American actor John Astin was the son of Dr. Allen V. Astin, director of the National Bureau of Standards. Evidently inheriting his intellectual bent from his father, Astin was a voracious reader and mathematician, at one point in his high school career mastering an entire semester's worth of study in one evening (that's his story, anyway). A part in the senior play at Johns Hopkins University (where he was majoring in math) cemented his desire to act, and in 1952 Astin did graduate work in dramatics at the University of Minnesota, where he appeared in 40 plays in and around the campus, played the violin, and gambled incessantly (and badly). With $100 in his pocket, Astin headed to New York, where he did janitorial work in theatres until securing a role in the off-Broadway Threepenny Opera for a princely $15 per week. Better money came Astin's way when he started doing voice-over work for animated commercials; in 1961 he extended his acting skills to films in a small but memorable part as a smarmy social worker in the Oscar-winning West Side Story. In 1962, Astin was teamed with Marty Ingels on the blue-collar sitcom I'm Dickens, He's Fenster, which despite a loyal following failed to garner ratings. The show did, however, establish Astin as a reliable laugh-getter, leading to a more successful run as Gomez Addams, the macabre but passionate paterfamilias on The Addams Family. This series ran from 1964 to 1966, after which Astin spent a great deal of time touring the country in theatrical productions - often living out of a van, a lifestyle he seemed to thrive upon. Joining Astin during his barnstorming days was his second wife, actress Patty Duke, who called herself Patty Duke Astin for the duration (Astin and Duke raised a son, Sean Astin, who grew up to become a popular film actor in his own right). The marriage ultimately dissolved due in part to Astin's bohemian point of view, though while the union lasted both Astin and Duke were tireless workaholics who were rarely without acting gigs.
His many credits during this time period include 1974's Skyway to Death, and playing the dad in the original version of Freaky Friday. He directed and appeared in the TV movie Operation Petticoat. In the 1980's he landed recurring roles on both Murder, She Wrote and the sitcom Night Court. His marriage to Patti Duke ended in 1985, but Astin maintained a busy schedule appearing as a game-show host in National Lampoon's European Vacation, Teen Wolf Two, and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! As the 90s got under way he made two more Killer Tomatoes movies, appeared on the TV shows Mad About You and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., and earned favorable reviews for his appearance in The Frighteners.