Once a Little Munster, Butch Patrick Grew Up to Battle Scarier Demons
07/10/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
Eddie Munster has big dreams. Or, more accurately, Butch Patrick, who played Eddie, the pointy-eared werewolf kid on TV's The Munsters, has big dreams. Granted, the $1,000 limited-edition Eddie Munster-esque dolls he manufactures with a friend haven't quite taken the nation by storm. And his TV pilot—the one in which a grown-up Eddie fronts a trio of musical monsters—never got off the ground. Neither did a Star Search clone in which he was to have played the Ed McMahon role. Still, he hopes to open a nightclub later this year. "We'll have bands on weeknights, and on Saturday we'll run a syndicated TV show out of the place," says Patrick, now 35. He also has high expectations for a TV kiddie show he's putting together, so far only on paper, with Donna Douglas, who used to play Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies. The only problem with these plans, Patrick concedes, is that at the moment he has no job and $12 in his pocket. "Believe it or not," he says of the Donna Douglas project, "I've had a hard time developing financing."
Twenty-three years after The Munsters went off the air, Patrick's life is testimony to at least two enduring and contrary Hollywood myths. The first is that childhood stardom is a warping experience; the second is that all it takes to make a million bucks is to whisper a good idea to Steven Spielberg in the men's room at the Polo Lounge. Ever since The Munsters, Patrick—who later acquired a felony drug conviction—has felt sure that another monster success was just around the corner. It has only been in the past couple of years that he has begun to admit that lightning may not strike twice. "I've been trying to hit home runs all my life and striking out," says Patrick, who lives in Austin, Texas. "Now I'm going to try to hit a few singles and doubles."
Butch Patrick's saga started when he beat out hundreds of other little boys for the chance to put on short pants and funny ears and take up residence at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the lair of a dim-bulb Frankenstein and his ghoulish family. "They put makeup on me, and that was the character," says Patrick, who had a grand old time making 35 shows a season for two years, at an average of $600 per show. "I was like the mascot of Universal Studios. I used the back lot as my private little entertainment center."
When the Munsters gave up the ghost, Patrick kept working for a while, landing bit parts in Adam 12 and The Monkees. At 16, he made his first drug buy. "Two dollars for four joints and four reds," he remembers. A year later he got the last role of his career, in a kiddie show called Lidsville. He was embarrassed by the work but seduced by the cash—which, because of reruns, eventually amounted to $30,000 for 10 days' work. "I wasn't thrilled with the concept, but then I decided that most of my friends wouldn't be up on a Saturday morning to see me," he says. He spent the money on cars—at one point he owned five—and more drugs. "I never did heroin, never put a needle in my arm, but I did a lot of coke and psychedelics. Occasionally I'd be the middleman and get the stuff for free. I'm basically a hustler."
For most of the the next decade, Patrick could only hustle odd jobs, including a stint helping his late father, who owned a card club in Gardena, Calif. Later he waxed cars and sold Christmas trees. "I had no real ambition," he admits. In 1979 police busted Patrick for possession of call his mother and tell her to go to the garage and throw away his old Lincoln Logs. "That's where I had a couple thousand 'ludes stashed," says Patrick, who spent 11 weekends in jail for his crime. Of being a convicted felon, he says, "I can't vote and I can't serve on a jury. Big deal."
Unimpressed by his weekend jailings, Patrick kept pursuing drugs avidly for years. "I'd go out for a pack of cigarettes and be gone for a week," he recalls. In 1987, lured by financial promises from a promoter who hoped to have Patrick emcee a national talent contest, he moved to Austin. The contest fizzled, but Butch, away from the temptations of L.A., had an epiphany of sorts. "Once I was sober, I saw intelligent friends who were high, babbling and walking into walls," he says. "They did that on the weekend. That was me 365 days a year for almost 10 years." Later that year the former little Eddie went cold turkey. "I straightened my own life out in my own time," he says. "Maybe I should have gone to rehab, but I didn't. A little man inside me said it was time to get my life in order."
It is more orderly than it was, at least. Patrick shares a duplex, platonically, with two girlfriends and makes money here and there by teaching acting classes for kids and flashing the Eddie smile at state fairs and theme parks. His big season is Halloween. "Any time I can get him a job, I'll jump through a hoop of fire to do it," says Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis, who, when he's asked to make a personal appearance, always mentions that Butch is available. "I've never had a problem with him and have always liked him." Patrick thinks—hopes—things will continue to improve. "If my daughter brought home a guy like me, I'd tell him, 'Come back when your ship comes in,' " he says. "I'm concerned about my future, but I feel that the sun is coming up."
Meanwhile, back in Ventura, Calif., where she sells furniture, Butch's mother, Patty Hunt, regrets ever letting her little boy go into show business. "Not even a commercial, it's just not good for kids," she says. "But Butch is a very giving and loving kid when he's not all fouled up." Her advice: "Next time you talk to him, tell him I'm sending him a parking ticket me police just mailed to me. It's from 1986, and it's got LAST CHANCE stamped on it in big letters."
—Tim Allis, David Lustig in Austin