Billy Barty, a 3-foot-9-inch dwarf actor, knows how to make people around him feel comfortable with his size.
Barty sauntered up to a stage at the Fullerton Public Library on Friday, walked behind the podium and disappeared. People seated in the front row shifted nervously.
No one had remembered to bring a stool for Barty.
"As I look out over this lovely audience . . . " Barty began, hidden from view.
Laughter erupted from the audience of schoolchildren and senior citizens. Barty came out to face them. Moving to sit in a chair as tall as he is, Barty waved off would-be helpers. "If I fall down, I don't have far to fall," he said.
The 68-year-old veteran film star spoke for almost two hours about his struggle to overcome prejudice against small people. He reminded senior citizens of how they are often misjudged because of their age, and he urged them to contribute to society.
"Senior citizens, what do you know?" he asked rhetorically. "Plenty!" said Helen Polikoff, 88, who came from the Sunnycrest Chalet retirement home. "That's right," replied Barty.
About 75 students from St. Mary's in Fullerton also came to hear Barty. They were not as familiar with Barty's acting career, but were curious about his experiences as a "little person."
"Were you ever teased?" asked one boy named Jesse.
Barty said he is still teased and told about a recent encounter where a man started laughing at him and asked him: "When are you going to grow up?"
"I have," Barty said he told the man. "And you?" Though the schoolchildren had to return to school, Barty stayed on to speak to the eight senior citizens who came from Sunnycrest.
Barty has appeared in more than 200 films since his debut in 1927 as a 3-year-old. He starred in the 1988 film "Willow," and acted in "The Day of the Locust." He also founded the Little People of America in 1957 to improve public awareness of dwarfs.