THE INCREDIBLY SHRINKING MOVIE STARS
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- So, a few weeks ago, when a good friend and I went to see "Ocean's Eleven," I happened to notice that when handsome George Clooney stood next to heartthrob Brad Pitt, they were exactly the same size. They looked like bookends.
Since Pitt is famous for being a small man, that must mean Clooney is also short. And Matt Damon didn't exactly tower over them. Since I was bored, I started wondering why our male movie stars were shrinking.
Stars themselves confirm this; when they go on talk shows, they usually complain that the first thing people who meet them in person say is, "You're shorter than I thought you would be."
Why do we think they're all tall? Partly because we're used to seeing them 30 feet high on a screen, partly because we think of them as idealized images of what men should be, partly because we think they're more important than we are so we impart height to them in our minds, but mostly because the camera always shoots them from the ground up.
A while back, a short male star was an anomaly. Remember Alan Ladd, who had to stand on a box when he kissed a woman in front of the camera? In his time, that was the most hushed-up secret in Hollywood. Now most male movie stars are like him.
They're supposed to be idols to millions of swooning women and role models, or at least positive examples, to millions of copycat men. Don't we always say, "tall, dark and handsome?" And isn't "tall" the first on the list?
Before anyone gets all bent out of shape and starts writing letters to the editor about my lack of respect for short people, I want to point out that this column is not about short people. It's about height-challenged male movie stars, probably the last group on the planet without an anti-defamation league.
The stars I grew up with were all tall men. They were remarkably bad actors, true, but they were tall. Rock Hudson. Tab Hunter. Troy Donahue. They leaned to one side when they walked, and they stooped when they had to talk to someone.
So in an age when people are growing to almost twice the height they reached 100 years ago, why are Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss and so many other male movie stars now so shrimp-like?
How tall, I wonder, were Clark Gable and Cary Grant? Are more short men becoming movie stars because they can? Because in an overweight culture, lightweights rule? Because they have developed dominating personalities to compensate for their stature? Because maybe, since the American people have such lessened expectations for their politicians, they don't demand that much from their movie stars, either.
Last week I found out that I'm not the only person asking this question. The New York Post gossip section on Feb. 11 ran this item: "Michael Caine thinks Tinseltown is turning into Tinytown. Caine, who's 6-foot-2, is amazed by the success of short guys in Hollywood. 'I think Ewan McGregor, Stephen Dorff, Joaquin Phoenix, Ryan Phillipe and Tobey Maguire are wonderful actors,' he told the London Express. 'There are many other fine actors in Hollywood. But . . . I've never seen a tall one. It seems to me that there's a generation of very talented small people ... maybe they are more ambitious because they are more angry because they are short.'"
And the very next item in the column, titled "Manners needed," said: "If Russell Crowe is surly to his adoring fans, imagine how rude he is to the strippers at Scores. The irascible Aussie has visited the mammary mecca five times, said one insider: "The girls are surprised at how short he is, and how obnoxious."
There you have it. Even that irritating hunk Russell Crowe is short.
So then, last weekend my good friend and I went to see a serious film, "In the Bedroom." There were no sex symbols in that one. Instead, for almost two excruciating hours, we felt the intense pain of an ordinary couple whose only son has been unjustly killed. I'm guessing it was made for people who don't have any pain in their own lives and need to borrow someone else's. Frankly, I have enough of my own.
I came out of the theater vowing never to see another movie unless it starred Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock or both, and had a plot stolen straight out of "Cinderella." Even though I was bored at "Ocean's Eleven," the words "light," "frothy," "romantic," and "comic" looked a lot better than middle-class anguish.
So if I have to put up with little elves for male movie stars, they'd better be glamorous, light-hearted, sexy little elves. Then I'll let them be.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.