The sad fate of Carolyn Jones, the original Morticia Addams

By Ray Bennett

The Ringwood Music and Dramatic Society production of the hit Broadway musical ‘The Addams Family’ this week is the latest in a long run of versions of the original one-panel cartoon series created by cartoonist Charles Addams that first appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1938 and ran for years. 

The tales of a wealthy family who are not aware that their macabre tastes are unusual spawned a hit 1960s television series that has remained a cult favourite, sequels and specials, two feature films and the successful Broadway musical that will be staged by the RMDS at The Barn, Ringwood School, April 10-13.

The central character of Morticia, glamorous and imperious, witty and witchy, was played on the TV show by American actress Carolyn Jones opposite John Astin as her husband Gomez. ‘I loved that show,’ she told me. ‘I was sorry to see it go. Morticia was the perfect role for me because my sense of humour is just slightly off-centre.’

That extended to her attitude to life. When I interviewed her in late 1982, she told me she had been sick but she did not tell me she was dying. She described a terrifying incident on a plane trip one year earlier.’It was like something from a horror movie where you see the knife go in and bright red blood spurts out,’ she said. On a night flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, Jones told her then fiancé, Canadian actor Peter Bailey-Britton, ‘Honey, I don’t feel too well. I think I’m gonna go to the bathroom.’

She made it just inside the door. ’Suddenly, the whole wall in back of that little john was bright red,’ she said. ‘I spent the rest of the flight throwing up blood. I was so scared, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. They rolled me out of the airport and into the hospital and took out most of my stomach.’

Jones told me the cause had been bleeding ulcers but the truth was that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer. She had more surgery when she was working on her last TV series, ‘Capitol’, in the week she married Bailey-Britton. She died aged 53 on August 3, 1983.

She made many movies and TV shows and in 1958 she starred with Elvis Presley in ‘King Creole’, the last film the king of rock ’n’ roll made before he reported for military duty. Jones had a terrible cold and was running a temperature of 103. ‘It was good that I was supposed to be dying in the film,’ she said, ‘because I felt like I was. I think I looked like it, too. I asked him, “Isn’t there some way you can get around kissing me because I’m so germy that I’m gonna kill you.” He said, “That’s alright; maybe it’ll get me out of the army” and he necked away like crazy. He went off to the army and I took to my bed for two weeks.’

Caolyn Jones died young but she said she had always loved her work and it was her child, her baby. ‘I didn’t have kids and I need this. I need to work,’ she said. ‘When I work, I feel better. When I work, I can do anything. When I’m not workiing, I’m facrumpsing around like an old biddy, snarling at everything. This, I like. I understand it. It’s my life. As they say on those tee-shirts: showbiz is my life.

Tickets for the RMDS show are available here

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