David Bruce: Height Anecdotes

• Michael Caine’s shortest audition occurred for a movie that starred Alan Ladd, who was short for a leading man. Mr. Caine (six-feet-two) walked into the audition and immediately heard “Next!” He asked, “Can’t I audition or do something?” The casting agent said, “No, look at your left.” To Mr. Caine’s left was a mark on the doorway. Anyone who was taller than that mark was immediately rejected for the role. Mr. Caine says, “It was my shortest audition. You had to be shorter than Alan Ladd.” Mr. Caineknows what it’s like when two actors are mismatched in height. He says, “I did a picture with Elizabeth Taylor, and she stood on a box for the whole movie to be level with me, and for three years everybody thought I was five-feet-six because everybody knew how short Elizabeth was.” Movie critic Roger Ebert says, “Alan Ladd spent his whole career on a box.” When Mr. Ladd made Boy on a Dolphinwith Sophia Loren, one scene showed them walking on the beach. A trench was dug in the beach, and Ms. Loren (five-feet-nine)had to walk in the trench during the filming of the scene so that she and Mr. Ladd were matched in height. (Mr. Ladd was five-feet-six.)

• Nate Archibald was six-foot-one, so as a player in the NBA, he was called “Tiny.” When coach Bob Cousy drafted Tiny to play for the Cincinnati Royals, he had never seen Tiny play, although he had heard much about his impressive basketball abilities. When Tiny met Mr. Cousy for the first time at the coach’s hotel room, Mr. Cousy was shocked by how small he was. Mr. Cousy said, “I knew he was little, but I didn’t know he was that little. Or that skinny. Or that baby-faced. I thought he was the bellhop.” When Tiny showed up by himself to play the Knicks at the Madison Square Garden, at first the guard at the players’ gate wouldn’t let him through. Tiny told the guard that he played for the Royals, but the guard replied, “Sure, kid. And I’m the shortstop for the Yankees.” Mr. Cousy ended up telling the guard, “He’s one of my guys, but I don’t blame you for wondering about it. We haven’t even got a uniform that fits him yet. His number’s stuffed halfway down his pants.”

• Body type is important to ballerinas, and even a great ballerina can lose a role simply because her body type doesn’t fit a preconceived conception. Evelyn Hart desperately wanted to dance the role of Juliet in Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Julietat the American Ballet Theater; however, although she begged him to let her do the role, he would not, stating that she would be taller than Juliet’s mother. Ms. Hart protested that in real life she was taller than her own mother, but this argument had no effect on Mr. MacMillan. Other ballerinas have not had the opportunity to work with accomplished male ballet dancers because of height issues. Mikhail Barynshikov often would find a talented ballerina, but be disappointed because she was too tall to be paired with him.

• Chico and Harpo, two of the famous Marx Brothers, were almost equal in height, but Chico was 1/16 of an inch taller. Occasionally, they would bet $5 on who was taller, with the taller person getting the money, and Harpo always lost. But one day Harpo said, “Fifty dollars says that I’m taller.” Chico bet the money, and Harpo was just over an inch taller, even after both brothers had taken off their shoes. Chico paid the money, and he learned later that Harpo had gone to a place that advertised, “Increase your height dramatically!” For several hours, he had been stretched, and for several hours, he was an inch taller, and then he returned to his normal height.

• David Garrick, the famous 18th-century actor, was short, standing only five-feet-four-inches tall. Once, he and Spranger Barry engaged in a theatrical competition. They both played Romeo at two theaters located near each other and tried to attract larger audiences than the other. Garrick’s lack of height caused a wit to compose this epigram: “So reversed are the notions of Capulet’s daughters, / One loves a whole length, the other three-quarters.”

• In Steven Spielberg’s movie Jaws, he used a huge mechanical shark. During one scene in which Richard Dreyfuss’ character goes underwater in a protective cage, Mr. Spielberg used a real great white shark. The real shark was much smaller than the mechanical shark, so to make the shark appear as big as the mechanical shark, Mr. Spielberg used a little person (aka midget or dwarf) to stand in for Mr. Dreyfuss in the scene.

• At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Soviet gymnast Polina Grigorievna Astakhova won gold on bars, silver in the floor exercise, and bronze in the all-around competition. For a gymnast, she was tall (five-feet-five). She also had light skin and blonde hair, and she stood very erect. For these reasons, her friends and fans referred to her as “the Russian birch tree.”

• Mezzo Mignon Dunn was five-feet-nine, and many of her fellow male opera singers were shorter than she, so on stage she often sang with her knees bent. However, one day director Tyrone Guthrie saw her doing that and asked, “You cow, what on earth are you doing?” Afterward, she sang with unbended knees.

• Russian Svetlana Khorkina is five-foot-five and 105 pounds, making her a giant among elite women’s gymnasts. Want to know how to recognize her at a gymnastics meet? It’s not difficult. She says, “I’m very easy to see on the podium, because everyone else is small.”

• Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain was seven feet tall, and as a Harlem Globetrotter, he traveled to many places where no one had ever seen a person that tall before. While walking down a street in Bologna, Italy, he turned around and saw 300 natives following him.

• Mike Adamle played professional football during the 1970s, despite being very small for a professional football player: five-feet-nine, 188 lbs. Because of his small size, he wore No. 1 — according to Mr. Adamle, this number made him look taller.

• George Balanchine went against custom by choreographing for tall ballerinas. He said, “I like tall. With tall, you can see more; with short, you can see less.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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