In the mid-1960s The Munsters became a cultural phenomenon by mixing the popular family sitcom with a Universal monster twist. Butch Patrick portrayed the youngest Munster, a precocious boy who happened to be a werewolf. Since then, Patrick has entertained generations of fans on TV, film, and at special appearances. Patrick recently chatted with Scoop about his experiences on The Munsters, his appearance on many popular TV shows, and his plans for the future – including Munster-themed escape rooms.
Scoop: What was your initial reaction to learning that you would play a boy werewolf on The Munsters?
Butch Patrick (BP): I grew up in Southern California, obviously Hollywood was where you had to live back in the day to work. But I spent a lot of time with my grandmother in the Midwest and she was a big antiquer, so I had a nice balance. At that particular time, I had just finished doing General Hospital and The Real McCoys and I rode with her to go to a school, a parochial school back in the fifth grade because my mom was trying to marry a Roman Catholic and she had been divorced, so we were trying to appease the Catholic church. So, I wound up in parochial school, which was fine.
During that period, the interview came for The Munsters and I flew out to California for it and when I wound up getting it, everything changed. Number one, I had to stay in California, I lived with my uncle, my mom was married to a baseball player, or was attempting to marry a baseball player on the east coast. So, I had this sort of strange dynamic.
I don’t know if you ever saw early pictures of Eddie Munster, but he didn’t have a widow’s peak and he didn’t have really bushy eyebrows. He was really sort of a regular kid who wore a funny suit and had pointy ears like Spock. Then, they decided he wasn’t believable enough to be the offspring of Herman and Lily, so they upped the ante a little bit and made me a little more peculiar looking with the hairpiece and stuff. In a longwinded way of answering the question, I loved the monster movies at Universal. I was a huge fan, I built all the models of everything that they had to do, so working at Universal at the monster studio was a real big thrill.
Scoop: What did you like most about playing Eddie Munster?
BP: Number one, the sets were very, very cool. The whole idea of a TV show that was featuring sets with cobwebs and all the good stuff that the Universal monster movies had and they utilized them on the set. So, what we were doing was making a sitcom, but we were featuring monster movie credentials in the set design and the special effects. But, we had Leave It to Beaver producers and writers, so what they did was merge a family-friendly sitcom with lovable monsters. Once you heard Herman Munster talk, he wasn’t Frankenstein, he was lovable Herman Munster. It was a very interesting mix that worked briefly for two years really, really well and it’s got a lot of staying power because of it.
Scoop: Did any of your adult costars give you acting advice?
BP: No, actually they didn’t. They used to call me a 39-year-old midget because they thought I was wise beyond my years. I was 11 and 12 playing 8 and 9. In Hollywood, they love when you’re older and you can play younger. But, not only was I 11 and 12, I was mentally about 18 years old. I was actually very old for my age as a kid. A lot of times in a series, a kid is kind of like a set up character where they’ll walk into the room and do their thing and they kind of go on their way unless you occasionally have, like, Dennis the Menace or Jerry Mathers, the Beaver [from Leave it to Beaver], where the kids are the main characters.
When they noticed that Fred [Gwynne] and I had a good rapport, and I could handle dialogue, they started writing some scripts that featured the father and son. And when those happened, Fred and I had a lot of father and son scenes, and that’s where we would run lines together and he would give me, I wouldn’t call it advice, it was more of coaching. He would coach me a little bit and I loved it because I was learning. If you ever want to learn something, always be around people that are better than you at it.
Scoop: The show is a classic, beloved sitcom and lots of people have favorite episodes. Which episodes or storylines standout as your favorites?
BP: Oh, sure, absolutely. I have several, actually. There’s a lot of great shows, but I think the ones that I enjoyed the most, probably was the one where we introduced the Dragula and we were at the dragstrip, because I liked cars, and we were outside and it was cool. There were hotrods and stuff when the Dragula came into play. That’s number one because I was a big fan of George Barris. I used to actually have a Wednesday special when I would leave the lot for a long lunch and go by his shop and go by my hobby shop to pick up some slot car stuff.
Number two would be “Eddie’s Nickname” where I grew a beard, simply because it was so funny when we went to see Dr. Dudley, [played by] Paul Lynde – he only did two episodes – that was one of the episodes with Paul Lynde. It was just hilarious about me and Herman going down the street and Herman has a bag over my head because he’s embarrassed to be seen with a boy with a beard. It was just a funny concept.
And then, number three was “Zombo” with Louis Nye as a TV host, which I thought was a real guy because of the nature of so many horror hosts through the years on television. The episode was cute because at the end they had that very classic saying about “don’t judge a book by its cover,” “strength of your character, the size of your heart.” It has, like, 70 million views on Facebook about Herman’s little chat with me at the dinner table about why I shouldn’t judge people by their skin tone.
Scoop: Those are definitely good ones.
BP: Yeah, those are good ones. And we had a lot more, there were a lot of them. But, those three come to mind.
Scoop: What was the environment like behind the scenes?
BP: All sound stages are pretty dark anyway. Ours just happened to be dark and dirty because the whole Munster household was covered in dust and cobwebs. Everything was opposite, up was down, day was night and everything on the set was extremely dirty. But, we were, like the number one visited sound stage at Universal. And we were there the first year they started the tram when they started the Universal City Tours, which obviously became phenomenally successful.
Scoop: I did the Universal tour when I was in LA. It was really cool.
BP: My makeup man, Michael Westmore (he was still an apprentice at the time), he would do my makeup in the morning and then he would do Pat Priest and send us on our way. Then he would go up to the top of the hill. Now at the time, up where CityWalk is, there was nothing there, it was just the top of a hill where they had graded a road for the trams to go up to so they could look at the studio from a bird’s eye view. He would be up there with a little stand and a makeup chair and he would do a makeup demonstration. That’s how they started the top of the CityWalk. From that deal, all that money that they generated, became Universal Studios CityWalk, and all the hotels popped up. It was interesting to see it in its infancy. Our set was one of the stops along the tour. We used to actually have to stop production to let the tram go through. The tram had carte blanche over us because they were making so much money from it.
Scoop: Wow, so you had to stop filming?
BP: If we were outside on a location shoot, the tram with its microphone and its tour guide, we would have to stop. Because number one, we couldn’t use the sound with them in the background, but number two the deal was that when they were coming through, we waited for them, to let them go past and then we would fire it up and redo it. It was almost like when you were in the street playing football as a kid and then “Car!” and everyone stops, the tram comes through. We would stop and chat with the people a little bit and then the tram would go around the corner. Luckily back then they only had one an hour. It wasn’t like it is today where they’re coming through every ten minutes.
Scoop: Did you ever get scared by the makeup or sets?
BP: No, no I was pretty much never scared about anything. I used to love to go explore when I could ditch my social worker and have time on my own, because normally they didn’t want you to do anything that could be considered dangerous. We were next door to Stage 29, I believe, but it was the Phantom of the Opera stage. Which was the largest soundstage in Hollywood. It was, like, six stories tall. I used to go in there and climb up the ladders on the sides to get up to the catwalks where all the lights were. Instead of being, maybe 10-12 feet up there, they were like 60-70 feet up there. So, it was a really interesting place to go see. It was the stage with all the seats like a normal opera. It was a wonderful place to go explore. The whole studio was a cool spot. I had a very blessed childhood. When I wasn’t at the studio, I was at the ballpark with my baseball playing stepfather, or I was at the movie studio. So, it was pretty cool.
Scoop: How long did you get stuck in the cabinets while filming?
BP: It wasn’t too bad. They were pretty efficient in getting me in and getting me out. I was so small for my age that I really could fit into a lot of spaces. I think there was the drawers, obviously, the dresser drawers for sleeping, the kitchen cabinet, then there was the grandfather clock, behind the fireplace. They put me on wires and put me on the ceiling. I think that was about it. Running around, this and that, it was fun. But, they never left me in too long.
Scoop: You were on several popular TV shows as a little kid, including The Real McCoys, Bonanza, and Mister Ed, among others. What were those experiences like for you? Did you have a favorite?
BP: I really enjoyed the westerns because I could ride a horse and my uncle John used to supply horses to the studios, so I would see him occasionally. One of my favorite shows at the time was Rawhide, so to do Rawhide with Clint Eastwood was very, very cool for me. Bonanza and Gunsmoke were good. I watched Gunsmoke myself. As far as fun campy shows, I did My Favorite Martian and I Dream of Jeannie, which I enjoyed both of them. I would always enjoy doing a show that I watched myself. I did a lot of shows that I never watched, but The Untouchables, I watched, I didn’t watch Ben Casey, I didn’t watch The Detectives, I didn’t watch cop shows until after The Munsters when I did Adam-12, I did a couple of those. I did some Disney stuff, which was after The Munsters, the Disney Studio was pretty much the gold standard for kids. If you got work out of Disney, you were doing really well. I spent about a year and a half out there and did a lot of work for a brief period of time.
The Monkees was a big thing for me I was a big fan of the show. I missed meeting the Beatles when they came to Universal Studios, somehow I missed them. The Monkees, at the time, were as popular as the Beatles in America, if not maybe more because of the TV show connection. So, I had a good time doing their Christmas show, working with them for a whole week – as an equal. A lot of the show was about them babysitting me, so I had lots and lots of scenes with them. I was like, another small, young 13-year-old robot, genius computer type kid. Except for Mike Nesmith, the other three were kind of like playing goofy kid-like characters and I was the kid in the suit and the sports jacket who was very analytical and adult-like. At Christmas, which kind of played the whole thing that I didn’t get the meaning of Christmas. I was kind of doing a “bah humbug” approach to it.
Scoop: What was it like being on My Three Sons?
BP: Oh, that was cool. The way that came about was very interesting. I was living with Mary Grady, who was my agent, whose son was Don Grady who was Robbie [on the show]. Virginia Martindale was the casting director for My Three Sons, and I think what happened was one day, they needed somebody fast and Virginia knew that I was at Mary Grady’s house and I basically got to ride into work with Don Grady. My character was to be Ernie’s best friend and after that one time, they just kept writing me in. So, over the course of about three years I think I did nine or ten episodes, always as Ernie’s best friend. It was more of a convenience thing at the start, then I figured after that, for Virginia, it saved her having to have a casting call because she knew that “Butch worked out well the first time, so we don’t have to worry about calling anymore kids and I played different characters and nobody seemed to care. It was great. To this day, I’m friends with Stan and Barry and Don when he was alive, bless his heart, and Mary Grady, his mom, is still alive and she’s like, in her mid-90s. She was my only agent in Hollywood ever. The only agent I ever had.
Scoop: How was your experience filming Lidsville? I imagine it was fairly trippy.
BP: It was the cuckoo, kookiest. That was a series I didn’t really want to do. I was in high school, about ready to graduate and they filmed from June to September of ’71. I turned them down twice. I went out, I looked at it and said, “No, I don’t think I want to do this. I had really long hair, I looked like a should’ve been in Led Zeppelin or something. I had hair almost down to my waist. I was surfing and all I really wanted to do was go to the beach and smoke doobies and be a ’60s Woodstock type of kid in the ’70s.
But, Marty [Krofft] called up again, and I went out again, and I met with Sid [Krofft]. Sid took me out in his Corvette, we went out to Hollywood Boulevard and got my haircut. I decided to do it because The Cowsills, who I was going to school with at the time told me, “Who’s going to turn down work? It’s 11 weeks out of your life, the paycheck was pretty substantial.” They had told me they made Jack Wild a star in H.R. Pufnstuf, and I corrected them and said, “No, Jack Wild was the star from Oliver!, so don’t try to tell me something that’s not true, but I will do the show,” because I really thought the one girl was cute. Caroline Ellis. I thought, well maybe she’ll come to the set one day. That would be worth the trip right there.
So, I wound up doing it and it turned out to be an interesting summer. Charles Nelson Reilly was a handful, Billie Hayes was wonderful, Sharon Baird who played Raunchy Rabbit was wonderful, and all the Little People in the hats, I knew most of them, because at one time or another they had been my stand-ins as a kid, growing up. So, that was an interesting summer. I did it because, I never thought anybody would see the show, because obviously, Saturday morning, all my friends would be sleeping. As it turned out, they saw it, and they liked it, and in hindsight, I’m happy to have done it because it’s got a lot of staying power amongst the Krofft shows. And the Kroffts did a lot of good stuff. Lidsville was one of them.
Scoop: What was it like returning for Here Come the Munsters in 1995?
BP: That was interesting. They’d done some remakes. I saw Fred [Gwynne] and Al [Lewis] during Munsters’ Revenge, I think it was in 1982. A friend of mine had a business and said, “Hey, The Munsters are across the street from me.” And I go, “Get out of here.” And he says, “No, I’m serious.” I drove out, and kind of surprised both Al and Fred, reconnected with them at that time. Then when we did Here Come the Munsters, Edward Herrmann did a really good job. He did the best job of anybody recreating the role. The fact that we did a cameo in it, all of us together, was nice. I’m glad it happened.
Scoop: You’ve appeared in a bunch of horror movies in recent years. Are you a fan of the genre?
BP: Not especially. I like comedies. But, work is work. [laughs] I’m not a big fan of getting scared, I never have been. I didn’t really consider the Universal monster movies to be scary. I considered them to be really cool, unusual stories. The horror genre of today, is like, slashers and chainsaws, and Saw and Hostel, and stuff like that. It’s kind of like the dark side of humanity being films. I’m not really a big fan of that. But, an actor’s job is to act and that’s what I try to do. I don’t even go on auditions anymore, what I do is, someone submits an idea to me, and if my schedule permits it... It’s usually not a payday. You’re not doing it for the money. You’re doing it sort of to get back to the filmmaking genre and it just so happens that a lot of people that are Munsters fans and write stuff for me are making horror movies.
Scoop: Are you a collector?
BP: Everybody collects something, that’s for sure. It’s an interesting thing. Obviously, being from a TV show that was highly merchandized, when I go to personal appearances, a lot of collectibles come across my table. I bought a Beatles collection about 30 years ago from a guy who wanted to open a music studio and I bought it to keep about 20-30 of the pieces for myself and I liquidated the rest of it. I try to collect little things when I travel. Something of interest that I can bring home. Most of the things I collect are autographs from people that I sat next to during personal appearances that I find to be interesting. Then I’ll try to get two – one to auction off for the St. Louis Pet Rescue or bring one home to someone that’s watching the house. That type of thing.
Scoop: What do you like about doing conventions?
BP: Mainly the fans. The multigeneration of The Munsters is into grandparents, parents, kids. It’s something they all watch together. I get a lot of people who are now, maybe in their 40s and 50s who have memories of watching it with their grandparents who have passed. A lot of times, you get these stories about how you were a part of their extended family and they have fond memories of their childhood, because one of the things they remember is watching it and their grandfather used to laugh, and it was his favorite show. Things like that.
Scoop: What are some of your most memorable fan encounters?
BP: Probably when the kids come out dressed up as me. That’s always fun. You’ll have a lot of times when people present a picture of their family at Halloween as The Munsters and they won first prize. Or they have a car that was customized to resemble the Munster car. Stuff like that. Tattoos. A lot of ink on people featuring The Munsters and Universal monsters.
Scoop: What are your plans for this summer?
BP: I bought a couple of the Munster replica cars about five years ago from a gentleman. We were working together, he was hired to drive me around in his Munster coach. We became friends. He wanted to sell them off and I wound up buying them a couple years ago. Escape rooms, a few year ago, became really popular and I got a neat trailer about six months ago, and I took the Dragula space in front and I turned it into a Munster-themed escape room. So now, when this is all said and done, first of all, I’ll probably be moving to Nashville to work in a venue that’s going to be brick and mortar that’s going to be called the Terror Zone. It will feature a Munsters sound stage on the left and a macabre theater viewing platform and a theater on the right. Then, as you go through those two sound stages and sets, you’ll enter the Terror Zone which will be an hour-long escape room. My trailer, the mini escape room, takes like 13 minutes and it features, like, 5 puzzles and 2 Munster-inspired rooms – the living room and the dungeon. That’s what I plan on doing. I’ll still be sitting at a table, I’ll still be meeting people, I’ll still have the Munster coach on display, but while I’m there with this 30-foot trailer and the truck, I’ll have an escape room where the car comes out and you walk up the ramp. I will have walls that say “1313 Mockingbird Lane.” So that’s what I’m doing.
Scoop: Well, this was really cool, I’m a fan of The Munsters, so I was excited to chat with you.
BP: Thank you, this was fun.
For more information on Butch Patrick and his convention appearances, contact his agents at Eva Ink Artist Group/Pros & Cons Celebrity Booking at firstname.lastname@example.org.