The Height of Their Fame

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I’ll keep this one short. An irresistible pun, but I’ve always been fascinated by discrepancies between the officially-stated and the actual height of celebrities.

I’m talking specifically about male film stars. The ticket-buying public doesn’t seem to care if Angelina Jolie is 5’2″ or 5’11” but plenty of Terminator fans would love to know if Arnold Schwarzenegger is really 6’2″.

That’s what his publicist says, but that’s what most publicists do for their male clientele. They add a few inches, in some cases enough so to push the outer limits of fan gullibility.

The web site is dedicated to learning the truth behind these claims. User-submitted celebrity sightings and the creator’s own personal encounters are combined to provide the best height estimates for Hollywood’s biggest–or smallest–names. The consensus seems to be that Arnold’s real height is pretty much in line with his self-proclaimed stature; he’s somewhere in the neighborhood of six feet.

But up-close interactions with celebrities can never be completely reliable unless your star happens to be in bare feet. You could get a good read on Matthew McConaughey, of course, since he never seems to stray too far from the beach, but if you try to gauge men’s height at a red-carpet event, beware the combination of heels and “shoe lifts”. While the heels on average dress shoes might add an inch or two at most, interior shoe lifts can put a Tom Cruise on vertical par with Liam Neeson. Perhaps not so common in today’s Hollywood, shoe lifts boosted the public image of many twentieth-century film stars.

Frank Sinatra was supposedly 5’10”. While not tall, it’s at least on the cusp. His people foisted that statistic upon the public for Frank’s entire career but I’ve never seen a Sinatra movie where I didn’t question its accuracy. My suspicion was confirmed in a book by George Jacobs, Sinatra’s valet in the fifties and sixties. During his twenty years in Frank’s service, Jacobs had seen Ol’ Blue Eyes in all manner of dress and undress. While careful to praise Frank’s abundant masculine appendage, he swore that his boss was no taller than 5’7″ in bare feet.

That means Sinatra was just an inch taller than me. But at 5’6″, I’d have a hard time convincing anyone that I was really three inches taller. I guess I could pull it off on screen if I surrounded myself with an even-shorter supporting cast, but it would take a Michael J. Fox or a Mickey Rooney to make me look big in contrast.

Bing Crosby was just about my height, so I’ve read, but that’s not too hard to believe. Bing was built differently than Sinatra. He was short-limbed and slightly pudgy, his onscreen belly often reined in by a girdle. He never looked tall in his films, no matter how many inches his lifts raised him up. But Frank’s bony face and rail-thin physique created an illusion of vertical length, so 5’10” didn’t seemed far-fetched.

Unless, of course, you were his personal valet.

Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman, to the best of my knowledge, have never claimed to be what they’re not. Massively talented, they’re obviously comfortable with their lack of height and they don’t seem to mind sharing the screen with women who’ve got a couple inches on them.

There’s a scene in the first Godfather where Michael Corleone reunites with Kay after a long absence. The black suit and hat make him seem even shorter and as he walks side-by-side with the taller Diane Keaton, he almost looks like a kid.

A kid you’d be crazy to mess with, given what he did to Sollozzo and McCluskey in that Italian restaurant.

Height has also had some measure of significance in national politics over the years. I can count on two fingers the number of major-party presidential candidates in the last fifty years who were under 5’9″. Michael Dukakis was bested by that long drink of water, George Herbert Walker Bush. And John McCain saw his dreams of glory crushed by the lean, six-footish Barack Obama.

Not that it really matters, of course. One of our nation’s most pugnacious presidents was the 5’8″ Theodore Roosevelt. And John Adams, around the same height as Teddy, left enough of a legacy to warrant his own HBO miniseries.

It’s silly to claim to be what you’re not when anyone with eyes can tell otherwise. I used to say I was 5’6″ and a half, as if that extra half-inch would make me look taller. But I once knew a guy exactly my height who would verbally add three inches to his.

Louis and I were physical twins–same height and build–yet he’d always tell people he was 5’9″. When I first heard him say this, I did some quick mental calculations. In official Beatles press releases, Ringo was always said to be 5’9″ and the other three lads were 5’11”. When you saw them on screen together, those stats made perfect sense.

So if Louis was the 5’9″ he claimed to be and everything else was relative, then Ringo is actually six feet tall, which puts Sir Paul at a towering 6’2″. Now, I saw McCartney in concert this summer from only fourteen rows away. He isn’t short by anyone’s definition, but he’s certainly not up there with Bush Sr. or Lincoln.

In the end, a star’s real height is probably irrelevant, as politicians and despots know only too well. Anything repeated often enough is eventually accepted as truth.

write by cox

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