From the Archives: There was that time I published my post-departed interview with legendary actor Billy Barty and his son Braden quickly contacted me to voice his opinions of the piece…
Q & A: The Ghost of Billy Barty
He was born on the 25th of October, 1924 in Millsboro, Pennsylvania and began performing at the age of three. His film career began in 1933 and continued right up to his death two days before Christmas in the year 2000. A mere three feet nine inches tall, his talent was nonetheless legendary, his stature in the Hollywood Little Person Community nothing short of monolithic. Through other-worldly medium Melma Frankengibson, Ken Socrates was able to secure the interview of a lifetime (or afterlife-time, if you will). Billy Barty, from beyond the grave, speaks at last about his life in film, the hedonistic chaos of Sid and Marty Kroft’s children’s shows, his torrid affair with the Happy Hooker and the demonic, unstoppable evil that is Ron Howard.
Ken Socrates: Mr. Barty, this is Ken Socrates, are you there?
Billy Barty (speaking through Ms. Frankengibson): Yeah, I’m here. Can we get on with this, please?
KS: Sure thing. Certainly wouldn’t want to keep you from any important business… like being dead and what not. Let’s start at the beginning. Your first work in movies was with Mickey Rooney in the “Mickey McGuire” short films…no pun intended. What was it like working with him?
BB: I don’t want to talk about that.
KS: But there were always rumors that he was a tyrant on set, even at that age. Did he treat you fairly or not, Mr. Barty?
Listen…Mickey was a motherfucker, everyone knows that. My problem is that he thought he could straddle the line between the little world and the big. Was he a short normal person or a really large dwarf? The fact is, he was just tall enough to fit into the big people’s world and he turned up his nose at us small folk his entire career. He shit on us whenever he could and had no conscience whatsoever. He was five fucking three and he thought he was a goddamn giant. He was a piece of shit and he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. End of story.
KS: In 1935 you had a small role in the classic Bride of Frankenstein as the Tiny Baby In A Jar. Was that as humiliating an experience as it seems or was it just the price you paid for art?
BB: You try spending four days naked in a jar, asshole. A fucking jar, okay? It was degrading. Karloff was treated like a friggin’ king on set and off, I mean food, blow, whores, whatever the big freak wanted…and me? They wouldn’t even help me out of the jar after shooting and I had to use a broom closet as a dressing room. Nice to be tall, ain’t it?
KS: Let’s jump ahead a bit, to some of your T.V. work. You played a ventriliquist’s dummy in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Was that a demanding change of pace for you?
BB: Oh, yeah, that was fucking career milestone, wasn’t it? Playing a near motionless inanimate object. How did I ever miss out on the fucking Emmy that year? On top of it all, the actor playing the ventriliquist seemed way too happy to have me on his lap for hours on end. Let’s just say that I wasn’t the only “wooden object” on set each day and leave it at that.
KS: Later on you had a number of appearences on the spy comedy Get Smart but your dismissal involved a certain amount of controversy. Would you care to elaborate?
BB: Well, you have to understand, that was the late sixties, early seventies. Those were wild times, what with drugs and free love and all that. Shit, even a dwarf could get laid every night in those days, especially one with my credentials.There’s no doubt that I was a little out of control. My ego was huge at the time and I thought I was untouchable. They caught me in Don Adams‘ dressing room with Barbara Feldon and three bimbos and a pile of coke that came up to my navel. Problem was, one of the bimbos was, ahem, Mrs. Adams.
KS: And you brought that same Dionysian abandon with you when you went to work for Sid and Marty Kroft on their various children’s shows, didn’t you?
BB: Of course. I hadn’t learned a thing from the Get Smart incident and went right into the Kroft studios where, lets’s face it, everyone was on drugs, all the time. When I was Googy Gopher on H.R.Pufnstuff I was so far gone on acid I actually thought I lived in Pufnstuf land, man. I fucking slept under the mushrooms, I refused to come out of my costume and I thought Witchiepoo was Jesus. One night about 3 a.m. they found me weeping on the floor mumbling some incoherent gibberish to the empty head of the Polkadotted Horse. That’s how far gone I was.
KS: It didn’t improve when you played Sparky The Firefly on The Bugaloos, I assume?
BB: Shit, no. The Krofts thought they could sort me out by having me play a character calledSparky?!? I mean, we were supposed to be a rock and roll band with bug wings, weren’t we?!? Believe me, I lived the life. I was sparky, all right. I smoked enough weed and hash to put a small herd of elephants into a fucking coma. I couldn’t have told you what planet I was on if you asked me, man.
KS: It all came to an end on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, though, didn’t it?
BB: Yeah. We were out of control by then, you know. No one on that show could even get out of bed without a fistful of bennies and a snort or two. I think there were four or five random guys that played Slurp and Burp and they kept rotating them in from the street and each one was more stoned than the last. Johnny Whitaker may have seemed like a nice kid, but he was so strung out on smack that he was stealing equipment from the soundstage to keep up his habit. I mean, there were after hours orgies on the beach set, there were week long binges where we’d never get five goddamn minutes on tape because everyone was tripping so bad. I personally had to talk Van Snowden, who played Sweet Mama Ooze, off of a ledge one day when he was so tweaked on PCP he thought he was fucking Green Lantern or some stupid shit.
KS: It deteriorated that fast?
BB: Well, when they brought in Rip Taylor, it was all over. I like to party like the next guy but that motherfucker is insane. I mean, he came in there and took things to a new level. Elaborate sex toys, whips and harnesses, latex…drugs no one had even heard of, shit they used for fucking voodoo, stuff made from human beings, shit that would punch your fucking ticket…and guns, of course. The bastard was a walking arsenal. He was just bad news but you know what? We followed him like lemmings right into the fucking abyss. I barely remember anything about that time period, just what seems like endless weeks of screaming and throwing up, gun shots, total, absolute madness. They shut us down within a month.
KS: For the next few years you were in an out of rehab facilities but you still managed to work fairly steadily in films like the ensemble peice Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood and The Amazing Dobermans with Fred Astaire. Were you in recovery or just fooling yourself?
BB: Do I really need to tell you that the seventies were a bad time, man? Look, it was rough. I was a lost, broken man. I felt small, you know? It wasn’t til I met Joey that things started to turn around for me.
KS: You’re referring to Joy Heatherton who you met on the set of The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington. You’ve always credited your romance with her as having a rather significant, positive effect on your life, haven’t you?
BB: She was a great gal, Joey was. Sweet as a peach with legs you had climb up like a goddamn mountaineer. And the rack on her…shit, for the first few weeks of the shoot I cranked off every night in my trailer fantasizing about her like some school kid. I was smitten, no doubt.
KS: How did you two end up together, then?
BB: What’s that supposed to mean? What, you think because I’m a little stunted, height-wise, that I don’t have it where it counts? Believe me, my man, Billy Barty has no problem takin’ care o’ the ladies, if you know what I mean. I was a smooth motherfucker, bro, and I left ’em sweatin’ and pantin’ on another fucking planet, man. Oh yeah, that’s right.
KS: I’m sorry, are we channeling Barry White here by accident? You seem a bit defensive on the subject, Mr. Barty. How did the relationship progress after the film?
BB: We were together for a few years, on and off. I won’t lie, it was mostly sexual. When we got together we could melt steel in the inferno of our raging passion. It was never really more than that but it gave me the boost I needed at that point. I was a new man after that, all full of myself and shit. I had confidence and that carried me on for most of the rest of my life.
KS: And it seems like your motion picture career really took off at this point as a result. You did some high profile projects with people like Chevy Chase, Jerry Lewis, Sophia Loren and Scott Baio.
BB: Yeah, that was the start of the really good years for me. I was at my peak. I totally carried Lewis through that Hardly Working flick. The man was already starting to go downhill fast at that point. Chase was a real crack up and I was glad I could help him with the transition from SNL to filmwork. He’ll tell you how I took him under my wing and showed him the ropes in Tinseltown, if you ask. Sophia was a real doll and I thought that her work in Firepower was totally overlooked by the academy. Let’s be honest, O.J. sunk that project. And Baio was a bit of a punk but he could’ve been a major star, let’s face it. It’s just that Skatetown U.S.A. was way before it’s time. People just weren’t ready for that kind of hardcore roller-skating disco movie.
KS: I think you really you hit your stride after that when you were repeatedly cast in the blockbuster fantasy films of that era. You were Gwildor in Masters of the Universe, Screwball in Legend and, of course, The High Aldwin in Willow among others. Was this a trend you enjoyed or did you feel a bit typecast?
BB: Well, this was pre-Lord of the Rings, don’t forget. This was before the notion that little folk could actually make a difference, actually carry an action film like that. We were comedy relief in most of them back then, but it was still good work. These days its pretty cool to be a Hobbit, isn’t it? Except now Hobbits are actually tall people shrunk down by computers to look like little people. They don’t actually need one of us at all, do they? Except maybe as a fucking stand-in. Bastards.
KS: In Ron Howard’s Willow, though, you have a very positive role. In fact, most of the heroes, including the title character, are little people and they ultimately save the day. Isn’t this an example that your kind were slowly getting more respect in Hollywood?
BB: I really can’t comment about Willow, man. It’s way too dangerous.
KS: I’m sorry, what do you mean “dangerous”?
BB: You really don’t know, do you? Howard has you under his spell, too, doesn’t he? Fucking Opie…fucking Richie Cunningham…the whole world thinks he’s this innocent, wholesome character, a child star turned Oscar winning Hollywood director, don’t they? So few even suspect the truth, it’s terrifying.
KS: The truth about what? Mr. Barty, you’re scaring me here. What is it we don’t know about Ron Howard?
BB: My god, don’t you have a fucking clue how dangerous it is to talk about this??? He has people everywhere, man. You think I’m safe even here?!? Fuck…
KS: What is it, Mr. Barty? What?
BB: He is Evil personified. He’s not even from this world. I think he was some sort of demonic overlord in a hidden dimension or something before he crossed over into our plane of existence back in the fifties. He must’ve taken one look around and started drooling at the prospect of a new world to enslave. The Andy Griffith Show was just the beginning, but look at the damage he did there. Do you think Don Knotts was that way naturally? Do you think he was that twitchy and shaky and bug eyed before Howard got to him??? God only knows what sort of hellish blood ritual that the poor fucker was forced to participate in. And then Happy Days? How come no one ever talks about the disappearence of Anson Williamsand Donny Most? They never even found the bodies, for Christ’s sake.
KS: Are you telling me that Ron Howard, director of A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13 andSplash, is actually some sort of otherworldy, satanic being come here to torture and enslave all of us? Thats a little hard to believe, Mr. Barty.
BB: The evidence is all around you, fuckhead. Do you think the devil would show up and announce his presence to us??? All fiery and red and horns everywhere like “Hi, folks, I’m the Devil.”? Shit, no. He’d come all innocent and shit, like, for instance, A FUCKING, CUTE, FRECKLE FACED, HONEST-LOOKING BRAT THAT EVERYONE FUCKING LOVES! Now he has us where he wants us, thinking he’s this nice, talented guy that everyone respects. But look closer…he’s in a position of power, where he can influence millions. Yeah, his flicks seem like the average, formulaic, bland Hollywood tripe, but slow them down and look for the subliminal stuff. It’s there. Rape, torture, human sacrafice, cannibalism, you name it. I mean, Parenthood alone has enough raw human blood letting hidden between the scenes that it makes the Spanish Inquisition look like an episode of Romper Room.
KS: Mr. Barty, if this is true, we need to let the world know about this. What more can you tell us? What is he planning now? When will he strike again? Help us understand.
BB: I… wish I could… but I’ve said enough already. I can already feel something…a…presence…the smell of sulfur…can you sense it…?
KS: Not really…Maybe, you could just tell us about your first hand experiences with him, then. Did you have any strange encounters with him on the set of Willow?
BB: (long pause) I…I just cant…say…
(At this point Ms. Frankengibson begins to struggle visibly, panting, sweating and making animalistic gurgling sounds)
Ms. Frankengibson: We…urk…may need to…gogel…change…the subject…
KS: Alright, alright. I won’t push that any further. Are you still with us Mr. Barty?
BB: (after a short pause) Yeah, I’m here. I think we need to wrap this up now, okay?
KS: Okay, fine. My final question is about your much publicized fued with your fellow little person, Herve Villechaize. Now that you have both passed on, has there been any reconcilliation in death that was not possible in life?
BB: Man, this is the fucking afterlife. You think I’m up here hanging out with fuckingmidgets?!? Fuck off, asshole.
And the response from his son Braden Barty:
That’s about the dumbest most disrespectful thing I’ve ever read about my father.
To which I replied:
Dear Mr. Barty,
Let me first say I am now and have always been a great admirer of your father’s. Through his persona onscreen and from what I know of his personal life I have developed a deep seated respect and admiration for both his talent as an actor and his character as a man. Few other stars in the history of American cinema have the combined resume as a performer and humanitarian that he does.
You probably aren’t aware of this but I was actually a key organizer of the Billy Barty Film Festival at The University of Saskatchewan in the late eighties, early nineties until the round-headed philistines in the art department canned it in favor of a Hammer Horror Marathon despite a wave of righteous protests in opposition. Just goes to show, though, you can never trust Canadians.
That said, I would also like to apologize profoundly to you for the manner in which you have been exposed to some of the more colorful elements of your father’s expansive career in Hollywood. I’m sure you were a bit surprised when you discovered my article and perused it’s contents and I feel rather badly that I wasn’t able to forewarn you that it might contain some harsh examples of the sort of life in the Hollywood fast lane that an actor of your dad’s stature might experience. The film industry, as you know, is like a ravenous, mutated Giant Squid on a bloodthirsty rampage, always looking for new flesh to feast upon. Sort of like a rabid, brain damaged Gila Monster on methamphetamines scouring the desolate desert sands for unsuspecting prey. Or like a runaway wheat harvester posessed by the Devil intent on cutting down every dumb, inbred farmer stupid enough to get in the way of it’s hellish drive toward some grim apocalypse.
Anyway, I do imagine some of what you read was a tad stunning, to the extent that your mind may have erected a wall of denial and dibelief to combat the shock. I can only say that I have the utmost faith in Melma Frankengibson as a professional and trust implicitly the information she is able to relay to me from the spirit world. As you are certainly aware, she is the utmost authority in the world in relation to the Celebrity Post-Mortal community and her credentials are utterly unassailable. I would gladly put you in touch with her in the hopes of comforting you were it not for her strict policy restricting contact with the general public, which I’m certain you will understand.
In closing, allow me to thank you for contacting me on this matter. I’m hopeful that I’ve been able to explain myself to your satisfaction. Please know that my only intent in writing the article about your father was to gain a measure of insight from one whom I considered to be a true master of his art and an inspirational example to all of us in the way he conducted his life. I remain optimistic that I have, in my own small way, helped insure that his legacy will live on.
Best wishes to you and the rest of the Barty family.
P.S. It seems you’re not doing too badly yourself in the world of film as a production assistant, camera operator and miscellaneous crew. I look forward to the day when that IMDb page of yours grows beyond the current handful listings so it might rival the endless, awe-inspiring, century-spanning monster of a list that your father has been blessed with. Keep up the good work, big guy.