and his role in it made it difficult for him to find other acting jobs. But Gwynne didn’t give up. He pushed through until he eventually found a place on the show Arsenic and Old Lace. After breaking from his Munster’s gig, the actor found plenty more opportunities and starred in central roles in various shows, mini-series, and films.

Yvonne De Carlo as Lily Munster

As the family’s matriarch, Lily Munster had a deep and caring relationship with her niece, bringing her into her home and raising her as if she were one of her own. Apart from that, Lily stood by Herman, making sure he wouldn’t fall for different tricks and traps.

Lily Munster poses as she frames her face with her hands.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

She also helped calm the mood between Herman and Grandpa Munster who used to argue a lot. Her strong character and loving heart were a joy to witness, as was her love for Herman. She was his complete opposite, and it was lovely seeing them become whole together.

Yvonne De Carlo After The Munsters

The show’s finale wasn’t the end for De Carlo, who played Lily once again in the colored film named Munsters, Go Home! But when The Munsters franchise finally came to an end, she starred in a few other small movies, including two Westerns.

Yvonne De Carlo classical beauty star headshot.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

She played in Hostile guns, and Arizona Bushwhackers and had a minor role in a thriller. By the time the ‘60s came to an end, De Carlo had made a name for herself as a talented theatre actress, performing in musicals like Catch Me If You Can and Little Me.

Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster

When Al Lewis auditioned for Grandpa Munster, casting directors knew it was a match made in heaven. Also known as Count Sam Dracula, Grandpa Munster oversaw the laboratory in the family home’s basement, where he messed around with all sorts of magical potions and artifacts.

Portrait of Al Lewis sitting doing a personal appearance as Grandpa Munster at Fairfield Garden Center.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

We have old Sam to thank for the show’s many intriguing story plots. Plots that usually centered around him and Herman running into trouble. Even though the pair seemed close in the show, the two actors didn’t know each other before the show aired. They grew friendlier and friendlier as time went by.

Al Lewis After The Munsters

Al Lewis’s acting career launched long before he appeared on The Munsters. He played in a show called The Big Story (1953) and from there, he met a fellow Munster on the set of Car 54, Where Are You? and followed that job with appearances on Route 66 and Naked City.

CProf. Irwin Corey and Al Lewis being photographed together outside Stand Up NYC comedy club, circa 1998.
Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald/Sygma/Getty Images

Al played different roles, a lot of times as the grandpa, in films like Pretty Boy Floyd and The World of Henry Orient. He was totally fine with being typecast. Unfortunately, Lewis passed away in 2006. He died of natural causes and, according to several sources, has his ashes stored in a cigar box.

Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster

Butch Patrick played young Eddie Munster, your ordinary all-American kid who also just so happened to love the taste of human blood. Despite his monstrous side, Eddie still attended school and led a relatively normal life.

Eddie Munster portrait sitting on a red background.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The little Munster looked up to his father and, like many young boys, would constantly brag about his strengths and talents. Eddie would always get himself into sticky situations after trying to help his dad out with some absurd scheme.

Butch Patrick After The Munsters

As a young actor on the rise, Butch Patrick had a long and fruitful career after The Munsters wrapped up. Perhaps the most impressive one of all the cast. He starred in I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, and a Wonderful World of Color from Walt Disney.

Butch Patrick with a bright and shining smile in a scene from the film 'The Phantom Tollbooth', circa 1970.
Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Patrick also snatched several roles between 1962 and 1971 in the TV series My Three Sons.

Pat Priest as Marilyn Munster

Even though Beverley Owen was fired from The Munsters, her character Marilyn Munster wasn’t. She was lucky enough to live on thanks to actress Pat Priest. Apart from looking a lot like Owen, Priest was also a fantastic actress and played the part of Marilyn extremely well.

Closeup of actress Pat Priest at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

After the show ended, Priest kept acting in minor roles here and there. Some of her memorable ones include Mission: Impossible, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Bewitched. Her final role was in The Munsters comeback film in 1995. She had to retire quite early because of her lymphoma. Luckily, she’s now in remission.

Casting Pat Priest Was a No-Brainer

The Munster’s production crew got really lucky with Pat Priest. Not only did she look like her predecessor, but she was also the exact same height. So not a lot of work was needed to integrate her into the show. Nothing but small adjustments were required, which saved the production team both time and money.

Pat Priest is sitting on the sofa and a sunflower.
Photo by The Denver Post/Getty Images

But perhaps there was another reason Priest was chosen to stand-in for Owen. She was the daughter of the United States Treasurer then, so the show’s producers might have seen additional benefits to choosing this specific actress.

The Raven Referenced a Creepy Poem

Remember the Munsters’ clock with the cuckoo that was supposed to pop out of the clock every hour? The bird was a reference to “The Raven,” the eerie, creepy poem written by Edgar Allan Poe. In the poem, as well as in The Munsters, the bird would chirp the word “Nevermore” instead of the ordinary “cuckoo.”

The Raven is popping out his head from inside the clock.
Source: Tumblr

The Raven was voiced by Mel Blanc, one of the most well-known voice actors of the time who was responsible for around 500 unique voice roles across his career. He was an integral part of shows like The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and even Bugs Bunny.

The Family’s Famous Neighbors

The Munsters’ hauntingly beautiful home was located down the road from another hit TV show family. They were situated right by The Cleavers’ home, from the series, Leave It to Beaver. The Munsters’ villa became so popular that long after the show ended, it still kept appearing on other shows like Coach and Desperate Housewives.

View of The Munsters house from the street.
Source: Pinterest

When constructing the house, the show’s set designers put a lot of effort into the building, both physically and financially. They spent around $1,000,000 to make the home for the lovable monsters. Today, the house can be found in an exhibit in Universal City, California. It even has a replica in Texas!

Did The Munsters Copy The Addams Family?

When The Munsters first premiered on CBS, it was on the exact same day that The Addams Family aired on ABC. Coincidence? We think not. As both shows centered around a group of monsters, it was understandably up for debate who was copying whom.

The Addams Family / The Munsters Family
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In reality, neither show copied the other. They were actually both produced independently, with no prior knowledge of the other. Even though The Addams Family beat The Munsters in terms of popularity, the show still achieved great heights.

The Munsters’ Pilot

The Munsters’ pilot was very different from the show’s first real episode. The differences have sparked a lot of questions and debate amongst the show’s diehard fans. The pilot was actually never shown on TV, so only the most hardcore fans were aware that a pilot even existed.

Pat Priest, Al Lewis and Butch Patrick, along with Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo of the Munster family.
Photo by CBS/Getty Images

The first and most obvious difference is that the pilot is in color while the rest of the show is shot in black and white. Secondly, Ernest and Lily were portrayed by different actors than Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo, who ended up in the final cut. Lastly, Lily is called Phoebe in the pilot.

Surprising Casting Choices

Initially, producers had different plans when it came to the people they wanted for the roles of Grandpa, Eddie Munster, and Herman Munster. For the grandpa, they wanted to hire Bert Lahr (the man who played the lion in the Wizard of Oz). For Eddie, they had in mind Billy Mumy, best-known for his part in The Twilight Zone. And for Herman, they wanted to hire Western film actor John Carradine to play the part.

Irving Lahrheim, as the Cowardly Lion from the
Photo by Bettman, Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images

Even though different people were hired for the parts, we believe most fans will agree that the ones chosen for the roles were a great pick! They added their unique charm to the show, and we can’t imagine things playing out any other way.

“Cheerios Are the Best Things Since Bat Wings!”

Shoving your product on TV in famous sitcoms is probably the best way to market it. That’s likely what the makers of Cheerios thought when they invested a lot of money to put their morning cereal in several episodes of the show.

Herman Munster is pouring milk on a glass bowl, getting ready to eat Cheerios.
Source: Pinterest

The presence of Cheerios around The Munsters’ house wasn’t subtle. In one specific episode, young Eddie says, “Daddy said they’re the best thing since bat wings!” Even though not many people can relate to this bizarre comparison, the segment did the job, and it added to Cheerios’ popularity amongst youngsters.

Honored at Thanksgiving

At the peak of its popularity, The Munsters experienced something that not a lot of sitcoms have had the honor of being part of. Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Parade invited the show to join the parade. Even though only Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were invited, they still managed to bring smiles to the fan’s faces.

The Munsters family are driving their car as a part of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Source: Reddit

The famous and adored Munster Koach also made an appearance in the parade, giving the enthusiastic crowd a firsthand glance at the monstrously spectacular machine. We bet they all wanted to hop on board and give the thing a spin.

Some Fans Took It One Step Too Far

The show had a devoted fanbase at the time, but out of all the fanatic fans, there’s one pair who stood out the most. Charles and Sandra McKee, a couple from Waxahachie in Texas, loved the show so much that they saved up to build their own home Munster style.

Outside view of Charles and Sandra McKee's home inspired in The Munsters house.
Source: Flickr

Their house ended up being an exact replica of The Munsters. This obviously meant that their home became the neighborhood’s ultimate Halloween home. And they took it upon themselves to throw a massive party every year in October.

The Munsters Film

A little before The Munsters went off the air, the actors had a last chance to play their characters in the TV film, Munster, Go Home! In this movie, Herman found out he had inherited a large sum of money from an old uncle of his, an Earl of England.

The Munsters Go Home! Poster.
Photo by LMPC/Getty Images

So, The Munsters ditched their home in the States and took off to England to see their lavish, new mansion. As the story unfolds, they become involved in a wacky scheme with some hilarious results. The film was well-received, and fans were glad that it stayed true to the show’s style and theme. The only difference was that it was shot in color.

Munsters Merch Galore!

The Munsters came out with a large collection of monster merch, from clothing to card games to dolls and even coloring books (which is funny considering that the whole show was shot in black and white). Today, the merch is worth a lot of money.

Car creator George Barris poses with a Herman Munster character and the Munster Koach at a Halloween event.
Photo by David Keeler/Liaison/Getty Images

So, if you have some lying around your house, don’t throw it out! Surely there’s a collector willing to buy it. In addition to the show’s merchandise, you can also purchase a copy of The Mini-Munsters, ABC’s animated show that aired in 1973.

A Never-Ending Franchise

The original show ended a long time ago, but there have been multiple attempts to resurrect these endearing Munsters. From the animated show and film to the TV reunion in the early ‘80s, new Munsters content keeps popping up every decade or so.

Pat Priest of The Munsters is attending a signing in the Chiller Theatre expo.
Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images

In 1995, a TV movie titled Here Come the Munsters premiered and then again in 1996 with a Christmas special called Scary Christmas. And in 1998, The Munsters found their way back onto our screens across the country with the spinoff titled The Munsters Today.

Grandpa Munster Opened an Italian Restaurant

It’s safe to say that Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster) really was a man of many talents. Apart from acting, he was also a restaurant owner. In 1987, he opened his own place in Greenwich Village, New York called Grampa’s Bella Gente.

Al Lewis is about to cut the cake at his restaurant’s opening night.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

It began as a regular Italian place for the first couple of years, but in 1993, he switched up the theme. The place attracted many Munsters fans who wanted to spot Lewis sometime in between their bites. Fellow Munster Fred Gwynne decided to join in on the project, designing a neat-looking Munsters logo.

Grandpa Munster Was a Smart Activist

In 1998, Al Lewis got into politics and ran for Governor of New York for the Green Party. This move surprised many of his fans (from acting to politics is a bold move). His campaign did pretty well though, ending in a total of 52,000 votes! A small yet impressive 1% of the total votes.

Green Party member
Source: Pinterest

Even though he didn’t win the election, Lewis remained politically active for a long time. He mainly focused on prison reform, police brutality, and the legalization of marijuana across the U.S. It’s clear that Lewis was one special man.

The Munsters and Beavers

Both The Munsters and Leave It to Beaver were made by the same producer, so understandably, they share some similar themes. Both shows revolve around working-class families living in America, dealing with relatable, day-to-day issues.

A cameraman from ABC production company is filming.
Photo by Lowell Georgia/Corbis/Getty Images

It’s evident that the writers of both hit shows believed in writing about everyday things they knew about. Even though The Munsters were monsters, they were still like any other family in the States. They took inspiration from their own lives, making the show super relatable and homey.

A Monstruous Advantage

Universal Television was the absolute best choice for this monster-themed sitcom. Due to its partnership with Universal Studios, the show’s crew had the chance to use all the other monster characters starring in Universal Studios’ other films.

Grandpa is holding pills, Lily eyeing Grandpa, and Herman is wearing a life vest during an episode of The Munsters.
Photo by John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

That meant that figures from huge movies like Dracula, Wolf Man, and Frankenstein could be used. This was an incredible advantage! In comparison with The Addams family, which had to pay a significant amount of money to reference these famous creatures.

Gwynne and Lewis Weren’t Sure De Carlo Would Fit the Show

Not all cast members were pleased when Yvonne De Carlo was chosen for the role of Lily Munster. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis voiced their worries, claiming that De Carlo was chosen based on her looks and that her dramatic acting style wouldn’t sit well with the sitcom’s overall atmosphere.

Yvonne De Carlo in a scene from the movie
Photo by Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

But this was just one worry they had. They were also concerned that the star would overshadow their roles and outshine them in every scene. Luckily, this didn’t stop the casting directors from taking her, and the two actors soon discovered that she was a perfect addition to the team.

De Carlo Was a Bit Antisocial

Working with De Carlo was far from a piece of cake. She was somewhat of a glamour girl, and the rest of the cast often found themselves waiting around for her to be done with her nails, hair, and makeup. She always needed last-minute touch ups and re-touches every scene or two.

Portrait of Yvonne De Carlo next to a bus in Madrid.
Photo by Gianni Ferrari/Cover/Getty Images

As it turns out, she also had issues with her stylists and ended up having to change five hairdressers over her two years on the show. Despite the issues, De Carlo was a great actress. Her incredible stage presence lit up the show.

But after each shoot, she would instantly retreat into her trailer, avoiding the rest of the people on set as much as she could.

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