The Addams Family was the first TV role for former college basketball standout Ted Cassidy
The 6' 9'' fellow decided to give acting a go at the age of 30.
A young man in his 30s was, well, not so "young" in the 1960s. Heck, a professional was practically halfway to retirement at that age in the midcentury. Consider that in 1960, 72% of everyone over the age of 18 was married, and more than 60% of those in their 20s were hitched. In other words, adult life came and folks faster and earlier back in those days. This is why a whimsical career change for a married man at the age of 30 seemed risky and rare.
Nevertheless, Ted Cassidy decided to shake up his life and try for Hollywood when he was 30.
"I believe 30 is a turning point in every person's life," Cassidy mused to The Orlando Sentinel in 1964. "Not that everyone makes a resolution and does change his life, but that's the time." At the time, Cassidy was married to his "college sweetheart," Margaret Helen Jesse. He had been working in radio around northern Florida, before picking up work in Dallas. With his deep, stentorian tones, Cassidy had the voice for radio. It was one of the benefits of his towering stature. It was his size that made him consider a screen career.
"I figured there couldn't be too many 6 foot 9 people in Hollywood," Cassidy told The Sentinel. "And of that number, not all would have a speaking voice like mine and be actors, too." Indeed, Cassidy had some acting chops. He had majored in speech and drama at Stetson University in central Florida. Though he had made his name on campus as a basketball star.
Cassidy seemed to have played hoops due to his size alone, not for any great passion for the sport. "I did play semi-pro ball for a time," he told The Detroit Free Press in 1964. "It was the line of least resistance." Hardly the words of a dedicated cager. Nevertheless, he excelled on the court in college.
A decade before The Addams Family premiered, Cassidy was lobbing in hook shots for Stetson. In December 1954, the Hatters drubbed Elon College 91-59, as Cassidy poured in 21 points to lead all scorers. A few months later, when his squad faced the University of Miami, he amassed 25 points to again lead the stat sheet. The guy could ball.
In photos from the era, you can see how his physical presence looked on the court, like here against ranked powerhouse Louisville.
It was not all smooth sailing, though. Cassidy was briefly suspended the prior season when he was caught playing for "an independent team from Kissimmee." Yep, they had rules like that back then, too.
Anyway, back to Cassidy's acting. You are probably wondering how he became Lurch, butler to the Addams Family. He put together a demo reel.
Cassidy assembled footage of him performing "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and abolitionist John Brown's trial defense after Harper's Ferry. He also threw in a little voice-over on a stop-motion sequence. With those clips in hand, Ted and his wife traveled to Los Angeles for several days in the spring of 1964. He auditioned for some roles, but nothing seemed to happen.
He and Jesse returned home to Dallas. Weeks later, the phone rang. Would he mind coming back to L.A. to try out for The Addams Family?
Of course, we know he won the role. But it was not a shoo-in. He beat out five other actors to become Lurch.
Thankfully, he did land the gig. Because he brought something special to the character. Lurch was not intended to speak. Cassidy tossed in the immortal line "You rang?" It killed. So the writers and producers let Lurch speak.