Hi guys! I’m Didi West, and this is Broken Limelight.
Today I’m going to tell you about Judith Barsi. Judith Barsi was a child actress from the 80’s. She starred in All Dogs Go to Heaven playing the voice of Anne Marie, and in The Land Before Time, playing Ducky.
She was also in Jaws 4, and she appeared in a lot of tv shows. She was on an episode of Punky Brewster, I saw her once on Cheers for like 5 minutes. She was a cute little girl, and she was small for her age. So directors loved working with her. She was small and cute enough to play little kids, but smart enough to take direction really well.
So let’s start from the beginning. Judith Barsi was born in 1978. Her parents were Maria Virovacs and Jozsef Barsi.
They were both Hungarian immigrants but they didn’t meet until each of them individually came to the United States.
Jozsef and Maria had very different upbringings. Maria had a very happy, comfortable family life growing up.
Jozsef, on the other hand, grew up poor, living in not the best neighborhoods. As a child, he was actually made fun of and bullied for his father not being present in his life.
His home life wasn’t very happy either. Jozsef’s mother used to say that Jozsef was a bastard to try to like, stick it to his father, but of course, that affected Jozsef a lot. Jozsef says that his childhood was miserable and he had no mother or no father.
Jozsef fled Hungary after the 1956 Soviet occupation and he went to France. That’s where he met his first wife, Klara, who was also a Hungarian immigrant. Jozsef and Klara decided to move to New York together to start a new life.
They had two children together, but eventually, Jozsef started drinking and just becoming an angry kind of dude. He was super sensitive about the fact that people would tease him for his thick, Hungarian accent and would become really angry about it. So as his drinking and his anger increased, he would make little sny comments toward Klara. That turned into straight up verbal abuse. Then he started to become aggressive and physically violent with Klara, and he would start drinking more and more which only made the abuse worse.
As his drinking increased, his focus began to shift from Klara onto their two children. Klara was not having it, so she packed up the kids and left.
She moved them out to Arizona, but Jozsef followed them. He begged for forgiveness and promised to quit drinking. So she gave him a chance. She was relieved for a bit because he did quit drinking, and he found a job as a plumber, but this was short-lived. Less than a year later, Jozsef threw a cast-iron skillet at Klara, and she filed for divore and left him for good.
Jozsef moved to Los Angeles and became a contract plumber. It was in LA that he met Maria. Maria was a waitress in a restaurant that was like a known hangout for Hungarian immigrants.
Jozsef would come to this restaurant and offer to buy everyone drinks, and he would always pay for them with a $100 bill. So he was like showing off, acting like had a lot of money.
Maria really wanted to start her own life and her own family. So the two of them hit it off and they got married in 1977. Maria became pregnant right away, and Judith was born on June 6th, 1978.
Maria quit her job and Jozsef struggled finding work, so they lived in a small apartment on welfare.
Maria always loved the idea of the Hollywood lifestyle, but this wasn’t really looking like a likely possibility for her. But she saw something in Judith and despite everyone else doubting her, Maria decided to get Judith into acting, dancing, and singing classes at age 5 and she really thought she could make it to Hollywood.
Judith was a natural, and Maria was a good coach.
When Judith was 5, she was at a skating rink and a TV crew was there filming a commercial. They just happened to look over to where she was and spotted her and they just knew that she would be perfect for another commercial they had coming up. They actually thought she was only 3 years old because of how small she was.
So they got her an agent almost immediately. She was signed to Harry Gold & Associates Talent Agency almost immediately and she got her first job doing a commercial for Donald Duck Orange juice. They kept her on board, got her more work. She is credited in over 70 works including movies, tv shows, and commercials.
By 7 she was making over 100k/yr. So they moved out of their little apartment and into a 3 bedroom home in LA.
Judith and Maria started travelling a lot for work, and they both loved it.
Josef, on the other hand starts to really feel the pressure to pull his own weight. He couldn’t find a job and, again, turned to alcohol. In just one year, he was arrested on 3 separate occasions for DUIs. He would instigate arguments with Maria and turn violent in the blink of an eye. When he wasn’t verbally abusing her, he was physically striking her in the face or choking her. You can imagine that Judith probably witnessed some of this.
Jozsef started showing resentment towards Judith and being really mean to her. One of their neighbors recalled a time when Jozsef was drunk and Judith was playing with a kite, and he snatched it away from her. Judith started crying, thinking he was going to break it because of how drunk and careless he was being. And then Jozsef said to Maria “You see that? She’s a spoiled brat who doesn’t want to share.” And then he broke her kite into little pieces. Poor little thing.
That same year, Judith was approached by director Don Bluth for a role in The Land Before Time. After auditioning, he asked her if she’d like to play Ducky, to which she responded “Yep, yep, yep!” Bluth later incorporated this into her character, and it has become a fan-favorite quote.
The abuse against Maria and Judith got worse and worse. On one occasion, he took Maria to the garage and he showed her a bunch of cans of gasoline he was seemingly collecting, and he told her “if you ever try and leave me, I will burn this entire house down with all 3 of us in it.”
Maria was pretty open about this. For Judith’s 8th birthday, they threw a party at a bowling alley and Jozsef decided not to go. So when some of the other moms asked where he was, Maria said he was “stuck at home, getting drunk.”
Despite all of this, Judith somehow did well in school and at work. But she did start to open up around her friends and say things like “daddy throws pots and pans” or “daddy says he’s going to kill mommy”. Her friends wouldn’t come over to play with her anymore because they were scared.
One time after a party, Jozsef was upset, presumably because he didn’t like that Judith was getting all the attention. So he picked her up by her ponytail and slammed her down on the ground, giving her a bloody nose. The next day, he bought her a pink TV for her room as an apology.
In 1987 she was offered a role in Jaws: Revenge, and she had to go to The Bahamas for filming. She was 9 at this time and super excited. So she was in her room packing and suddenly, Jozsef barged in and shut the door, and put a knife to her throat, and said “if you and your mother don’t come back after filming, I’ll cut your throat.”
Again she’s NINE. As if she has ANY say over when she can or can’t get on a plane for an international flight.
So in the Bahamas, Maria had a great time and made friends and started opening up about the abuse. People would sympathize with her and offer suggestions, but she would always go back and keep talking about how scared she was to go back. So it sounds like maybe she was at first taking the suggestions like “that’s a great idea, I’ll do that.” but for some reason, not following through and just backtracking. So people stopped listening to Maria.
So after filming, Maria actually took Judith to her brothers house to visit. Judith was playing with her cousin, and the phone rang. Jozsef was calling and asked to speak to Judith. She took the phone and he said “do you remember what I told you before you left for your filming?” Judith dropped the phone and ran into the other room crying. She told Maria everything he had said, and Maria took the phone and started yelling at him. Still, her and Judith went back to LA the next day.
By the way, Jozsef was sleeping around at this point. And I mean, he had whole ass girlfriend he was taking on dates and buying presents for. And Maria was like, not phased by this. She thought it would just help her get out of there.
In the meantime, Maria got a secret apartment that she was slowly moving things into for herself and Judith.
But one day in July 1988, while Maria was moving things, she came out of the apartment Jozsef was there, and he was pissed. So she was somehow able to play it off and say that she was helping a friend move, and he believed her. But then she was like “shit, if we go missing, he’ll know where to look first.”
So Judith kept working and everyone around her started seeing clear signs of stress. She was staying with family friends a lot to get away from the violence, and she would kind of say things about what was happening at home, but it seems like people just took it as empty threats.
In fact, there was a coworker of Jozsef’s who said that he told him “500 times that he was going to kill his wife” and when his coworker was like “what about the little one”, meaning Judith, Jozsef was like “I have to kill her too.” And this guy I guess did nothing with that information.
Judith started gaining weight and had been pulling out her own eyelashes, and started pulling the whiskers out of her cat.
Then one day, she had a singing audition for All Dogs Go To Heaven. In the middle of her song, she broke down. She was crying hysterically, incoherent. That’s when her agent took her to a child psychologist.
The psychologist noted clear signs of physical and emotional abuse and reported her findings to CPS.
It’s unknown whether CPS investigated Jozsef, but they did interview Maria extensively.
Ok so remember Jozsef’s other two older kids from his first marriage to Klara? Well they’ve refused to talk to Jozsef up until about this time. They’re in their like late 20s-30 years old by this point. One of them forgave Jozsef for the abuse and tried to get the other sibling to do the same. So Jozsef told them that he had remarried and that they have a little half-sister, Judith. They decided to fly in to LA and visit.
While they were there, one of them noticed something in Judith that was familiar. And that’s when they realized, Judith was being abused. So Judith’s older half-sister pulled Maria aside and was like “what’s going on?”
Maria told her everything and she was like “Keep Judy safe” but it was clear that Maria didn’t plan on leaving, she had a different plan. Joszef’s older children noticed that the house was a pigsty and smelled gross and they offered to clean, but Maria said “no we can’t. If we don’t clean it, it’ll drive Jozsef out of here.”
I think one of the things that made it so hard for Maria to leave was that her and Judith had worked SO HARD for that house and everything in it, and Maria wasn’t ready to leave it all behind and let Jozsef keep it. So she was determined to drive him out.
So shortly after when Jozsef caught Maria trying to move into her apartment, Maria told a friend that she was getting ready to cash Judith’s $12,000 tax refund check before her husband could get his hands on it. It seems that she was finally getting ready to leave him once and for all.
Maria also contacted CPS and told them that she was divorcing Jozsef and moving into the apartment with Judith. The social worker took her word for it and closed the case that same day without even bothering to visit the home.
On 7/25/1988, neighbors saw Judith playing outside on her pink bike for about 4 hours. Maria told her to come inside to eat dinner, and after dinner, Judith put on her nightgown and went to bed. Then Maria went to bed herself, leaving Jozsef awake to drink or do whatever he does.
Jozsef waited for both to be completely asleep, and goes to closet and grabs .32 caliber pistol and goes to Judith's room. While she was sleeping, he pointed at her head and fired a shot. The sound of the shot woke Maria and she came running out of her bedroom towards Judith’s. It’s believed she met him in hallway as he was heading towards her room. There was a struggle, and he knocked her down on ground, then he shot her in head.
He left their bodies right there where they were.
The next afternoon on 7/26/88, Judith was supposed to go to a recording session. So when she didn’t show, her agent, Ruth, became concerned. She called the home and Jozsef answered. He said “they went to San Diego. A Black car took them away. I’m just here to get my things and say goodbye to my little girl.” She thought that was super weird so she tried calling back, but no one answered.
The next morning at 8:30 AM, a neighbor went outside to water her garden when suddenly she heard an explosion. She saw smoke coming out of the roof so she called 911 and fire fighters and paramedics came out.
When they got there, they found all 3 bodies. Judith and Maria had been doused in gasoline and Jozsef was found in the garage with a self-inflicted gunshot wound (which was actually the sound the neighbor heard). So basically, after Jozsef shot Judith and Maria, he hung out in the house with their bodies for like two days, and then he doused them and the house in gasoline, lit them on fire, and then went in the garage and shot himself.
When the news broke, absolutely everyone was heartbroken.
Judith and Maria actually went 16 years without a headstone or gravestone of any sort. So in 2014, a bunch of true-crimers raised the money to buy them headstones.
If you look up pictures of their headstones (which I’ll post on my social media pages), both Judith’s and Maria’s headstones actually say “Yep! Yep! yep!”
The Los Angeles Department of Child Protective Services was heavily criticized when the news got out of their failure to save Judith Barsi. In September 1988, the Department acknowledged their mistake.
For the first time in their 4 year history, the Commission for Children’s Services has asked to review a client file from LA’s department of Child Protective Services to review the way the case was handled.
It seems that the biggest problem they found in this case is that the department is not equipped to deal with instances of emotional abuse as well as physical abuse.
One last thing before I finish this off. Judith’s last film was in All Dogs Go to Heaven, which was also directed by Don Bluth.
Don Bluth remembers Judith as a little dream to work with and he planned to feature her in more of his projects. Her death was really hard on him and as a way to cope with it, he and his animators based the character of Anne-Marie on Judith’s mannerisms.
The movie came out in 1989, which means Judith never got the chance to see it. She actually didn’t survive long enough to see The Land Before Time either. As we know, Judith was able to film all of her lines for All Dogs Go to Heaven, however, another actress had to be brought in to sing the song “Soon You’ll Come Home,” as it was clearly too difficult for Judith to get through such a difficult song.
So, again, Judith’s last job was starring in All Dogs Go To Heaven, playing the role of Anne Marie.
Are you curious to find out what her last recorded line was?
“Goodbye Charlie. I love you.”
That’s it for today. I know this was a pretty morbid episode but I just really like to remember Judith Barsi. She would be 43 years old if she were still alive today. Just imagine if Judith and Maria had been able to move out, what Judith’s future could’ve been like. She could’ve moved on to be the star of all of our favorite kids movies from the 90’s. Maybe even in hit films or shows from the 2000’s or even today. What if she was supposed to be somebody like Drew Barrymore who is still known and loved today?
Well I hoped you guys enjoyed today’s episode of Broken Limelight. Thanks again for listening. You can now check us out on brokenlimelight.com;
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Thanks again for listening! I’ll catch you next week for a new episode of Broken Limelight. Bye!