Butch Patrick no longer sports the thick widow’s peak that made him famous 47 years ago on “The Munsters.”
But the days before Halloween are still a mad dash for Patrick, now 60, to capitalize on the two years he played little Eddie Munster in the classic 1960s sitcom.
Patrick is the latest in a parade of mostly TV actors from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s who have stopped in Buffalo in recent years, reconnecting with the baby boomers who grew up with them and some more recent generations who have watched them on reruns.
Four of the six “Brady Bunch” children have been here for the World’s Largest Disco. Jerry Mathers of “Leave it to Beaver” came to town in 2008, and David Cassidy and Danny Bonaduce of “The Partridge Family” have made appearances.
What is it that makes these former child actors so popular?
“People want to see that they’re alive first,” said Dave Pietrowski, who has worked with everyone from Anson Williams, who played Potsie on “Happy Days,” to former teen pop idol Leif Garrett for the annual World’s Largest Disco. “Then the next thing is they want to see what they look like and are they nice, are they friendly.”
Patrick found pretty good business in Western New York this weekend – posing with fans, signing autographs and hustling from stores to Halloween parties before a talk he’ll give at 1 p.m. today in the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda for a screening of “Munster, Go Home.”
For stars like Patrick, appearances are a chance to make a living off an acting career that may have faded years ago. For local charities and businesses, attracting a big name can help catapult a fundraiser to success or draw a crowd for a special event. When the owners of costume store George & Co. discovered they could book the man who played Eddie Munster, they knew it would be the way to get the word out about their new location in Amherst.
“Our jaws kind of dropped,” said Mike Smilanich, whose family owns the novelty shop. “We said, ‘That needs to happen.’ ”
It’s not just baby boomers who are drawn to meet the likes of Patrick and Mathers. Those whose shows have been revived in reruns or have caught a second wind in their careers can appeal across generations.
That was true for Henry Winkler, who made his name as “The Fonz” but is better known among some younger people for his appearances in Adam Sandler’s “The Waterboy” and on “Arrested Development.” Likewise for Lou Ferrigno, “The Incredible Hulk,” who landed a role most recently on the sitcom “The King of Queens.” Both have been headliners at the World’s Largest Disco, which will announce its latest celebrity guest next month.
At George & Co. on Saturday, 8-year-old Johnny Bewley was decked out as Eddie Munster as he waited in line to meet Patrick. His costume included dyed black hair, a widow’s peak applied with makeup and a homemade Wolf Wolf doll.
Like Johnny, Nikkita Maybach, 26, of Lancaster, watched “The Munsters” in reruns and was eager to share the celebrity experience with her mother, Michele Maybach, 54.
“I love meeting any celebrity. It just goes in my repertoire of Facebook photos,” Maybach said. “Half the fun is saying I was here.”
Patrick, who was small for his age when he landed the role of Eddie Munster at 11, has followed a path typical of many former child stars, first shying from the role for years before eventually embracing it and spinning his fame into a business. He is open about a prostate cancer diagnosis and his sobriety, but is most animated when he talks about the business opportunities he has pursued.
There’s the Munster Muscle hot rod company and the line of green-and-purple tattoo ink. His sister’s company makes a Wolf Wolf key chain, and this year, Patrick became an ordained minister so he could officiate at Goth-themed weddings.
“I figure everybody knows the name ‘Munster,’ ” Patrick said. “Most people like it and they have a fond memory of it, so why not take advantage of it a little bit?”
Patrick will spend an hour today talking about his experience on “The Munsters” and answering questions from fans at the Riviera Theater before a screening of “Munster, Go Home.” The event, which costs $10, will benefit the Sweeney Fire Hose Company and the theater.
“It’s a cheap price to come and have one of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” said organizer Joe Lavey, president of Sweeney Hose.
When Patrick booked an appearance at the Riviera Theatre, he reached out to a longtime friend in Buffalo, 97 Rock’s Rob Lederman, to help line up a series of events that included Buffalo’s Biggest Halloween Bash in the Connecticut Street Armory on Saturday. Lederman and Patrick first met at a comedy club in Atlantic City two decades ago.
“I’ve never met anyone who just has no ego,” Lederman said of Patrick. “A lot of stars from that generation have a chip on their shoulder.”
Pietrowski has seen the whole range of attitudes from the famed personalities he has brought to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center for the World’s Largest Disco.
“There are some that are real prima donnas, and there are some that are, frankly, more wonderful than you can ever imagine,” Pietrowski said. “Henry Winkler is probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. … He signs his emails to you ‘warmly,’ and that’s exactly what he’s like.”