THE BIG SHORTIES
Size matters when it comes to Hollywood. MARION McMULLEN looks at some of the big film stars who rarely towered over their leading ladies
MOVIE tough guy Alan Ladd was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the 1940s and a favourite at the British box office. He filled the cinema screen in movies like Shane and This Gun For Hire, but in real-life stood only 5ft 6ins tall.
His nickname was Tiny growing up and he once said: “I have the face of an aging choirboy and the build of an undernourished featherweight.
“If you can figure out my success on the screen you’re a better man than I.”
The American actor was born on September 3, 1913 in Hot Springs, Arkanas, and his lack of height did not hamper his movie career.
Film-makers got around the problem by making his leading ladies stand in trenches or putting Alan on a box so he looked taller.
Sophia Loren had to walk in a trench beside him when they both appeared in 1957 movie Boy On A Dolphin to make him look taller than she was.
Alan and actress Veronica Lake appeared in seven movies together and it proved a better partnership – she was only 4ft 11ins tall.
He might never have uttered the phrase “You dirty rat” in the movies, but no one messed with James Cagney in gangster films like The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces, even though he was only 5ft 4ins tall.
Decorated war hero Audie Murphy was convinced to go into acting after seeing Cagney’s story in a magazine.
Audie was only 5ft 5ins, but insisted his acting drawback was not a height problem saying: “I’m working under a great handicap... no talent.”
Child star Mickey Rooney’s small stature kept him playing juvenile roles even when he was an adult.
He once joked: “I was a 14-year-old boy for 30 years.”
He was only 5ft 2ins and was often teamed with Judy Garland in his early movies. Rooney once admitted though that he was not always easy with his height saying: “I didn’t ask to be short. I didn’t want to be short. I’ve tried to pretend that being a short guy didn’t matter.” Hollywood’s biggest comedy stars often came in petite size. Charlie Chaplin stood at 5ft 4ins, Buster Keaton was 5ft 5ins, as was harp-playing Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers.
British-born Chaplin became famous for his “Little Tramp” character with his bowler hat and moustache as well as his walking stick in hand.
He once explained: “I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born.”
Fellow silent movie comedy star Buster Keaton said: “Charlie’s tramp was a bum with a bum’s philosophy.
“Lovable as he was, he would steal if he got the chance. My little fellow was a working man and honest.”
He was aged just five when he started performing with his family in vaudeville and was known as “Little Buster”.
He once recalled: “Even people who most enjoyed our work marvelled when I was able to get up after my bashing, crashing, smashing sessions with Pop.”
Few people recognised Harpo Marx off-screen because he was bald in real life and he was not mute like the mime-like comedy character he played in the movies.
It is said he never spoke a word in films again after a review in 1914 said that Harpo was brilliant until his character spoke.
British comedy star Dudley Moore at 5ft 2ins was described as a “sex thimble” after the success of movies like 10 and Arthur, but said: “I certainly did feel inferior. Because of class. Because of strength. Because of height. I guess if I’d been able to hit somebody in the nose I wouldn’t have been a comic.” Many male film stars wore lifts in their shoes to make them look taller, but even the biggest stars in Hollywood wanted to be bigger. Hollywood’s legendary movie cowboy star John Wayne towered over most people at 6ft 4ins, but it is said he slipped lifts into his shoes to give him extra height.
Rock Hudson once revealed: “I did a movie with Duke and was very surprised to find out he had small feet and wore lifts and a corset. Hollywood is seldom what it seems.”
Actor and comedian Dudley Moore with his then girlfriend Susan Anton in 1980
Buster Keaton pictured in the film The General
Mickey Rooney, below
Harpo Marx in Go West
Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia
James Cagney with Virginia Mayo, right
US actor and war hero Audie Murphy in The Red Badge Of Courage