Billy Barty

Active - 1928 - 2007  |   Born - Oct 25, 1924   |   Died - Dec 23, 2000   |   Genres - Comedy, Fantasy, Drama, Children's/Family

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American dwarf actor Billy Barty always claimed to have been born in the early '20s, but the evidence of his somewhat wizened, all-knowing countenance in his film appearances of the 1930s would suggest that he was at least ten years shy of the whole truth. At any rate, Barty made many film appearances from at least 1931 onward, most often cast as bratty children due to his height. He was a peripheral member of an Our Gang rip-off in the Mickey McGuire comedy shorts, portrayed the infant-turned-pig in Alice in Wonderland (1933), he did a turn in blackface as a "shrunken" Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals (also 1933), and he frequently popped up as a lasciviously leering baby in the risqué musical highlights of Busby Berkeley's Warner Bros. films. One of Barty's most celebrated cinema moments occurred in 1937's Nothing Sacred, in which, playing a small boy, he pops up out of nowhere to bite Fredric March in the leg. Barty was busy but virtually anonymous in films, since he seldom received screen credit. TV audiences began to connect his name with his face in the 1950s when Barty was featured on various variety series hosted by bandleader Spike Jones. Disdainful of certain professional "little people" who rely on size alone to get laughs, Barty was seen at his very best on the Jones programs, dancing, singing, and delivering dead-on impressions: the diminutive actor's takeoff on Liberace was almost unbearably funny. Though he was willing to poke fun at himself on camera, Barty was fiercely opposed to TV and film producers who exploited midgets and dwarves, and as he continued his career into the 1970s and '80s, Barty saw to it that his own roles were devoid of patronization -- in fact, he often secured parts that could have been portrayed by so-called "normal" actors, proof that one's stature has little to do with one's talent. A two-fisted advocate of equitable treatment of short actors, Billy Barty took time away from his many roles in movies (Foul Play [1978], Willow [1988]) and TV to maintain his support organization The Little People of America and the Billy Barty Foundation. Billy Barty died in December 2000 of heart failure.

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