I Love Lucy (1951 - 1957)
Commentary by Rudy Palma, November 2005

An avid I Love Lucy fan, I watch episodes of the show repeatedly on a routine basis. The following are extremely biting examples of heightism that I found displayed in certain episodes. Although many societal foibles that are depicted in the program, sexism being the most easy to identify, have changed for the better in the half century since the show ceased filming, the same definitely cannot be said for heightism.

"The Gossip"
Season 1
Episode 24
Original Broadcast: 3/24/52
Here, Ricky and Fred make a bet with Lucy and Ethel that they will not be able to keep from gossiping and will end up doing it before they themselves give in to the vice. Concerned that their wives may win the bet, Fred dreams up a scheme that will hopefully help the girls lose the bet faster; Ricky is to feign talking in his sleep about their neighbor, Grace Foster, cheating on her husband Bill with the milkman. The milkman is played by the diminutive Bobby Jelison, who would later play the recurring role of Bobby the Bellboy during the California episodes in the fourth season. Accompanied by a laugh, Ricky's immediate reaction to Fred's suggestion of using the milkman as a love interest is: "THAT little guy?" Indeed, what a crazy concept that a lady of normal stature could be attracted to a shorter man. In the final scene, we see the milkman running through the Ricardos' bedroom away from a gun-toting Bill Foster, who alludes to the milkman's lack of height. The final scene, however, is acted out purposely by Foster and the milkman, who do the girls a favor by making Fred's idea suddenly become reality in order for them to win the bet.

"Lucy Changes Her Mind"
Season 2
Episode 49
Original Broadcast: 3/30/53
In this episode, after Lucy consistently cannot make a decision and stick with it, Ricky insists that she finish everything she begins. So when she finds an incomplete love letter to an ex-flame named Tom Henderson, she decides to finish it and test Ricky by putting it right where he can see it. Ethel spills the beans and tells Fred about the scheme, so Fred lets Ricky know about Lucy's plans to prop the letter where he will see it before he even sets foot in the apartment. As a result, upon reading the letter, Ricky acts cool, calm and collected, making Lucy greatly upset. In further pursuit of making him jealous, she and Ethel wait outside Henderson's swanky downtown dress shop for Ricky and Fred to come walking by so Ricky can spot Lucy there. While waiting, the two girls spot a salesman who is of diminutive stature (and, of course, a bit pudgy and with not much hair to speak of) selling clothing to a taller woman. The girls assume that the man is Tom, and they make clear in no uncertain terms that this man is unattractive ("the hunk has shrunk") and is certainly nothing for Ricky to be jealous of. Minutes later, upon the episode's completion, we learn that the salesman was not Tom but his brother Harry, and Tom comes out to meet Lucy. He is taller, blonde and younger looking; the image of an "ideal" man, with a particular emphasis on you-know-what. Of course, as most of us shorter-statured men know, it only makes sense that Tom Henderson would be the OWNER of the dress shop in question, while his short brother was simply his hired SALESMAN.

"Lucy Is Matchmaker"
Season 2
Episode 62
Original Broadcast: 4/25/53
Here, Lucy, Ethel and their circle of friends decide it is their mission to get their friend Cynthia married since they perceive her as threatening and far too much eye candy for their husbands. So when Fred's old friend Eddie Grant comes to town, Lucy makes it her mission to acquaint the two, much to Ricky's dismay. Toward the end of the episode, Lucy and Ethel go to his hotel room to explain a previous calamity. Rapping on his door and calling out his name, a particularly short man walks by and says "Hey girls, if Eddie won't open up for you, I will," suggesting that as a short man he is promiscuous or has little to no morals. They tell him in no uncertain terms to take a hike, and when they enter Eddie's room and get him on the phone with Cynthia for the first time, one of the very first questions she asks is how tall he is, to which he replies "oh, about average height." This could also have been a lie, since he seems scarcely a centimeter taller than Lucille Ball, who is known to have been 5'6".

Doubtless, "I Love Lucy" is an incredible television show; the true template from which nearly all successive sitcoms have sprung. Still, nothing is perfect, and the heightism displayed in several episodes of the series is far from it. The worst part of all is that here in 2005 audiences watching Ricky spank Lucy as if she is child know that this is unacceptable, wrong behavior. However, the same cannot be said about the instances outlined above.

palmarua@shu.edu