The tall and short of it: does size matter for men in Hollywood?

If our societal biases are usually reflected on the big screen, does Hollywood suffer from heightism?

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman\'s Morning Call email.

This month, a study was released on how height and weight affect our pay brackets. On top of the gender gap, overweight women were found to be, on average, £3,000 a year worse off than a slimmer woman of the same height. Men saw a slightly different physical attribute alter their earnings – for every extra 2.5 inches in height, men’s annual income increases by nearly £1,600.

Seeing the numbers on this bias is shocking, but the findings are by no means a surprise: there has been a long-admitted “height premium” in male employment. And if our societal biases are usually reflected on the big screen, does Hollywood suffer from the same heightism?

Hollywood has a long history of shorter male stars – from James Dean (5’8”) to Daniel Radcliffe (5’5”) – and an equally long history of trying to disguise their height.

Humphrey Bogart (5’8”) reportedly wore five inch platform shoes during the filming of Casablanca or sit on extra cushions in seated scenes in order to appear taller than Ingrid Berman. Apple boxes were so often used to boost shorter actors’ heights – from film noir star Alan Ladd (5’6”) to Tom Cruise (5’7”) – that they became nicknamed “man makers”.

It’s rumoured that tall actresses would be required to wear ballerina flats or stand in specially dug trenches to seem shorter than their leading men. Some studios even went to the lengths of building sets that would specifically disguise height with features like shorter door frames.

It continues into the modern era: Josh Hutcherson (5’5”) is made to look taller than Jennifer Lawrence on Hunger Games posters, camera angles allow Tom Cruise to exaggerate his stature, Tom Hollander (5’4”) is placed strategically in the foreground to appear taller in promotional photography for The Night Manager. And people are obsessed with how tall male celebrities are: the mystery of Jake Gyllenhaal’s height became one of the most widely listened-to podcast topics of 2015.

But, as with the workplaces this study surveyed, are short men less likely to take home big bucks in Hollywood? Seemingly not.

Forbes’s top earning actors of 2015 are mostly under 5’10”, including Robert Downey Jr (5’7”), Jackie Chan (5’7”), Adam Sandler (5’8”). A bizarre Daily Mail piece decries the current success of a whole host of shorter actors, including Eddie Redmayne (5’10”), Brad Pitt (5’10”), Daniel Craig (5’10”), Robert Di Nero (5’9”), Dustin Hoffman (5’5”) and James McAvoy (5’6”), in spite of their heights (labelling them “touchy-feely, feminised, tame” and blaming “the realities of the gender power struggle”).

Meanwhile, the highest paid actors on television are the stars of The Big Bang Theory: Johnny Galecki (5’4”) reportedly takes in $27m a year, with co-star Simon Helberg (5’5”) and Kunal Nayyar (5’6”) close behind.

It seems as though Hollywood is one of the few places where for men, surprisingly, size doesn’t really matter – if you’re willing to put up with the man makers.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

Free trial CSS