It’s hard to believe that it has been fifty seven years since this iconic show made its debut in 1964. But here we are in 2021 and people still remember the show, have seen it on reruns and in syndication, cartoons, take offs and more. There is even talk of bringing it back to TV at some point. So here are some fun facts about the show you might enjoy.
Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster and Al Lewis (Grandpa) previously worked together in another well known TV comedy, “Car 54, Where Are You?” that aired from 1961 – 1963. Before Gwynne was hired to play Herman the role was offered to horror film actor John Carradine who turned it down.
The choice of monster characters was purely intentional and royalty free. Universal Studios, where the show was filmed, owned Universal Television, which owned The Munsters. Universal Studios also owned the copyrights to most of the classic monsters, including Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster.
In the unaired pilot, Mrs. Munster was played by Joan Marshall. But when the show was picked up as a series, CBS brass worried that Marshall’s look and onscreen demeanor were too similar to Carolyn Jones’ portrayal of Morticia Addams on rival network ABC.
Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were not pleased when they heard that Yvonne De Carlo would replace Joan Marshall. They’d never met her, but they were intimidated by her reputation as a Hollywood glamour queen. “She was a bona fide movie star,” Al Lewis recounted in a 2003 interview for A&E’s Biography, “we didn’t think she would fit in with our brand of comedy. We were wrong.”
De Carlo’s comedic timing was great and she fit in fine while the cameras were rolling, but in between scenes she kept mainly to herself in her trailer. She often held up production while having adjustments done to her hair (she went through five different hairdressers during the show’s two-year run), makeup, and nails, which aggravated the cast and crew.
Nate “Happy” Derman played wolf-boy Eddie Munster in the pilot, but his growling, clawing characterization was a little too over the top for the network’s taste. He was replaced by Butch Patrick, who played Eddie more like a pointy-eared version of Beaver Cleaver. The creators of “The Munsters” also were the creators of “Leave It to Beaver”.
Marilyn was played by two different actresses. New York-based Beverley Owen played Marilyn for the first 13 episodes, but she was desperately unhappy working in California. Gwynne and Lewis intervened on her behalf and talked to the producers to get her released from her contract. She went home, got married, and eventually got a role on the soap opera Another World, which was filmed in New York.
Pat Priest, the daughter of Treasurer of the United States Ivy Baker Priest, was not only blonde, she was also the same height and had almost the exact same measurements as Owen. Which meant all of the existing “Marilyn” costumes and accessories fit her perfectly, so there would be no need to spend money on a replacement wardrobe once she was hired.
Herman’s costume was a personal torture chamber for Fred Gwynne. The time he spent on The Munsters set was often fairly miserable, thanks to the various devices necessary to transform him into the lovable Frankenstein monster. On his feet he wore asphalt paver’s boots with four-inch soles, and his thighs, arms, and torso were covered in 40 pounds of foam rubber padding. He contended with back pain daily caused by the weight of the suit and inflexibility of the shoes. His head was fitted with a foam latex piece to flatten the top of his head and then he had to endure two hours in the makeup chair. He perspired freely under the heavy costume and hot studio lights and lost 10 pounds in one month.
Hollywood custom car builder George Barris used three Model T Ford bodies to construct the 18-foot-long Munster-mobile. The brass radiator and fenders were hand formed and the velvet upholstery was “blood red.” It took 21 days to complete at a total cost of $18,000 ($153,000 in 2021).
Hope you enjoyed this little trip back down TV’s memory lane. It was definitely a very fun show that was enjoyed by millions. Always good to find out some of the behind the scenes goings ons of our favorite shows, past and present.