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Eddie Munster Is Alive — and Living in Missouri

Doyle Murphy Aug 9, 2017 6:00 AM

Eddie Munster has been greeting his fans all afternoon.

Inside the St. Joseph Civic Arena, former child actor Butch Patrick and his wife, Leila Lilley, have set up their booth in a far corner of the main floor, just beyond the VIP bathrooms. It is a brutally hot Friday in mid-July, and several hundred of the weekend's first visitors — some spattered in fake blood and dressed as their favorite slasher film characters — lazily make their way among the stalls of the horror-themed Crypticon.

Patrick, who played Eddie on The Munsters, made the two-hour drive with Leila from their home in northern Missouri the day before, hauling plastic tubs of merchandise and a pair of replica Munster hot rods inside a trailer decorated with a protruding dragon head.

Now standing at their table are a towering, bearded fan and his wife, wearing matching T-shirts that bear the name of a haunted house in the far suburbs of Kansas City. The T-shirts are the kind of thing Patrick notices. He immediately wants to know more about the business.

"Do you own it?" he asks.

In fact, they do.

"Do you ever have celebrities?"

That's something the man, Jeremy Toynbee, had not really considered. Business has been solid — he first opened in his garage and was successful enough to relocate and expand the operation to a barn and two acres in the small town of Gardner, Kansas — but a celebrity appearance wasn't really on his radar. Within moments, though, Patrick is laying out the basics of a strategy where he could visit Toynbee's House of Horrors on, say, a Wednesday, and then string together two or three appearances at Kansas City car dealerships and shops over several days, splitting his fee among all the parties.

"I figure out how to get to my bottom line from four different ways, and nobody has to pay too heavy," he explains to Toynbee.

Before they're done, Patrick has sold the haunted house proprietor a $30 autographed photo and generated a potential business lead that leaves both men happy.

"One of the things I like doing is working with people who've never had a celebrity event and showing them the ropes," he says later, adding, "I do know the haunt business."

PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Former child star Butch Patrick at 64.

Patrick is a master at this kind of deal making. A self-described "hustler" all his life, years after dropping out of Hollywood and beating drug addiction, Butch Patrick (legal name: Patrick Lilley) has built a fine life as a former child star. From his base in Missouri, he works his way through small and mid-sized towns across the heartland, visiting twenty to thirty car shows, conventions and festivals every year.

Finding new opportunities among the constant churn requires the ear of a salesman and a certain amount of humility. The conventions are in many ways the absence of glamor for celebrity guests. For hours, they sit in plastic folding chairs and hawk autographed photos of their younger, more-employable selves in hotel ballrooms and re-purposed gymnasiums.

Some celebrities loathe such events, but Patrick sees them as a perfectly pleasant way to make a living.

"The people are always happy," he says. "It's a happy exchange, which makes it easy to do."

The show, which ran 1964 to 1966, was filmed back before anyone anticipated long-running syndication. So while The Munsters found new audiences in generation after generation of rerun-watching fans, residuals for its stars were minimal at best. But Patrick can still make money off of events and merchandise.

On the weekend of the St. Joseph trip, he is less than three weeks from his 64th birthday. He dresses casually in shorts, black leather Chuck Taylors and a green flannel with Frankenstein's face printed across the back. The features that made him an unforgettable little monster on TV were mostly Hollywood props. Stripped of his widow's peak wig and pointy ear tips, he looks disarmingly normal. He has wavy brown hair that rises from a relatively straight horizon above his forehead. He stands a perfectly average five feet seven. You can still see the boyishness in his face, and without the green makeup that gave him a pallid look in black and white, he appears tanned and relaxed.

His Munster events season boils down to about to about five months a year, Patrick says, and he collects fees of $2,000 to $5,000 per event. It adds up. Expenses for travel and bills such as upkeep on his Munster hot rods eat a healthy chunk of the revenues, but he is still able to make what he will describe only as a "comfortable" living that allows him to spend his winters by the beach in Florida.

At Crypticon, he has two tables full of merchandise. For sale are eight-by-ten photos of a preteen Patrick as Eddie Munster, sporting the little velvet suit he wore on The Munsters. There are "Team Eddie" T-shirts, Munsters wallets, "Coffin Table" books, Munsters key chains, Munsters dolls, Munsters stickers and even pouches of Munsters-themed dark roast coffee.

"Deadly Grounds — coffee to die for," Patrick says, delivering the slogan with all the music of a radio pitchman.

Even convention-goers who aren't Munsters fans draw closer to see the eighteen-foot-long Munster Koach and gold-painted Dragula hot rods parked behind the tables. Leila, whose tireless attention to detail is the secret weapon of the business, says they began with T-shirts and photos. Now, they have a full online store at Munsters.com, where they also advertise availability for all manner of events, from birthday parties to corporate gatherings.

"We strive to give them something personal," Patrick says. "It's not some William Shatner thing where you wait in line and pay $100 for two minutes."

And if he ends up doing business in the future with one or two of the people he meets, all the better.

PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Leila Lilley and Butch Patrick take the Munster Koach for a spin around Macon.

Butch Patrick jams his foot down on the gas pedal, and the Munster Koach flies down the road. Built like an oversized Model T, it has a red velvet interior and a gleaming skull for a gear shifter. The roar of the Koach's 454 Chevrolet engine is deafening as the hot rod surges forward.

"We had this on Las Vegas Boulevard a couple of weeks ago," Patrick shouts over the noise, "for about an hour and a half with a camera crew."

This is not Vegas. A guy towing a Bobcat loader on a flatbed trailer honks and waves. An old man pulls over in the YMCA parking lot, raises a cell phone sheathed in a camouflage case and snaps a photo.

Patrick went to eighth grade here in the small town of Macon, living with his grandmother in a hulking, two-story Victorian just west of downtown.

An hour north of Columbia, this bit of rural Missouri was a refuge for the thirteen-year-old child star.

The Munsters wrapped in 1966 after two grueling years, and Patrick needed a place to go. His mother, Patti Hunt, had split with his father early on and later married a Major League Baseball player. When her spouse signed with the Washington Senators, she moved to the East Coast while her son stayed behind with family in California.

Patrick, it was decided, would move in with his grandmother in the Midwest. It seemed like a strange fit for a beach-loving kid who grew up in Los Angeles, but he now remembers that time fondly.

"I used to shoot pinball there, shoot pool — ten cents a rack," he says, gesturing to a weathered building on a tour through town. There are more empty storefronts today, but the wide streets and small-town charm have been largely unchanged in 50 years.

The California kids could be ruthless to a young Patrick, but he was quickly accepted in Macon.

"Here it was more of a curiosity thing," he says. "In L.A., it was a jealousy thing."

He remembers exploring the house his grandmother, Marjorie Greenstreet, had stuffed with antiques. She was a rambler and would drive her big Cadillac cross-country in search of treasures. He attributes his love of Americana and road trips to those early adventures.

In many ways, those days in Macon were the last semblance of anything like a normal childhood for Patrick. He soon returned full-time to acting and left Missouri behind. Greenstreet eventually sold the house and moved on to West Virginia and then Idaho.

As a teenager, Patrick veered hard into a life of partying that would take more than 40 years to leave, but he always remembered Macon. Every fifteen years or so, whenever he found himself in the region, he would drive through town to see his grandmother's old house.

In 2015, he bought it and decided to move back.

PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Butch Patrick bought his grandmother's house and has been living part-time in Macon since early 2016.

Butch Patrick has plans for the house.

An imposing brick behemoth, it is painted white and set back from a curve in the road on a shady lot. The interior is trimmed in thick, carved wood with walls painted in dull reds and blue-grays. Five fireplaces are spaced throughout the dimly lit rooms. In the attic, for fun, a mannequin head with a stick-like torso is shrouded in white lace and suspended from the ceiling.

Patrick insists he made the purchase solely to save his grandmother's former home from demolition. But now that it's his, he cannot help but see the opportunities. Start with this: "It's haunted," says his wife, Leila.

The couple starting living there part time in April 2016. Macon — population 5,400 — has become home base for their summer hopscotching from one Midwestern event to the next. Patrick says he first learned about the house's paranormal activities from his younger sister, who spent even more of her childhood there than he did.

"All my life, I've spoken to my grandmother about Miss Rubey," Michele Lilley says in a phone interview from her home in Manhattan Beach, California.

Miss Rubey is apparently the spirit of Elizabeth Wardell, the home's former owner and a daughter of a local coal baron. Michele says she regularly saw her while spending summers in Macon. The ghostly figure often appeared on the landing of the stairs, her head bowed.

"She's not scary; she's sad," Michele remembers telling her grandmother.

Patrick says he was oblivious to any ghost sightings as a kid and has not seen anything since moving back. Michele is not surprised. Her brother is a compassionate man — now sober, he will spend hours on the phone talking to people struggling with substance abuse — but he is also stubborn, and his focus can be total. She jokes that a ghost could sit on his lap while he is on his phone and he would never notice.

"He's just not that guy," she says.

Leila, 48, is different. In many ways, she is just as focused and is certainly more organized than her husband. But, unlike Patrick's tendency toward tunnel vision, she sees everything. At Munsters' events, she is the first one to notice fans lingering at the outskirts of the booth and the first to spring forward with a business card. She is also the one calling promoters weeks in advance and monitoring the Facebook fan page day and night, deleting the work of creeps who try to post explicit, photoshopped images of Lily Munster or ads for German timeshares.

It makes sense that she is also more attuned to the weirdness of the Macon house. Miss Rubey has appeared in her presence, she says, but there are other entities, too.

"The only way I can give it an analogy is like a big football player, a big entity that follows me around — not dangerous, not threatening and not really a protector," Leila says. "It's just someone, something there."

Patrick says Leila was at first so overwhelmed by the paranormal activity that she refused to sleep there, and they spent their first few nights in a hotel. But they have slowly gotten used to weird happenings.

"We decided that we would leave the lights on and work our way through it, which we pretty much have," Patrick says.

He and Leila had been in the house about six months when they married in September. (They had been introduced several years before in Florida by legendary car designer George Barris, the man responsible for the original Munster Koach and Batmobile.) The "picnic-style" ceremony was held beside a lake in Macon on the grounds of an old military academy.

Lucinda Watson, manager of the Apple Basket Cafe in Macon, was among several townspeople who were surprised and delighted to find themselves included on the 90-person guest list along with the couple's friends from across the country.

"It was nothing fancy, but it was still gorgeous," Watson says. "It was the perfect small-town wedding."

COURTESY OF BUTCH PATRICK
The couple married in September during a "picnic-style" wedding in the small Missouri town.

After the ceremony, the newlyweds drove off in the Munster Koach before returning to the house for a reception. Watson, who caught Leila's bouquet, says people in Macon have always been intrigued by the ominous Victorian. Part of it is the long-running rumors of ghosts, and part is the connection to Eddie Munster.

Patrick was quick to realize the potential marketability of combing those two aspects even before he had closed on the property.

And it was not long before ghosts began to seem like an asset. Just imagine the possibilities — the kid from The Munsters, has grown up to live in a real haunted house. Patrick and a friend who is a clairvoyant envisioned a paranormal reality show called Property Horrors, where they would use the house as the framework to explore otherworldly tales. Patrick has long felt there was a story in the time-warp simplicity of Macon. "Andy of Mayberry meets Eddie Munster in the Twilight Zone," is his pitch.

He and Leila have never fully unpacked, leaving boxes and furniture covered in tarps should a film crew need a scene of them moving in, but that scenario seems increasingly unlikely as time goes on.

"It's been a year, and I'm pretty much over that," he says. "I don't think it's going to happen."

No matter. He is now working on a plan for five-hour day tours called "1313 Weekends," a play on the Munsters' fictional 1313 Mockingbird Lane address. As many as thirteen visitors at a time would pay $100 each to visit the house, maybe join Patrick and Leila for lunch at the Apple Basket and swing by the cemetery to pay their respects at Miss Rubey's grave. He is still working out the details.

COURTESY OF BUTCH PATRICK
Major Leaguer Ken Hunt hangs out with his famous stepson, Butch Patrick, to a father-son game.

Quitting Hollywood early was always the plan, Patrick says. He acted steadily from the age of seven until he was eighteen. By the time he landed The Munsters gig, he had already worked as one of the original cast members of General Hospital and played more than a dozen, mostly minor, roles in television and film.

It was his portrayal of Edward Wolfgang Munster, however, that changed his life forever.

The pilot for the show had featured another child actor, who played the young werewolf as a ferocious, snarling terror. When Patrick took over for the series opener, the role of Eddie morphed into that of an earnest son. The show's producers had recently wrapped Leave It to Beaver, and their new cast of friendly monsters navigating suburban California was a knowing twist on a traditional family sitcom, extending the joke through Eddie's very Beaver-like lines.

"Gee, Pop, do you always have to pick on me?" Eddie says in a second-season episode where he briefly runs away from home.

The show also gave CBS an answer to The Addams Family, which opened the same week on ABC. The two competed in black-and-white for two years before both were canceled following the 1966 season.

Patrick was just twelve years old but already an established pro. After The Munsters, he acted in just about every big sitcom of the era, including Gunsmoke, I Dream of Jeannie and a recurring role on My Three Sons. His sister Michele says directors liked him because he could read a script, quickly learn his lines and perform a scene in one take.

He was still just sixteen when he flew down to Brazil to play a young gang member in the film adaptation of the novel The Sandpit Generals. He traces the beginning of decades of addiction to that time away from home and family. It was an intense shooting schedule, and the young actors were more or less unsupervised to drink and party when they weren't on set.

"I tell everyone he left the house looking like Richie Cunningham, and he came back looking like John Lennon," Michele says.

The film was supposed to carry Patrick's career to another plane, but the release was delayed. When it did finally come out, its run in theaters was brief and unremarkable. He spent another two years acting, including a morning kids show called Lidsville that marked him as a heartthrob in a string of teen magazines. But Patrick says his boyhood plan was always to quit Hollywood at nineteen, maybe become a race car driver. He claims a relatively unknown George Lucas approached about him about starring in American Graffiti, but by then he was nearly done with full-time acting. He now says he dropped out of the running for the part that ultimately went to Richard Dreyfuss, because Lucas told him he would have to cut his long hair.

"When I saw the movie two years later, I realized what a huge mistake I'd made," Patrick says.

The film would earn Golden Globe nominations for Lucas and Dreyfuss. For his part, Patrick was surfing and going to parties.

"He worked so much as a child that I think once he turned eighteen and had his money, he was like, 'Now, it's time to play,'" his sister says. "And that's what he did for a really long time."

COURTESY BUTCH PATRICK
Patrick's mother, Patti Hunt, and grandmother, Marjorie Greenstreet, in an undated family photo.

Patrick says he was an addict for 41 years, a lifestyle that sometimes led to trouble with the law. He was arrested in 1979 for transporting Quaaludes. "I had a connection and ended up with a couple hundred of them," he says. In 1990, he was arrested again after a limo driver told police the ex-child actor and another man beat and robbed him when he got lost on the way back to Patrick's hotel. Patrick says he met his co-defendant for the first time that night in a bar, and the man decided to try to physically extract a refund from the driver, leading to criminal charges against the man and Patrick.

"'Munsters' Actor, 37, Is Arrested," read the headline in the Chicago Tribune. A robbery charge against Patrick was later dropped, but he was convicted of battery and ordered to pay $1,050 in fines and fees.

The run-ins were embarrassing, but he says his substance abuse was hardest on his family.

"I did some serious damage," he says.

The drug and alcohol abuse went on for so long, his sister wasn't sure if he would survive.

"It was to the point I thought, 'When is the call going to come, and how is my mom going to deal with it?'" she says.

And then he quit. He entered rehab on November 21, 2010, partly as a favor to a drug counselor who thought a celebrity success story would be a good example for others. There was another round of headlines, but then all was quiet.

Michele says she was not expecting rehab to work, at least not without a handful of relapses. She would visit her brother at the facility, and each time he would say he was about ready to quit the program. At first, it was "I'm not staying here" and then "I'm leaving tomorrow," the sister recalls. He was adamant about dropping out in time to spend the holidays at home. But he just continued to stay, remaining in place until after the new year. He will celebrate seven years of sobriety in November.

"He's so great," Michele says. "I can't tell you how thrilled I am, because I was so worried."

Patrick says his counselors described his break with substance abuse as a "burning bush experience" — the rare example of treatment taking hold on the first attempt.

"I haven't touched anything," he says, "not a line, not a pill, not a joint, not a drink."

PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Butch Patrick prepares for the fans at Crypticon in St. Joseph.

The Crypticon crowds in St. Joseph are decent but not overwhelming.

One booth over, David Naughton, the American werewolf in London himself, looks over at Patrick and Leila and gives them a half shrug. Oliver Robins, who played the kid in the first two Poltergeist movies, leaves his perch along the arena's upper walkway and tosses one of his homemade key fobs over the rail to the Munsters booth.

"I made this for you," he says.

Patrick and Leila spend the slow moments straightening their displays and checking in on the Facebook fan page. During a lull, Patrick talks about his stepfather. Ken Hunt started out in the Yankees' organization as a backup, and possible successor, to the legendary Mickey Mantle. A lifelong friend of another Yankees' great, fellow North Dakotan Roger Maris, Hunt seemed on the path to stardom.

"His main thing was fielding," Patrick says, "He could throw it from the warning track to home on the fly. He had a rocket."

The newly formed Los Angeles Angels drafted him from the Yankees in 1961, and Hunt hit 25 home runs with 84 RBIs in his first season on the West Coast. But a shoulder injury nearly ruined his powerful right arm. Hunt could still play, but it was as if his shot at greatness had been stolen from him. He floundered around Los Angeles for another season and a half, followed by a brief and unremarkable stint with the Washington Senators.

"He had a bad attitude," Patrick says of his stepfather's life after the injury. "He felt like the world owed him something, and he faded away."

The tale seems like an obvious parable for one of the most famous child stars of his generation, but Patrick is just telling a story. He liked Hunt. Some of his best childhood memories are of hanging out in the Senators' clubhouse during a father-son game while on a weekend break from filming. He keeps a picture on his phone of himself with Hunt. "He was really a major ballplayer," he says.

Before long, the crowds are moving again. He chats with a cosplayer dressed like a femme fatal from the Batman movies. One of his most loyal fans from the Facebook page drops by to show off an Eddie Munster tattoo she got that morning at a booth on the other end of the arena. It is so new, it's still wrapped in cellophane.

Patrick does not plan to do this work forever. Maybe a few more years on the circuit of weekend car shows and Midwest festivals. He says he could eventually cut back to August, September and October — the demand for Eddie Munster is always highest around Halloween — and then jet off to Costa Rica for the rest of the year.

"I have an exit plan," he says.

For now, he still enjoys talking to fans and traveling around the country. He joins Robins and Sleepaway Camp actress Felissa Rose toward the end of Saturday for a panel discussion on the life of a child actor in Hollywood. He's done dozens of these Q-and-A sessions in dozens of towns, but he's ever aware that his audience hasn't heard it before.

"I really want to do a show one day about what it's like to move back to a childhood town and save a house," he says. "I call it, 'Andy of Mayberry meets Eddie Munster in the Twilight Zone.'"