How tall a man is plays a large part in how he is perceived not just by the opposite sex but by society. Height is associated with power and strength , particularly if the man is big as well as tall.There have been many surveys showing how the taller a man is, the more his earning power and the greater his chances of rising up the ladder. For instance , in the post WWII era , most U.S presidents have been 5′-10′ or better , with only Jimmy Carter ( 5′-9 1/2″ ) and Harry Truman ( 5′-9″) being shorter.All the others have been six feet tall or close enough not to matter.
Recently , I came across a term ” Western proportions “. In the era of silent films , the stage sets for Westerns were built to “Western proportions” or seven-eighth scale to make the actors look taller. This was very important because some of the old-time Western stars were quite short. We like our heroes big , our villains bigger. At the very least , heroes have to be taller than their leading ladies.When Alan Ladd, generously listed at 5′- 6″, played opposite Sophia Loren ( 5′-8″) , the director reputedly had a trench dug for her to walk in for a scene in which she strolled arm-in-arm with Ladd. In Casablanca , Humphrey wore elevator shoes for his scenes with Ingrid Bergman .
In modern times height , while still desirable in leading men , does not seem nearly as important . Tom Cruise and Al Pacino are both 5′- 7″ ,Ben Stiller 5′-6- 1/2″ and Dustin Hoffman 5′-5 1/2″ . Danny deVito is barely 5 feet tall but then he is a character actor, hardly a leading man. The leading man today is about the same height as the average American, 5’9″ or 5′ 10″.
Six feet seems to be the yardstick by which men are measured. It is an arbritary number and I wonder how it is in the rest of the world where the metric system prevails . There , the term ‘six-footer ‘ has no meaning but I don’t think they use the metric equivalent , 1.83 meters . Is 1.80 meters the ” ideal” height there , I wonder?
The tallest men in the world are the Dutch ( average 5′- 11.3″) and the shortest are the Indonesians ( 5’- 2.2″). Both these stats come as a surprise to me. I’d have thought that the Swedes or Germans would be the tallest and that some South American country where there has been little European immigration would have the shortest men. The average American is 5′- 9.4″,( according to 2006 figures). At 5′- 7′ myself and shrinking , I don’t feel uncomfortable here but I feel more normal when I go to Canada and I feel positively tall when I am in Japan.
While tall is good , ‘taller’ is only good up to a certain limit . Any taller than a certain height and a man can seem freakish . The dividing line is a matter of conjecture but I would put it at 6′-3 ” or , at most 6′-4”. At basketball games , where all the players are tall , the centers and forwards do not look too much out of proportion compared to the guards. It is only when you see them close-up that they seem gigantic. I remember going court side once and seeing Kareem Abdul Jabbar . He was T-A-L-L. I can understand , though not condone , those wiseacres who sidle up to a seven footer and enquire ” How’s the weather up there , big fella?”
Still ,shortness has its advantages . For one thing , short people tend to live longer. Most of us are well-adjusted and it is only the very short who develop a Napoleon complex : overcompensating for lack of height by trying too aggressively to gain control.I really admire those who are unfazed by their shortness and do not fall into this trap. At a reception in Tokyo that I attended , the guest of honor was a government bigwig , barely 5′-1″ or 5′-2″ , short even by Japanese standards. I watched as he made his way to the speaker’s lectern , perfectly at ease , shaking hands left and right , a big smile on his face . I wondered how he was going to make himself seen when he stood behind the lectern . I need not have worried. The organizers had discreetly arranged a pull-out platform step behind the lectern and he smoothly stepped on it and delivered a well received speech.
In this regard, there is a classic story about Carlos P.Romulo , the Filipino ambassador to the U.S in the forties , who later became the President of the U.N General Assembly ( 1949-50). At a dinner function in Texas , the diminutive Romulo ( he was barely 5′-1″ ) was seated between two towering Texans. One of them leaned down and grinned ” How does it feel to be sitting between us , Mr. Ambassador ?”
Without missing a beat , Romulo replied ” Like a dime between two nickels “.
Now that was a man who knew his own worth !