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

Glamorgan Gazette - - Past Times -

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

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