Eddie Munster calls Conway ‘home’

by George Jared ([email protected]) 9,538 views 

Conway businessman Keller Johnson was at a pinball machine convention in Dallas when he came across a nostalgic figure from his youth – Butch Patrick, the child actor who played werewolf Eddie Munster in the iconic television show “The Munsters” that aired from 1964 to 66.

The two struck up a quick friendship, and Johnson invited Patrick to Toad Suck Daze, an annual festival held in Conway. Patrick accepted the invite, and he liked the town so much that he moved there several years ago, he told Talk Business & Politics. Patrick travels frequently, and Arkansas’ relatively central location makes that part of his life easier.

“I like Conway. It has a small town feel with all the amenities of a city,” the 70-year-old said.

Patrick, born Patrick Lilley, doesn’t just live in Conway. He operates a seasonal museum, the Munsters Musaleum at Creepy Works. Dave Hoelzeman, who owns Creepy Works, told TB&P that he and Patrick came to an arrangement where the former child star could use the building adjacent to his haunted house during the month of October. The haunted house, in operation for 14 seasons, is a staple in the community during the fall.

The museum has many props that fans of the cult classic TV show will find memorable, including the “coffin telephone,” Grandpa’s roadster “Dragula,” Eddie’s famed giant bat, his stuffed toy “Woof, Woof,” and others. Episodes of the show are played on a loop along with classic monster movies including, “Dracula,” “The Mummy,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Wolf Man.”

Butch Patrick.

Patrick brings in horror movie actors during the weekends. This weekend, Arkansas native and actress Tamara Glynn will be on hand at the museum. Among her acting credits, Glynn starred in “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers,” and an episode of “Freddie’s Nightmares.”

Earlier this month, actor Daniel Roebuck who played roles in many television shows and movies including “Matlock,” “The Fugitive,” “The Secret Life of Agent Cody Banks” and others, appeared at the museum. Roebuck, told TB&P that director Rob Zombie has cast him in several of his horror movies including the remakes of “Halloween,” and “Halloween II.”

Roebuck was intrigued when Zombie mentioned the role of The Count, aka Grandpa, in Zombie’s 2022 movie “The Munsters.” Roebuck had been a Munsters memorabilia collector for years, and his first ever acting role as a child was a clown vampire, ironically called The Count. When the role was offered, one thought went through the actor/director’s head.

“You better not be playing me,” he said with a laugh. “I was thrilled. It’s something I really wanted to do.”

Patrick’s road to Conway began many years ago when his sister, Michele Lilley, went on a photo shoot for an agent. Michele was photogenic and had a personality to act on screen, but there was only one problem, their mother, Patti Hunt told TB&P. She was only four and too young, the mother said.

The photographer turned to Patrick.

Several photos were taken of Patrick, who was seven at the time, and it landed him in a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercial. He was so good at reading and memorizing his lines that the director of the commercial had to ask him to slow his delivery, Hunt said.

Pictures from that photoshoot were placed in a window of a building on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. A producer for the feature film, “Two Little Bears,” saw Patrick’s picture in the window and tracked him down. Patrick instantly got the part in the movie that was released in 1961.

Throughout the early 1960s, he played roles in commercials, television, and films. In 1964, CBS decided to greenlight The Munsters, but there were two issues. Fred Gwynne was cast to play Herman, the lovable Frankenstein monster father; Al Lewis was cast as Grandpa, the count Dracula grandfather of the family; and Beverley Owen was cast as the “normal looking” niece, Marilyn.

Network executives decided to make a change with Herman’s vampire wife, Lily, and they cast film veteran Yvonne De Carlo in the part. Agent Mary Grady represented Patrick at the time and thought he would be the perfect Eddie Munster.

She arranged for Patrick to fly to Los Angeles and do a screen test with De Carlo. It was a success, and he got the part.

Filming the show was a unique experience, Patrick said. Each of the monster-themed characters had to spend a lot of time in the makeup room. It took about an hour to get Eddie ready for the camera and it took about two hours to get Herman’s character ready with the other characters taking various amounts of time in between those, he said.

The show was shot mostly inside the Munster Mansion on the Universal Studios lot at the fictional 1313 Mockingbird Lane address. The set was filled with cobwebs, dust, and special effects that provided unique challenges, Patrick said.

Patrick would sometimes take fans on tours of the house. He said he enjoyed showing them Grandpa’s car, the coffin phone, the electric chair and even the understairs lair of Spot, the Munsters’ pet dragon.

The show was filmed each week, Wednesday through Friday. It debuted in September 1964. One cast member was changed after 13 episodes. Owen was replaced with Pat Priest. Patrick said he formed a tight bond with his television family.

“It was really enjoyable. We were a family unit … I enjoyed throwing a baseball ball around with Al, talking with Fred and Yvonne. I even had a crush on the first Marilyn (Owens),” he said with a laugh.

To save money, the show was filmed in black and white, and it gave it the atmospherics of those former classic monster movies.

Among his favorite episodes to film were “Eddie’s Nickname,” one in which he prematurely grows a beard after Grandpa gives him a potion and “Hot Rod Herman” when Dragula gets built.

Patrick was 11 when the show started and still attended regular school. The show became a hit, and he was well known, he said. Kids would tease him about his role, but it wasn’t malicious.

“It was just kids being kids at that age,” he said.

Although it was nominated for a Golden Globe for best television show in 1965 and had better ratings than the other ghoul-themed show at the time, “The Addams Family,” it was cancelled after only 70 episodes over two seasons. One reason was the wildly popular “Batman” television show was in the same time slot.

The show did spawn movies and attempted reboots, but none ever took hold.

Years later, the show would develop a cult following in syndication. Patrick said there wasn’t an overwhelming sense of sadness among the cast when the show ended. Gwynne and Lewis wanted to return to New York City and the other actors were ready to move onto other roles.

“It’s a job. Hollywood’s a business,” he said.

Patrick didn’t remain in contact with his co-stars until decades later, he said. He went on to play parts in several other movies and television shows throughout the 1960s and 1970s. One role he regrets not landing was one in the movie “American Graffiti.”

“I didn’t want to cut my hair. I didn’t know who this George Lucas (director) guy was,” Patrick said. “Looking back, that was a mistake.”

After spending his childhood and teenage years acting, he left the profession in the mid-1970s to pursue other life goals. One thing he learned was that he doesn’t like to perform in live theater. He occasionally is tapped to play a role on television or in a movie, but he said there is nothing about the profession he misses.

Advice for an aspiring thespian?

“Do it for the love of acting … most don’t make it,” he said. “Find roles you find enjoyable. Acting is an endeavor.”