Who Invented Little Grays? Hollywood or the Hills?


July 29, 2013 by kittynh

Betty and Barney Hill are such legendary figures in the mythology of alien abduction that most are already familiar with their iconic abduction story. The Hills account of what they claimed happened to them the night of Sept.19, 1961 is considered to be the first modern alien abduction case. Their story is the prototype for many of the alien abduction stories that have followed.

The Hills were on a homeward trip through rural New Hampshire late at night when they saw a bright light they could not identify. They arrived home hours later than they thought they should have, introducing the concept of “missing time”. They later went to a psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Simon and the Hills believed, through hypnosis, that Dr. Simon had retrieved their missing memories of the event. The “event” is the now all too familiar (thanks to books, movies and TV shows) alien abduction. Dr. Simon, an experienced hypnotist, felt the Hills account was just a fantasy. The Hills disagreed.

Barney Hill expresses his opinion in this undated letter to Dr. James MacDonald, at The University of Arizona (from the Milne Special Collections, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH)

Doctor Simon told us he had met you at the home of a colleague and that Dr. Sagan was there. Unfortunately we feel that Dr. Simon vacillates between believing and non-believing in UFOs, and then this influences his interpretations of our hypnosis experience. We believe the experience to be an actual one, including the hypnosis, in spite of Dr. Simon’s opinions.”


Betty and Barney Hill and Delsie the dog
Alien experiences (Noah Whippie illustration)

After the Hill’s abduction story, the age of the kind Venusian aliens, here to share their knowledge with us, was over. Modern abduction mythology, which includes missing time, hypnosis, and probings, was here to stay. Still, the now common view of aliens looking like little grays probably did not start on the night of September 19-20th.

The onset of the modern abduction experience in my opinion really started after media coverage of the Hills began. In 1966 John Fuller published his book “The Interrupted Journey” about the Hills. This book was written with the cooperation of the Hills. A TV movie “The UFO Incident” was aired in 1975, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.

The aliens in the movie looked very much like the typical “little grays” we all know today from movies, TV and novelty store items. There are differences, but the influence was imprinted on the memories of everyone watching and the cultural impact of the movie is still with us today.  

This new type of alien was quickly assimilated into modern culture. Aliens, with kind hearts, here to warn us of the dangers of our behavior were found boring. Scary aliens, however, make terrific subjects for movies, TV and books. When watching a movie or TV show, people seem to enjoy being scared by an alien more than listening to a sermon from an alien. Aliens that reflected our fear of atomic annihilation or environmental pollution were replaced by aliens with a far more personal agenda for us. These new aliens don’t want us to warn mankind, they want us.

The skeptic community has for many years looked for the inspiration for the aliens the that the Hills claimed abducted them. I assumed (like most of the people I have talked with about aliens over the years) that the now stereotypical little grays were the type of alien the Hills described seeing during their abduction experience.

One suggestion for inspiration for the gray alien is that an episode of the “Outer Limits” television show entitled, “The Bolero Shield” may have been seen by Barney Hill before his hypnotic sessions with Dr. Simon. The episode featured slant eyes aliens and has been put forth by Martin Kottmeyer in his 1990 article “Entirely Unpredisposed” as a potential influences. I found another potential influence though while researching the Hills.

I am lucky enough to live in the beautiful state of New Hampshire. New Hampshire is famous for maple syrup, cold winters, presidential candidates, and the state where Betty and Barney Hill claim they were abducted by aliens. Betty Hill, an alum of the University of New Hampshire left her papers and other historic items to the school.

It was while researching Betty and Barney Hill at the Hill archives (Milne Special Collections, Special Collections, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH) when I came across a draft of her book “The Interrupted Journey Continued or A Common Sense Approach to UFOs”. When I read the following, I let out a gasp, that made the librarian in the room glance at me for breaking the silence.

Sometimes I have been approached by those who tell me they have been abducted by the same ones I met, or the same type. They are smiling, until I ask if they looked like the ones in my movie. Oh yes. Then I tell them the ones in my movie was Hollywood’s idea of their appearance, for they had no similarities to the real ones. Such disappointment!”

Betty Hill had actually written that the aliens in the movie, the ones we have continued to exemplify as typical today, were an invention of Hollywood.

I wondered just what the Betty Hill thought the “humanoids” that abducted her and Barney looked like. I scoured the archival material and found what may be the answer in a file dedicated to materials about Marjorie Fish. Marjorie Fish, was an amateur astronomer who attempted to find a match for a “Star Map” Betty Hill claims to have seen on board the alien craft. She produced a controversial and discredited 3-D model based on what stars were represented on the “star map”. In this folder of correspondence between Marjorie Fish and Betty Hill I found my first clues.

The first clue is in a letter to Marjorie Fish, dated July 12, 1969. (Milne Special Collections, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH)

Barney and I had a theory that the star that the humanoids were from probably was a colder planet than the Earth. We based this thought on similarities between the humanoids and a group of Indians who live in the Magellan Straights, south of South America. These Indians have adapted to the climate or severe cold by developing fat folds to protect themselves which give the impression of being much like the humanoids. IE, the Indians have very large slant eyes, surrounded by a fat fold which gives the impression of extremely large eyes; their noses are almost ehinct (sic);their lips are difficult to see because they are hidden by another fat fold: Their fingers and toes are very short, but their hands and feet are thick with layers of protective fat. These Indians go swimming in 40 degree below zero, without discomfort.”

The second clue is a cut snippet from some other document. It was also found in the Marjorie Fish folder. It is clearly Betty Hill writing. Betty is commenting on drawings Marjorie Fish has drawn of the humanoids, which Betty describes as “too human”.

We did see some slides of a group of Indians in Antarctic who resembled these humanoids very much- both of us were very shocked by this. They had fatty layers of tissues around their features to protect them from the extreme cold of their environment – a warm day is 40 below and they go swimming. In these pictures their hands, fingers, feet, and toes were very thick with layers of fatty tissues, and their fingers and toes were very short and fat: their little fingers and toes were almost impossible to see because of their small size. Barney and I had such a reaction to these, that we always wondered if subconsciously we were remembering them in this way.”



Illustration by Noah Whippie

I investigated what “natives” Betty was referring to. The closest match I could find was from Patagonia, in Southern South America. Patagonian natives do somewhat resemble the description by Betty, and slightly resemble prototypical little grays. The slight resemblance is found in the features, with more slit like eyes and flattened noses. They are not little, gray or green, and certainly resemble nothing but fellow members of the human race. It seems the aliens that “abducted” Betty and Barney were far more human than alien in appearance.

More research brought yet another description of the “humanoids”. This time from a October 20,1964 letter to “Walter” about a talk given at Phillips Exeter Academy, a private preparatory school in the Concord NH area.

Last night Barney and I went to Phillips Exeter Academy to hear Dr. Coon, anthropologist, of Harvard, lecture on the ‘Races of Man’. He showed several slides, but one of them looked like the people on the space ship. Barney and I both recognized this at the same time! It was the slide of a woman that lives in a very cold climate and showed her physical adaptation to this very cold. I believe she is of Mongolian background, with very distinct slant eyes. Her adaptation is the formation or a fatty substance around her eyes, which causes the appearance of a large eye extending around to the side. Her nose is very small and flat to her face. Her mouth seems distorted by this fatty substance.”


Patagonian Native, illustration by Noah Whippie

Later the letter continues, “I do not know where that UFO was from, but I am convinced that it must be a very cold climate. It was surprising to actually see a picture which resembled the men so closely – much better than we could ever begin to do.”

Once again, the “humanoids” are described in much more terrestrial than extra terrestrial terms.

Betty and Barney also seemed dissatisfied with the alien drawings done by artist David Baker. A letter dated October 1967 to Betty and Barney from the archives indicated she was not entirely happy with his depiction of the aliens.

Dear Barney and Betty,

A great weekend—thanks for making it so exciting.

I was distressed over your concern over the drawings I made, in fact, I spent most of the night trying to theorize the entities you both saw in ’61. I would like to draw some more for you, of any aspect of the experience you could verbalize.

The letter goes on to describe her reaction to when a stocking was pulled over a face.

You noted, I recall, with great concern, the simulated effect we demonstrated with mouth immobility by pulling a tight silk stocking over face. Lips were pressed close to the teeth line, neutralizing all usual lip fullness and character. In fact the stocking trick gave Mongoloid expression to all bound features.

Someone, Betty or Barney, has written a penciled “Yes” next to the paragraph.

The image of someone with a stocking over their head, their features flattened, brings to mind a bank robber, not an alien. Once again, the Hills seems to be indicating not little grays, but very human like creatures.

When I speak about UFOs and aliens, I often do a little demonstration. I hand out 3by5 cards and ask the audience to “If you were abducted by an alien on the drive home tonight draw what you think the alien would look like.” The cards come back, some heavily influenced by science fiction shows, a few jokingly drawing Mexicans or Canadian Mounties, but most with the characteristics of the Betty and Barney Hill TV movie alien. Small lips, small or no nose, elongated skulls and slanted eyes.

I tape all the cards up and then draw a “composite” of the alien. It is always the same little gray we see everywhere today. Even a young child, if shown the drawing, would recognize it as an alien. The humanoids Betty and Barney Hill claim abducted them, that so closely resemble humans that have evolved for life in a cold climate, have never appeared in a movie or television show.

My audience always has a few hard core UFO believers. They, like the people that approached Betty Hill to tell them about their own abduction experience, suffer “such disappointment” when they learn Betty Hill believed our modern archetype of an alien was an invention of a costume designer and Hollywood. This doesn’t mean that someone that has seen a little gray or suffered an abduction experience is lying. Indeed, our memories and common culture influence all our everyday experiences. The move from kind Venusians trying to save our planet, to cold grays trying to abduct us, has been greatly influenced by Hollywood more than the UFO community is prepared to admit.

21 thoughts on “Who Invented Little Grays? Hollywood or the Hills?

  1. Jack Brewer says:

    Nice work, kittynh. Thanks for the post.

  2. Geek Goddess says:

    Excellent post. Back in the early UFO days, the ‘nice friendly aliens’ were here to worn us about the dangers of the atomic bomb. And then in the 70s, about pollution. Now they seem to be warning us about climate change or over population. I wonder what the aliens will be warning us about 20 years from now?

  3. Chip says:

    Nice research, Kitty. I very well remember reading about the Hill “abduction” at the time and the sketches I saw back then looked nothing like the later “Grays”. Clearly that version came later with some help from Hollywood. On the other hand I’d have preferred the aliens of Howard Menger and George Adamski: Tall, Nordic, attractive, the women with long blond hair and looking like Playboy Playmates. And they were friendly too, dropping by for coffee and chit-chat, with no interest in those invasive body probes.

    • Kitty Lapin Agile says:

      thanks Chip, the Venusians actually married men from Earth. Men that otherwise lived in their parent’s basements had wives that looked like Bridgette Bardot!

  4. Kitty, isn’t there some archival recordings or something where Betty describes them as having the nose of Jimmy Durante? I clearly recall hearing that, but for the life of me don’t recall the source. Is this a missattributed memory?

    • Kitty Lapin Agile says:

      Yes, she dropped the Durante nose after the hypnosis tapes. Betty was never ever 100% happy with any of the depictions. But the first description by Betty had the aliens looking like Squidward from “SpoungeBob”. Barney had his description, from hypnosis. He was far from convinced of the abduction until later, especially after his hypnosis by Dr.Simon. Sadly, while Simon believed the tapes only showed he was under great stress (and he was) Barney believed they proved abduction.

  5. Cean says:

    There is no mystery at all as to what Betty Hill thought her aliens looked like. She drew them and even created a model bust of their general appearance:

    There are several filmed interviews in which she displays this model and talks about it.

    • kittynh says:

      Betty did not draw the aliens, and the bust was made by Marjorie Fish. The letters in the archives are clear that she was not happy with any depiction of the aliens. The bust she named “Junior” and I have seen it. The letters tell a different story than her interviews, though she did love to have Junior near her in her later years. Her first description of the aliens said they had “huge noses like Jimmy Durante”.
      It should be noted Betty relied on others to try to replicate what she saw, the bust, while lovely, was used more as a prop. Please give Marjorie Fish and Dave Baker credit for their attempts to help capture the likeness of the aliens. It was also “not quite”. But she was very fond of Junior.

  6. Kitty Lapin Agile says:

    Reblogged this on Two Different Girls and commented:
    From my skeptic blog, I put enough work in on this one I thought it would be nice to share.

  7. Kitty, Barney’s aliens with the “wrap-around eyes” came from the Outer Limits, Bellero Shield episide. Betty’s aliens were different – like you said, their description changed regularly!

    Kottmeyer wrote, “Wraparound eyes are an extreme rarity in science fiction films. I know of only one instance. They appeared on the alien of an episode of an old TV series “The Outer Limits” entitled “The Bellero Shield”. A person familiar with Barney’s sketch in “The Interrupted Journey” and the sketch done in collaboration with the artist David Baker will find a “frisson” of “deja vu” creeping up his spine when seeing this episode. The resemblance is much abetted by an absence of ears, hair, and nose on both aliens. Could it be by chance? Consider this: Barney first described and drew the wraparound eyes during the hypnosis session dated 22 February 1964. “The Bellero Shield” was first broadcast on “10 February 1964. Only twelve days separate the two instances.” http://www.debunker.com/texts/unpredis.html

  8. Hey Kitty,

    Just want to bring to your attention some esoterica you might find of interest. Betty was not the first alien contact in ufo culture to speak of Mongolians. Ernest Norman, founder of the Unarius ufo cult, published a pamphlet in 1956 titled “The Truth About Mars” which described his astral journey to the dying planet and found the martians living underground. They were short, averaging 4’ 6” and Mongolian in appearance. Nur-El (no relation to Kal) informed him some of their race escaped to Earth to survive and they evolved into the Chinese race.

    Early science fiction often overlapped with adventure literature about the yellow peril. The Buck Rogers comic strips originated in an Amazing Stories tale in August 1928 titled “Armageddon – 2419 A.D.” in which Mongolians achieved air superiority and devastated North America with disintegrator rays fired from airships. In 1934 the Flash Gordon comic strip started and transplants the yellow peril to a strange rogue planet hurtling towards Earth we eventually learn is the planet Mongo. It is ruled by an Fu Manchu style despot named Ming the Merciless. Both these strips were turned into movie serials decades later and extraterrestrials with oriental appearance featured prominently in both. Make of this what you choose.

    • kittynh says:

      Thank you. I’m sure the influences were many. Fu Manchu is a great suggestion, and one everyone was familiar with. I appreciate you input very much, knowing of your reputation.

    • Hey Marty, great to see you on-line now! I’ve written a recent piece on Betty Hill in my Blog BadUFOs.com, it would be great to have your comments there.

      We’ve also been discussing your “Bellero Shield” hypothesis. My understanding is that it applies only to Barney’s alien with the “wrap-around eyes,” and has nothing to do with Betty’s aliens, Patagonian or otherwise.

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  14. antioco says:

    Cmon skeptics! You call themselves “skeptics” and try to investigate about world mysteries like that? That’s not honest! You will get nowhere with your skeptic ass!

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