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12 Fiendishly Fun Facts About The Munsters

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Munsters premiered on September 24, 1964, and was an immediate ratings success. The wacky antics of childlike patriarch Herman and his unusual (but not really scary) family originally ran for two seasons (70 episodes), but has remained on the air in some form ever since in syndication. Here are some behind-the-scenes facts about the goings-on at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

1. THE SHOW WAS CREATED BY THE SAME TEAM BEHIND LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher’s credo while producing and writing for the classic family sitcom Leave it to Beaver was “write what you know.” Between them they had six children and they based a lot of their plots on their own home lives. They used this same philosophy when they created a sitcom about a suburban blue-collar family that just happened to be comprised of monsters. They didn’t want children to be frightened of the characters (as they might be when watching Frankenstein or Dracula during the Saturday afternoon “Creature Feature”), so they made Herman a typical working dad who carried a lunch box to work every day and who imparted homespun wisdom to his young son. The mother was caring and nurturing, even if she did serve rolled hyena foot roast for dinner, and an aging grandparent (who had a laboratory in the dungeon) lived with the family. All in all, a nice slice of down-home Americana.

2. THE CHOICE OF MONSTER CHARACTERS WAS STRICTLY INTENTIONAL (AND ROYALTY-FREE).

Universal Studios 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. The studio had been running their old classic horror films on television since the 1950s and found that there was still an impressive audience for these decades-old monster movies. When Connelly and Mosher pitched their series idea, CBS executives knew that they had one advantage that ABC lacked with The Addams Family: the ability to use the Universal monster characters. The Munsters regularly topped The Addams Family in the ratings, mainly because of the instant identifiability of (and built-in fan base for) Dracula, Frankenstein’s bride, et al.

3. HERMAN AND GRANDPA HAD THEIR COMEDY TIMING DOWN PAT BEFORE THE SHOW BEGAN.

Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis played so well off one another because they’d had a couple years of practice. They’d co-starred as Officers Francis Muldoon and Leo Schnauser on the hit sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? from 1961 until 1963. The two remained close friends long after The Munsters was cancelled.

4. “LILY” WAS ORIGINALLY “PHOEBE.”

She was also played by a different actress. 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. The producers were asked to recast the role, and along with a new actress came a new name for the character.

5. THE NEW “LILY” WASN’T EXACTLY WELCOMED BY HER CO-STARS AT FIRST. 

Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were not pleased when they heard that Yvonne De Carlo had been hired to replace Joan Marshall. They’d never met the film actress, 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, “and we didn’t think she would fit in with our brand of comedy. We were wrong.”

6. THEIR ONSCREEN CHEMISTRY WAS GREAT, BUT ALL WAS NOT ROSY BEHIND THE SCENES.

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 minute 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.

7. EDDIE WAS ALSO RECAST AFTER THE PILOT.

Nate “Happy” Derman played wolf-boy Eddie Munster in the pilot, but his growling, clawing characterization was a little too lycanthropic for the network’s taste. He was replaced by Butch Patrick, who played Eddie more like a pointy-eared version of Beaver Cleaver.

8. MARILYN WAS PLAYED BY TWO DIFFERENT ACTRESSES.

But in this case it was the actress’s decision, not the producers’: New York-based Beverley Owen played Marilyn for the first 13 episodes, but she was desperately unhappy working in California and missed her fiance, who was back on the east coast. 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.

9. PAT PRIEST GOT THE ROLE IN PART BECAUSE OF HER SIZE.

Pat Priest, the daughter of Treasurer of the United States Ivy Baker Priest, was not only blonde (brunette Owen had worn a wig as Marilyn), she was also the same height and had almost the exact same measurements as Owen. Which meant that 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.

10. HERMAN’S COSTUME WAS A PERSONAL TORTURE CHAMBER FOR FRED GWYNNE.

Even though Gwynne would eventually reminisce that Herman was one of his favorite characters, 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 despite consuming gallons of lemonade between takes. The producers eventually rented a compressed air tank and would poke the nozzle inside Gwynne’s collar to blow cool air on him.

11. THE COSTUME HAD ONE BENEFIT: IT EXCUSED GWYNNE FROM PERSONAL APPEARANCES.

As The Munsters gained popularity, its stars received more and more requests to appear at various functions. The producers, of course, sent the actors out as often as possible since such appearances not only promoted the show, they also propelled the sales of the various Munsters merchandise that saturated the market at the time. Only Fred Gwynne was able to relax on his days off (for the most part), since the time and expense required to get him into character outweighed the publicity value of cutting ribbons at supermarket openings. One of the rare times he played Herman in public was alongside Al Lewis in the 1964 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Gwynne confessed to TV Guide that he’d been taking slugs from a bottle of whiskey the entire time, because he “had to get bombed so I could say ‘hello’ to the little kiddies for 40 blocks.”

12. THE MUNSTER KOACH WAS BUILT BY THE SAME COMPANY THAT CREATED THE BATMOBILE.

Wikimedia Commons

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.

BONUS: EDDIE MUNSTER + MENTAL_FLOSS

Eddie Munster actor Butch Patrick is clearly enthralled.

Additional Sources:
TV Guide, July 10-16, 1965
The Munsters: A Trip Down Mockingbird Lane, by Stephen Cox
“The Munsters: America’s First Family of Fright,” A&E Biography
“Putting a New Face on His Career” by Richard Warren Lewis
The Myths and Politics of Grandpa Munster,” by Kliph Nesterhoff
ButchPatrick.com

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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