Lance Lee

Poet, Playwright, Novelist

Book covers
Book covers
Family Matters cover artwork

Family Matters

Pub. November 15 2022

Shanta Acharya Review:

A master story-teller, Lance Lee in Family Matters weaves the complex history of his ancestors to show how they embodied the American Dream in its fullness and failure. The book is a compelling read as he skillfully untangles myth from fact, building an absorbing memoir and cultural history from those incoherencies, varied character inheritances, and conflicting identities from a split Jewish and American WASP background. These lead to his own self-discovery, the realization of dreams that shaped him and which finally he could not share. Lee’s is a fascinating journey that explores the past legacies of family and culture and the ways in which a crucial part of his was transmuted by his father into the abiding cultural phenomenon of the original The Addams Family TV series.

Shanta Acharya, Imagine, A World Elsewhere (UK)

Booklife Review:

A profound examination of family and the power of love.

Lance Lee (Second Chances), son to David Levy, records his family’s turbulent history amid their well-known entertainment ventures, including his father’s production of fan favorites Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, and The Addams Family. Lee candidly shares his family dynamics, starting with his Jewish father’s challenges with antisemitism in the advertising field, to his mother, famous model Lucille Wilds, and their multiple marriages to each other—alongside their tumultuous relationship based on secrecy and bursting with friction. Lee unearths heartbreaking truths in this deeply personal journey, as he explores the impact of his upbringing on his own life as a husband and father.

Readers will be absorbed by the memoir’s dramatic twists and turns as Lee weaves his family’s history from a variety of resources. He draws from his mother’s diary entries, anecdotes from his father’s writing, and publications like 1955’s Housekeeping Monthly to illustrate the popular American worldview at the time—one in which his parents “dismissed or denounced the imperfections around them.” This fantasy and myth-driven childhood profoundly impacted Lee, who writes “under what now appears absurd were real lives, real distortions, real guilt over any nonconformity or individualism.” Family Matters is, in many ways, Lee’s philosophical analysis comparing the family value model of his youth to the starkly different truth of his memories.

That contention between the Levy family’s glamorous dynasty and their behind-closed-doors reality is expertly depicted, and Lee’s musings will prompt readers to reflect on their own history. He begins with a detailed family tree, and ends with a collection of his poetry, offering in between a rich account of his family’s metamorphoses, including the eventual breakdown of his parents’ marriage and the subsequent fallout between immediate and extended relatives: “a wave generations in the making had finally broken and run up the shore and begun to sink into the sand.”

Booklife Review

Clarion Foreword Review:

Family Matters is a compelling memoir about an imperfect couple’s rise to fame and how it affected the people around them, including their child.

In the course of his book, Lee discusses his family’s history, including that of his famous parents, whose work affected his life. Lee’s mother, Lucille Wilds, was a supermodel in the 1940s; his father, David Levy, was a writer at an advertising firm that shaped radio and television content. Levy also produced and directed a popular radio program that reached half of the households in the US; later, he created the television series The Addams Family.

The memoir is divided into four parts, each focusing on a different period of Lee’s life. But despite its chronological progression, its sections often function independently of one another because of their multimedia composition. Lee dabbles in prose, essays, and poems to tell his family’s story; the book also incorporates personal and professional photographs, news clippings, etiquette columns, posters and images, and the signed first page of the first episode of the original The Addams Family television series. A family tree at the beginning of the book clarifies the family’s dynamics; in the text itself, many personalities are at play.

Lee, who indicts his family as a “deeply dysfunctional” one, also asserts that his family’s troubles were in fact the genesis for The Addams Family, contributing to its phenomenal success. Though the Addamses are beloved in popular culture, he writes that their falsification of his family’s life puts him at odds with their place in the US’s collective psyche. To redress this with the truth, he merges memories from his youth with anecdotes from his parents’ childhoods, addressing their relationships with their own parents (his father’s parents were the inspiration for the elder Addamses).

In all, the book explores topics including culture, fame, identity, inheritance, religion, and success, tracing back to Lee’s own recollections of his family and successful parents. Examining the Addamses, Lee draws contrasts, noting that his own father was “inseparable from his career,” and that his mother was “the ultimate model” before becoming “the ultimate mother.” Lee’s quest for truth results in an ultimate sense of accomplishment:

Truth can’t be taken for granted: it can be overexposed. It can require nurturing. Yet at other times it strikes with the force of revelation and we realize it was always there, only waiting for the right time.

Anna Maria Colivicchi, Clarion Foreword Reviews

Readers' Favorite Review:

Lance Lee has penned a biography, Family Matters, that allows readers into the imperfect and often heartbreaking behind-closed doors story of his youth. Lee's father is the television creator of The Addams Family, a famous show of the 1960s that retains a cult following today. Lee's mother is the model Lucille Wilds. Lee recounts a wide-ranging number of stories that are relayed in mostly chronological order, dipping back for some memories and 19th-century family history and pushing forward with what he's heard and what he's seen. The American Dream is on full display and so too is the nuanced, unspoken truth of what we all know but are unwilling to admit: it's a myth. Manicured lawns and Manhattan apartments are just camouflage for debt, infidelity, family infighting, signs of sexual abuse, and seeing your mother and sister have to get on their knees and bark for a little spending money.

When a lot of Gentiles imagine antisemitism, it tends to be a violent and overt hatred that boils over into public visibility. Lance Lee immediately puts this thought to rest by speaking of microaggressions. Relinquishing a name and, to the horror of one's parents, marrying a Christian. Out of all of what happened and given the control of his paternal grandmother, this is shockingly less appalling than all that came after. Family Matters has a reader enthralled in the same way one watches a train wreck. You cannot turn yourself away, no matter how bad it gets. There's contempt mixed with a gross allure and signs of the impact that reverberate in Lee's later experiences. I saw parallels between Lee finding a tyrannical trigonometry teacher being the key to him succeeding in the subject as if he is so accustomed to fire branding that anything else is boring. From a literary standpoint, Family Matters is pitch perfect and a fine read that is hard to digest and impossible to forget.

5 Star review logo
Jamie Michele, Readers’ Favorite

Readers' Favorite Review:

Family Matters by Lance Lee is a family memoir that encompasses Lee's upbringing as the son of David Levy, who brought Charles Addams' famed comic The Addams Family from the pages of The New Yorker to television nationwide. The book begins with the backstory of Lee's birth and how he ended up with a surname that was not Levy. He describes the acrimonious relationship between his mother and his paternal grandparents, who hated both the daughters-in-law of their otherwise loyal sons, Charles and David. Lee takes us into his home, growing up with Miss America Lucille Wilds as a mother with her own backstory, rounding out an already full family history. Lance was a spunky child who played a little piano alongside his sister Linda, while his parents' marriage kept falling apart. America's model family was not anywhere as near a Dream Team as it appeared. “We knew the perfect family they tried in their different ways to assemble around us was an illusion.”

I'm a couple of generations behind the original incantation of The Addams Family on television, attaching memories to Nina Ricci and not being able to pick Lisa Loring out of a line-up of Wednesday Addams look-alikes, but I do remember occasionally catching the black and white version on the tube. I'm unfamiliar with the legacy of David Levy or Lucille Wilds, having first heard of them in Family Matters by Lance Lee. While that may seem to be a disadvantage, it allowed me to read Lee's work without any preconceived notions. The book is incredibly well written and it is entertaining as a standalone memoir. The landscape of a mid-century American family is fascinating in its own right and, perhaps even more engrossing, is the compilation of original poetry that Lee includes throughout the book. The stand-out is the piece What A Man Gives in which Lee uses verse to depict his father with a profound honesty that is both uncomfortable and beautiful. A lot of people have tales of broken family homes and secrets that remain in their old houses, but not everyone is the son of David Levy - and not everybody is as talented as Lance Lee. Highly recommended.

5 Star review logo
Asher Syed, Readers’ Favorite

Readers' Favorite Review:

Family Matters by Lance Lee commences as Lance's mother makes a clever escape from the family home to apply for a community of property divorce. The narrative backtracks through family mythology, finding nothing quite as it seemed. For instance, his parents, screenwriter David “Gar” Levy and model Lucille Wilds, had married twice. One ceremony was in secret, and another was staged because Lance was on the way. The younger of twins, “Gar” Levy was unfaithful to his wife, distant to his children, and overly controlling of the finances. Levy worked as an independent playwright before being employed by the advertising agency Y&R which developed radio and television. After leaving Y&R, he wrote novels and created The Addams Family show based on cartoons of Charles Addams. Lance sees his father’s psychological issues reflected subtly in the dark comedy. The final section contains a selection of poetry.

Family Matters by Lance Lee offers a valuable insight into the human side of television history. I liked the way Lee recounted what he had learned about his parents’ lives with honesty and showed sympathy for his mother. I appreciated the attention to detail, which included in-depth family trees, quotes from relatives, and excerpts from his father’s diary. The poems included were of high literary quality and very evocative. The story demonstrated the way prejudice could flow in both directions, and how individuals with mixed heritage get caught between White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant and other values. Students of the media and fans of vintage sitcoms will find Family Matters by Lance Lee incredibly useful as a resource.

5 Star review logo
Cecelia Hopkins, Readers’ Favorite

Self Publishing Review:

In a memoir that does double duty as a multi-generational history of dysfunction and the effort to define a life shaped by deceptions, Lance Lee unmasks the myths his parents clung to in Family Matters: dreams I couldn’t share and how a dysfunctional family became America’s Darling, The Addams Family.

Lee and his sister, Linda, endured a turbulent childhood controlled by their father David “Gar” Levy, a self-absorbed, generally distant, often emotionally abusive patriarch. A high-powered advertising and television network executive, Gar created the sitcom, “The Addams Family,” which Lee believes Gar infused with his own parents’ dysfunction and its continuation in the Levy household.

Lee and Linda’s mother, Lucille Wilds, a stunning beauty queen, and the first supermodel before the term was even coined, was mostly helpless against her husband’s cruelty. Operating inside the fallacy of normality they both inherited, Gar and Lucille presented the Levy’s to the world as the perfect family, manipulating or blatantly ignoring dark secrets, infidelities, and assorted public and private humiliations that threatened to expose the myth they worked tirelessly to protect.

Throughout the memoir, Lee recounts elaborate ancestral histories and examines the ways culture, religious discrimination, the promise of the American Dream, and the discovery that truth is an illusion contributed to his tumultuous upbringing. He relied on his father’s journals, accounts that very often differed from the way Lee and Linda remembered them, revealing how Gar, under the veneer of privilege and success, reinvented events to satisfy his delusions. Interspersed throughout the chronology and histories are Lee’s digressions into philosophical reflections on memory, reality, nature, and the irresistible lure of wealth and fame.

An accomplished poet, novelist, and university professor, Lee is a masterful storyteller who presents both historical facts and introspective meditations in vaulted, lofty, often poetic prose. The breadth and depth of his knowledge across the disciplines shape and inform his presentation of actual events and his intense contemplations, sometimes written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. There is no doubt he is a brilliant thinker and gifted writer, but the tangential nature of some sections, and the surprising amount of punctuation errors, seem out of place for a writer of Lee’s caliber.

Similarly, the book’s full title promises to divulge the secrets of a complicated family whose history became the material for a popular American sitcom featuring a mysterious, sort of ghoulish clan who see themselves as perfectly normal and for whom nothing is more important than family: in many ways, the book fulfills its pledge. However, major dramatic events do not unfold until hundreds of pages into the book, and many of those pages are devoted to ideas and people that don’t seem to have much to do with the memoir’s stated purpose, losing some focus on the family’s remarkable story.

That said, this is an engrossing examination of a uniquely Hollywood family that in some way helped shape popular culture. Closing with a series of Lee’s beautifully crafted, narrative poems, Family Matters is a evocatively written account of the very human side of show business.

Self Publishing Review

Indie Reader Review:

Rambling in places but still a fascinating narrative, Lance Lee's FAMILY MATTERS is a worthy addition to the Hollywood memoir genre.

The son of a supermodel and the executive behind The Addams Family tells his never-before-told family story.

David Levy’s February 6, 2000 obituary in The New York Times was 250 words. This was too brief by far. After all, the guy was a television producer during Hollywood’s Golden Age who gave the world Bonanza, Dr. Kildare, and the Addams Family and was, according to the obit, “instrumental in elevating Johnny Carson to host of ‘The Tonight Show.’” His wife, Lucille Wilds, was also famous, a supermodel in the employ of Walter Thornton, the mid-century mogul whose other clients included Lauren Bacall, Susan Hayward, and Grace Kelly. The Times doesn’t even mention her.

Now comes FAMILY MATTERS, a mammoth 444-page memoir written by Levy and Wilds’s son, Lance Lee, which feels like overcompensation. Lee immerses us inside his privileged New York and California upbringing, showing us a mother who was vulnerable but calculating, and a father who was “distinguished looking” yet “emotionally abusive,” whose “criticisms” and “serial infidelities” eventually drove Wilds away. Lee opens with this schism in the summer of 1968–he was married with children by then–before settling in to tell the family story. And a fascinating story it is, and one that has scarcely been told, as the meager Times obituary attests. Yet Lee dilutes it with a lot of asides and rabbit holes, interrupting the narrative with sentences like this: “Inevitably our mythicizing begins in infancy, and as we settle into a recognizable personality with a recognizable outlook based on our and our families’ objective situations and personal circumstances, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to change our self/story/myth however much of it actually is not uniquely our own.” Throw in discussions of Nietzsche, Jung, Freud, Joseph Campbell, and T. S. Eliot, and suddenly, we’re not in a family history but a graduate seminar. His theme, announced early on, is to deconstruct “the way a set of myths conditioned my family and our varied inheritances of character and identity.” This is at the heart of most Hollywood memoirs, yet the best of them stick to the story, allowing the narrative to imply that theme. In other words, they show; they don’t tell. Lee doesn’t stick to that formula all the time, but when he does, his tale is as grand as any.

Rambling in places but still a fascinating narrative, Lance Lee’s FAMILY MATTERS is a worthy addition to the Hollywood memoir genre.

Anthony Aycock, Indie Reader