Did you know that when E. T. wanted to phone home, he wanted to call Youngstown? At least that was the case for the actor who played E.T.
He was able to play the part because he was 2 foot 10 inches tall and weighed 45 pounds. The E.T. suit, at 40 pounds weighed almost as much as he did. E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) was the second movie in which he appeared. The year before, in 1981, he had a part in Under the Rainbow, alongside Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, and Eve Arden.
Michael Patrick “Pat” Bilon was born August 29, 1947 and grew up on the West side of Youngstown. His parents were Michael and Esther Patrick Bilon and they lived on South Osborn, off of Mahoning Avenue. He graduated from Ursuline High School in 1965 and then studied speech and drama at Youngstown State, graduating in 1972.
Before his two movie roles, he worked a variety of jobs around Youngstown. He was a bouncer at Wedgewood Lanes Orange Room. He hosted a weekly Ukrainian Radio Hour music show on WKTL radio in Struthers and was the WKBN Kid in their radio and TV promotions. Then he got a job as a radio dispatcher for the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department. He even participated in undercover operations. Captain Steve Terlecky once said of him, “I’d like to have a dozen more like him. He does a hell of a job for me.”
He was active at St. Anne’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Austintown. He taught CCD and coached the basketball team for St. Anne’s school. He was also District 5 director for the Little People of America. It was at a national convention for the organization in 1979 that he was recruited for the part of “Little Pat” in the movie Under the Rainbow. That, in turn, led to the E.T. role.
Sadly, his fame was brief. In 1983 he contracted pneumonia. An infection followed and he was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s on the afternoon of January 26, 1983. He died the next morning at 1:08 am, at age 35. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, mere blocks from his childhood home.
Although he was small in stature and short in lifespan, he was big not only on the silver screen but also around the city. He had to be impressive to succeed as a bouncer and in undercover operations. His faith, his church, and his ethnic community were important to him. He raised money for various local organizations. He never saw his size as a disability but showed how much Little People were capable of. Doesn’t he sound like a guy who grew up in Youngstown?
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!