"Eddie Munster" looks back on life with the most gruesome family on TV

Before "The Osbournes," the most gruesome family on TV lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. But since "The Munsters — The Complete First Season" (Universal, 1964, unrated), released on DVD last week, is shockingly barren of behind-the-scenes material, we summoned up little Eddie Munster, himself. We reached the former wolf-boy — now 51 and answering to "Butch Patrick" — at his Los Angeles home.

Q: "Eddie Munster" has become the standard insult to hurl at goth guys.

A: You know, it's funny, I was talking to someone, I said, "I need to write a script that if the goth guys got together and were going to have a leader, it would be like Eddie Munster." I could be like — don't take this wrong — Hitler.

Q: Was there a metaphor going on with "The Munsters?" Most people have emotional vampires in the family.

A: What a lot of people didn't know — and I didn't know at the time, since I was a kid — it was actually a social-commentary show. Just pretend we're an ethnic group. And it's not the color of your skin, it's the strength of your character. Herman was persecuted somewhat. He was different. It was very much disguised, but it was a humanitarian effort.

Q: In the DVD's unaired pilot, there's a different actor playing Eddie: Happy Derman.

A: He ain't so happy to me!

Q: So how did you wrest this part from the clutches of Happy?

A: Apparently Happy, out of 500 kids, that's the best they came up with. That's the scary part. If it was just me and Happy, I would say that's no big deal. But apparently it was me and 501 kids including Happy that I beat out. And they flew me in, and they had two other kids there that had been on 16 callbacks.

Q: Making a sitcom out of the Universal Studios monsters pretty much signified that crap didn't scare anyone anymore.

A: When I did the screen test, I had no idea what the concept was. I just walked into a kitchen with a woman with an apron. And nobody thought it was going to make it even through two shows, let alone two seasons. But the neat part about it was, [Joe] Connelly and [Bob] Mosher, who did "Leave it to Beaver," had a pretty good feel for what they wanted to do. And I guess they took a chance with the monsters: make them humanlike, and make them loveable, and make them likeable.

Q: Did you get mobbed when the show was a hit? Was there an Eddie line of short pants?

A: No, when I went out nobody would recognize me because I didn't have my makeup on. But occasionally I would wear my makeup home on the freeway just to get looks from the people in the cars, and I would, like, bark at them, and they didn't know whether I was a dog-boy, a boy-dog, or this or that.

Q: If you'd held out for salary demands like actors do now, they could have threatened to replace you with Invisible Boy.

A: Back then, it was really cut and dried. You signed a contract, you did your job, you went to work, you worked 39 episodes a year, you didn't have time for talk shows or movies of the week, you know? You were tired and you wanted to go home.

Q: Was that why they replaced Marilyn after 13 episodes?

A: Marilyn was very homesick and in love. And she cried all day long and she was miserable. She begged to get out of the contract and they wouldn't let her out. And finally, Fred Gwynne [Herman] and Al Lewis [Grandpa] marched into the office and said, "You either let her go or we're all walking and you're not going to have a show." And they let her go, but they blackballed her and she never worked again.

But you know something? She was my first date. She actually came down and picked me up at my house and took me to Grauman's Chinese Theater and we saw "Mary Poppins."

Q: Now we're getting somewhere. You always hear "Brady Bunch" rumors about Greg dating Mom.

A: You know, I think Greg was dating dad! And what about Sam the butcher and Alice? It is so funny. When I did "Lidsville" [1971], Charles Nelson Reilly and Billie Hayes, they were both homosexuals. Well, they would get their significant others and they'd all go out, two boys and two girls, and try to make it look hetero.

Q: You went through a tough period being identified with the character?

A: No, not really. The only rough time I went through was right after I'd finished [in 1966]. I was a little person. I went to seventh grade at the largest public junior high school in Los Angeles with over 3,500 students. And what happened was, wherever I went, three or four hundred kids would follow. So inadvertently I was creating a disturbance and they threw me out of school and expelled me because I was the source of the problem.

Q: How else have you made your living over the years?

A: Basically, my dad owned a gambling casino and I learned the gaming industry, and I've been a spokesman for various Vegas stuff over the years. Plus I've had little businesses here and there. I've bought and sold muscle cars and did a lot of personal appearances here and there. I've helped develop some ideas into celebrity-related promotional stuff. I did a thing called "Hollywood 101" teaching people how to get into show business.

Q: Did it feel good to be in the big former child star singalong at the end of "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star"?

A: It was fun to do it because it was a pretty fun little ending, a "We Are the World" deal.

Q: What was your line?

A: "So I'm sitting alone at Arby's, when someone says something makes you see red. 'Hey man, where's the other Munster?' Well pal, for 10 years he's been dead."

Q: Once and for all, is Al Lewis dead or not?

A: No, he's not. He's almost, though. He's very, very ill.

Q: That takes the wind out of that smart-aleck question. So you've stayed in touch with?

A: Sure. I've got his number embedded in my forehead. Al was always a very generous person with me. He was very knowledgeable. The only thing was, he forgot that I grew up and he still talks to me like I was 9 years old.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com