Actor brings vehicles from ‘60s TV show
By Greg Seubert
Blame it on Batman.
“The Munsters” quickly became a top-10 show after it premiered on CBS in September 1964. Less than two years later, however, the show was off the air.
One of the shows stars, Butch Patrick, spent all three days at this year’s Iola Car Show, which wrapped up July 8 after drawing more than 100,000 people to the village of 1,300.
Patrick played pre-teen werewolf Eddie Munster on “The Munsters.” The cast also included Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster; Yvonne De Carlo as his wife, Lily; and Al Lewis as Grandpa. Beverly Owen played Marilyn Munster for the show’s first 15 episodes before being replaced by Pat Priest.
“‘Batman’ killed us,” Patrick said. “There were three other shows that they put in our time slot, but when ‘Batman’ came out, it was time to go. ‘Batman’ put the nail in our coffin.”
“The Munsters” aired in black and white, but “Batman,” which debuted in January 1966, was in color.
“I think it was a combination of the ratings and they wanted to go in color and it was going to be more expensive,” Patrick said. “Fred and Al were from New York and they were ready to go home. Mostly, it was the almighty dollar and the ratings.”
Patrick appeared in all 70 episodes.
“We did like five years’ worth of shows by today’s standards,” he said. “There were several I liked. One was ‘Zombo,’ where Louis Nye was a TV host and Fred was jealous of him because he was getting all my attention.”
In another episode, Eddie is upset because of his new nickname, Shorty. Grandpa gives him a magic milkshake to make Eddie grow 6 inches overnight. Instead, he grew a 6-inch-long beard.
“We went to see Dr. Dudley, who was Paul Lynde, trying to explain why a 9-year-old kid has a full-length beard,” Patrick said. “We had the sports shows where Herman was a wrestler and trying out for the Dodgers.”
Besides reminiscing with fans about the show, Patrick brought replicas of the Munster Koach and Dragula.
George Barris, a Hollywood auto designer who also created the Batmobile for “Batman,” designed both vehicles for “The Munsters.”
“These were the first Barris cars on a sitcom,” Patrick said. “He had been customizing cars for private people and movie stars, but this is the first time they were on television.
“It’s one of the reasons I do so well at these car shows,” he added. “Everybody likes ‘The Munsters,’ but they like hot rods as well.”
Patrick is not an avid car collector, but said the vehicles seem to draw plenty of attention at shows he and his wife, Leila, attend.
“I’m a member of the Dead Man’s Curve Car Club out of New Jersey,” he said. “I’m not really a collector, but I’ve had muscle cars all my life.”
He recalled driving around the show set in California in the Munster Koach.
“The Dragula I don’t drive very often because there’s no suspension in it,” he said. “We recreate the ‘Hot Rod Herman’ episode at nostalgia drag meets.”
After the show was cancelled, the cast starred in “Munster, Go Home,” a 1966 feature film that gave fans the chance to see the Munster family in color.
It wasn’t long before the show began airing in syndication.
“Universal was the monster studio, so they really knew how to make a monster movie that people enjoyed,” Patrick said. “If you look at ‘The Munsters,’ it was done like a mini-movie. It was shot on film, it was lit like a movie, it was cut like a movie. It wasn’t so much the acting and the writing, it was the music, the editing, the set designs. They had first-rate everything and the quality shone through.
“We were wholesome, it was fun, it was nonthreatening humor,” he said. “Anything that Herman would do would be funny, where a normal person in the same situation wouldn’t be funny.”
Before landing the role as Eddie, Patrick guest starred on several TV shows, including “Mister Ed,” “My Favorite Martian,” “Ben Casey,” “Rawhide,” “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” while appearing regularly on “General Hospital” and “The Real McCoys.”
“It was the golden age of television,” he said. “The sitcom really took root in the ‘50s and ‘60s. People just wanted to be entertained for humor’s sake.”
CBS felt “The Munsters” had the potential to be a hit show. The network heavily promoted the show with merchandise including lunch boxes and toys. “They felt it was going to be good,” Patrick said. “On paper, it was pretty unusual, monsters living next door. It was kind of an experimental thing, but it got out of the starting gate and it was a top-10 show really fast.
“There were a lot of photographers, a lot of promotion,” he said. “Fred, Al and Yvonne were big stars, so they had some already-in-place publicity. The guest stars that we had were great, so we had a big push going.”
Seven months before “The Munsters” premiered, the Beatles appeared for the first time on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Patrick missed out on a chance to meet the band.
“They actually came out on the Munster set, visited us and stayed in the Universal dressing rooms for security reasons rather than stay in hotel,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to meet them that day. I was off. They were fans of the show. The Beatles, they were huge for a young kid. I loved them.”
Patrick, now 63, continued to act after “The Munsters.” He guest-starred on several TV shows, including “Death Valley Days,” “The Monkees,” “Daniel Boone” and “Adam-12;” had a recurring role as Gordon Dearing on “My Three Sons;” played Mark on “Lidsville,” a children’s show, in 1971-72; and played himself on an episode of “The Simpsons” in 1989.
He’s now sober after years of alcohol and drug abuse and is also a cancer survivor. He and Leila were married last year and now live in Missouri in a home that once belong to his grandmother.
These days, Patrick maintains munsters.com, the show’s official website that includes Munsters news, trivia, merchandise and cast biographies.
“The Munsters” is as popular as ever, even 51 years after the show went off the air.
“It holds its own,” Patrick said. “There’s a new generation of kids watching it with their parents and grandparents. I’m sure we’ll be around for another 50 years.”