The Life and Mind of Butch Patrick: A Riveting Reality of Resilience, Resourcefulness and Resolve

Photo Courtesy of Butch Patrtrick's Personal Munsters Collection; Michele Lilley TY

Photo Courtesy of Butch Patrtrick’s Personal Munsters Collection; Michele Lilley TY

Butch Patrick is a busy man. Most readily distinguishable as The Munster’s own Eddie Munster, he has taken his childhood career and continued riding its giddy wave of nostalgia in addition to branching out in a myriad and sundry of fascinating new occupations, activities and inventions.

I caught up with Butch over Iced Teas at Studio City’s Daily Grill.  During the course of our roughly hour long interview, I will learn many things, not the least of which will include; the general zeitgeist of Television’s black and white heyday; when TV and TV alone, promoted itself, growing up Munster, the allure of the Universal backlot in the midst of its vacant sets and fantastical soundstages, drag racing, drug and alcohol recovery, haunted houses, How-to-be-an-Extra seminars, horseback riding, life on the set of “My Three Sons”, tattoo ink, travel, and a myriad of other things that only the tapestry of Butch Patrick’s transfixing life’s tales could transmit and transmute…

…So I guess we should start at the beginning:  How you got into show business.

I was just a normal kid living down in South Bay, born in Inglewood, grew up in the Gardena/South Bay area.   I was about six…[or] maybe seven at the time… My little sister [was two and] they were interested in putting her in the movies.  …I went along for the ride that day.  So after they shot the photos with her, the gentleman named Amos Carr, who was kind of a famous photographer in Hollywood, and Mary Grady [Don Grady’s mother], the agent who was introduced to us [said] she was going to open up a child agency…  So anyway they took some pictures of [my sister] and they took some pictures of me and they put them in [Carr’s] studio on Hollywood Blvd.  Some people noticed them. A producer, or somebody…contacted the agent and she submitted me.  I got my first three interviews, one of which was “General Hospital” in its pilot year.  Second was a movie…a great little…B Movie with Eddie Albert and Jane Wyatt as my parents, Brenda Lee as my sister, Soupy Sales as the comic relief cop and Nancy Kulp as my school teacher.  It was cute…it was called “Two Little Bears” and [my movie brother and I] played kids who put on magic salve at Halloween and turned into two bear cubs!  So we worked with two bear cubs off and on throughout the [shoot].  The third interview was for a for a Kellogg’s Cornflakes commercial which won the best commercial of the year and I played the little kid that couldn’t quite read the back of the cereal box and had some really good expressions with my older sister.  So I kind of established myself as a kid actor early on and then just continued working and did another series called “The Real McCoys” before “The Munsters”…and by then I was off and running and pretty much could have worked all the time but I didn’t really like working—I didn’t dislike it but it wasn’t a calling. It was something I could do that came easy to me but there were days where I’d rather go play baseball than go on an interview or audition. So I didn’t really work as much as I could and that was fine by me…

So …it kind of sounds like you wanted to be more of a baseball star…

 

Photo Courtesy of John Derek

Photo Courtesy of John Derek

I just liked going after school and sometimes, instead of sitting in the car and driving and hour in traffic, I would rather go play with my friends…but at the same time I was kind of a people pleaser and wanted to please my mom.  I mean, she didn’t push me [into showbiz] but…I knew there was money at the end of the rainbow…and I knew that it would come in handy to buy whatever I wanted…and I had my sights set on being a race car driver from the time I was about sixteen on… Then when I got my money, there wasn’t really that much money there because we weren’t making that much money…and I could buy the car but I couldn’t really campaign it.  So I kind of gave up on that little dream and instead, I was getting high and drinking… It was the sixties and early seventies when everybody was partying–very acceptable behavior.  I got wrapped up in it like everybody else and just never got out of it for a long time.  I mean I maintained a lifestyle.  I was okay…I was a functioning alcohol and drug addict.  But I always knew nonetheless I was an alcohol and drug addict and it affected my career a lot because I didn’t really want to act anyway.  So I didn’t feel like I was losing anything.  They were happy to see me go and I was happy to leave.  So it was a mutual admiration or dis-admiration society.

Around when would you say you left the business?

I got disenchanted with the business when I was sixteen, when I went to Brazil.  I did a movie in Brazil—“The Sandpit Generals”.  I thought I was going to elevate to a major movie star status at that point and I thought the scripts should start coming my way instead of having to go on these interviews that were beneath me I suppose.  But the movie was never released …  [And] the problem was, I went to Brazil when I was sixteen.  I didn’t have a teacher or parent and…my sister says–I left as Richie Cunningham and I came back three months later as John Lennon.  And that’s what really screwed me up.  The movie never got released.  I was getting high.  I did a…show called “Lidsville”, this Saturday morning show for Sid and Marty Krofft, the summer of ’71, that I THOUGHT was beneath me at the time and BOY was I wrong, and that combination of never making the movie star thing, the Saturday morning kiddie show and being nineteen years old and getting my money out of the bank [didn’t help].

And you had a singing career didn’t you?

Yeah, what it was after I did “Lidsville”… Metromedia records had fired Bobby Sherman.  They were looking for a bubble gum, teeny bop star. They called my agency.  My mom happened to be working there. They were looking for a kid named Gary Grimes who had been in “The Summer of ‘42” so my mom flipped ‘em over to me and they said this would be better and easier… They said I’d make a lot of money at it and…so um…I became a…I couldn’t sing.  The rock band Sugarloaf? –Was signed by the same company and they became my back up band.

Oh my gosh!

They had “Green-eyed Lady” out and “Spaceship Earth” and “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” and they were a big band and they were my backup band…

Wow!  And you were Butch Patrick…

The idea was for them to play a concert and then they would play again for me.  But we never got that far.  They just did the music in the studio and I couldn’t sing and they knew I couldn’t sing!  I told ‘em I can’t sing and they go, “It doesn’t matter.”  So I went on American Bandstand and lipsynched like everybody else.

That’s such a Hollywood solution.  “I can’t sing.”  “Ohh, you can do it…”

Oh it was terrible!  …I was the original Munstervanilli! I didn’t sing…

[Around the same time] I was in the last lottery of Vietnam and I was going to go Vietnam but unfortunately–or fortunately–they found some gravel in my knee from a skiing accident and they never sent me over.  They gave me a six month 1-H it was called—[in other words] they’ll call you in six months.  They never called me and I never called to remind them that they didn’t call me.  And after that I was just at the beach surfing, and bought lots of pot, sold pot for a long time and…back then…there just wasn’t the stigma that there was today.  Today I look back upon what I did and I was stupid, but everybody was stupid.  Well not everybody–but a good portion of the people I was running with were all drinking and getting high and we didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Even now with the medical Marijuana?

…That’s funny the irony…of getting sober.  I’ve got about three-and-a-half years’ sobriety.  But…when I went into treatment, I was doing it for alcohol.  That was what started it, but the treatment center was all-encompassing and the kids in there were in there for prescription drugs, and there were some old-timers that were in there for alcoholism and there were some weed smokers; but weed wasn’t really considered to be the deal…But this guy…lumped it all together and said, “You have to abstain from everything and if you’re going to be in here for booze it can’t be conditional!”  And I figured I’d stay there a couple of months and get the hell outta there, and it became six months, and six months became a year, and a year became two years…  And I still, to this day, since November 21st 2010–not a joint, not a line, not a drink…nothing!

Wow…

So I just don’t really want to open Pandora’s box again.

Right!

And it’s funny, ‘cause if anything, [the thing] I really enjoyed was pot and now with it being legal…the irony of it is funny because I could theoretically [get it!]—See, I had a broken back in 2001.  I got in a car accident and broke my back and I could be getting prescription pills because they don’t know whether I’m in pain or not.  I’ve got rods in my butt, this and that… I survived cancer September 19th…3 years ago…it’ll be three years September 19th.  I had my prostate removed. I had very progressive cancer which I would not have addressed had I not gotten sober. I would have just ignored it… I crashed my car and broke my back…[so]…I had one kidney taken out when I was 22.  So I’ve had a kidney removed, I’ve had a broken back, I’ve had cancer so I’ve had a pretty extensive bumpy life…   So [now] if I really wanted to be a drug addict, I could do it, and I could get pot and I could get pills but I think it’s an inner [strength] because…it’s effortless to stay sober for me.  It doesn’t bother me at all. And I’ve been very lucky I guess because a lot of people really struggle with it.  But for me it’s effortless so I figure why would I want to mess with it?  And I’m happy.  I’m better off.  I’m healthier.  I’m making money.  I wake up in the morning in a good mood.  I go to sleep in a good mood… [But]  It’s a surprise every day.  I can tell you what it’s gonna be like being high all the time.  It was getting up with a hangover, calling your connections digging up enough money to get high, and if you did then you were miserable.  That was my existence….literally it was.   I could set my clock by what it was to be high and miserable.

High and miserable…so you were miserable when you were high?

Oh yeah, it became maintenance. Oh…the fun of being high ended decades before this.

Just to function.

It was just…it was just maintenance. You just had to get high, otherwise you were just really miserable.  You knew you were miserable all the time.  You just bottled it up… So for me even if I could go back to pot, I just don’t really think that’s a good idea.  So, I just abstain from everything…  And I help a lot of other people by example.  That’s kind of how you do this thing is…you’ve gotta be working the program.  But I don’t go to a lot of meetings.  I don’t have to.  But I never turn down a meeting.  If somebody asks me to speak, I speak.  If someone calls me and facebooks me with their issues I guide them through it.  I do service I just don’t need meetings.

…So…I know that my reading base would be delighted if I asked this—Do  you have any anecdotes from being on the set of say…”The Munsters” or “General Hospital”?

Photo Courtesy of Butch Patrtrick's Personal Munsters Collection; Michele Lilley TY

Photo Courtesy of Butch Patrtrick’s Personal Munsters Collection; Michele Lilley TY

Not really…it was funny because I never thought of it as being anything special.  I’d just go, do my work, come home.  It was something I’d do other than going to public school… I met a lot of famous people and I really enjoyed exploring the studio.  That was something fun for me. When I wasn’t in front of the camera and I had time on my hands…I could go explore, and that was fun because soundstages are really cool…big, dark…and you could crawl up on the catwalks and do whatever you wanted to do.  And then during a two year period at Universal, there was probably fifty to sixty movies [being shot]…  So you would see the sets being built, and you would see them filming, and you would see them breaking them down.  My big thing was to go to the McHale’s Navy lot; the lagoon, and go hang out outside.  Whenever I could be outside… ‘cause we’re in the dark, dingy set [all day].  My uncle supplied the horses.  My cousin was a stunt man.  He was Zorro’s stunt double… To me it was the coolest thing ever!  I love Zorro.  I learned to ride horses.  I did a lot of Westerns ‘cause I could ride horses and that was fun.  And you could be outside again in your Levis and be a kid.  So I…never looked at acting as a real job… I didn’t consider it real work…

Any impressions of Fred Gywnne, what he was like?

Oh he was great…they were wonderful people, all of them.  Fred was the pure thespian.  He could sing.  He could play guitar.  He could draw.  He [worked on] movies…TV…all of the above.  Al [Grandpa Muster]…was a great father figure for me. He taught me a lot about acting.  We had some great scenes together…  Al Lewis was the outgoing, over-the-top sports nut!  He took me to my first hockey game…The Blades, we didn’t have The Kings then…I remember getting up and walking out after the second period thinking it was over and there were three periods…nobody told me it’s half time! …Yvonne Dicarlo was a nice mom figure.  She had kids of her own.  She used to bring her sons on the set trying to give me kids to play with and actually I could care less.  …My grandma was taking me to work [and Y’vonne would say to] Marjorie my grandmother “Watch my kid.” And the kid’d disappear and Yvonne’d have a meltdown and Marjorie’d say “That kid doesn’t need a babysitter. That kid needs a keeper!”  So that didn’t go over too well with Yvonne Dicarlo.  And they all had kids and the show was done by the people who did “Leave it to Beaver” so the crew had been together on a kid’s show for seven years.  They were very kid friendly.  S’all good!

So I know you played Ernie’s friend [Gordon Dearing] on “My Three Sons”…do you have any anecdotes or stories about being on the set of “My Three Sons”?

Well one of the interesting things about “My Three Sons”; Fred MacMurray wielded so much clout that the only way he would do a series—he would do all his scenes for all thirty episodes all at once.

Oh-my-God!

So he would come in and work for like six weeks, really hard and he’d be gone so you would do your scenes…if you would do your scenes with Fred if he was there; you were there.  But if you weren’t in the scene with Fred then you would come back.  There would be a ladder with just, like, a picture of him on it:  “There’s Fred.  There’s—Steve Douglas!  There he is!” …Barry [Livingston/Ernie] was always the one I was working with.  Don Grady who played Robbie, was my agent Mary Grady’s son—Mary Grady… also mothered Lonnie O’Grady who was [“Mary” on] “Eight is Enough” …She died from alcohol and drug abuse.  Mary Grady’s lost both her kids and she’s still alive.  It’s kinda sad.  Don Grady died from cancer a couple years back.  …I used to live with Mary [and] a woman…the same woman who took Stan and Barry to work:  June. [She] had all three of us at the same time.  She had this little thing going where she’d get a couple 100 bucks a week to take these kids to work and be their guardian and welfare worker…  So Stan and Barry and myself all had June looking out for us at the studio.  …When Don Grady was living with Mary, I was there.  So he was doing his music out in the back and I lived in one of the rooms.  June would come pick me up, and take me to work on “My Three Sons”, so that was fun…

 

Photo Courtesy of Butch Patrtrick's Personal Munsters Collection; Michele Lilley TY

Photo Courtesy of Butch Patrtrick’s Personal Munsters Collection; Michele Lilley TY

But anecdotes?  Not really.  You’re in school a lot.  When all the crap’s going on that you want to have anecdotes about you’re usually in school with the teacher.  And three days a week we filmed [on “The Munsters”].  Monday and Tuesday was reading/rehearsal day which were short days for the adults but I had to stick around for my school and that was about it… Not a whole lot of exciting stuff…and…you’ve gotta remember, this is sixties when you didn’t do Tonight Shows.  You didn’t do Game Shows…maybe a parade once in awhile…  But you didn’t really do a lot of outside publicity/promotion stuff to support the show you were on.  You just did the show and went home … And you did 39 episodes a year…well…39 the first year…31 the second year.  But it was a full time job.  Not like today where you work three months for a series then you’re shopping yourself around for movie work.

That’s so interesting though just how different it is…

Oh, it’s a whole different ballgame.  The principles are the same and it’s the same industry, but the money’s much greater which causes more difference as to why people get into it which causes a lot more stress at home… It seems the bigger the stars, [they’re easier to get along with] but the ones climbing the ladder are problematic and…the younger stars like the Justin Beibers and the Lindsay Lohans…Britney Spears, they implode.  Some of them come back.  Some of them don’t…Paul Petersen…played [Jeff] on the Donna Reed show…good friend.  And he has the “Minor Consideration Organization” which was put in place years ago…to help kid actors with…problems and try to save a few of them from themselves; and  he summed it up in an easy little nutshell, “These kid actors; the Michael Jacsksons and the Elvises, nobody ever tells them, ‘no’.” Everybody wants to be their friend.  Everybody wants to ride their coat tails. So if someone’s making a mistake, nobody’s going to step forward and they keep enabling them…And at a point it was like that for me…because I always threw the best parties and nobody ever said, ‘Hey maybe you should stop…stop drinking, stop giving away all your money, stop buying all these drugs and doing all this stuff.’ …My mom was a huge enabler.  Loved her to death.  She didn’t know she was an enabler because we didn’t know the terminology…and what the boundaries were.  Now in hindsight…I don’t blame her…that’s just how it worked out…To give you an example, my dad was married twelve times.  My mom was number 4 and 5 and my step-dad [Ken Hunt], who I was closest to, was a professional baseball player and he was Mickey Mantle’s roommate…  Those guys…of the hard drinking, all night partying, chasing skirts all over the country [class]…they were the last generation of that.  So, I was always around non-normal households.  We were happy, but there was like a revolving door of men.  My mom was married seven times.  My dad was married twelve times. It’s not a very stable home life…

So what’s your main focus now?

 

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer K. Hugus for The Los Angeles Beat

The main thing going on right now is, the house [I lived in, in] the 8th grade that my grandma owned in the Midwest, little town called Macon [in Missouri], is up for sale… It’s haunted and my sister’s seen the ghost.  My grandmother knew about the ghost.  I never saw the ghost but I…never really spent much time in the house… So my plan is to purchase the house.  It’s an 1875, Queen Anne, Victorian.  Really beautiful…and…first I was going to turn it into a bed and breakfast and that was too much work… I didn’t want to be married to a bed and breakfast.  So, the plan now is to get the house and get it secured.  It’s on two acres.   [There are] two main floors.  It’s got a basement, an attic…All 2,500 square foot each.  Then once a month, the plan is to have a mixer…paranormal people coming in…Munster fans, and spend three days on the home site…a three day event once a month… I’ll draw ten winners that stay in the house with me.  The other ninety people can stay in the hotels and then we’re going to have a mixer where we’ll swap ghost stories, have seances…they’ll be fed, they’ll be catered.  Then I’m going to have a radio show that I’ll film… I’ll record four one hour segments during that weekend.  My friend owns a radio station.  We’ve [also] got the American Pickers producers in Canada…interested in coming down and doing a show about the house…and I still have friends there [in Macon]…  So it’s like a microcosm of Eddie Munster goes back home to where he lived in the 8th grade…and…like, “Andy of Mayberry Meets Eddie Munster in  the Twilight Zone”…If you had to pick three shows to bounce off of.

I do my personal appearances.  I’ve got the Munsters 50th Anniversary book called “Munster Memories”. It’ll come out September 24th exactly 50 years to the date of the first airing of the show… It’s all the stories people have told me about how much they loved the show and what the show meant to them.  I’m just putting it into a book format and calling it a “Coffin Table Book”.

I may start doing “How to get into Show Business” seminars again.  I used to do them.  This time I’m going to do them in this haunted house.  It’s all scary and spooky. It’s going to be like a dungeon…and this time, instead of teaching people how to do speaking parts I’m gonna teach ‘em how to become extras ‘cause that’s a good starting point to work their way up and then I’m gonna make ‘em up as zombies and then do a “Zombie Scream Test”…instead of screen test.

I have a line of ink… The Ink Guy came to me!

“The Ink Guy”?  That’s what he calls himself?

[Chris 51…everybody calls him Chris 51]…he’s got a TV show.  It got picked up by A & E.  Formula 51 is his ink line, Area 51 is his studio.  It’s up on Oregon…I did the pilot and he got picked up by A & E and he’s really excited about it…so I’m going to be in that show as well… I also have an ink cleaning system, for the gentleman–Tattoo Bob who invented Stencil Mark…you put a stencil on before a tattoo so I’m going to be doing a lot of tattoo conventions…

Do you have tattoos?

I have one tattoo on my shoulder…it’s a comedy/tragedy with the faces which basically represents me in acting and it’s got my sobriety date on the film.  …The ink thing is really fun and it’s something that I get…20% of the product so I have an ownership/stake in it.  It’s going to be my retirement fund…  I’ll spend the next five years placing it in all the tattoo parlors around the city and the country—the world for that matter!

I buy and sell cars. I sell muscle cars and motorcycles to Australia [so] I do the car shows and I do the collectible shows because the Munsters have so many toys over the years. We were merchandised heavily… Halloween, as you might expect, is a big time of year.  This year…it looks like Six Flags over New Jersey [is] interested in hiring me for their Great Adventures for the whole month.  If that doesn’t work out, I go around the country and do various…small haunted houses and help them with their media and their publicity and put them on the map, show them how the business works and most of the people who own these places don’t really know how to maximize their potential.  So I do real publicity and media expert stuff.  Put on that hat.  And that’s about it.  Never been married, don’t have any kids.  Um…the book, the cars, the motorcycles, the ink, the house, the radio show…

[I also have friends who] are drag racers–a husband and wife drag racing team… I’ve always enjoyed drag racing… I’d really like to tour Dina’s—her car is going to be a pink Cadillac.  She’s Italian, she’s real cute, she’s going to do a pink Cadillac ‘cause every girl wants a Cadillac.  The husband Andrew likes me and he wants to wrap his car to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Munsters.  And he knows that I love drag racing.  So we put our heads together and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool…you guys are a couple…[to team up with Match.com for ]:  Match Racing, where two people would just do match races.  So I came up with the idea of going to Match.com to…put…dates together for….people to go on a drag race [date].

So that’s pretty cool.   And I’ve [teamed up] with a guy named Jehova Riggs who created White Zombie with Rob Zombie and now he’s got a Munster musical hour where he’s got a thing like The Who’s “Tommy” and he’s got a whole bunch of Munster music…and he wants to do the entertainment.  He owns Fernandez guitars and Monster Tattoo in Branson, lives in Branson Missouri where I worked with Louise, George Harrison’s sister…

Oh my God.

That’s my charity work…to help keep music alive in schools…

And George Harrison’s sister Louise does this…?

…Oh yeah I met Lou twenty years ago when I was living in Florida and she and I just hit off immediately.  She’s got a Beatle band called Liverpool Legends which I know and like and I just try and help wherever I can with awareness.   She has an organization called “Help Keep Music Alive in Schools”.  It’s amazing because she’s George Harrison’s sister.  Everyone just assumes she’s rich.  She’s not.  Farthest thing from it, she’s really struggling.  So the idea is to put concerts on in schools by the Liverpool Legends [and] the high school student body band plays the orchestral movements during…”The Magical Mystery Tour”…  So that’s how that works and then the money [raised] goes back into the school system to keep the music programs alive ‘cause they’re the ones that are really feeling it from tax cuts.

…And in between, I to give you an idea…a…few years ago we created a show called “Macabre Theatre” with [a character we named] Ivonna Cadaver, she’s like an Elvira.  It’s now going to be on the air again and I’m a sidekick.

I [also] just got a deal from the gentleman from Airborne… He wants me to be a spokesperson for his product called the Pine Brothers Cough Drops and [asked] me to come up and do twenty six episodes of a new series he’s got… I…play a host of a movie, but it’s all jungle movies instead of scary movies.  But I do it from an iron lung wearing a pith helmet and my sidekick is an 82-year-old rockabilly guy who used to open for Elvis.

I may also start touring with the Munster Koach in the Drag-U-La ‘cause [a] guy’s got a pair of them and I’m going to find a way to purchase them… The [Munsters] fiftieth anniversary starts on September 24th [so] my plan is to buy the Munster Koach and his Drag-U-La…and campaign them around the country… The Munsters…had the first hotrods on TV so you tie that in with a little publicity and media savvy and you create a promotion…and that’s what my plan is to do and it allows me to travel!

…and travel he will…   Butch’s next appearance will include a Tattoo Convention in Liverpool, England and subsequently the West Coast Cruising Nationals in Santa Maria! For more information on Butch, his itinerary, his ever broadening and adventurous careers, and all things Munster, please visit:

www.munsters.com

Jennifer K. Hugus

About Jennifer K. Hugus

Jennifer K. Hugus was born at a very young age. At an even earlier age, she just knew she would one day write for the LA Beat! Having grown up in Massachusetts, France, and Denmark, she is a noted fan of Asian Cuisine. She studied ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet Theatre and acting at U.S.C. in their prestigious BFA drama program. She also makes her own jewelry out of paints and canvas when she isn’t working on writing absurdist plays and comparatively mainstream screenplays. Jennifer would like to be a KID when she grows up!
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One Response to The Life and Mind of Butch Patrick: A Riveting Reality of Resilience, Resourcefulness and Resolve

  1. And of course the one hit wonder, “What ever Happened to Eddie? (The kid from Mockingbird Lane)

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