What is it about Alan Ladd that today’s classic movie fans find most compelling? Judging from content of our general reader response, the answer is — his height.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to note that we’ve covered this very topic in two of our previous blogs — How Tall Was Alan Ladd (published May 3) and Alan Ladd — The Shortest Leading Man In Movie History (Oct. 4).
But a most commonsensical email from Larry inspired us to return to the subject.
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.
Although never a favorite of critics, he 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 — 1946’s The Blue Dahlia with a screenplay by Raymond Chandler –is a film noir classic that stands up well to this day.
And here’s where Larry comes in:
Veronica Lake was quite short which is why she was teamed with him at the same studio. She previously had very little acting experience.
Other than “The Blue Dahlia,” she didn’t care much for the movies she made nor was (she) that great friends with Alan off screen. But they did stay in touch from time to time. She also seemed to live a miserable, somewhat pauper’s life even after so-called fame. (Taken from Lake’s autobiography).
Lake, who actually stood just 4-foot, 11-1/2 inches tall was a perfect physical match for the undersized Ladd. The daughter of a German-Danish seaman and a veteran of beauty contests in her youth, she made her 1939 picture debut under the name of Constance Keane at RKO, but later changed her name at Paramount.
After her movie career went south post WW II, she declared bankruptcy, and years later was found working as a Manhattan restaurant hostess. A mid-Sixties comeback also fizzled, and Lake died at 54 of hepatitis in 1973.
Then Larry’s email missive brings up another diminutive actor, who generally is not known for being short. For my taste the similarly height-challenged Audie Murphy was the better actor and ironically was also self-destructive although he died in a plane crash.
Murphy indeed died in a 1971 plane crash after a decent movie career (44 films including director MGM’s The Red Badge of Courage in 1951 and director John Huston’s western, The Unforgiven, in 1960). He stood 5-foot, 8-inches, making him a giant compared to Lake and Ladd.
Murphy suffered a bad hip resulting from a war wound, and almost drowned while filming Unforgiven in Mexico, recalled Huston. The actor is still revered as the most decorated combat soldier of World War II. He was also an accomplished businessman and song writer after his movie career ended. Murphy’s war experiences left him with what is referred to today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.