Billy Barty is a fine actor, adept at both comedy and drama. But nobody offers Barty roles in Shakespeare or Academy Award-type movies. These days, Barty doesn't get offered much at all.
"A couple of years ago, it really started to dry up," Barty says. "My name came up for one part, and I'm told the casting director said, 'Who is Billy Barty?' "
Barty, who's been in more than 60 movies and featured on dozens of TV shows, is the world's best-known dwarf; he's 3 feet, 9 inches and weighs 85 pounds. His first movie role came 69 years ago, when he was 3. "I played Cupid," he says sardonically. You take what you can get.
Billy Barty is also a giant name to some people. He founded Little People of America nearly 30 years ago--it now has 5,000 members--and later created the Billy Barty Foundation to financially support it. Its members are mostly dwarfs, but it takes anyone no taller than 4 feet 10.
I wanted to meet Barty because he's also a special name to a large segment of Orange County. For 10 years, Barty has been a working celebrity at Garden Grove's Strawberry Festival. He's a crowd favorite in the parade, and he helps run its annual Tiny Tots contest, where youngsters dress up and compete for prizes. Barty loves children, and had his own children's TV program for four years. He's back at the Strawberry Festival in his usual role at the end of May.
"I keep going back because they keep asking me," Barty says. "The people who run that festival are just wonderful."
Barty loves fun events. At his foundation's annual golf tournament--this year in Palm Springs--he putts for everybody on the 18th green, to add a few laughs. He's putting together a one-man show for the stage, and it's loaded with bits he honed in vaudeville.
But there's nothing funny about the problems little people must deal with in this country, especially those trying to make it in Hollywood.
"When was the last time you saw a dwarf in a commercial, or in a sitcom?" he asks. He scoffs at any notion that it's because there aren't many parts where a dwarf is called for.
"We're part of everyday life," he says with anger. "We're you're neighbors, your co-workers. We live among you in real life, but we're not allowed to live among you on TV or in the movies."
Barty does get offered parts. He turns most of them down because they're either demeaning to little people, or too vulgar for his tastes. But he keeps busy: He's writing his autobiography, runs his foundation, and he's got a son--6 feet tall--about to graduate from the University of Utah.
Most of his time, he's educating the public about little people. Some turn to his foundation in desperation. It's not just dwarfs who give birth to dwarfs.
"Where to buy clothes, the best doctors to see, people come to us with all kinds of questions," Barty says. Then, there's the hurt that young dwarfs have to deal with.
"Some parents came to me with one kid, who happens to be the same type of dwarf I am. He was spitting on kids at school and hitting them, because they kept calling him 'Shorty.' I told him, Gabriel, you are short. You're like me. Next time one of them calls you Shorty, just say, 'Yes, I am.' The problem stopped."
By the Yard: What a week for Newport Beach's George Yardley. He leaves this weekend for his induction Monday into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. And Wednesday night, to give him a proper send-off, more than 300 friends and admirers will pay tribute to him at a banquet at the Balboa Bay Club. . . .
Yardley was the first NBA player to ever score 2,000 points in a single season, with the Detroit Pistons, and was a six-time NBA All-Star. Several of Yardley's teammates will be on hand. Longtime local sports columnist John Hall, one of the organizers, says Yardley's fellow All-Star Bill Sharmon will be among those participating in a free-throw contest before the dinner. "It's a new twist on the cocktail hour," Hall says.
The Law Won: The Orange County Bar Assn. kicks off National Law Day, which is Wednesday, with a little free legal advice. Some volunteer attorneys will speak at local schools. Several lawyers who specialize in estate planning will visit a number of local senior citizen centers. . . .
When Newport Beach attorney Patricia Herzog was new and anxious to build a career in the '50s, she applied for a job as a deputy prosecutor in the district attorney's office. (This was pre-Cecil Hicks.) She was turned down, with this explanation: It might make the secretaries feel uncomfortable if the office hired a female lawyer.
Herzog, who instead made a career of fighting for people's constitutional rights, will be honored by the bar with the Harmon G. Scoville Award at a Law Day kick-off luncheon Wednesday at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Costa Mesa.
Day of Remembrance: April 30, 1975, was the fall of Saigon. On Bolsa Avenue near Dillow Street today at 7 p.m., dozens of Vietnamese will hold a candlelight vigil. Organizer Nguyen Hung says, "It's to let those who died know that we will never forget."
Wrap-Up: Barty was eager for me to read a piece written by a young woman who attended last year's annual Little People of America convention in Denver. Writes Sandi Flammer, 27, from Long Island, N.Y.: "I had never honestly come in contact with another little person. In my mind, I wasn't 'one of them.' " After the convention (where she slow danced with a man for the first time in her life) she writes: "It's hard to explain, but I feel at peace with who and 'what' I am. For the first time, I realize I'm not alone. Finally, there's somewhere I truly fit in."
Jerry Hicks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or sending a fax to (714) 966-7711.