Billy Barty--at 3 feet 9 inches, one of the nation's best-known little people--believes that TV's small screen can be a great equalizer.
Come Saturday night, when his comedy-variety series "Short Ribbs" debuts on Orange County's KDOC-TV Channel 56, Barty, 65, hopes the half-hour show will enable other little people "to act like regular people."
For the last 60 years, Barty has played most parts available to small-statured actors in show business, including more than 200 movies, from "Gold Diggers of 1933" to "UHF," now playing in theaters. He just returned from shooting a miniseries in Italy.
Barty said last week that he wants "Short Ribbs," besides providing entertainment to viewers, to offer other little people in show business roles for which they will not be required to be "foils" or to perform in ridiculous costumes, as he has had to do so many times in the past.
The 13-week series, underwritten in part by 7-Up of Los Angeles, is aimed at syndication, according to KDOC's general manager, Calvin Brack. The station is co-producing the series, along with Billy Barty Productions. The show is be shot and edited at the station's Anaheim studios, heretofore best known as the home of Wally George.
The outspoken talk-show host makes a cameo appearance in an early episode, already shot, in which he plays an impatient therapist with a propensity for "short" jokes. There will be other "big" celebrity guests, Barty said, but not in the early episodes.
"We want the people to see what little people can do first," he said.
Barty said that the weekly half-hour series, airing at 8:30 p.m., will lean heavily on spoofs of other TV series and performers. Reporters were invited to watch last week as the show's regular ensemble--all under 4 feet, 5 inches--rehearsed a takeoff called "Small Claims Court," with Barty as the judge.
Another recurring character, also played by Barty, is a consumer reporter named David Halfowitz. The other cast members, Patty Maloney, Jimmy Briscoe and Joe Gieb, are all veterans of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Barty founded the Little People of America in 1957 to increase understanding, and the Billy Barty Foundation in 1975 to raise aid money.
Last weekend, Barty planned to record a fund-raising anthem called "From Where I Stand," with little people and celebrities. Proceeds from the single and video are earmarked for scholarships and medical benefits, Barty said.
"Short Ribbs" debuts Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. on KDOC Channel 56, Anaheim.