Little Billy Rhodes: From the Big Top to the Brothers Grimm

Chicago native Little Billy Rhodes (1895-1967) was a rare little person actor who actually got to play some decent film roles. Having started out in vaudeville and circuses, he played the title character in Oh, Baby! in 1926, whose stars included Creighton Hale, Madge Kennedy, Flora Finch, Ring Lardner, and Damon Runyon. This was followed up by The Sideshow (1928) with Ralph Graves and Marie Prevost, directed by Erle C. Kenton. Rhodes was third billed in this drama as a circus boss, which is notable for featuring several actual “born different” cast members, four years before Tod Browning’s better remembered Freaks. In 1929, Little Billy performed his vaudeville act in a Vitaphone short called The Flaming Youth. That year he also appeared in the Lloyd Hamilton short His Baby Daze, as well as The Head of the Family, with Wheeler Oakman. He played a medicine show performer in the 1930 musical Swing High with Helen Twelvetrees. He co-stars with Bob Carney in the short Some Babies, also 1930. In 1931 he co-starred with boxer Primo Carnera in The Bigger They Are and had a cameo in the all-star The Stolen Jewels. He’s a midget named Half-Pint in the 1932 remake of Polly of the Circus with Marion Davies and Clark Gable. Among his other most notable credits are two Three Stooges shorts, Men in Black (1934) and You Nazty Spy (1940), the villain Bat Haines in the all-midget western The Terror of Tiny Town (1938), the Munchkin Barrister in The Wizard of Oz (1939), a midget in Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester (1955), and Grumpy (of the 7 Dwarves) in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962). He has another couple of dozen film and television credits besides these. Billy Rhodes’ last screen credit was the role of a drunk in a low-budget film called The Embracers (1963).

For more on performing little people please check out Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.