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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Height of Celebrity

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
When we say we want the truth about celebrities, we don't really mean it. We don't care if their breasts are natural or silicone, we want 'em big. We don't care if fashion magazines airbrush the models' bodies or not, we want 'em skinny. And we don't care if our favorite stars wear lifts or not, we want 'em tall.

When we watch television, we're smart enough to know the actors are not as small as they appear. Who could possibly be only an inch tall? Well, as it happens, hardly anyone. But some of our celebrities are pretty little.

Since the media harps on the public's right to know, be it the names of secret agents, who's dating whom, or who's gender bending, why not ease our minds and let us know who's walking tall and who's walking small? Like former-planet Pluto, some stars need to be downsized. To that end, help is on the way from the Height Detective.

When casting films and TV shows, casting directors must consider two important characteristics: voice and height. You'll never hear actors in the same scene with similar-sounding voices, nor will you often see a short actor paired with a love interest who's considerably taller.

Back in the 40s, the public wanted to see 5'-6" Alan Ladd, their favorite film noir actor ("This Gun For Hire," "The Glass Key") star opposite Veronica Lake (4'-11"). When shooting love scenes with taller actresses, they were filmed from the waist up to conceal the ditch the actress was standing in to make Ladd appear taller. Imagine how deep that ditch would have to be today, were Ladd to star opposite 5'-10.5" Nicole Kidman.

When Jason Alexander as Seinfeld's George Castanza talked about his "shrinkage;" maybe he wasn't talking about what we thought. Jason Alexander measures a diminutive 5'-5," even more obvious when he stood next to Kramer, played by 6'-3" Michael Richards.

Your height detective isn't impolitic enough to suggest Brad Pitt wears lifts, it's just that 5'-9" Pitt is 5'11" in shoes, even taller if he's standing uphill from 5'-7" girlfriend Angelina Jolie.

Tom Cruise is 5'-7.75" with and without shoes, and hasn't tried to fake it. He's shorter than 5'-9" Katie Holmes, unless he sits on his money, in which case he's taller than anyone in Hollywood except Tom Hanks (6'- 0.25"). Perhaps Cruise should consider starring with Eva Longoria or Hilary Duff, both 5'-1."

If Oprah Winfrey and Andy Williams made a video, they'd see eye to eye, both at 5'-6.5", but if Jennifer Love Hewitt made a video with Prince, he'd have to lose his high heels and so would she to make them the same height, 5'-2.5."

Dustin Hoffman and Sandra Oh are only 5'-5" but Richard Dreyfuss is even shorter than that at 5'-4", right down there with 5'-4.25" Barbra Streisand, who cannot see eye to eye with 6'-3" husband, James Brolin, unless he's sitting down and she's standing. Queen Elizabeth II is also 5'-4" which may account for those big hats that make her appear taller, not to mention the crown.

Speaking of Queens and such, Queen Victoria, Dolly Parton and Mae West all have something in common; they're each just 5' tall. Two of them could manage that same number lying down.

The shortest U.S. president was James Madison, coming in at 5'-4", same height as Lucy Liu. The tallest U.S. President, beating out Abe Lincoln's 6'-4" is television's greatest president, 24's David Palmer, portrayed by 6'-4.5" Dennis Haysbert.

Lawrence of Arabia and Marilyn Monroe were both 5'-5.5" and both looked good in veils.

John Barrymore at 5'-9" had to have special shoes designed to play the 4" taller Svengali. His granddaughter Drew Barrymore is an inch shorter than 5'-4" Robert Blake, and a full four and a half inches shorter than 5'-7.5" Lucille Ball, married to 5'-9" Desi Arnaz, who was an inch taller than wild west gunman Billy the Kid.

River Phoenix was under six feet and now he's six feet under. Speaking of six feet, both Allison Janney and Geena Davis hit the mark, right up there with the six feet-and-over hunks Laurence Fishburne (6'-.25"), Harrison Ford, 6'-1" (girlfriend Calista Flockhart is 5'-5.5"), Morgan Freeman (6'-2"), Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer, both 6' and Will Smith (6'2"), married to 4'-11" Jada Pinkett Smith, who's still taller than 4'-10" Danny DeVito, married to 5'-1" Rhea Perlman.

Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland and Conan O'Brien are 6'-4"," taller than Jesus who was 6'-0;" that's what my mom told me, but she wouldn't say who took the measurements.

Martin Short isn't. He's a respectable 5'-6.5," taller than 5'-6" Jack Black, and they'd both tower over Bette Midler, Carrie Fisher and St. Francis of Assisi, all 5'-0.5"

Charlize Theron at 5'-9" can literally look down on Gillian Anderson, Christina Aguilera, Elisha Cuthbert and Paula Abdul, all 5'-2." And Broadway's Bernadette Peters may have a huge voice, but it's propelled out of a 5'-2" frame.

World famous megastar Judy Garland was taller at 5'-0.5" than France's famed chanteuse and Judy's poignant counterpart, Edith Piaf, who stood at only 4'-8." Judy's daughter, Liza Minelli, is taller than both, at 5'-4."

5'-3.5" Angela Bassett is almost as tall as the superstar she portrayed in "What's Love Got to Do With It," Tina Turner, who's 5'-4."

If you don't count 6'-2" Saddam Hussein and 6'-4" Osama bin Laden, terrorists and war criminals may get high, but they are not generally tall. Hitler was 5'-8," Stalin 5'-6" and Hirohito 5'-3." Sometimes good and sometimes bad guy Napoleon was 5'-6.5" in real life, but when measured in French feet (pieds de roi), he lost 4.5 inches to come in at 5'-2." Even Al Pacino's taller than that.

Folk anti-heroes Bonnie and Clyde were 4'-10" and 5'-4" respectively, their blazing tommy guns doubtless making them appear frightfully large.

Johnny Depp, at 5'-9.25" is a quarter inch shorter than Lisa Kudrow's 5'-9.5" so that lets her out of playing parrot to his Sparrow.

When asked by Allure Magazine what his height was, Jude Law replied, "It depends on my mood, really. I'm five nine, and some days I only feel five nine. But if I'm feeling tall, I say six feet!"

When asked his height, Mark Wahlberg said "I'm told that I look taller on screen. One girlfriend said: 'You look about 6'- 2" on screen.' People look at me and say: 'My God, what happened?' I can look pretty ordinary away from films. The camera does things to all of us." So does an airbrush or a can of spackle.

Today's anti-hero superstar, 5'-9" Kiefer Sutherland, is taller than yesterday's anti-hero superstar, 5'-8" Humphry Bogart, who'd stand a half inch shorter than both Cate Blanchett and Cameron Diaz, Sutherland and Bogart both considerably taller than 5'-4" Scarlett Johansson.

All these celebrities are way taller than one television personality, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whose height markings in the doorway place her at an itty bitty 4'-7." If she runs into Clint Eastwood, she'll be talking directly into his belt buckle.

As to our own heights, some of us might be even shorter than Dr. Ruth but, in the long run, the only small thing we have to worry about is our minds.

Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" >
September 28, 2006 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com
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