“I was in love with Alan Ladd and I went to a party at Romanoff’s. I’m 5’7” but in heels I’m 5’9” or 5’10”. They said, “Shirley, your favorite actor is here. Come and meet him.’ I turned around. He was there and I went, ‘Oh hi, Mr. Ladd.’ He was about 4’9” and all my admiration disappeared literally in the dust.” — attributed to Shirley MacLaine but who knows?
Ladd was notoriously insecure about his height, which (to go by most accounts) was somewhere between 5’5″ and 5’6″. For his entire professional life this psychological albatross was draped around the poor guy’s neck. On the other hand James Cagney was roughly the same size (5’6″ or thereabouts) and he never squawked about it. He spent his whole adult life playing tough urban guys who slapped, punched or psychologically dominated other fellows, and nobody ever said “Jeez, he’s kinda short.” They said, “Shit, here comes Cagney…watch out.”
In short (pun), a good part of life is about owning the right kind of psychology — about feeling secure and confident about who you are and what you look like. It’s about planting your feet, looking the other guy in the eye and saying “take or or leave it but this is me…got a problem with that? Because I don’t.”
On the other hand I understand the Shirley MacLaine mindset. I’ve been a tall, slender, broad-shouldered guy with fairly good hair (augmented by Prague-installed follicles when I got older) all my life. I’ve been that guy since I was 11 or 12, and by the time I hit my early 20s I was feeling pretty cool about it. I know my looks helped in my hound-dog days in the ’70s and early ’80s.
But I’ve always had this unfair or prejudiced attitude about short guys, and I mean going back to when I was nine or ten. I’ve always had this belief that guys need to be 5’8″ or taller, and if they’re not…well, not a problem for me personally but they will have a certain gauntlet to contend with on a daily basis. Life is unfair and often cruel.
Alfred Hitchcock was only 5’7″ — only an inch or so taller than Ladd. By any fair standard he was short. Plus he was rotund and a half-baldie. Stanley Kubrick was also 5’7″, but I strongly doubt that anyone on a movie set ever said about him, “Look at that little guy.” Martin Scorsese is only 5’4″, for Chrissake — the same height as Tatyana. (And to me she doesn’t seem all that short.) If Ladd hadn’t accidentally overdosed in ’64 he would have been delighted to work with Scorsese in the ’70s — they would’ve gotten along famously.
The irony is that my physical attributes had almost no effect on my feelings of insecurity and low-self-esteem when I was younger. I was convinced by my grade-school and high-school classmates that I was funny looking and certainly not the kind of guy whom women would want to go out with. Even though I’d grown out of that psychology by my early 20s it took decades to get past my underlying self-worth issues. For decades a little man in my chest insisted a daily basis that I was a loser, funny looking, an also-ran, a mediocre writer, destined to earn shitty money my whole life, etc. It took me decades to get rid of that guy, who was basically a manifestation of my father’s alcoholism.
In other words, for my first 30 or 35 years on this planet I was a psychological short guy who sorely lacked the feelings of confidence that fortified Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese or even Alan Ladd. Ladd was a model of robust psychological health compared to me. If you’re strong and tall within, that’s all that matters. The size of the fight in the dog, etc.