By Larry Teren
I recently read the biography of Dwayne Hickman. For those who don’t know who he is or it rings a bell but cannot place the name- he was the star of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis a, the television sitcom series from 1959-1962. Dwayne talked much about his relationship with the comedy writer genius Max Shulman. Shulman invented Dobie along with writing the play The Tender Trap (which became a Frank Sinatra starring movie), the novel “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” (which became a Paul Newman movie) as well as provided the original story for House Calls (a Walter Matthau movie).
Genius comes in all sizes. Max could not will himself to be more than the 5′ 6” that he was on his best days. He used to tell Dwayne that if he was as tall as him, he could rule the world. Napoleon did okay for himself for a while despite his lack of physical stature, no?
Dwayne would respond that he himself was only 5’9”, certainly not so tall a personage and that he did not think his intermediate height was much of an advantage. He would remind Max that one cannot have everything and that many people were just as envious of Max’s talents. Ironically, in later years the two had a falling out which Dwayne believed was a misunderstanding as well as the result of Max’s failing health as he fought a losing battle with cancer at the age of sixty-nine.
The noticing of height differential has long plagued my ever drifting thoughts. At my height (pun intended) I was 5′ 9 3/4”. In the 1970’s I tended to wear shoes that had two inch heels. It gave me a tall feeling. Most of the people I hung out with were within an inch or two of me in either direction. I was not focused on the need for empowerment by height.
As the years went along, I took to the hobby of watching movies not so much for the plot but for comparing the heights of the various actors in them and how I would stand up against them. I developed a theory of how directors positioned actors to dominate one against the other for that appropriate scene. With the right camera angles, Edward G. Robinson and Alan Ladd seemed to stand six feet tall as they pistol whipped the bad guys. When the director yelled “cut!”, they would get off their tippy-toes and crawl back to their dressing rooms.
A couple of years ago I had the dreaded physician’s physical. The nurse wanted to measure me. I told her that she didn’t have to and gave her my height. She said that it wouldn’t do and to stand up. After she did her thing, she announced that I was now 5′ 9”. I told her that she made a mistake. In her broken English, she told me that it was no mistake. I had shrunk. (This caused me to shrink more.)
Now that I am at the point of no return and seeing the world closer to the ground, I have become too much aware of my stature versus the rest of the world. I am more and more a passerby in the Land of the Giants, and I don’t mean San Francisco. It seems as if everyone is at least six feet and over- the rats!
There are advantages- younger titans look at me reverentially as they would any other little old man. And, of course- there is a special advantage to going face to face (so to speak) with all these Amazons walking the streets in three inch heels- but, that’s another story.