Monstrous Fun: Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Munsters

On September 24, 1964, a family of benign monsters moved into the living room of millions of Americans. The Munsters became an immediate hit thanks to its quirky lineup of characters led by Herman and Lily Munster. The series quickly resonated with viewers who admired its satirical take on the more traditional and wholesome family shows—despite the fact that it was produced by the creators of Leave It To Beaver. The series only aired for two years, eventually losing out to ABC’s Batman which aired at the same time (and in color). But the show lived on in syndication, where a new audience was discovered and eventually a movie was produced. It’s been 50 years since The Munsters aired a new episode, making it the perfect time to catch up with the show’s stars and talk about some of the lesser-known facts about the admired but short-lived TV series.

Herman And Grandpa Worked Together Before The Munsters

Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis both starred in Car 54, Where are You? — a television show which aired from 1961 to 1963. Clearly, the show prepared them to work together on The Munsters, since their relationship between their characters was one of the most liked on the show.

The chemistry they developed working on Car 54, Where Are You? was apparent on the set of The Munsters. In 1962, Car 54, Where are You? won Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy and was nominated for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Comedy as well as Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy.

The Raven Actually Had Two Voices

Bob Hastings was an American radio, television, film character actor, as well as a known voice in animated cartoons. He is most known for his portrayal of Elroy Carpenter on McHale’s Navy.

However, another voice he did was fill in for Mel Blanc as the voice of The Raven when Blanc was too busy with his various voice acting gigs. We can’t blame him though since we would rather be voicing Bugs Bunny over a bird that pops out of a clock for a few seconds per episode.

The Munster Koach Was A Ford Model T

The Munster Koach was designed by Tom Daniel for $200. The show’s producers then went on to contact George Barris to build it at Barris Kustoms. The car began building under Tex Smith but was finished by the shop foreman at the time Dick Dean.

The vehicle was built by adding extra length to a 1926 Ford Model T chassis with a custom hearse body. The vehicle was a massive 18 feet long. You need a big car when Herman Munster will be driving around in it! It appeared on twenty episodes throughout the series’ two-year run.

The Drag-U-La Required A Custom-Built Coffin

Grandpa’s car, lovingly referred to as the Drag-U-La, was built using a real coffin. The coffin was bought in North Hollywood in secret since you were not allowed to buy coffins without a death certificate.

The coffin was paid for in cash and was left outside of the funeral parlor at night so it could be collected by the Barris crew to begin construction of the car.The vehicle was only used in a single episode of the show but was shown in the end credits for every other episode during the second season. The car was also designed by Tom Daniel who designed the Munster Coach.

The Only Vampires In Comics?

In 1954, vampires were banned from comics by the Comics Code Authority, which is not surprising considering the strict codes on any form of entertainment at the time. However, Gold Key Comics wasn’t a member of the Comics Code Authority, so they produced 16 issues of a Munsters comic from 1965 to 1968.

The issues first released even had with photo covers from the series.The first issue of The Munsters comics remains one of Gold Key Comics most valuable publishings to date.

Fred Gwynne Played Three Family Members

Fred Gwynne had three credited roles to his name during the show’s 70 episodes. Along with his main role as Herman Munster, he also played Herman’s twin brother Charlie, as well as a rejected creation of Doctor Frankenstein’s who went by the name Johann.

If you want to show a family resemblance, this seems like a smart way to do it. Not only is this a testament to the creativity and humor of the show, it is also a demonstration of Fred Gwynne’s acting abilities.

Grandpa Was Actually Younger Than His Daughter In Real Life

Al Lewis or better known as “Grandpa” played the father of Lily Munster. But don’t let these roles fool you about the actors’ real ages. In real life, he was actually just one year younger than De Carlo, while Fred Gwynne was younger than both of them.

It’s really amazing what some great acting and good makeup can do for a character when portraying an older character. Then again, the amount of makeup used on the set of the show could cover up any age difference (and practically anything else imaginable for that matter!).

There Are Conflicting Theories As To Why It Was Shot In Black And White

One theory as to why the show was filmed in black and white was because the studio was being cheap and didn’t want to spend extra money to shoot the series in color. Color television and films were really taking off but required a major equipment upgrade. Some also claim that the studio was afraid that a color version of the show would be too scary for young children.

Although the pilot episode was shot in color, they quickly went to black and white for the rest of the show. The black and white format also gave the show a nostalgic feel and resembled the old black and white monster films Universal used to make.

Beverley Owen As Marilyn Munster (Episodes 1-13)

Marilyn Munster lives with the Munsters throughout the series’ run, although it is never explained why. Her parents are said to still be in Transylvania. Marilyn is a striking young blonde woman who doesn’t bear a physical resemblance to any of the family. The Munsters believe her “normal” appearance is some kind of disgusting affliction. She is devoted to her family and thinks Uncle Herman and Grandpa are the “two finest men” to walk the Earth.

Owen only played the role of Marilyn Munster for the show’s first 13 episodes. Following her departure from the show, she left acting altogether. She was released from the show after becoming depressed following her separation from her boyfriend. She would often begin crying on the show’s set, leading to delays in production.

Beverley Owen Later

After her brief stint as Marilyn Munster during the first season of the show, she went on to marry the writer and producer of The Munsters Joe Stone. She then went on to appear in the 1964 Western film Bullet for a Badman as the opposite Audie Murphy. Next, beginning in 1971, she appeared for two years on the television show Another World. After those two years, she retired from television and decided to strictly perform in live Theatre.

After that, she appeared with the Cambridge Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York. She had two daughters and even earned her master’s degree in 1989. Sadly, Owen passed away on February 21, 2019. “What a sweet soul,” Butch Patrick wrote in a social media post later.

The Herman Munster Costume Was Unbearably Hot

Fred Gwynne was used to spending hours in hair and makeup just to get into character. But his costume was so hot that it would cause him to nearly overheat and was known to melt the makeup off his body and face.

It was so bad sometimes that in-between takes, a stagehand would use an air compressor to shoot cool air up his sleeves in an effort to provide Gwynne with a small amount of relief from the heat. Even with the use of the air compressor, the temperatures were still grueling. Clearly, he suffered through a lot for the success of the Herman Munster character.

The Guy Who Built The 1931 Frankenstein Set Also Built Grandpa’s Laboratory

Kenneth Strickfaden was the special effects technician on The Munsters. He built Grandpa Munster’s laboratory as well as the set of the 1931 film Frankenstein. After Frankenstein, he became Hollywood’s preeminent electrical special effects expert and created the science fiction set designs for more than 100 films.

In The Munsters, the laboratory uses some of the very same props from the original Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, and rightfully so, considering that Herman Munster is based on the Frankenstein character. Now that’s what we call authenticity.

Fred Gwynne As Herman Munster

Despite his size and demeanor, Herman Munster is a lovable and good-natured buffoon. Although he is the father of the family, often acts like a child, despite having lived for many centuries. He is prone to throwing tantrums which were introduced with an animal-like roar. He’s a loving and devoted husband and makes a bad habit out of falling for flimsy schemes.

Herman Munster was played by Fred Gwynne and is potentially Gwynne’s most well-known role. Some even say that Gwynne’s performance is what made the show as successful as it was.

Herman and Lily Shared A Bed? This Was A Big Deal

The Cleavers would not approve! Lily Munster and Herman Munster were doing the monster mash in a shared bed. They were one of the first TV couples to show where their intimacy went down, causing an uproar from the audience. Those dirty little monsters.

However, although this was still considered a big deal at the time, it was controversial because the Munsters weren’t exactly people. This brought up the issue if it was okay or not for animated or non-human characters to share a bed on television.

Fred Gwynne’s Later Life

After playing Herman Munster, Gwynne continued acting all the way up until his death in 1993, at the age of 66. For a two year period after The Munsters, he found himself typecast, and was unable to find any acting jobs. However, eventually, he broke the curse and was cast in the television production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

He then went on and lead a fruitful acting career, appearing in dozens of TV shows, movies, and mini-series. You may have recognized him as Judge Chamberlain Haller in the immensely funny movie My Cousin Vinny, or as Jud Crandall in the creepy horror film Pet Sematary.

Yvonne De Carlo As Lily Munster

Lily is the matriarch of the Munster family. She is very close to her niece Marilyn, treating her like her own child. She is also the much-needed voice of reason in her family, constantly reminding her husband not to fall for any more schemes.

She stands between Herman and Grandpa during their many squabbles and has a fiery temper, frequently getting mad at Herman, even though she is in love with him. She is the perfect opposite for the character of Herman Munster and is exactly what you would imagine the mother character to be of the Munster clan.

Yvonne De Carlo After The Munsters

After The Munsters, De Carlo was active in Hollywood until 1995. However, her role as Lily Munster was actually more towards the end of her career. After the show was canceled, she came back as Lily for the Technicolor film, Musters, Go Home! When The Munsters was finally said and done, she starred in Hostile guns, and Arizona Bushwhackers, both low-budget Westerns. At the same time, she also had a supporting role in the thriller The Power.

After 1967, she turned to attention to the stage and performed in in musicals such as catch me if You Can and Little Me. Her final screen appearance was when she appeared in the TV movie The Barefoot Executive.

Al Lewis as Grandpa

Al Lewis played the character of Grandpa, who is De Carlo’s father in the show. Grandpa is also referred to as Count Sam Dracula, who runs a laboratory in the family’s basement. His spells and potions are often central to the show’s plot lines and typically create trouble for Grandpa and his son-in-law Herman Munster.

He is incredibly sarcastic and spends a lot of his time insulting Herman, although they are actually very close. The show was at its best when Grandpa and Herman were always scheming something up together.

Al Lewis After The Munsters

Lewis started his acting career in 1953 on the TV series The Big Story. He also starred in Car 54, Where Are You?, Naked City, and Route 66. After The Munsters, he played the role of Zalto the wizard in The Lost in Space episodeRocket to Earth“.

His first movie role was the character Machine Gun Manny in the movie Pretty Boy Floyd. He also had small roles in The World of Henry Orient, They Shoot Horses Don’t They? They Might Be Giants and Used Cars. Lewis never minded being a typecast and was commonly hired for grandpa roles. He passed away of natural causes in 2006, and his ashes were placed in his favorite cigar box.

Butch Patrick as Eddie Munster

Eddie is the stereotypical all-American boy who also happens to be a werewolf and part vampire. Although he appears to be a werewolf more so than a vampire, his vampire characteristics when he sleeps in a chest of drawers in the TV show. Eddy also attends elementary school, and aside from his widow’s peak, pointed ears, and interesting suit, he’s a typical little boy.

Eddie is very proud of his father and regularly brags about Herman’s abilities and deeds to his friends. Throughout the show, Eddie is constantly volunteering Herman to perform heroic deeds outside of Herman’s ability which is a constant theme in the show.

Butch Patrick’s Career After Eddie Munster

Butch Patrick had perhaps the biggest career of all his fellow Munsters cast members. After the show ended, he made dozens of appearances on shows such as I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World Of Color.

From 1962 to 1971 he held various roles in the TV series My Three Sons. His most recent roles were 2015’s Zombie Dream and Bite School, where he played the character of Butch in both films. It’s safe to say that the character of Eddie Munster has followed him for the majority of his life.

Pat Priest As Marilyn Munster (Episodes 14-70)

When Beverley was fired from the show, her role of Marilyn was taken over by the strikingly similar looking Pat Priest. After The Munsters came to an end of filming, Priest continued to act in bit roles. She appeared on the hit TV series Perry Mason and in roles for the television show Mission: Impossible and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She also appeared as various characters for a season of Bewitched.

However, her last role was a cameo in the 1995 TV movie Here Comes The Munsters. However, her only film roles in her career were Looking for Love, Easy Come, Easy Go with Elvis Presley, The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, and Some Call it Loving. She retired from acting in the 80’s and is in remission from lymphoma.

Pat Priest Lucked Out

One of the major reasons why Pat Priest got the role of Marilyn was not necessarily for her acting skills. As it turns out, aside from her hair color, in which they gave her a wig, she was the exact same height and essentially the exact same fit as Beverly Owen when she played Marilyn.

This means they didn’t have to do any alterations on the costume or spend any money on a replacement wardrobe. It also didn’t help that priest’s father was the Treasurer of the United States at the time. Overall, it all worked out and she did the character of Marilyn justice.

Mel Blanc As The Raven

The Raven was a cuckoo bird that lived in the family’s clock. It was a direct reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s poem in which the bird repeatedly says “Nevermore.” The raven made regular appearances and he was played by Mel Blanc. There was absolutely no better actor to play the voice of the Raven.

Blanc was one of the most respected voice actors of all time, having created more than 400 distinct voices for dozens of cartoons and animated films. From The Flintstones and Bugs Bunny to The Jetsons and Heathcliffe and the Catillac Cats, he stayed busy during and after The Munsters finished its short run. He passed away in 1989 but his voice work could be heard all the way through The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show in 1992.

The Munsters Lived Down The Street From Leave It To Beaver

The house that the Munsters lived in was located just down the street from the original home of America’s most wholesome family, the Cleavers, from Leave it to Beaver. The Munsters house can be seen today, in episodes of Desperate Housewives and Coach.

The house cost almost $1,000,000 to convert into the Munster mansion and can be seen today in Universal City, California at the Universal Studios theme park. There is also an exact replica of the house in Waxahachie, Texas.

The Munsters Didn’t Copy The Addams Family Or Vice Versa

The Munsters debuted on CBS and The Addams Family debuted on ABC at the same time. Many fans have questioned if one show ripped off the other. As it turns out, they were created without knowing what was in store for either network.

The Addams Family eventually won over with a long run on the television screen.Yet, The Munsters was a groundbreaking show in many respects. While it only lasted two seasons, it lived on with newly discovered audiences through syndication. The next time you’re looking for a late night show to watch, definitely invite yourself into the living room of The Munsters.

There Was a Pilot Episode?

Very few people actually know the truth about the pilot episode of The Munsters. There are a lot of interesting facts behind it, and there are a lot of differences between the pilot and the actual show. To start, the pilot was shot in color and never even aired on television. However, the producers decided to shoot the rest of the show in black and white to save money, yet it ended up working well with the show. Interestingly enough, the characters Ernest and Lily were played by other actors instead of Fred Gwynne and Yvonne De Carlo and Lily’s original name was Phoebe in the episode.

Not The First Choice

Also, for the major roles of Grandpa, Eddie Munster, and Herman Munster, the actors on the show were not the producer’s first choices. Originally, Bert Lahr, the lion from the Wizard of Oz, was asked to be the role of Grandpa. Bill Mumy was asked to play Eddie Munster, and known horror and Western actor John Carradine was offered to play Herman.

However, I think everybody is happy with the way things worked out. If there had been different actors, it wouldn’t have been the same Munster family we know and love today.

Gwynne Before He Was Herman

While Fred Gwynne was in college, he attended Harvard and was a cartoonist as well as the president of the famous Harvard Lampoon. The writers and staff of the paper were known to be wild and rambunctious, which is easy to see why Gwynne was the president of it.

Writers from the Lampoon soon went off to start National Lampoon which developed to become one of the most well-known comedy magazines, which eventually spread into stand up comedy, books, television shows, records and even movies. The great comedians of the past few decades followed in Gwynne’s footsteps.

The Munster Family Did a Cheerios Commercial

Believe it or not, the television show was so successful and adored by its audiences that the show was asked to be in a Cheerios commercial. The entire commercial is based on classic themes throughout the show, all relating back to cheerios.

It even is narrated by Eddie who proclaims that “Daddy said they’re the best thing since bat wings!” A very smart marketing move by Cheerios since the show was very popular among young age groups that tend to eat cereal more than adults.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Appearance

Another testimony to the popularity of The Munsters was that in 1964, they were invited to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. If you didn’t know, this parade is kind of a big deal, and they don’t just ask anyone to be in it.

Although it was only Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis that participated, they rode down the street in the Munster Koach. Surely this made a lot of children happy being able to see their favorite friendly monsters in person and in the Koach!

Munster #1 Fans

Die-hard Munster fans Charles and Sandra McKee of Waxahachie, Texas loved The Munsters so much that when they wanted to build their dream home, they built an identical house to the original Munster home. It’s almost a spot-on replica mimicking the crooked weathervane all the way to the grand staircase that opens up.

Every Halloween they throw a huge party to benefit charities. if that doesn’t solidify this couple as The Munsters #1 fans, I’d like to see who the other contestants are.

Munster, Go Home!

Before the show’s cancellation after season two, the cast shot a made for TV movie titled, Munster, Go Home! In the film, Herman Munster inherits a large fortune and a mansion from his uncle whole is a British Earl. From there, the family travels to the United Kingdom only to discover a counterfeiting operation.

Audiences enjoyed the film because it didn’t try too hard and wasn’t really different from the show at all, just longer with a more intricate plot, and in color!

Munsters Merchandise!

On top of The Munsters being in commercials, participating in parades, and even having a made for TV movie, their fame didn’t stop there. There we even board games, coloring books, t-shirts trivia, card games, dolls, replicas of the Munster’s house and more.

Today, some of this merchandise can be very valuable since only a certain amount of them were made. In addition to the merchandise, in 1973 ABC created an animated pilot feature called The Mini-Munsters with Al Lewis being the voice of Grandpa yet again.

People Still Couldn’t Get Enough

Although the show had been canceled, there had been a movie, and even an attempt at an animated series, people still couldn’t get enough of the characters. In 1981, there was a television reunion called The Munsters Revenge, in which Gwynne, De Carlo, and Lewis played their original roles.

Then, in 1988, the show came back as The Munsters Today with 72 episodes and three seasons. There were also two more TV movies in 1995 and 1996 called Here Come the Munsters and The Munsters’ Scary Christmas.

Grandpa’s Munsters’ Restaurant

Before his political advocacy, Al Lewis went a different direction: food. The actor opened Grampa’s Bella Gente in Greenwich Village in 1987 and dished up Italian delicacies until 1993.

The restaurant attracted many customers, most of whom were fans of the show. Fans flocked to the spot in hopes of seeing Al Lewis himself as he often made rounds to the tables where guests dined. Fred Gwynne even helped out Lewis by drawing the logo for the restaurant, which was a side profile drawing of Lewis in his Munsters costume.

Al Lewis: Part Vampire, Part Political Activist

In 1998, Al Lewis ran for Governor of New York as a Green Party candidate against the current New York Governor at the time, George Pataki. He received 52,000 votes, which was about one percent of the entire election.

Although the actor didn’t win, he didn’t let this defeat stop him from continuing to express his political beliefs. After his loss, he continued working as an advocate for prison reform, as well as the legalization of marijuana, and the ending of police brutality.

Leave It To Beaver and The Munsters

If you think about it, aside from the characters in The Munsters being a family full of monsters, there isn’t too much separating it from the television show Leave it to Beaver. Both are about blue-collar families with everyday familial issues. This is so because the producers of Leave it to Beaver also produced The Munsters.

Both writers lived by the motto, write what you know. Seeing as the writers were family men and knew the ins and outs of what it meant to raise a family, the two series plots followed suit basing Leave it to Beaver and The Munsters on their personal experiences…with a few obvious differences.

The Truth Behind the Munster Characters

The Munsters was owned by Universal Television, and thereby Universal Studios as well. At the time, Universal Studios also owned the copyrights to most of the classic monsters in films such as Dracula, Wolf Man, and Frankenstein.

When the idea for the show was pitched, CBS executives knew that they had an advantage of The Addams Family, since they could use Universal’s monsters for free. For this reason, The Munsters always beat The Addams Family in ratings because the monsters were more identifiable while the other series had to come up with more creative monsters which audiences didn’t enjoy as much.

Gwynne and Lewis Had Their Doubts About De Carlo

When told that Yvonne De Carlo was hired to play the role of Lily Munster, both Gwynne and Lewis were not pleased. They had never met her before and only knew her from her reputation as a Hollywood glamour queen.

They didn’t think she would fit in with their unique type of acting which was more comedy based than her previous roles. The cast also feared that she would look down at them since she was considered to be a total movie star at the time. Clearly, their worries were put to rest after she joined the team.

De Carlos’ On and Off Screen Behavior

Apparently, when the camera was rolling, de Carlo was a master at her craft. She played her character perfectly, understood the humor of the show, and had great chemistry with the rest of the characters.

However, when the camera wasn’t rolling, she was known to lock herself in her trailer by herself. Also, she was known to frequently hold up production by always making last minute and unnecessary adjustments to her hair, makeup, and nails, which annoyed the rest of the crew. She went through five different hair dressers over the shows two-year run.