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Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Butch Patrick Retrospective Interview – Original Eddie Munster Turns 70, Celebrates 60 Years of ‘The Munsters’

Butch Patrick turns 70 today, but he still exhibits the same youthful exuberance he brought to The Munsters as Eddie Munster from 1964 to 1966. From child actor to the classic series’ de facto delegate, I had the pleasure of speaking with Patrick about his unconventional career, The Munsters‘ legacy, and more at NorthEast Comic Con’s Collectibles Extravaganza.

Patrick stumbled into acting. While accompanying his little sister to a print modeling shoot, the photographer asked to take his photo as well. “He took some pictures of me afterward, and he put one in his window. About a month later, a producer and a director were walking by. They were casting a movie, and they still needed the youngest son of Eddie Albert and Jane Wyatt. I wound up getting the movie. It was a great little B-movie called The Two Little Bears.”

He continues, “I went for an interview and got hired, and during that six-week shoot, I picked up a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercial and I picked up a series, the first few episodes of General Hospital. So within the first three or four months, I actually had a series, a movie, and a commercial, and the rest just kind of came my way after that. It was very accidental.”

Butch Patrick had left Hollywood to live with his grandmother in Illinois by the time The Munsters pilot had been cast. Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, and Beverly Owen played as Herman, Grandpa, and Marilyn, respectively, but CBS allegedly did not think “Happy” Nate Derman was right for Eddie and Joan Marshall looked too similar to Morticia Addams as Lily, so both roles were recast for the next pilot. They approached Yvonne De Carlo to play Lily for her star power, then put out a casting call for Eddie.

“My agent got wind of it and told them, ‘You need to look at Butch.’ And they go, “We looked at every kid in Hollywood.’ And she said, ‘Well, that’s the problem. He’s in Illinois with his grandmother.’ She got them to fly me out, and I went from the airport to the studio. I did a screen test with Yvonne De Carlo, and they said, ‘Report to work Wednesday.'” He moved in with his uncle and hired a woman to drive him to work every day.

Produced by Leave It to Beaver creators Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, The Munsters fused family-friendly sitcom tropes with the Universal monsters. “They struck gold with it, because it was an immediate hit. We had a great cast. Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were a wonderful comic team from New York who had starred in Car 54, Where Are You?. Yvonne De Carlo was a major movie star who decided to do television before it was fashionable. We had beautiful blondes, Beverley Owen and Pat Priest. I was lucky enough to wind up with the job of a lifetime for a kid.”

The industry veterans imparted wisdom on the budding actor. “Fred’s advice was never trust the suits, meaning the producers. He was a true artist, and the producers were the enemy. He might have been saying it a little bit tongue in cheek, but there was a lot of truth to it that the artistic input of the actors did not always go along with what the front office would like you to have. Al, on the other hand, spent a lot of free time with me tossing a football, baseball, frisbee around. He taught me a lot about life experiences, where Fred taught me a lot about the acting techniques, so it was a nice balance.”

For a total of 70 episodes across two seasons, they produced an episode each week, with a table read on Monday morning, blocking and rehearsal on Tuesday, and shooting Wednesday through Friday. As a minor, Patrick also had a mandatory three hours of schooling each day in increments of at least 20 minutes. He would rehearse a scene with his co-stars, work with the set teacher while a stand-in was used for lighting, and then go back to set to shoot.

Between seasons, he would return to the public school system for portions of 7th and 8th grades. “That was kind of tough. You’ve gotta be fairly thick skinned, because kids like to make fun of you and give you a difficult time, which they did. I didn’t hold it against them, because I would have probably done the same thing had the roles been reversed. But as long as you don’t let them get under your skin, it kind of goes by pretty quickly.” Patrick’s fame caused such a disturbance that he was kicked out of school three times before he finished.

A monster kid who reveled in creature features and Aurora model kits, Patrick loved exploring the Munsters set, which included recycled props from Universal’s classic horror movies. “Studios never throw away anything, ’cause you never know when you’re gonna need it. Grandpa’s dungeon and his laboratory have a lot of props from the original 1931 Frankenstein movie,” he beams. Similarly, Spot, the dragon under the stairs, was a repurposed dinosaur from an earlier production.

“There were so many cool things going on in the ’60s that I was so lucky to be a part of. My favorite thing to do in The Munsters was when George Barris’ cars were utilized in the script. I got to ride in the car, we got to be outside seeing the sun, which we didn’t really see very often because inside the soundstage it was dark and dingy.” Now Patrick has his own Munster Koach and Dragula replicas. “I’ve always had a fondness for that particular era, because that was my childhood.”

The Munsters came to an end after two seasons, thanks to one Caped Crusader. Patrick explains, “Batman was our downfall. When Batman came out in color, he beat us up pretty good in the ratings.” There was talk of a third season of the show in color, but between slipping ratings and higher costs, it was decided to instead make 1966’s color feature Munster, Go Home as a compromise to help with worldwide syndication sales.

A rarity in film production, the final day of shooting Munster, Go Home wound up being the end of the movie, in which the Munster family drives away in the snow. “That was the end of a very interesting two-and-a-half year period. There were some tears and people were sad, but it was so weird to be riding in the car and waving goodbye. It was like riding off into a John Ford sunset. But literally that was it. Everybody went their own way, and the show lives on.”

Butch Patrick cites “Eddie’s Nickname,” “Hot Rod Herman,” and “Zombo” as his three favorite episodes of The Munsters. Beyond the show, his two favorite jobs were The Monkees’ 1967 holiday episode “The Christmas Show” and the 1970 live-action/animated hybrid The Phantom Tollbooth.

Patrick was not approached to return for the 1981 TV movie The Munsters’ Revenge – which saw Gwynne, De Carlo and Lewis return alongside younger actors as the children – but he snuck onto the set to visit his old co-stars. At the age of 29, he was able to reconnect with them as an adult. They went on to appear at conventions together. Patrick, De Carlo, Lewis, and Priest later cameoed in 1995’s Here Come the Munsters. (Gwynne had passed away due to complications from pancreatic cancer two years prior.)

There have been several other attempts to reboot The Munsters in the decades since, although none have been able to capture the magic of the original. One notable endeavor was Mockingbird Lane, a dark reimagining from Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller. NBC aired the pilot in 2012 but did not pick it up as a series, depriving fans of Patrick in a recurring role.

“I liked it. It was a very dark, edgy approach to it. I went out to the set the last day of filming and met the cast, met [director] Bryan Singer and Bryan Fuller. I actually introduced it at San Diego Comic-Con to a great response, and I was surprised that they didn’t move forward with it. I was bummed, because I was going to have a recurring role as the Boy Scout camp director who finds Eddie every month when he turns into a wolf and has to be brought home.”

The latest iteration came last year in the form of Rob Zombie’s The Munsters, which served as an origin story. Patrick first met Zombie at a concert years ago where he introduced the shock rocker on stage, but they reconnected about a decade later when they were approached to record an audio commentary together for Scream Factory’s Munster, Go Home Blu-ray release.

Patrick makes a voice cameo as Tin-Can Man, a character who appeared in the original series that officiates Herman and Lily’s wedding. Despite the divisive reaction, he found merit in Zombie’s take on the material. “I know a lot of people thought it wasn’t Rob Zombie’s normal and it wasn’t The Munsters‘ normal, but if you set aside those differences and just look at it for entertainment value, it reminded me a lot of a Tim Burton movie – the colors, the texture – which I enjoyed.”

The film leaves the door open for more, but Zombie has gone on record saying he’s not interested in making a sequel. Like the fans, Butch Patrick is unsure where The Munsters will go next. “It’s a solid fanbase and each new generation that grows up into it likes it, so there really is probably no end in sight. But as far as the movies, The Addams Family kind of did the big-screen movies and the stage plays, where The Munsters seemed to stick to the small screen successfully.”

Rather than another continuation or reboot, Patrick speculates that a potential Munsters show focused on Eddie similar to Netflix’s Wednesday could be more likely. “Based on the success of Wednesday, if they can come up with a counterpart with Eddie in some similar situation, that’s how the mentality of Hollywood works.” He adds with a grin, “And I could knock on the door and do a cameo!”

Speaking of The Addams Family, Patrick notes that there was no feud between the two spooky sitcom families. “It was very interesting that we weren’t rivals but actually helped each other. We were on different nights, so it wasn’t like we were head-to-head. Both shows benefited from the other’s existence, because you preferred one but you watched them both. It was good to have a friendly little rivalry, and it worked out well for everybody.”

Not wanting to be a career actor, Patrick stopped pursuing work when he was 21. Like many child actors, he struggled with sobriety after exiting the spotlight. “I started partying in the ’60s when it was acceptable behavior; crazy, wild times with the counterculture. I loved it. When I did best was throw parties and entertain people. I wound up doing it for 40 years. After a while, it kind of turned into more of a maintenance thing as opposed to a fun thing.”

He continues, “I had tippy-toed around getting sober for a while, and I decided to pull the trigger on it when I turned 57 years old. A gentleman offered me a scholarship to the Oasis Treatment Center. He was the original interventionist on A&E’s Intervention. He wanted to get a child actor sober so I could help others. The criteria was I had to have not been to a rehab, which I hadn’t, and that I could reach people and follow his directions to a T, which I did. Here I am, coming up on 13 years later. If you have issues with any kind of addiction, there’s a lot of help out there. Take the first step. Help is available.”

Patrick has become something of The Munsters‘ unofficial keeper, a responsibility he does not take lightly, despite never receiving residuals from the show. As the series approaches its 60th anniversary next year, he attributes The Munsters‘ longevity and multi-generational appeal to “the believability of the family, that we acted as a real family even though it was on television, and they were enamored with the makeup, the special effects, and the trick stuff we had: Spot under the stairs, the bat, the cool cars. We also had really great guest stars.”

Patrick considers himself fortunate to be able to travel the world and meet fans. “You never know, doing a little show so long ago, how it can affect people in a positive way. For me, how can you not enjoy having people come up with positive energy and smiles and sharing why they like this show you did? You were part of their family not knowing it; they’re sort of living vicariously with you or through you. In this day and age, the way things are, it’s a pretty lucky thing to be a part of a positive force like that on a daily basis. I continue to do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy meeting them as much as they seem to enjoy meeting me.”

The Munsters counts a plethora of notable celebrities among its fanbase, but one in particular stands out to Butch Patrick. “One of my favorite quotes was Paul McCartney years ago in Rolling Stone magazine. They asked him what he likes to do to relax, and he goes, ‘I like to twist one up and watch reruns of The Munsters,'” he laughs.

“It’s been 60 years next year, and people still love it to death. I’m very blessed.”

Butch Patrick interview

The post Butch Patrick Retrospective Interview – Original Eddie Munster Turns 70, Celebrates 60 Years of ‘The Munsters’ appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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