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In 1965, a local girl was Wednesday Addams in the Cherry Blossom Parade



Lisa Loring, TV’s original Wednesday Addams, died last month at the age of 64. Among the many TV fans who mourned her passing was Debbie Thornhill Thomas. Debbie felt a special kinship with the actress. She once played Wednesday herself.

It was the District’s Mike Hull who put me on the hunt for Debbie, who is 62 and lives in Culpeper, Va. Mike remembered that sometime in the 1960s, the cast of “The Addams Family” was scheduled to appear in the Cherry Blossom Parade. But the child actors who played Wednesday and her brother, Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), were too young to fly out to D.C. from California. And so in 1965, a contest was held to find look-alikes.

Wrote Mike: “Some neighborhood moms took a bunch of us down to see the parade since we all loved ‘The Addams Family,’ and we scrutinized the impostors to see if they could pass.” (They did, he said.)

WMAL — as Channel 7 was known back then — sponsored the contest. It was the ABC affiliate that showed “The Addams Family” on Friday nights, and it would be broadcasting the parade on April 10.

Debbie said her mother found out about the contest from a friend in her Manassas bowling league.

“She said, ‘You’ve got to enter your daughter. She looks just like her,’” Debbie said.


Wednesday Addams, a character who spans ’60s sitcoms and viral TikToks

The woman even offered to take Debbie’s photo herself. Debbie’s mom, Heidi, arrived at the post office just as it was closing on the last day entries had to be postmarked.

Debbie made the first cut of the 400 or so Wednesday wannabes. When the in-person audition rolled around, Debbie had a loose front tooth that she forbade her mother from pulling. She feared a gap would lessen her similarity to Lisa Loring. Debbie was 5.

At the interview, Debbie told the man from WMAL that she was going to win. And she did. Eight-year-old Tommy Davis of Falls Church was chosen as the stand-in for Pugsley.

“The Addams Family” cast weren’t merely appearing in the parade, they were its grand marshals. No offense to TV stars, but that struck me as odd. Then I learned who’s going to be this year’s grand marshals: Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

John Astin (Gomez), Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester), Ted Cassidy (Lurch) and Blossom Rock (Granny) all came to Washington. Carolyn Jones, the actress who played Morticia, did not. Apparently she was ill. A WMAL newsletter noted: “Because the makeup for the Charles Addams characters is so complicated, two specialists will be sent here from Hollywood to prepare the Addamses for their Festival appearances.”

The child replacements didn’t get such treatment.


“I remember my mom braiding my hair,” Debbie said. “She had to use some kind of thread to braid it to make it stick out a little bit.”

On the day of the parade, Debbie was removed from the car that held Coogan. His ghoulish Uncle Fester visage scared her so much, she began to cry. She rode in a different open-topped vehicle. She remembers enjoying her unique vantage point for the parade. More than 200,000 people lined the parade route, and Astin did a Gomez-esque handstand in the middle of Constitution Avenue.

While he was in Washington, Astin had a sirloin lunch at the Shoreham Hotel with Washington Post TV writer Lawrence Laurent. Astin was not a stranger to this town. He was practically a local. His father, Allen V. Astin, was a physicist who worked at the National Bureau of Standards, eventually rising to head the agency. The family lived in Bethesda, and John went to what was then Wilson High School in the District.

In his interview, Astin resisted the notion that the characters in “The Addams Family” were “monsters.”

“There are no horrors on this show,” he said. “About the only person who couldn’t go out into the street is Uncle Fester. Of course, with her dress, Morticia might have to stay indoors until dark.

“The real charm and the comedy of the show is that we have continued Charles Addams’s attack on the cliche. Any neighbor can go next door for a cup of sugar; but Morticia goes over to ask, ‘May I borrow a cup of cyanide?’”

In a coincidental twist, Debbie and Tommy later wound up at the same Manassas high school: what was then called Stonewall Jackson. Neither pursued an acting career. Debbie became an insurance agent. Tommy worked for Pepsi for 39 years, repairing Pepsi machines, said his sister Jackie Brennan. Tommy died in 2014, the same year as Weatherwax, who played Pugsley.


Debbie said she was so young at the time, she doesn’t have an abundance of memories of that day. But one thing stands out: having her photo taken with Lurch, the 6-foot-9 Cassidy.

“He was on his knees: one knee up, one knee down,” she said. “I remember him holding my hand and his hand was as cold as ice.”

Is your local high school planning a reunion? Send the details — with “Reunion” in the subject line — to me at [email protected].

Source: Washington Post


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