Interview with Butch Patrick from TV’s The Munsters, Part I

     I didn’t exactly have a rough childhood by any stretch of the imagination, but I vividly remember wishing I’d been born during the ’60s, as everything I loved most was from that era.  I spent my days listening to British Invasion acts and Motown while my contemporaries blared the latest music MTV was pushing (Yes, I grew up in a time when MTV still played music.).  One thing that I did enjoy about being a child of the ’80s was that our local TV station would play a solid 5-hour block of classic TV during the daytime.  The zany I Love Lucy would start off the morning, followed by the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show, then into the misadventures of The Beverly Hillbillies before moving into the idyllic existence of The Brady Bunch, and finally, and one of my favorites, The Munsters would round out the early afternoon for an hour before children returned home from school and cartoons ruled the airwaves. I have to admit to faking various illnesses on more occasions than I care to admit just so I could get a peek at Spot, The Munsters‘ larger-than-life pet dragon who lived under the stairs.  I used to wonder how they’d house broken him when I wasn’t daydreaming about living with the ghoulish-yet-loveable family. 

     Flash forward 30 years to last February when I attended The Monkees Convention.  I’d never attended a fan convention and didn’t know quite what to expect, but I knew that I’d be meeting a bulk of the Brady kids, half of The Monkees, and the boy I’d grown up wishing I could switch places with: Eddie Munster. He was the first person at the convention who I stood in line to meet, the first celebrity I had my picture taken with, and now the first television star I’ve ever interviewed.

     Butch Patrick isn’t your typical former child star. He’s proactive, he’s got more business ideas than Donald Trump, he’s articulate, and he’s incredibly patient and treated every question I asked (and I can’t imagine any of them were questions he’d not heard before) like it was worth his time to answer. He’s also got some very interesting projects in the hopper, one being a haunted B&B, and another is a “coffin table” book about The Munsters‘ fans.

     Sit back, don’t worry about cobwebs or things that go bump in the night, and enjoy my chat with Mr. Butch Patrick. You won’t even have to pretend to be sick so you can stay home to do so. 😉 

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Me: Let’s just get right into it. One of the first questions I have is this: It’s curious that there’s so many TV shows from the ‘50s and ‘60s that are still as popular, if not more popular than they were back then. What do you see as the reason for that?

 

BP: Well, a couple of things. One comes to mind. Basically, I like to call them escapism shows. Back in the ‘60s they were very successful, and by that I mean I did Mr. Ed, I did My Favorite Martian, I did I Dream of Jeannie, I did The Munsters and a bunch of shows I didn’t do like My Mother the Car, things of that nature, they’re very entertaining but they have no basis in reality, they’re just there for entertainment’s value, and people weren’t into reality shows, they didn’t want to come home and see cops and doctors and lawyers and things of that nature. They wanted to just be entertained, and comedy writing at that time…you know, Hollywood and TV were still reasonably new and fresh, so a lot of great writers had a field day with writing some funny stuff with some really good comedic actors that were coming out of New York, and you had a lot of shows that had good quality talent writing funny scripts. Then in addition to that you only had three channels so it was very competitive. The content wasn’t as much as there is today of having to fill thousands of channels of stuff, which obviously weakens the quality by a sheer numbers game. Back then, if you had a good show, people, everybody watched it. The impact was much greater. The footprint was much greater. Like The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, everybody remembers where they were at. That somewhat goes along with The Munsters. We were only on for two years, but we were on 7:30 at night, TV tray, TV dinner heaven when the family used to sit around the television set and discuss the day’s events then be quiet for television because they were going to be entertained for the next two to three hours.

 

Me: It’s interesting because I work with a lot of children and I…around Halloween time one of the 5th graders who is about nine or ten I want to say, was talking about this awesome TV show that he loves, and he was describing The Munsters, and I thought, “Wow!”  What kind of a lasting impact is that, that you still have new fans coming into it who are still as enthralled by it as people who watched it in the original run, ’64-’66. 

 

BP: Yeah.

 

Me: What does it feel like to be a part of that?

 

BP: That’s one of the most interesting things that happened. In fact I’m doing a book from the point of view of the fans, about all of the stories that they come up to my table [at conventions] about: watching it as a kid, running home from school, dressing up as Eddie, or building their first hot rod. The list goes on and on and on. The impact that the show had on Americana is people growing up watching television and then their kids watching it with them, and then their grandkids watching it, and the grandkids today who are turned on to it enjoy it immensely. It’s very unusual that you can have a show that can stretch 50 years’ worth of viewing generation-wise and all of the entertainment at the same time, that’s really a rare thing.

 

Me: Oh, it absolutely is, and it’s really cool when I was at the Monkees Convention, it was amazing to see how many people walked over and said, “Oh my God, it’s Butch Patrick!”  People who were 60 and people who were 6…to have that kind of draw still must be really powerful for you to see, I imagine.

 

BP: You know, if I was going to pick a decade, well, I didn’t pick it, it picked me. I worked from ’61 to ’71,’72 a lot. In that ten years I did four series [The Munsters, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, My Three Sons, and Lidsville] and I was in a lot of movies, a lot of commercials, and I kept very busy.  But if you had to pick a decade that has a lot of staying power, it’s the ‘60s, for pop culture, for horror, for sci-fi, for comedy, for social impact, just in America itself. Even kids going to school today study the ‘60s because of how much it impacted the world.

 

Me: Absolutely. I’ve actually taught a class about the ‘60s to high school students, believe it or not.

 

BP: There you go!

 

Me: Yeah. It’s incredible. I looked up today as part of my research [for this interview] that Louise Harrison [musician George Harrison’s sister] wrote the forward for a book about you.

 

BP: Yeah, I work with Louise a lot. I met Louise about 20 years ago in Florida, accidentally, at a Hard Rock event and we became immediate friends. I wrote for her book, she wrote for my book, we work together on environmental issues whenever possible. I never met The Beatles [When The Beatles performed at Dodger Stadium, they spent time on The Munsters’ sound stage, but Butch didn’t get to meet them. Al Lewis did, though.], but I’ve seen the home movies of her and George and her family, so I feel like I’ve gotten some cool insight into what it was like before The Beatles hit America, and hanging out with Louise has been wonderful. She’s great. She’s a great person.

 

Me: That’s really cool to have the ability to do that!  To go back to The Munsters, I noticed that you have www.munsters.com website which is really a great resource for fans of the show, and that’s really awesome to have that. Do you have any particular memories or highlights that stand out from working on the show or the actors who were around you? You had Al Lewis, Fred Gwynne…some really amazing people who you worked with. What kind of memories stand out for you from that time period?

 

BP: Well, you think of Fred and Al, for me they were great. Don’t get me wrong. They were the forefront. But a lot of the time, the most fun I had was hanging around the lab with Mike Westmore [make-up artist] and what he was creating, and the special effects guys, Chuck [Gaspar] and Davy who were doing pretty good special effects way before, long before CG and high tech stuff. They were doing old school breakaway tables and breakaway doors and wires and flying through this, flying through that. They were really making some very good effects out of not-high tech materials. Then we had the guys that did the set decorations that were doing the cobwebs and the dusting and the aging…it was just first-rate stuff on a show that was actually kind of like a little mini-movie every week. We had that going on and we were also shooting on a single camera shooting film which was interesting, it’s kind of like an art form that’s been lost.  People just don’t do it anymore. So from that standpoint I enjoyed that.

Al taught me a lot about just being a kid, throwing the baseball around and tossing a Frisbee, and then Fred taught me a lot about being an actor, techniques and not trusting the front office and the producers. It was sort of like a standoff between the talent and the production, the owners of the show, which was really typical of a lot of productions. It did have a tendency to be a friendly war game going on between the talent and the production. A tug of war of sorts.

Other than that, I enjoyed myself when I wasn’t working on set by exploring the studio. I had Universal Studios as my own private little haven to go run amok and see what was being built. I’d walk by a sound stage and see it empty, and the next day see a bunch of workmen in there, walking in and seeing them create something from scratch was pretty phenomenal.

 

Me: I imagine it was kind of like a school for actors instead of going to a regular, public school like you might have done if you weren’t an actor at that point.

 

BP: Yeah, it was great. I enjoyed The Munsters, I enjoyed the set, Stage 32 and all of the special effects and the guests we had, and I really enjoyed Universal Studios as a whole to go and hang around.  

 

Me: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of fun. I’m actually jealous! (laughing)

 

BP: You know boys, all they want to do is go explore, and you can’t find a much better place to explore.

 

Me: Now, there is a question that I have to ask for myself, even though I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times. I remember watching the show religiously when I was younger and it was in syndication, and I always wondered what was actually under the stairs (laughing). I knew it wasn’t an actual dragon, obviously, but what was under there?

 

BP: It was a dinosaur head, something like a T Rex, that they just basically hung on a hinge with springs and put light mold, then glued eyeballs into it that glowed, and then the gas main so they could activate smoke, then bounce its head around to give the illusion of a dragon.

 

Me: I’ve been waiting to ask that for thirty years now, and I’m glad to have the answer finally!  

 

[End of Part I. Tune in for Part II during which Butch discusses his favorite non-Munster acting jobs, some more memories of being a child actor, his life after acting, and his new projects, one of which is being an ordained Munster minister for goth weddings!]

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~ by Jennifer Dodge on January 26, 2014.

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