Monday, 25 June 2007

SHORT MEASURES

Sir Michael Hordern once complained to me about the obsessive behaviour of a relatively shortish actor (and fellow knight) with whom he was working. Giving the gentleman in question a pitying look, he turned to me with a dismissive grunt and murmured, "Little man's disease!"

Not very gracious, but there is a common, if erroneous, assumption - particularly among tall people (who naturally feel easily threatened!) - that small people frequently make up for their deficiency in height by exhibiting excessive self-importance or even ruthless ambition...

For example, Napoléon Bonaparte (who featured in a recent blog) is often depicted as a midgit megolamaniac in comparison with his towering nemesis, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.


Now, as it happens, Napoléon was only 5 foot 6.5 inches in height; however, it is perhaps surprising to discover that Britain's hero of WWII, Sir Winston Churchill, was all of half an inch shorter at 5ft 6in --- as, indeed, were Tutenkhamen, Beethoven, Stalin and the Marquis de Sade; and as are Elijah Wood, Woody Allen, Dustin Hoffman, Raquel Welch and Twiggy.

To be short on inches, therefore, does not mean being short on talent or leadership ability: Lord Nelson, T E Lawrence (of Arabia) and Marilyn Monroe were each 5 foot 5-and-a-half inches; Harry Houdini was 5' 5"; Mahler, Mozart and Picasso were all 5' 4"; Gandhi, Khrushchev and Voltaire, 5' 3"; Balzac, 5' 2"; Toulouse-Lautrec, 5" 1' (some say 4' 11"!) and the British poet, Alexander (The Rape of the Lock) Pope, was just 4' 6".


Saintliness, it seems, also comes in small packages: Francis of Assis was 5' 1", while (St) Joan of Arc (who was also featured in that aforementioned blog) was only 4' 11", without her armour - an inch taller that saint-in-waiting, Mother Teressa, who never bothered with earthly armour.

Mae West was 5' 4" as are Bridgette Bardot, Michael J Fox, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth II. Five-foot-three-inches seems to be a particularly popular height and among those who have risen to that level are Vivien Leigh, Martin Scorsese, Bo Derek and both Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney - which is probably why they made so many movies together.

The 'Little Sparrow', Edith Piaf (ditto that blog again), was 4ft 8in, just one of a whole catalogue of actors and singers whose height (or lack of it) never got in the way of stardom.

There are dozens of examples, such as Dudley More who, at 5' 2", was a full head-and-shoulders shorter than his TV sparring partner, Peter Cook.

Then there's Bette Midler, Kylie Minogue, Debbie Reynolds and daughter, Carrie Fisher, who all measure up at 5' 1"; and two irrepressibly bouncy characters, Dolly Parton and Danny De Vito, who are both a mere five-foot-nothing - the same height as Queen Victoria.

Gloria Swanson who played the Hollywood diva, Norma ("I'm ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille!") Desmond, in Billy Wilder's celebrated 1950 movie, Sunset Boulevard, was just 4 foot 11 inches tall.

Knowing which, that famous exchange between writer, Joe Gillis (Wiliam Holden), and the once radiant star of the silver screen, crackles with new potency...

Joe Gillis:
You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.

Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small.

[Images: St Francis by Greg Friedman, O F M; Pete & Dud by Lewis Morley]

10 comments:

Boll Weavil said...

To add to the list and make it even shorter (!) Paul Simon apparently got fed up with having his name prefixed by the phrase 'diminutive songwriter' and by positioning him next to Chevy Chase in the video of 'You Can Call Me Al' the producers were obviously quick to spot the potential comedy value of such a shortfall... Even Simon described his 'short-lived' marriage to Carrie Fisher as 'one and one half wandering jews' in a song.

Brian Sibley said...

GILL writes...

"Thank you thank you Brian!

"At 5' 3" and a widget [very important that widget] I've never felt tall before!

"Now I am off to catch the commuter train feeling like a positive beanpole [can you have fat beanpoles?!]."

Brian Sibley said...

BOLL WEAVIL - Thanks for adding PS, sorry I forgot him -- especially as he was hitched to Princess Leah for a while...

GILL - Pleased to assist! But 'fat'?? Fat will require another blog! But, off the top of my fat head, there's Churchill (again) and Khruschev (ditto) and Alfred Hitchcock and Sydney Greenstreet and Richard Griffiths and Dawn French and both Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor in later life, not to mention Me...

Brian Sibley said...

SUZANNE (who is currently being ignored by the Blogger-comment system!) writes...

"It's all in other people's minds. I have always been known as 'little Suzanne', 'la petite Anglaise' etc...

"In Canada, I was known as 'shorty number 2' even. But really I am not shorter than your average woman, I just never looked my age. At 5ft 4in I'm taller than quite a few people too.

"And as for the 'fat' issue, well... no comment actually!"

James said...

We can measure ourselves against notables and celebrities, tall and small, with this wall-chart:

http://www.whotallareyou.com/

The smallish actor with "Little man's disease" has played the role of Napolean Bonaparte at least three times...

Brian Sibley said...

JAMES -

(a) Thanks for the brilliant link...

(b) No comment...

Bentos said...

Would this little man be a Baggins perchance?

I must have listened to that Radio adaptation of tLotR over 100 times. Thank you

Brian Sibley said...

BENTOS -

(a) Couldn't say...

(b) Thanks for the compliment - that's an awful lot of times!

Bentos said...

What can I say, those cassettes (I've got it on CD now) were a big part of my childhood.

I'd like to ask; what did you think of the films? I know you were involved in one of the promotional 'making of' type books but, hey, you can speak freely now!

Me? I thought they were rubbish. I'd always thought all you needed to do with tLotR was to get the look right and everything else would fall into place. How wrong I was.

Brian Sibley said...

BENTOS - One can NEVER truly speak freely! Moviedom (whether the branch in Hollywood or the one in Wellywood) has a very L O N G arm!

Seriously, I will, one day, write about the films --- but not JUST yet!