Almost 50 years since The Munsters was first broadcast on TV, the iconic show has never been off the air and is routinely championed as one of the classic comedy sitcoms of all time. Sporting a terrific cast that included Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis and Yvonne DeCarlo as “Herman”, “Grandpa” and “Lily” respectively, the cast was rounded out by a revolving door of “Marilyns” (Beverly Owen was later replaced by Pat Priest) and a precocious wise cracking eleven-year-old actor named Butch Patrick.
Portraying “Eddie Munster”, trademark widow’s peak, and “Woof Woof” doll in hand, Patrick brought a cheeky insouciance and irreverence to the role. After the show was canceled in 1966, Patrick stayed busy guest starring on a series of high profile shows including The Monkees, My Three Sons and Adam-12 as well as a stint on Sid & Marty Kroftt’s weirdly wonderful Saturday morning kids offering, Lidsville. By 1975, at age 22 Patrick was burnt out and caught up in a cycle of drink and drugs.
Decades of abuse followed, with Patrick finally hitting rock bottom a few years back. However, a stint in rehab and unyielding commitment to sobriety has given him a new lease on life. He’s also successfully battled prostate cancer and has been issued a clean bill of health.
Rock Cellar Magazine caught up with Patrick for a chat about his career and the obstacles he’s faced.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Was acting in your blood, or did your parents see that spark in you and push you in that direction?
Butch Patrick: Nobody saw any spark in me, it was totally an accidental situation. They were looking at my little sister, took some photos of her and I went along for the ride. They took some photos of me at the end of the shoot and the gentleman put the pictures in the window of his Hollywood studio on Hollywood Boulevard. Someone in the business walked by and noticed my picture, liked what they saw and contacted him. He sent them to Mary Grady who was just starting a child actor’s agency and I was her first paying client. She was Don Grady’s mother, who played “Robby” on My Three Sons.
RCM: What was your first paying job?
BP: It was for a movie called The Two Little Bears, a little B-movie with Eddie Albert, Jane Wyatt, Soupy Sales, Brenda Lee. It was a good little movie. Before that started filming I landed a Kellogg’s cornflakes commercial and also appeared in the original pilot of General Hospital and lasted on that show for about half a year.
RCM: You weren’t the original choice for the part of “Eddie Munster” on The Munsters as the pilot episode features the actor Happy Derman.
BP: I don’t know why Happy Derman didn’t work out. I was living in the Midwest with my grandmother and going to parochial school in the fifth grade. I got a call that there was going to be a screen test on the West Coast and told to get on a plane. I met with Yvonne DeCarlo, who replaced Joan Marshall, the actress in the pilot. They changed the character name from “Phoebe” to “Lily” and Happy Derman was out and I was in and cast as “Eddie Munster” on The Munsters. I was told Eddie was just a regular ten-year-old kid living in this spooky house with his family. On paper it looked strange but once you got onto the set and saw the soundstage you kind of understood what was going on.
RCM: On the surface the premise does look strange, especially in light of the monstrous images of the cast, but the essence of the show is it’s all about the strength of family.
BP: Absolutely. That’s exactly right. The Munsters was done by the people who did Leave it to Beaver so they had a very good handle on family stuff. Those shows had social commentary and family values and then they did The Munsters and combined both of those elements into the show.
RCM: It seemed ironic that at the same time as The Munsters came along so did The Addams Family, a similarly-styled show.
BP: I think both shows benefited from the other’s existence. I think the friendly competition was beneficial for all concerned. I’m pretty sure The Addams Family idea was the first that came along because it came from a comic strip in The New Yorker. I think (Joe) Connolly and (Bob) Mosher were just looking for a project to make a show around and they decided to take the Universal monsters, which they had access to, and turn it into a loving family.
RCM: You were eleven years old when you first began filming The Munsters. What was it like for you as a kid when you first walked onto that amazing set?
BP: We first filmed the show at stage 7 on the Universal lot. It was a really old stage from the ‘30s and ’40s and it was located close to the entrance gate. Then we had a big crack in one of the low wooden ceiling beams so they shut down production for a couple of days and moved the entire set to a brand new stage out in the back, stage 32, which was a monstrously huge stage. When I walked onto the set it was very cool. Grandpa’s laboratory was my favorite room on the soundstage. We were adjacent to the big Phantom of the Opera stage, which was the largest stage in Hollywood.
It wasn’t as big as the Phantom stage which I used to explore all the time when I had breaks in filming. I’d go up and check out the cat walks six stories up. The people that looked after me on The Munsters would have had a cow if they knew what I was doing. (laughs) I used to love exploring the back lot of Universal. It was just a really great place to go hang out and see what was going on, who was filming, what projects were under construction and what projects were nearing completion. There was always a lot to do. I spent a lot of time at the McHale’s Navy lagoon. There were a lot of Westerns sets that I used to visit like Wagon Train. I’d go up to the makeup lab and see what Mike (Westmore) was working on for the Alfred Hitchcock projects. I used to see Hitchcock being chauffered around.
I remember Paul Newman was filming next to us for a movie called Torn Curtain. I also remember seeing Charlton Heston; he was doing films like El Cid or the war conqueror movies. There was always something happening. It was a very busy studio.
RCM: Any fond memories working in The Munsters house?
BP: When people would come visit I’d take them on a tour of the set. I’d show them the stand up coffin phone booth. I’d take them to the stairway and show them “Spot”, the dinosaur that lived under the stairs. Then I’d show them the suit of armor at the top of the stairway, which was on a turntable and that was kind of neat. Grandpa’s laboratory was something everyone wanted to see. There was a spot in the back where Davy and Chuck our two special effects guys, where they had their little work bench and they always had fun stuff going on there. The interior of the house was laid out on one floor on the soundstage. The first thing you’d see when you walked in was the living room and then off to the right would be the front door steps and through the living room there’d be the dining room and they’d have the kitchen way off to the right and Grandpa’s lab was located way off to the left.
RCM: How much schooling was required on set?
BP: Three hours a day. They made it so you had to stay for at least 20 minutes per sitting. You couldn’t just drop in for five minutes and then leave five minutes later. You had to have at least a twenty minute stint in there at a time but it wasn’t too bad. For the three days a week when we were filming it got a little bit hectic but the other two days were very easy, three hours sitting at one time.
RCM: Take us through a typical filming week on The Munsters.
BP: Monday was reading day at the offices of the producers. We’d come in about ten o’clock and be out of there by noon. It was a very easy day. Then I’d do my schooling afterwards and be out of there around three PM.
Tuesday was a blocking day where you rehearsed blocking for camera. We had different directors each week so it was nice for the directors to get a chance to be able to lay out what hey were doing. Then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were filming in makeup days. On those days I’d get to the set about eight in the morning; my typical filming days lasted until about five o’clock.
I’d occasionally watch the process of Fred Gwynne getting his makeup applied for the role of “Herman Munster”. It took two hours for his makeup to be completed and it was done by a guy named Karl Silvera. It was interesting to watch the process. He’d get in the makeup chair at about six in the morning and be done by eight; he’d often sleep while the makeup was being applied. The hard part was doing it right and getting the makeup tweaked with the foam rubber for Fred, Al (Lewis) and I. But once we got that down and everybody knew what they were doing it was a pretty simple process. It was just tedious, you’d just need to sit there and relax.
RCM: How close were you to the Eddie Munster character?
BP: I just played myself and interpreted the script how I felt it should be. Luckily it seemed to work because I very rarely was given direction that went against what I chose to do. My natural instincts were pretty good and they liked the kid in me and how I portrayed Eddie. The way the character was represented in shorts and carrying a “Woof-Woof” doll constantly could have been construed as a real sissy boy very easily but I tried to present him like a little macho kid. You never thought of him being anything than a regular boy’s boy.
RCM: Who created the “Woof-Woof” doll?
BP: Michael Westmore created it. It had hair and a foam rubber face and a little Jo-Jo the monkey doll body. They put this werewolf looking head on this little doll body, made him a little tweed suit and put him in pajamas and that was it. I wasn’t able to keep the original doll. I got him five years after the show ended.
I was doing an episode of Ironside and the prop man gave him to me and I put him in the trunk of my car but unfortunately I didn’t take very good care of him and he deteriorated until I sold him to a friend who made a replica and we wound up selling many replica “Woof-Woof” dolls.
RCM: How much money were you making a week while working on the show?
BP: By today’s standards it wasn’t much, back then I was making about seven, eight hundred dollars a week.
RCM: Working alongside old pros like Fred Gwynne, Yvonne DeCarlo and Al Lewis, what did you learn from them?
BP: Fred and I would run lines together and he taught me how to laugh and how to exhale when you’re laughing and not inhaling. He would also teach me acting techniques. Al would take the time to go outside with me and toss a Frisbee with me or throw a baseball around and let me be a boy.
Yvonne would be a maternal influence. She’d be a mom because my mom wasn’t around so she’d be a matriarch, not only on the show but when I’d see her outside of the makeup on Mondays and Tuesdays. Once in a while she’d bring her kids down to the set.
RCM: The comedic timing between Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, in particular, was stellar.
BP: They already had a really good chemistry from having worked previously together on the show Car 54, Where Are You?. They had great timing. That came from lots of practice and also having an intuitive feel for timing and beats. There was a little routine in the dungeon where Herman was drawing a face and he keeps looking at Grandpa and Grandpa keeps looking up at him going, What?” and Herman says, “Nothin! Nothin!” He finally winds up saying, “Herman, you’ve drawn yourself!”
It’s like the Abbott and Costello, Laurel & Hardy timing which just takes a special knack and they had that talent to do so. Beyond their comedic timing, they had a strong personal relationship and were great friends off set as well.
RCM: Share a few favorite episodes. I’m partial to “Zombo”, a classic episode that features you heavily.
BP: “Zombo” was a funny show. Herman was feeling threatened by this popular TV show host that Eddie took a strong liking to. He was jealous of all the attention. Grandpa turned Herman into a similar looking monster in the dungeon and he came up to one of Eddie’s friends and said “And what do you think of me little Billy?” And the kid says (uses snotty tone), I’d rather not say sir, my parents told me never to insult older people.” (laughs) That was funny bit.
Louis Nye, who played “Zombo”, was a very funny and talented man. I remember him as Sonny Drysdale from The Beverly Hillbillies. Another memorable episode is “Eddie’s Nickname” where I grew a beard; that episode features Paul Lynde as Dr. Dudley. “A House Divided” is a good one about Herman and Grandpa accidentally wrecking my birthday present.
RCM: What do you recall about the episode with ‘60s garage rockers, The Standells? They appeared and performed two songs, a cover of The Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hand and original Farfisa organ driven number called Do the Ringo?
BP: That was the episode “Far Out Munster“. For me, they were a very cool band that had some hits. I liked a lot of the popular rock bands at the time like The Beatles. The Standells signed a picture for me and I thought it was very hip to have The Standells on the set.
RCM: There’s talk that the Beatles were fans of the show and rumors that they visited the set, did that really happen?
I wasn’t there that day but I was told that The Beatles stayed on the lot for security reasons because hotel security thought it would be tough to contain them anywhere else. They thought “Let’s allow them to stay in some dressing rooms on the lot”. I had a big dressing room next to Marlon Brando and it was also used as school room. We assumed that some of The Beatles stayed there. Apparently the cast interacted with The Beatles, Al Lewis told me he did and said that the Beatles were fans of the show.
RCM: Recount the happiest moments for you working on The Munsters.
BP: I really enjoyed when the Munsters koach was involved in the show. First, I was a kid and I really enjoyed hot rod cars. Also, when the car was involved with the show we’d have be outside and we didn’t get much of a chance to be outdoors while filming. Fred (Gwynne) pulled a great prank with The Munsters koach. With all of the cast in the car, he drove the Munsters koach out the front gate of the Universal lot and came back around twenty minutes later much to the chagrin of the assistant director. They were losing their sun and waiting so they could start filming. So about twenty minutes later we drove back into the Universal lot.
When Fred was driving the Munsters koach on the street we were getting a lot of double takes from people outside who certainly didn’t expect to see the Munsters koach driving around. (laughs) People in their cars were rubbernecking when they saw us.
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