What everyone gets wrong about Thing T. Thing
There’s more to know about this mysterious creature's background.
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Almost as often as Lurch uttered "You rang?" on The Addams Family, we heard Morticia Addams coo, "Thank you, Thing."
The helpful hand was always there to do the family's bidding.
In the Sixties when The Addams Family first aired, the identity of the actor playing Thing was a "closely guarded secret."
Today we know that most of the time it was Lurch actor Ted Cassidy's hand snapping, gesturing, pointing, putting on a record, or lighting Gomez's cigar.
But there were also times when Cassidy couldn't fill in as Thing.
Whenever Lurch and Thing shared a scene, an assistant director named Jack Voglin would fill in.
Nobody could apparently tell the difference between the two tall men's hands, and Cassidy said he'd ordinarily use his right hand, but sometimes he'd use his left, just to see if anyone would notice.
You can see an example of a rare left-handed Thing in the episode "The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man." Near the end of the episode, Thing hands a letter to the undercover man, spooking him and providing proof of Cassidy’s small intentional goof.
Most people didn’t notice whether Thing was left- or right-handed, though, probably because Thing T. Thing was one of the most curious things in The Addams Family, and according to series writer Seaman Jacobs, the gag of Thing was written to make the audience not become fixated on the hand itself, but to wonder: what did the rest of the creature look like that was attached to that hand?
Jacobs said when The Addams Family movie came out in 1991, original series creators found it off-putting that Thing's original backstory— as a mysterious creature who hides its body and only shows its human hand protruding from various boxes and surfaces — was foregone to show a detached hand running around the movie screen like a spider on five legs.
"We did Thing," Jacobs told the Television Academy. "And they did that wrong in that picture. They showed the hand out there. That was not the idea of our gag. The gag was: what is at the end of the hand? What is connected to the hand? That made no sense to see Thing all by itself."
Jacobs said Thing as originally written was "a whole different concept."
In 1991, when the movie was premiering, executive producer Scott Rudin and director Barry Sonnenfeld defended their decision to "update" Thing.
"In the series, Thing was always in a box," Rudin explained. "We knew we could never get away with that in a movie."
Their idea was to intentionally change familiar aspects of the show to intrigue new viewers, but what their cartoonish version of Thing really did was change the way many people think of Thing.
That means today, a lot of people get wrong Thing's entire backstory, missing out on all the parts of Thing that the TV creators so cleverly had left to the viewers' imagination.
When TV executive producer David Levy was first developing The Addams Family, he actually came up with the original idea for Thing.
He was looking at Charles Addams cartoons, and he saw the cartoonist frequently drew a disembodied head as a recurring character. Levy asked Addams if the character had a name.
"He said, 'Oh, that's The Thing,'" Levy told The Los Angeles Daily News in 1991. "I said, 'Well, we can’t use a disembodied head, not in a television series.' But maybe we could have a hand, but you wouldn't know where it came from. You wouldn't know if it was attached to a body. I wouldn’t call it The Thing, but let’s call it Thing — just Thing. It wouldn't be Thing Addams."
Jacobs thought seeing Thing as a disembodied hand on the big screen turned the daffy comedy of The Addams Family TV show into black comedy, forcing the audience to wonder "what happened" to Thing, rather than "what is Thing?"
Sonnenfield and Rudin called the movie version "the liberation of Thing from its box."
In the movie, Thing definitely finds the spotlight, just as the TV version of the helpful hand became one of the most memorable aspects of the TV show, snapping along to the theme song.
The movie producers knew they needed to cast the right actor to play this more animated version of Thing, and they auditioned many puppeteers and sleight-of-hand performers before finding magician Christopher Hart.
"I showed them some sleight-of-hand skills, and then the director wanted me to do some weird things — show emotion with your hand, make your hand look happy, make your hand look sad, nervous, excited," Hart described the audition process.
Before his next call-back, Hart said he prepared by watching how Disney cartoons personified inanimate objects. That same year The Beauty and the Beast proved any teacup could have an Oscar-worthy personality. Hart found the inspiration he needed.
And while Cassidy and Voglin traded spots shoving their arms through boxes to create the original mysterious being that is Thing, with hardly anyone telling the difference between the two hands, Hart said his version of Thing became, well, its own distinct, inimitable thing.
He claimed any fan of Thing's animated personality in the movie could tell when someone else's hand stepped in. In his eyes, his version was the authentic Thing.
"While I was in Japan, someone else played Thing on some commercials for Addams Family cereal, and my friends could tell immediately," Hart said.
Do you still think of Thing as a hand attached to a mysterious creature never shown onscreen, or did the movie "update" your memory to think of Thing as just a detached hand with a big personality?