12/13/1982 at 01:00 AM EST
Typecasting is the bane of most actors, but for Gary Friedkin, 29, it's a livelihood. "A lot of other people who have bigger parts don't get mentioned in the reviews," he says. "I get mentioned 'cause I stand out." Exactly 48 inches tall, Friedkin has a regular part on ABC's Happy Days and, along with Billy Barty (of Foul Play fame), ranks among the biggest of Hollywood's little people.
Friedkin had tried to break into showbiz for eight years before director Steve Rash found him at the 1980 Little People of America's convention in Los Angeles. Friedkin was promptly cast with Carrie Fisher and Chevy Chase in Under the Rainbow. Though the 1981 farce flopped, Friedkin has been busy since with roles in the forthcoming romance Heartbreaker and last summer's Young Doctors in Love. Producer Garry Marshall liked Friedkin's performance as an intern in that zany comedy so much that he moved him to TV as Clarence, the cook at Arnold's restaurant, on Happy Days.
The third of four children and the only "little" member of the family, Friedkin was born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that results in an average-size torso and short limbs. Friedkin grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where his parents own a real estate firm. He credits them with much of his success: "They felt I couldn't afford to be shy. They never overprotected me or held me back." A gifted dancer-musician who plays nine instruments, he made his TV debut at 4 in a piano recital. His first venture to Los Angeles, in 1972, ended after six months, and he returned home to get a degree in musical education at Youngstown State. In his second L.A. foray, in 1975, all Friedkin earned were licenses to work in insurance and real estate.
Today he shares his Woodland Hills, Calif. condo with Joanne Mims, a 5'8" former model. Though Friedkin has worked in films or television for 15 of the past 24 months, a remarkable record for a young actor, he also does commercials. He's been in an ad for Japan's Kirin beer, and lately, he says wryly, "I've had a run of seasonal elf work."