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.