6 reasons why John Astin is the most interesting star of 1960s television

He knows more calculus than you do and rapped in the Sixties.

You know and love him as Gomez Addams on The Addams Family, but John Astin is so much more. The Riddler (with a mustache) on Batman. A director for shows such as Night Gallery and CHiPs. Former husband of Patty Duke, father of actors Sean Astin and Mackenzie Astin.

He was selective with his television roles. His other headlining gigs included I'm Dickens, He's Fenster and The Pruitts of Southampton. He teamed with Mary Tyler Moore for her short-lived 1980s comeback Mary. Astin voiced a Looney Tunes character, too, the antagonist Bull Gator on the series Taz-Mania.

His varied career touched on everything from slapstick comedy to serious drama to animation. He has always remained selective and curious in his acting. 

Astin has an academic mind, having earned his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins University before pursuing graduate work in English literature at the University of Minnesota. He also has a sharp mind for math. More on that later.

Here are some fascinating facts about this charming TV legend.

1. He's a math whiz.


"John Astin may yet prove to be Hollywood's first actor-mathematician," the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1968. The profile revealed that Astin tutored analytical geometry and differential calculus. He could have easily given up showbiz for a life of math. "If I'm able to do creative things as an actor, I'm where I belong. If not, I'm not where I belong," Astin told the paper. "I could have been a mathematician."

Image: The Everett Collection

2. He had a unique take on the Riddler.


Astin took over for Frank Gorshin in the villainous role on the camp Sixties classic. Gorshin may have earned an Emmy for his character-defining performance, but Astin admitted he never saw it. "I had very little knowledge of how Gorshin played the role," confessed to the Los Angeles Times in 1967. He consulted his young children on how to play the comic book baddie. He saw the Riddler as a man obsessed with himself. "I figure the guy's got to be in love with himself — a narcissist," Astin explained. "I play him this way. You know, striding around. Striking a few muscle poses." 

Image: The Everett Collection

3. He basically released a rap song in 1965.


In 1965, as The Addams Family was at the peak of its original run, Astin capitalized on his fame in many ways, one of which was pop music. The actor recorded and released a double-sided single, "Querida Mia" / "Wallflower Pete." He appeared on the hip musical showcase Hollywood a Go Go to perform "Wallflower Pete"… a track on which he essentially raps. "Nothing could make that old Pete move / He was stuck in a rut, not in a groove," Astin barked. It's worth a view.

4. He hustled to make money to earn his artistic freedom.


Astin saw a hefty bank account as artistic freedom. "You have to buy your freedom," he told Hollywood columnist Dick Kleiner in 1965. "You have to buy your way out." Astin cashed in on his Gomez Addams fame in as many ways possible so that he might pursue his own artier projects. "He's cut a record. He's writing a picture book. He's putting together a night club act. He does personal appearances," Kleiner wrote. Astin explained, "I get paid in four figures to go to some supermarket opening somewhere and sign autographs. This may be the only chance I ever get."

Image: The Twilight Zone

5. The first film he ever directed was nominated for an Oscar.


His plan for financial freedom paid off. In 1968, he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in a short film called Preludes. One critic called it a "tragic comedy about the death of the American dream." Astin explained, "It was the most direct way to say what I wanted to say on film. I wanted to create a piece of cinematic art." Preludes would go on to earn an Oscar nomination at the 1969 Academy Awards. It was his first experience directing film, he told the Television Academy in 2015.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. He was a fan of the Addams Family long before being cast on the show.


Astin was the first actor cast on The Addams Family. He even got to choose his character's name (they were not named in the original Charles Addams one-panel comics), wisely opting for Gomez over Repelli. "Astin was an Addams fan before he joined the cast," the Rockland County Journal-News wrote in 1964. Astin particularly "enjoyed the marvelous poetic expressions on the characters" drawn by Charles Addams. "I remember one cartoon where the butler poured hot oil over Christmas trees," Astin recalled. "But we can't do things like that [on the show]." Astin's tastes ran towards the macabre. Later in life, he toured the country performing Edgar Allen Poe on stages.

Image: The Everett Collection

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Lacey 32 months ago
I am always amazed when I see his name pop up as director of some of my favorite shows.
megabuttons 32 months ago
Mr Astin was brilliant in "That Touch of Mink". I feel the Addams Family directors saw his non-stop leer and decided he would be the perfect Gomez.
megabuttons 32 months ago
Mr Astin mis-remembered. They were pouring hot oil over Christmas carolers in the original cartoon, not trees!
LynCarceo 32 months ago
He played the judge's father, Buddy, on Night Court.
Lacey LynCarceo 32 months ago
But he is MUCH better now.
Dll930 33 months ago
Does no one remember "Evil Roy Slade"? Great Movie! On Amazon Prime
Catman 35 months ago
That short film he got the Oscar nomination for is titled "Prelude" and not "Preludes." I think it's viewable on IMDB.
vinman63 35 months ago
TV wife was alluring and stunning. His real life wife would eat hot dogs and lose control what a contrast.
Coca 36 months ago
Also married to
Patty Duke🙄👍
Stoney 36 months ago
I actually didn't mind Astin's portrayal of the Riddler. Yes, Gorshin is the quintessential Riddler, but Astin was a good Batman villain. He just would have been better served to have played his own separate character. Heaven knows the comics had enough villains to choose from...
vinman63 Stoney 36 months ago
At least it wasn’t the minstrel.
Stoney vinman63 36 months ago
Yeah, the Minstrel was definitely one of the lesser foes
mariaG 36 months ago
So cool lol I wish they would do another movie about the Addams family and do a cross over with the Munsters!! That would be so awesome!!!!!
Stoney mariaG 36 months ago
It would indeed...
Moverfan Stoney 36 months ago
Now that you've brought it up, I think Herman and Lurch would get along rather well. As would Lily and Morticia.
Dario mariaG 36 months ago
I would love to see that should it ever be made. 😁
LoveMETV22 mariaG 36 months ago
It would be interesting. I can't think of many memorable crossovers but I'm sure they're out there. I always enjoy when I see a guest star on a series whether or not they have appeared somewhere else. .
mariaG Moverfan 36 months ago
Same that would also give poor Eddie 2 playmates around his age I think were on to something here lol
Deleted 36 months ago
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dangler1907 36 months ago
You're a useless troll. Hope everyone flags this as I did.
MadMadMadWorld 36 months ago
But did John Astin teach integral calculus, not just differential, and analytic geometry?
Many teachers and tutors know and enjoy the calculus, as do many students.
"...Astin tutored analytical geometry and differential calculus."
"He knows more than you do" subtitle, which is false for millions of people who know more on it than he did!
bdettlingmetv 36 months ago
At age 91 Mr. Astin remains the Theatre Program Director at John Hopkins University North Baltimore, MD. All classes by Zoom now, of course, but still kicking. I just finished working a film project with his son, MacKenzie (by the way an extremely nice and humble person) who says he is just as spry as ever. Good for you, John! May you stay with us for a long time to come.
AnnieM bdettlingmetv 36 months ago
After losing more actors in this past year that I can ever recall, it's wonderful to hear that he's alive and well! I've enjoyed him in everything I've ever seen him in - always a favorite of mine.
AgingDisgracefully 36 months ago
Sidebar: who DIDN'T go Kookoo-For-Coco-Puffs when Tish spoke French?
Tlor 36 months ago
Patty Duke was a train wreck, married some guy 13 years older, then had a bunch of affairs, like Desi Arnaz Jr (who apparently the dipsy redhead couldn't figure out why her son would be attracted to a dipsy brunette). Michael Tell, who she swore she didn't have relations with then got an annulment. Ended up with Astin who I think was a stable influence on her for awhile. Then she married a a drill sergeant until her death (Sean Astin found out later he was Michael's son, not Astin's) Some Hollywood types just ride a roller coaster until they die.
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