She’s best remembered for her role as Morticia Addams, the macabre matriarch of the 1964 version of The Addams Family, but Carolyn Jones didn’t always have it easy. Throughout her yo-yoing career, she battled through health issues, typecasting, multiple marriages, and at times, even poverty. Still, the dedicated actress valued her profession as much as life itself—or, possibly, even more. From ingénue to icon, this is the story of the indomitable Carolyn Jones.
1. Born To Entertain
From an early age, Carolyn’s potential as an actress shone brightly. Born on April 28, 1930, in Amarillo, Texas, to homemaker Chloe Jeanette Southern and barber Julius Alfred Jones, the sweet-natured and extroverted child’s vivid imagination and penchant for storytelling instantly entertained those around her. Even as a child, it was already apparent that Carolyn was a starlet in the making—but there was also one specific reason for this.
2. Her Mother Imbued Her With Star Power
As a huge fan of movies, music, and the full Hollywood experience, Carolyn’s mother instilled in her a great passion for the entertainment business straight from the get-go. So much so, in fact, that she named Carolyn after one of her favorite movie actresses, Carole Lombard, and Carolyn’s sister Bette after actress Bette Davis. Tragically, her father treated her much differently—and much more horrifically.
3. Her Early Home Life Was Tense
Sadly, Carolyn’s parents had a relationship that was fraught with tension—and ready to explode. Fueled by the fact that her father couldn’t handle the difficult burden of supporting a family during the Great Depression, he shamefully abandoned them in 1934, leaving Carolyn’s agoraphobic mother unable to provide for her daughters on her own.
Heartbroken and desperate, Carolyn, her mother, and her sister had no choice but to move in with her maternal grandparents. And this was just the beginning of a dark ordeal.
4. She Had A Hard Time
Carolyn, who was quite bright and sensitive for a youngster, struggled to adjust to her new environment. Her grandparents’ humble home quickly became cramped quarters once her family moved in, an issue exacerbated by the fact that her grandfather used to terrify her with his sudden bouts of rage. Then, suddenly, the situation went from uncomfortable to dangerous.
5. Her Illness Took Over Her Life
Frighteningly, Carolyn developed such severe, chronic asthma that her condition became life-threatening. Consequently, the poor girl wound up housebound and stuck in her bedroom for weeks at a time, which, needless to say, drastically impacted her childhood. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, Carolyn soon turned to escapism for comfort…
6. She Grew Fascinated By Hollywood
To pass the time, Carolyn would listen to music and feverishly read Hollywood fan publications. It didn’t take long before she began fantasizing about escaping to a newer, glitzier existence than the one she was living in Texas. It sparked something in her: Carolyn needed to become a star. So, of course, when she learned about a prestigious acting school, the Pasadena Playhouse, she became obsessed with finding a way to enroll.
Unfortunately, that dream quickly hit a snag.
7. Her Grandfather Said No
Carolyn’s grandfather didn’t support her pursuit of acting and insisted that she become a lawyer or a doctor instead. Uh-oh. When Carolyn refused, he took her to Southern Methodist University, thinking she’d eventually change her mind. Her reaction was heartbreaking. She plunked herself on the steps of the rotunda, sobbing and begging him to allow her to apply to the Pasadena Playhouse.
Fortunately, her dramatic pleas did the trick. Her grandpa caved in. Adamant that she’d be the school’s next famous alumna, the then 17-year-old gained admission to the Pasadena Playhouse in 1947—but she got much more than she bargained for.
8. She Got Distracted
During her time at the Pasadena Playhouse, Carolyn found a passion for more than just acting after a certain male classmate caught her eye. When Carolyn met Don Donaldson in August 1949, the sparks soared. The couple fell in love right away and dated for a mere year before tying the knot in 1950. But the romance raised some eyebrows.
9. Her Husband Was Much Older
Considering that Carolyn was only 19 years old when she met Don Donaldson, it might surprise (or gag) you to learn that Dear Donnie was much older than her at the age of 27…which kinda changes the narrative of their cute, whirlwind school romance to an almost predatory tale. Either way, their union didn’t last, and the couple divorced a year later.
Fortunately, actors tend to draw upon their real-life emotions on the stage, and Carolyn—perhaps using her feelings surrounding her broken marriage—began focusing on her craft with laser intensity.
10. She Rededicated Herself
Naive to the unfortunate fact that extra experience and good grades don’t always secure great jobs down the line, Carolyn threw herself into her studies. She even began performing with stock theatre groups during the summer for bonus experience and to augment the tuition money she got from her grandfather. Then finally, after three years of intense dedication and hard work, Carolyn graduated as a star student.
But—as it always does for recent graduates—the sad realities of her field’s job market hit her hard and fast.
11. Her Training Wasn’t Enough
It’s not easy to make it in Hollywood, and Carolyn quickly made a devastating realization. She understood that an actor’s ability to nab good movie roles depended on much more than mere talent alone; there’s a major element of superficiality involved, and she’d need to alter her appearance to meet the film industry’s “standards” of beauty (ugh). Shudderingly, her transformation proved both expensive and painful.
12. She Went Under The Knife
Now (in my personal opinion), Carolyn was already a classic beauty, but for whatever ridiculous reason, Hollywood didn’t consider her looks up to snuff. So, for the sake of her career, she opted to undergo a complete makeover, which included: plastic surgery, dying her hair blonde, losing her Texas accent, altering her walk and posture, and buying fashionable clothes.
As drastic as it was, her transformation had even more drastic consequences.
13. She Got Her Big Break
Her metamorphosis into Carolyn 2.0 changed everything. Shortly after her makeover, a talent scout noticed her performing on stage at the Players’ Ring Theatre, and—following a successful screen test—she promptly landed a six-month contract with Paramount Studios. This was it: At long last, Carolyn finally broke into the film industry. But it came at a heartbreakingly high cost.
14. Her Point Was A Little On The Nose
As much as Carolyn wanted to break into film, she harbored some resentment over how her new looks—and not her finely-honed skills—played a huge role in getting her there. Carolyn touched on this when, years later, she leaped at the opportunity to act in a Dr. Kildare episode because she strongly identified with the character: A woman who undergoes nose surgery, and then experiences existential fury when she begins to attract the “interest” of all the same guys who had previously rejected her former self.
No real-life parallels there, right? Still, it was too late now: Carolyn’s stardom was about to begin.
15. She Made Her Big Screen Debut
After she signed the contract at Paramount, Carolyn made her big-screen debut in 1952’s aptly named The Turning Point, the film which ironically marked a turning point in her career. Her family was thrilled: Her mother cried tears of joy while her grandparents danced around their living room. Unfortunately, Carolyn was in for a big disappointment.
16. Her Career Stalled
Disappointingly, Carolyn only scored two more small roles before her contract at Paramount expired, at which point, the film industry kind of just forgot about her. Then things went from bad to worse. Carolyn hadn’t earned as much income at the studio as she’d originally hoped, and now, she was earning diddly-squat. Her financial situation grew so dire, in fact, that her sister, Bette, had to move in with her just to help her pay the rent.
Inching closer and closer to complete financial ruin, Carolyn’s despair led her to take desperate measures.
17. She Started Over Again
Carolyn scrambled to take any acting role she could find. She found only some modest success in television, but this (thankfully) kept her afloat for the next two years. In that time, Carolyn also opted to return to the stage by performing at the Preston Sturges’ Players Theatre. While there, however, Carolyn wasn’t just acting…she was getting into some trouble in the bedroom.
18. She Fell In Love Again
While working at the theatre, Carolyn met and fell in love with Aaron Spelling, a name that many will recognize. At that time, he was an aspiring writer—and of course, he would eventually go on to produce hits like Beverly Hills, 90210. The two seemed to have a lot in common, so it’s easy to see why they clicked. They were both highly ambitious yet struggling in their respective fields; they each had a fantastic sense of humor and, most significantly, the pair shared a passion for all things entertaining and amusing.
Despite the dark cloud descending upon her career, Carolyn suddenly found herself floating on cloud nine…and then IT finally happened.
19. She Scored Another Movie Role
In 1953, lightning struck again when Carolyn won a part in a major 3D film, House of Wax (FYI: 3D film was a HUGE deal back then). At the time, it was only the second 3D film ever released, and—though her role was small—it became an instant hit, and probably her first genuine big break. For the first time in her life, she even caught the attention of film reviewers, who praised her performance.
For a brief moment, Carolyn was on top of the world. Her star was finally rising…but her relationship was floundering.
20. She Wanted To Marry
Carolyn was certain that she and Aaron were real, honest to goodness soulmates. Before long, she was anxious for him to pop the question—but she was in for some major heartache. Aaron was stalling. As much as he wanted to marry Carolyn, he felt he couldn’t propose to her while he was still broke and trying desperately to break into the entertainment business.
So, Carolyn decided to take matters into her own hands.
21. She Popped The Question
Carolyn was a woman of action, and she knew what she wanted in life. Impatient with Aaron’s hesitation, she came up with a daring. What she did was quite rare for a woman in the 1950s—she proposed to him! Though Aaron was reportedly shocked, he accepted, and the couple tied the knot in April 1953. Then Carolyn made a very personal choice that broke the mold once again.
22. Her Career Was Her Bundle Of Joy
Carolyn was intent on refocusing on her career and the idea of playing the real-life role of a stereotypical 1950s housewife didn’t exactly appeal to her. When the subject of motherhood came up, Carolyn realized right away that it wasn’t for her. She felt it wouldn’t be fair to have children for the sake of having children when in her heart, she already knew they’d come second-fiddle to her career.
Seriously, good on her. That’s one responsible human being, right there—though as we’ll see, she’d pay a devastating price for her decision.
23. She Missed Out On A Major Role
Meanwhile, a Columbia Pictures casting executive scouted Carolyn to portray the character of Lorene/Alma in what would turn out to be the studio’s biggest picture of the year, From Here To Eternity. He promised Carolyn that, pending a successful screen test, the role would be hers. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Carolyn was thrilled.
Up until this point, she’d only played minor parts on the big screen, so this would be her first major film role. Instead, Jones was in for excruciating heartbreak.
24. She Fell Deadly Ill
As fate would have it, disaster struck Carolyn the evening before her screen test. Suffering from a serious bout of pneumonia and a 104-degree fever, she ended up in the hospital, where she nearly lost her life that very night. Obviously, this meant she missed out on her chance to nab the coveted role, which later went to Donna Reed. Then, as if to rub salt into the wound, Reed won an Oscar for the part.
The thought of ‘what could have been’ crushed Carolyn. She began to doubt her prospects, fearing that her time in the limelight had already passed. In order to get back in it, Carolyn would have to make another drastic change.
25. She Transformed Herself Again
Struggling to find jobs, Carolyn took up work that was not nearly as prestigious as From Here To Eternity. She did eventually score a part in the film, The Bachelor Party. However, this role demanded a completely different look, so she cut her hair drastically short and dyed it dark to shake things up. For the second time in her career, her makeover was dramatic yet effective.
The audiences loved it, and Carolyn became glamorous and alluring almost overnight. This time, Carolyn got what she always wanted.
26. Her Fortunes Changed
Even though Carolyn only got eight minutes of screen time, her performance generated oodles of buzz: The critics gave her rave reviews, reporters clamored to interview her, and best of all, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. After all this time, she was, at last, getting some much-deserved recognition, and Carolyn really, really wanted to win that award.
But she was about to be disappointed yet again.
27. Her Loss Was Her Gain
When Carolyn’s big night finally came, she was denied that precious golden statue. Another actress, Miyoshi Umeki, took home the Academy Award, and Carolyn had to be content with the bittersweet honor of just getting nominated. Still, this only made her more scrappy about her success, and in 1958, Carolyn got her biggest opportunity yet—a movie with Elvis Presley.
But filming didn’t quite go the way she expected.
28. She Got Sick Again
Okay, so at the time, Elvis was kind of a big deal, and the movie, King Creole, turned out to be the last film he’d make before joining the army. Unfortunately, with a fever of 103, Carolyn once again took ill. This time, however, she got to keep her role…which meant that Elvis got the esteemed privilege and joy of sharing his romantic scenes with an extremely sick person. Eww.
Luckily for Carolyn, he had a sense of humor about it.
29. She Didn’t Want To Kiss Elvis
During filming, poor Carolyn felt like she was about to keel over. Understandably terrified of accidentally getting Elvis sick, Carolyn reportedly begged to get out of their kissing scene. But Elvis had other ideas. He allegedly quipped to her: “That’s all right; maybe it’ll get me out of the army.” Germ-spreading aside, the movie was another hit. But Carolyn’s reaction to her newfound success wasn’t what you might think.
30. She Wanted Meatier Roles
Carolyn aspired to become a leading lady, but she had a problem: She kept getting cast into quirky, supporting roles. So, when Carolyn got offered a part in the film Career, she insisted on playing the romantic lead, leaving Shirley MacLaine to act as the offbeat sidekick instead. But the film didn’t work out the way she hoped.
Even though Carolyn performed wonderfully and received the greatest reviews of her career, the movie completely flopped. It was discouraging, to say the least. And maybe that’s why Carolyn started acting out in other ways.
31. She Lived A Rich Life
As frustrated as she was, Carolyn dove right into the Hollywood lifestyle. Believing that she owed it to her fans to live glamorously, Carolyn and her husband splurged on the construction of a crazy 13-room mansion, complete with deep baths, a tennis court, and—amazingly—a soda fountain. Carolyn also stocked her wardrobes with furs and started accessorizing with high-end jewels (you know, for the fans…). But soon enough, there was trouble in paradise.
32. Her Star Began To Wane
By 1960, Carolyn still had yet to make the big leap to leading lady, which she fervently wanted. To add insult to injury, the media frenzy surrounding her started to fade, and her job offers shrank to fewer and fewer. Strangely, as her prospects dwindled, her husband’s writing career surged, and Aaron unexpectedly became the more successful of the two.
Naturally, the sudden imbalance in their careers disheartened Carolyn and put a strain on their relationship. Slowly, her marriage began to deteriorate.
33. Her Marriage Crumbled
Once Aaron developed the suspicious habit of remaining out late at night for no apparent reason, there was no going back. Carolyn and Aaron divorced in August 1964, though they managed to remain good friends. Even so, Carolyn felt her universe spinning out of control. At a mere 34 years old, it seemed like everything in her life was coming undone. Little did she know, Carolyn would soon land the greatest role of her life.
34. She Turned To Television
Carolyn had turned down several offers to appear on television in the past because the idea of acting on TV never really appealed to her—she’d only ever wanted to become a movie star. But everything changed when an intriguing offer for a leading lady’s role on daytime TV caught her eye. It would be an understatement to say the role piqued her interest: Quirky, dark, and comedic, the part seemed custom-made for Carolyn. It was a no-brainer—and the defining moment of her career.
35. Her On-Screen Romance Shocked Viewers
In 1964, Carolyn joined the cast of The Addams Family as the iconic Morticia. However, it also brought her a ton of controversy. When The Addams Family originally aired on September 18th, 1964, many viewers were immediately taken aback by the blatant romantic chemistry between Carolyn’s character, Morticia, and her on-screen husband, Gomez. Morticia and Gomez’s brazen PDA hit conservative audiences like a sack of rocks.
I mean, Gomez actually used to kiss Morticia’s arms! How dare they!? Such scandal! But the chatter surrounding her on-screen romance was nothing compared to her tribulations with Morticia’s distinctive dress.
36. Her Costume Was Uncomfortable
It may have looked amazing, but Morticia’s signature gown was actually a serious pain in the butt to wear. It was so ridiculously tight that Carolyn could barely walk, and it would take the poor woman 20 minutes to peel it off of herself at the end of filming. Ultimately, the costume designers had to sew Velcro into the back of the dress to make it easier to open and allow her to walk around in-between takes. Luckily, it was all worth it.
37. The Role Made Her An Icon
Though it wasn’t exactly the glamorous film career she’d always envisioned for herself, the show gave Carolyn the level of stardom she had always desired. The Addams Family quickly became a pop culture sensation, and at 35 years old, she achieved mega-celebrity status with legions of devoted fans. It was a dream come true, and Carolyn loved every minute of it. And then…that dream came to a crashing halt.
38. She Grieved The Loss Of Her Show
Despite the show’s massive popularity, ABC chose to cancel The Addams Family after only two seasons. Of course, Carolyn was heartbroken. Irrespective of the years of hard work and dedication she’d put into her acting career, it was her beloved role of Morticia that ultimately put her on the map…What would she do without it, now? And things weren’t easy for her.
39. She Became A Typecast
Carolyn went on to do guest appearances on various shows over the next year, but she received few other employment opportunities after that. Carolyn had a sneaking suspicion she knew why: Everyone always expected her to be Morticia Addams. She’d become so synonymous with the character that watching her portray any other role EXCEPT Morticia just wasn’t the same anymore.
Her career started to suffer as a result—and there was no comeback in sight.
40. She Returned To Her Roots
With little recourse, Carolyn returned to the one potential place that people might not consistently expect her to act as Morticia—the theater. Though she managed to secure a role for herself on the Broadway play, The Homecoming, in the end, she hated every second of it. In this emotional state, she began to make some very rash romantic decisions.
41. She Got Married A Third Time
Feeling washed up and bitter, Carolyn turned to a friend for comfort, her vocal coach Herbert Greene. Their relationship soon evolved well beyond friendship: Carolyn and Herbert fell in love, getting married in December 1968. For Carolyn, it was supposed to be a second shot at love after her marriage to Aaron Spelling imploded. But behind the veil, the truth was much more complicated.
42. Her Marriage Was Toxic
In actuality, many of Carolyn’s circle disapproved of their union. Her friends felt uncomfortable around him: He reportedly struck others as quite strange, and he wasn’t particularly nice. And he had an even darker side. Greene had somehow convinced Carolyn to quit acting and persuaded her to move away with him to Palm Springs.
Now isolated and careerless, Carolyn’s once happy life turned miserable.
43. She Broke Free
It took seven years, but Carolyn eventually came to realize that she’d completely lost her joie de vivre. She missed acting, and even though she knew it would be hard to restart her career at age 46, she was determined to do it. So, she ended her unhappy marriage and returned to LA, where she slowly came back to life. Thankfully, the spotlight hadn’t forgotten her.
44. She Made A Comeback
Carolyn successfully returned to acting after her long hiatus, appearing on TV as a guest star and performing in theatrical shows. After such a lengthy break, she was proud to reclaim her sense of self-fulfillment. However, it appears that the stage was a romantically fortuitous location for Carolyn. Astonishingly, her work in theatre led her to romance again when she fell head-over-heels for her castmate, Peter Bailey-Britton.
Regrettably, she had no idea that the sands of time were already sinking.
45. She Had An Emergency
Carolyn became severely ill while flying from Dallas to Los Angeles one night. She barely had enough time to enter the restroom before gruesomely vomiting up large amounts of blood. Terrified, Carolyn had no idea what was going on. Upon landing, she rushed to an emergency room, where physicians proceeded to surgically remove much of her stomach.
Carolyn subsequently claimed that ulcers were to blame for her condition. However, the true reason was much more serious.
46. Her Illness Was Life-Threatening
Carolyn had no idea that her terrible stomach problems were due to colon cancer. Shocked by the diagnosis, the 51-year-old decided not to tell anyone, opting instead to undergo agonizing surgery and brutal chemotherapy in secret. She’d only just gotten her life back; now, she was in for the fight of her life. Still, despite everything, she stayed dedicated to her profession.
47. She Took On A New Role
After Carolyn’s cancer went into remission, she took on a starring role in a soap opera called Capitol. Sadly, just as Carolyn got used to the part, her doctors made a disturbing discovery. They found that her cancer had returned. Though Carolyn fought it aggressively, her body stopped responding to treatments. Medically, there was nothing more anyone could do.
48. She Remained Stoic
Carolyn resolved to make the most out of her bleak situation. Acting was her whole life, and she was adamant that she’d never give it up for anything ever again. In pain but still undeterred, Carolyn continued to act on Capitol. Then, after her cancer spread and she became too frail to disguise her sickness any longer, Carolyn resorted to acting from her wheelchair to complete her scenes for the season.
Seriously, that’s one tough lady. Respect.
49. She Married The Love Of Her Life
Carolyn did her best to fill her final days with joy. She knew that she didn’t have much longer to live, and she wanted to surround herself with as much love as possible. So, in a special ceremony, Carolyn married her boyfriend, Peter Bailey-Britton, in September 1982. Wanting to look good for her special day, she made herself up as glamorous as possible, wearing a lace and ribbon cap to cover her hair loss.
The wedding drew a lot of admiration from her castmates.
50. Her Castmates Greatly Respected Her
Carolyn was a force of nature, and her castmates knew it. Nicholas Walker, who played her stepson on Capitol, once commented: “The pluck and courage that lady has is amazing. That week was heck for her. They cut her open on the Monday, and she was back on set on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, she was standing at the altar.”
51. She Was Gone Too Soon
Carolyn went into a coma in July 1983 at her home in West Hollywood, California, before dying on August 3, 1983. She was 53 years old at the time. After the cremation of her body, a memorial ceremony was conducted on August 5 at Glasband-Willen Mortuary in Altadena, California. Ever thoughtful, Carolyn made arrangements to donate her Morticia outfit and wig to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences before died. UCLA later received a collection of Addams Family scripts from her widower, making sure that no one will ever forget her iconic portrayal of Morticia Addams.