Born Luigi Curto on June 27, 1909 in Springfeld, Massachusetts, William "Billy" Curtis was an American film and television actor with dwarfism. Only four-foot-two, he avoided the usual stigma of freak-show employment as a youth by working as a shoe clerk, but he was encouraged by actress Shirley Booth to take a little person role in a stage production, Curtis soon became a professional actor, with numerous Broadway musical productions to his credit and ha fifty-year long career in the entertainment business. The bulk of his work was in the western and science fiction genres, but he seldom accepting a role which demeaned or patronized little people. His first big movie season was in "The Wizard of Oz" in 1939. Reportedly, Billy Curtis inspired Judy Garland's comment that the Munchkins were "little drunks" after he made several passes at her during the production, to which she responded "Mother wouldn't approve."
He had a featured role as part of the circus troupe in Alfred Hitchcock's "Saboteur" (1942). He later starred as the cowboy hero of the all-midget western, "The Terror of Tiny Town" in 1938. This was one of the few instances that Curtis was cast as a good guy; his later screen characters were ill-tempered and pugnacious; he played an obnoxious vaudeville performer compelled to sit on Gary Cooper's lap in "Meet John Doe" in 1941, a suspicious circus star willing to turn Robert Cummings over to the cops in "Saboteur" in 1942, and one of the many fair-weather friends of the lead character in 1957's "The Incredible Shrinking Man." He also appeared in "Superman and the Mole Men" in 1951, intended as the pilot for the Adventures of Superman TV series. One of his most unusual roles was as the smaller version of "The Thing" played by James Arness) in the final scene of The Thing from Another World in 1951. Unlike several little actors, Curtis' career thrived into the 1970s, notably with solid parts in the Clint Eastwood western "High Plains Drifter" and "Little Cigars," where he had second billing as a diminutive criminal mastermind in a gang of small people on a crime spree. He also thrived in small roles and bit parts on television, such as "Get Smart," "Bewitched," "The Monkees," "Batman" "Here's Lucy" and "Gunsmoke." On "Gilligan's Island," he had a bit part as a knight in a dream sequence for Mrs. Howell. Curtis retired in the 1980s, except for the occasional interview or "Wizard of Oz" cast reunion. He was happily married and had two children, Tom and Judy Curtis, and later five grandchildren. Billy had also played the McDonalds character, Mayor McCheese, for the McDonalds Commercials from its creation until his death on November 9, 1988 of a heartattack. McDonalds retired the character afterward.