Question: I recently caught Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and saw that a Ted Cassidy played Harvey, the gang member who fights Butch in the movie. Is he the same Ted Cassidy from The Addams Family? — Joe K., Elko, Nev.
Televisionary: One and the same, Joe. Lurch, the monstrous, monosyllabic butler to the Addams family for two seasons on ABC beginning in September 1964, was the 6-foot-9 Cassidy's first TV role after majoring in drama in college and training on the stage. As you might imagine, it wasn't the most challenging work for a guy who'd played Falstaff onstage and was a respectable singer to boot. But to make matters worse, it required the actor to play up every clumsy, gawky attribute he'd spent years trying to leave behind.
"Talk about mixed feelings," Cassidy, who passed away in 1979, told TV Guide in '65. "I can't believe my luck in being on a successful series. But right there, in the character, are things I've spent my life fighting — lack of coordination, lack of ease and the image of a dumb, untalkative giant that people think of when they see someone my size. I try to keep my feelings out of the role. Sometimes I slip."
One of those slips came in an episode in which Lurch is persuaded to take ballet lessons. "It was the awkward-Lurch bit," Cassidy explained. "What could be funnier, they thought, than Lurch in leotards, trying to do a pirouette? But something inside me said, 'Do it the best you can.' I did it so easily that it didn't look funny. They had to shoot it over and I had to try to be awkward."
Cassidy was full of surprises from the time he was 4, when he developed a voracious appetite for reading that landed him in the third grade by the age of 6. Accelerated physical growth came right along with it and by the time he was 11 he was in high school — and 6-foot-1. Of course, he was drafted by the basketball team. "I also remember the football team very well," he said. "We had some ex-Marines on the team. I was bigger than most of them."
Being that unusual made life difficult. For one thing, there were the nearly weekly challenges to fight. "I could have smacked them down with one hand, and boy, were there times I wanted to," Cassidy said. "But I was afraid of hurting someone. And all I really wanted to be was friends."
"Conforming's the thing in high school," Cassidy continued. "Being like everyone else. With me, it was impossible. Some guys might imagine they were Cary Grant. I couldn't. How are you going to imagine your body away? I had to take a hard, realistic look at myself. Independence was the only way to survive. I figured either find some way to use what I have and live with the rest, or give up. Sometimes I'd think I was nuts — I'd talk to myself as if I were sitting off looking at someone else."
The actor's parents, for their part, offered what support they could. "Ted played piano, sang, had friends, both boys and girls, and acted in school plays," his mother recalled. "But nobody really knew how he felt underneath. Ted was the one who had to find his own solution. But we showed him that we regarded his size as a problem, not a catastrophe."
Cassidy put himself through college with athletic scholarships and went into radio, where "I didn't have to be concerned about how I looked, and I could work on acting, with the voice," he said. During that time, he visited Hollywood to meet industry people. The last person he spoke to was a casting director named Kerwin Coughlin. "He just phoned and said he was in town," Coughlin said of their first meeting. "When he arrived, it was a shock — he hadn't mentioned his height. I found him a sensitive, intelligent guy. There was nothing for him at the time."
Months later, however, there was something. Coughlin called Cassidy in for the Lurch role and he beat out five others for the part. And along the way, he was able to keep his dignity whenever possible, and surprised his bosses more than once when they'd hoped he'd be maladroit for laughs. "May sound funny, but it encourages me," he said. "Remember me in leotards? And it didn't look funny until I made it look funny? Well, recently they dressed me in a very natty suit and hat — I was the new teenage singing idol. Well, they thought it would look funny, again. Know what? It didn't. Who knows? Either you try or you give up. I'd rather try."