He was probably the shortest leading man Hollywood ever produced. Through the years there have been many versions of just how tall he was (read on for our count).
There have been many stories about leading ladies having to stand on a box to photograph love scenes with him. Whatever the truth is, Alan Ladd was one of the biggest box office stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to suggest that shorter might in some cases be better.
Ladd once said of himself that he had the face of an aging choirboy. Whatever, by the early-to-mid 1940′s he was at the height of his reign as Paramount Pictures’ biggest male star.
Although never a favorite of critics, Ladd was hugely popular with general audiences who flocked to see the seven movies he made with favorite costar, Veronica Lake, from 1942 to 1946. One of these — The Blue Dahlia with a screenplay by Raymond Chandler –is a film noir classic that stands up well to this day.
Born in 1913 in Hot Springs, Ark., Ladd endured a hard scrabble childhood that more than occasionally left him malnourished. He was undersized as a result (his nickname was “Tiny”). At 5-foot-6-1/4-inches, the fully-grown Ladd was indeed one of the shortest leading male figures in Hollywood history.
He knew it and always resented it. In the early Fifties — while starring as a stalwart, Indian-fighting Mountie in Saskatchewan, director Raoul Walsh’s Canadian “western” — he was introduced by costar Shelly Winters to her second husband, Italian actor Vittorio Gassman, who stood 6 feet, 1-1/2 inches.
I introduced him to Alan, Winters wrote years later in her autobiography, then told him to sit down quickly in the director’s chair. (Gassman) didn’t know why, but he did it. After the shooting, I explained to him that he was too tall and I felt that Alan Ladd, whom I liked very much and wanted to get along with, had a terrible complex about his height.
All manner of devices — hidden platforms, low camera angles, shoe lifts — were employed during filming to mask Ladd’s diminutive stature especially relative to his leading ladies. Ladd is best known today for his superb role as the weary, gentle-spoken gun fighter in director George Stevens classic 1953 western, Shane.
Next time you see the picture (and we recommend that it be sooner rather than later) watch carefully how Stevens filmed the climatic gunfight scene showing Ladd squaring off against 6-foot-4-inch Jack Palance as the cold-blooded villain.
However short in stature, Ladd enjoyed a lengthy career, appearing in more than 90 movies. He also had his share of problems towards the end.
He eagerly sought the lead in Lawrence of Arabia that went to Peter O’Toole. A long second marriage to agent Sue Carol was showing signs of strain. Ladd embarked on an unhappy affair with June Allyson.
He died in 1964 in Palm Springs, California, of an alcohol-barbiturate overdose. He was just 50 years old. (Final factoid: As a struggling actor, Ladd appeared in a small role as a newspaper reporter in Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane.)