Billy Curtis, a 4-foot, 2-inch midget who acted in more than 50 films and doubled in several others where he often performed dangerous stunts for child stars, died Wednesday in Dayton, Nev.
Curtis, one of a handful of "little people" who made a comfortable living from films, had retired to Nevada several months ago, ending a career that began on the stages of vaudeville. He was 79 and died of a heart attack.
Curtis, easily recognizable both by his stature and his omnipresent cigar, was the first of two midgets born in a family of six children. He and his younger sister, Mary, capitalized on their smallness and worked up a dance act while Curtis was a student at Northwestern University.
They toured the country as The Curtises until Billy discovered a new facet of the entertainment industry--professional wrestling.
"At one point, I had my own midget wrestling show," he said in a 1968 interview shortly after he finished filming "Planet of the Apes," in which he played one of the simian children.