The secret to what makes Wednesday Addams TV's most screamingly funny kid
Lisa Loring's detached delivery struck a chord for more reasons than just her "Mona Lisa face."
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There's a moment in The Addams Family episode "Wednesday Leaves Home" when, behind the scenes, you should know that everybody on set couldn't handle how funny little Lisa Loring was. It required multiple takes to get through the scene.
As Wednesday Addams, Loring became known to TV critics as a "youngster with the Mona Lisa face." The young child star had become a model at age three and started acting soon after, but The Addams Family was her first big role. Fans of the darkly funny sitcom would probably say she "killed it."
In "Wednesday Leaves Home," Wednesday runs away, and nobody in town is very enthused about finding the dour girl. So when she walks into the Missing Persons office at the police department without realizing it, the police officer doesn't even realize she's the girl he's supposed to be finding.
He's in the middle of ranting about all the missing kids he has to find other than Wednesday Addams. Distracted, he shoots a look at Wednesday, and asks, "Look, kid, I've had a rough day. What's your name?"
The actor in this scene was Jesse White, who was very used to playing heavy roles like cops and con-men that required him to be fierce without breaking the tension. It turns out that all it took to make him crack was Lisa Loring asking for a fly. She completely undid the veteran actor when she delivered her next line.
"I'd like a dead fly for my spider," Loring responded, her lips tightened and her brown eyes wide with innocence. "He's hungry."
"It wasn't that the lines were so screamingly funny," White told The Shreveport Journal in 1964. "It was Lisa's detached, unconcerned, unaware way of reading them."
White wasn’t the only one who needed to call cut on the scene and request a do-over. The Addams Family director Sidney Lanfield also cracked up at Lisa's delivery.
Perhaps part of the reason why she became such a perfect specimen to play Wednesday Addams was that Loring learned to act through mimicry, not by reading lines and seeking her own emotion. "I learned to memorize before I could read," Loring told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2017.
On set, Loring was considered just as solemn and even secretive as her character Wednesday, but she wasn't nearly so odd. She liked to play with dollies and was a studious kid who always made sure she got through her homework.
A kid who'd developed a quick wit, Loring even once shocked her costar John Astin (Gomez Addams) by revealing that she had picked up on the difference between the comedic stylings of The Addams Family and that other supernatural family sitcom of the era The Munsters.
When Astin overheard Loring explaining in an interview that The Addams Family was more sophisticated, "like the Marx Brothers," and The Munsters more slapstick, "like The Three Stooges," he sputtered out, "Who told you that? How would you know that?"
The truth was no one had to explain this to Loring, she just picked up on it as a fan of comedy. She was too young to connect the dots that the head writer and producer on The Addams Family, Nat Perrin, was one of Groucho Marx's oldest friends and worked with the Marx Brothers.
Clever and cute and capable of disturbing audiences just the same, Lisa Loring was a sitcom enigma, with a cadence to her delivery of lines that’s never been quite duplicated.