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Billy Barty

Billy Barty

D.O.B.: October 25, 1924  (Millsboro, PA)

D.O.D.: December 23, 2000 (Glendale, CA)

Cause of Death: Heart Failure

Location: Forest Lawn Glendale; Freedom Mausoleum, Columbarium of Blessedness

Biographical Notes:

Billy Barty first began to perform at the age of three lasting eight decades. Besides being an entertainer he was also the founder of The Little People of America, Inc., which was later termed the Billy Barty Foundation. At 3'9" tall he started this group that supported more than 200 forms of dwarfisms. Besides providing support, his organization addressed the social, medical and scholarship needs of those in the organization.

Here is the Eulogy given at his funeral...

Billy Barty Memorial / December 27, 2000

Good Morning, I am Billy Barty's brother-in-law, Wesley Morse, and I would like to talk about Billy for a few minutes. 

No Matter how I struggle, I have to open this talk with a cliché. 

We are here today to remember and to honor a giant! 

Small in stature-great in heart, Billy epitomized the best of American virtues: strong, self reliant, compassionate of others. He was an icon, not just to the film industry but among all people. 

He never learned to be small. He often said "To be BIG you must think BIG" and he did. 

Albert and Ellen Barty, his wonderful parents, instilled in him the self- reliant attitude of doing for himself what needed to be done.

I remember Ellen telling about when as a small child he asked for a drink of water. Ellen said, "I told him to get a chair and push it to the sink, stand on it and get your drink" so in this simple way among many others, Billy learned to rely on himself.

"My parents early on instilled within me the belief that there wasn't anything I couldn't do if I worked hard enough." Billy has said, "so that's the advice I give others. Work hard and keep busy-you never know when your big break will come along and you've got to be ready."

He passed this lesson on to his children and others, for he believed in it. His children Lori and Braden are today outstanding examples of that credo.

One of the principles of the Billy Barty foundation is the concept that little people can take care of themselves if they are given a hand up, not a hand out.

Al Barty brought his family: Ellen, Billy, and his two sisters Evelyn and Dede from Millsboro Pennsylvania to Hollywood in 1928. Billy was three years old.

Billy was taking a walk with his dad that year near Santa Monica boulevard and Gower, when they stopped to watch a silent film being made on the sidewalk. Billy had learned to stand on his head and spin around. Quite a trick for a three year old.

Billy, on his own, trotted over and pulled on the pant leg of the director, Jules White, and then went into his head spin. White, amused by Billy's stunt asked Billy's dad Al if he could use Billy in the film. Billy had a role in the two reeler silent comedy "Wedded Blisters."

Later Billy appeared in such early reels as Smitty comedies as well as Max Sennetts comedy shorts. He then starred in dozens of episodes of the Mickey McGuire comedies as Mickey Rooney's younger brother.

In 1934 when Billy was 10, the Barty family took to the road with a vaudeville act called "Billy Barty and Sisters." It was to be a seven year odyssey covering all 48 contiguous states. Their act was a brand of musical comedy and they played almost everywhere there was a theatre from big cities to hamlets.

It was while touring in Kentucky that Billy perhaps first blended his humanitarian instincts with a deep interest in sports, which would be with him all his life.

On Christmas morning in 1935 in Louisville, the family started out to do a benefit at the local orphanage. When they were a few blocks from their hotel, Billy shouted that he had left something behind and needed it badly. Back to the car, went to the hotel, and in went Billy. Minutes later he emerged with a football, saying "Some kid might like to play a little football with me."

The family once performed in Pittsburgh where the child labor laws wouldn't permit children under 18 on the stage. Billy and his sister Dede were both under that age limit, so....older sister Evelyn performed on the stage, while Billy and Dede played from the audience.

During this time Billy returned occasionally to Hollywood to act in a picture. Goldiggers of 1933, Roman Scandals, Footlight Parade and Alice in Wonderland were among the products of this period in which Billy was featured.

The family returned to Los Angeles in late 1941 when it became apparent that World War II would end vaudeville. It was time for Billy to finish school and go to college.

In High School, Billy played all all the sports he could. Later he, Max Fine and Jerry Brown founded a magazine called High School on Parade. Billy was the sports editor. It gave him a taste of writing, which he enjoyed, coupled with his great love, sports.

In college, at LACC, he majored in journalism thinking he would perhaps find a niche as a sports announcer or writer. He finished his formal education at LA State College, the successor to LACC, and while there, he lettered in basketball and football. In November 1945, Billy played in an exhibition football game between LACC and UCLA'S freshman squad at the Los Angeles Coliseum, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd when he caught a 17 yard pass in a play especially designed for him.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate in letters in 1996 by this same Alma Mater, now Los Angeles State University.

He went back to films in 1946 with a leading role in "Three Wise Fools." After playing the Palladium in London with Donald O'Connor, he became a regular for two years on the Ford Festival TV show with James Melton.

Next he starred with the Spike Jones Band and Comedy Troupe for several years. His performances included many TV appearances with Jones.

Many of you will remember his signature number in which he lampooned Liberace (a huge favorite at the time).

Recall him if you will in a silver wig, tails and high-topped tennis shoes, playing a miniature piano and singing, "I'm in the mood for love" as shaving cream bubbled from a candelabra. This was comedy at it's best.

Billy's own TV show, a kids special "Billy Barty's Big Show" ran from 1963-1967 and is remembered by the boomer generation as their early must viewing.

I'm reminded that about 20 years ago, one of the younger members of our family who has since distinguished himself, decided to go to London. Billy was making a film there at the time, though this had nothing to do with the young hero's journey.

When the young man arrived, it was discovered by customs at Heaththrow, that he had neither a return ticket nor enough cash to purchase one. They decided to hold him in a cell in Heaththrow and send him back on the next available plane. Then he mentioned that his Uncle Billy was making a film in London.

Uncle Billy to the Rescue!--with a late night dash to the airport, a guarantee of the boys solvency and a room to roost at Billy's apartment in Chelsea. He was a good uncle!

In 1957 Billy had founded the "Little People of America", one of his greatest philanthropic accomplishments. With a start of 21 attendees in Reno Nevada to a present day membership exceeding 6,000, this fine organization provides a forum, and a support to people of small stature and their families. There are affiliated organizations now in 20 foreign countries.

Later Billy started the "Billy Barty Foundation," a resource center for little people. The Foundation provides help with job placement, answers medical referral questions, and funds educational scholarships for little people.

He has served on many boards and committees to benefit the handicapped. He was honorary chairman of president George Bush's access to opportunity program, which led to "The American's with Disability Act." One of the most sweeping legislative efforts to benefit all handicapped people ever undertaken by the U.S. Congress.

He also served on both the city and county commissions on disability, here in Los Angeles, and has been included in a seemingly endless list of honors for his charitable work.

Among these, he received the California Governors Trophy and was inducted into the Governors Hall of Fame in 1999. He was nominated for these honors by the Honorable Michael D. Antonovich of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Just this last October, he was presented the first of the annual Billy Barty Humanitarian Awards by the Long Beach International Film festival. He has been honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters.

Billy appeared in over 200 films in the 70 years of his career, and his STAR is on Hollywood Boulevard. A remarkable body of work. In addition, his vaudeville years, his television credits, commercials, stage roles and nightclub appearances, made him among the most prolific of all performance artists.

He has left this remarkable legacy of work and philanthropy to us all, and especially to his fine family, many of whom are with us today. They include his beloved wife Shirley, his daughter Lori and her husband David Neilson, his son Braden and granddaughter Tina.

Also with us are my wife, and his sister Dede, his niece Christine Piper and her husband Michael and their daughter Jessica, his nephew Richard Copeland and wife Linda and their children Rachael and Sam. His nephew Michael Copeland and wife Debbie were unable to attend today.

We are also privileged to have with us Robert Ahmanson, one of Billy's oldest friends. Among all that he has left and that will live on, my favorite is Billy's sense of humor.

When speaking about the various types of dwarfism, he was once asked about his immediate family. He quipped:

"As far as our physical descriptions go, Braden is average, I'm a Cartilage Hair Syndrome, Shirley is a Multiple Epi-pes-ial Displasia, Lori is a Turners Syndrome and our dog is a Maltese."

Additional Resources:

Search the Internet Movie Database for Billy Barty

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