When he arrived in the United States at age 16, he spoke not a word of English and had no formal acting experience, but credits joining the Ringling Bros. circus with teaching him both language and performance skills, working first in the sideshow and then becoming skilled as both a clown and a bareback rider.
His audition for his most famous role, television’s Cousin Itt of The Addams Family, was as mysterious to him at the time as the popular character would soon be to millions of viewers. Arriving at the studio, he received little more than a quick looking over by the director and producer, who merely said “That’s Itt!” and told him to come back Monday morning and report for work. He returned home for the weekend, pleased to have passed the audition but still completely unaware of who (or what) he had been hired to portray on The Addams Family. Not until Monday morning, just hours before he made his debut as Cousin Itt, did he have any idea as to the nature of the character.
Although the character of Cousin It did not debut on The Addams Family until over a third of the way through the entire series, Silla’s delightfully odd and inspired performance of the character made him so popular that Cousin Itt was carried over into both the animated series and the motion picture versions of The Addams Family, even though the character was a creation of television producer David Levy and not part of the original Charles Addams cartoons (neither was the character of Thing).
Silla was almost killed while working as the stunt double for Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom during the filming of the river rapids scene. The life raft in which he was riding flipped over in the turbulent water and he was trapped underneath it for some time with a faulty inflatable life vest, nearly drowning until a safety diver could reach him and pull him to safety.
His favorite role is that of Litvak, the maniacal foe of George Segal in 1975’s The Black Bird.