View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Munster goes home

Al Lewis – better known as Grandpa Munster – died February 3 at age 95.

He gained his greatest fame as the vampire father-in-law on The Munsters television show in the mid 60s – a show that was cancelled even though it was popular.

Seems the networks were switching to color, and colorizing a program that included a Frankenstein-like lead (Herman), a vampire (Grandpa), a werewolf son (Eddie), a daughter of Dracula (Lily), and a dragon (Spot) would have been too expensive.

But though he has been popularly called “Grandpa Munster,” that was not his character’s name. He was Count Dracula.

In the same way, Lewis has often been mistakenly identified in the popular mind as just a television actor on a kitschy series.

Al Lewis held a doctorate in child psychology. (Columbia University)

He was a political activist during the Great Depression.

He served in the Merchant Marine in WWII.

He was a union organizer.

He entered show business and built a name for himself in radio and television, eventually staring in Car 54, Where Are You?, then The Munsters.

At the same time, he was active in the civil rights movement.

After the Munsters went off the air, he remained active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and working in support of union and labor issues.

Until his death, he hosted a weekly public affairs radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City. He argued against the draconian Rockefeller drug laws (a position even Republicans in New York have begun to accept) and restoration of the death penalty in the state (since ruled unconstitutional).

What got him a lot of attention in recent years was his run for governor of New York in 1998 on the Green Party ticket. He was 88 at the time. He got more than 50,000 votes, and actually gave the Greens in New York a ballot line and a little credibility.

Not bad for an old vampire with a Brooklyn accent.


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