If you were a child in the 1990s, the sound of Ducky’s baby voice from The Land Before Time excitedly saying “yep, yep, yep!” likely gives you a visceral reaction.
She. Was. So. Cute.
The optimistic dinosaur fundamentally misunderstood the concept of tense, using words like ‘finded’, ‘eated’ and ‘scarded’, but it didn’t matter because she was adorable, and had a happy little dinosaur family who loved her.
For the child actor who played Ducky, however, life was a very different story.
From the time she was born, Judith Eva Barsi was trained for Hollywood.
Her mother taught her about “posture and poise and voice,” and when she was five, she was discovered by chance by a camera crew at an ice skating rink. Over the next five years, she appeared in over 70 commercials, and a number of feature films, including Growing Pains, Cheers, Jaws The Revenge, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and The Land Before Time.
Speaking to the LA Times in August 1988, Judith’s agent, Ruth Hansen, said her client was a “bubbly, happy little girl,” whose success was in part due to the fact that she looked much younger than she was. She was small, and at 10 started receiving injections to spur her growth.
Watch Ducky meet Littlefoot in The Land Before Time. Post continues after video.
In the previous year, Hansen said, Judith had changed. She was distressed, and had started to pull out her eyelashes, and her cat’s whiskers.
At home, the young girl’s father was angry, and would repeatedly threaten his family, according to sources who spoke to the LA Times.
Judith’s mother had previously gone to police, accusing her partner of physical and verbal abuse, and threats on her life. Many people close to the family said Judith’s father spoke a number of times about killing his wife, while other times saying he would kill his young daughter, leaving his wife behind to suffer.
A neighbour recalled hearing Judith’s mother tell a story about Judith getting a brand new kite, but when she went to play with it, her father “broke it into as many pieces as he could”.
Judith reportedly told family friends she was afraid to go home, because she knew her father wanted to kill her mother.
In May, 1988, Hansen saw for the first time “how bad Judith was”.
The 10-year-old was scheduled for an audition, but started “crying hysterically” and “couldn’t talk”. Hansen, with some insight into Judith’s home life, decided to step in.
She encouraged her client’s mother to take her to a child psychologist, who, Hansen said, concluded that there were “extreme verbal, mental and emotional problems with this child”.
The psychologist reported Judith’s case to Children’s Services, who were told by Judith’s mother, Maria, that she had plans to divorce her husband and move out of the family home.
Maria had started to rent a separate apartment in May, but was yet to entirely move in. While Hansen encouraged the move, Maria told her in June that she wanted to stay in the home for Judith's birthday.
Then, on Monday, July 25, Judith missed an appointment. She was last seen riding her bike in the morning.
After that bike ride, Jozsef Barsi, 55, shot and killed his 48-year-old wife, his 10-year-old daughter, and then himself.
Judith would never get to see the final version of The Land Before Time, or All Dogs Go To Heaven, which were both released after her death. She had previously said that out of all her roles, voicing Ducky had been her favourite.
On her tombstone, Judith's family memorialised her affinity with Ducky, engraving her signature phrase "Yep! Yep! Yep!" below Judith's name.