GLENDALE, CA--Billy Barty, the 3-foot-10 actor whose career spanned seven decades and all types of roles, died here Dec. 23, 2000, of heart failure. He had been hospitalized for heart problems and a lung infection. He was 76. MSTies will remember him as the imp in episode 806 - THE UNDEAD.
Barty was born William John Bertanzetti in Millsboro, PA, in 1924. He appeared in his first Hollywood feature in 1927 at the age of 3 and as a child actor he was several films, including three roles in 1934's "Alice in Wonderland," 1935's "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," a number of Busby Berkeley musicals and a recurring role as Mickey Rooney's kid brother in the "Mickey McGuire" series of comedy shorts. He also toured the Vaudeville circuit for many years with his family in an act called "Billy Barty and Sisters." "I had fun," he recalled later in an interview. "It was an education you couldn't buy. I'd go out on the stage and perform, then, afterwards, play with the kids in the neighborhood. There was always a baseball game or a football game or something going on between shows. By the time I was twelve, I had been all over the United States and a good part of Canada."
He kept doing movies during this period, but one movie he was *not* in, perhaps surprisingly, was 1939's "The Wizard of Oz." "I would have really liked being in 'The Wizard of Oz,'" he later noted. "But, when I went over to MGM, they told me I was too young. By law, anybody under the age of 18 could only work so many hours a day and had to go home at five or six o'clock at night. So the studio hired little people over 18 and worked them as long and as hard as was deemed necessary."
In 1942, with Vaudeville on the wane, Barty went back to school, attending Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles State College, majoring in journalism. "I lettered in basketball and football, and, not only wasn't I ever seriously injured, the football coach designed seven plays around me. My position was left halfback and I once played in the L.A. Coliseum."
In the late 40s, he drifted back into show business, getting his big break when he joined the Spike Jones band in 1952. Audiences adored him and before long he was being paid more than twice what a majority of Jones' "City Slickers" ensemble were getting. In 1957, Billy helped found The Little People of America to educate both average sized and diminutive people about the unique problems of the short statured. The organization provides medical, social and vocational guidance and has branches outside the U.S. in England, Germany, Australia and Holland. The Billy Barty Foundation, another offshoot, created in 1975, provides about $30,000 a year in scholarships. You can find out more at http://www.rth.org/bbf/.
By the 1960s, Barty returned to acting full time and appeared in several Elvis Presley films and even had his own children's show, "Billy Barty's Big Show," in Los Angeles, from 1963-67. In the 1970s he worked for several children's shows by the team of Sid and Marty Krofft, including "H.R. Pufnstuff," "The Bugaloos" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
Notable among the films of his adult career are "Willow" (1988), 1981's "Under the Rainbow'' (1981), 1978's "Foul Play" and 1975's "Day of the Locust" (for which he was under consideration for a best supporting actor Oscar). And, having worked with Spike Jones, he also worked with the premiere popular music satirist of the newer era, Weird Al Yankovic, in his feature film "UHF."
In 1981, Barty was honored for his years in the entertainment industry, as well as his philanthropic endeavors, with a star on Hollywood's highly touted Walk of Fame. In October of this year, he was awarded the Long Beach Film Festival's Humanitarian of the Year Award. "My parents early on instilled within me the belief that there wasn't anything I couldn't do if I worked hard enough," he explained in a recent interview. "So, that's the advice I give others. Work hard and keep busy. You never know when your big break will come along and you've got to be ready."