NYC writer Sean O’Connell has contributed some great lists to Scene-Stealers and his newest is no exception. If you have a Top 10 you’d like to write for inclusion, send it (or the idea for it) to me at email@example.com. Here’s Sean:
This might not be the most politically correct list of all time. But I felt the need to write it. Last month, I was watching countless holiday movies that feature Santa’s elves. Some of the newer ones had real average size actors like John Michael Higgins and Ludicrous in “Fred Claus” portray the elves. They just CGIed them down to midget size. Then you had movies like “The Santa Clause” were they used kid actors to fill in the roles. Hell, even Dudley Moore portrayed Patch the elf in the awful “Santa Claus- The Movie”. This just made me think: Why are they cheating us the real quality of an elf? Is it because there are not great half-sized actors? That is absolutely not true. I dare say that one day we may see a vertically challenged actor or actress make their way to the Oscar stage to accept an Oscar (I don’t count Linda Hunt- she is just short). Maybe Hollywood thinks that there aren’t enough little guys and gals to go around in Tinsel Town. Once again, not true- there seems to be an abundance of them. Does anyone remember the classic “Terror Comes To Tiny Town”? That was an all-midget cast. So I made some guidelines for this list, for instance- the actor & actress had to be an actual midget. Also, no one actor could be used twice, so I picked their best performance than ranked the performances in order. If the word midget offends you, then I apologize in advance. Maybe you can just substitute the word little person in your mind as you read it. Here are the Top 10 Midget Performances of all time.
10. Billy Barty as J.J. MacKuen in “Foul Play” (1978)
The late, great Billy Barty is arguably the most famous midget actor of all time, mainly because of his long body (sorry for the pun) of work. He appeared in such greats as “Alice in Wonderland” in 1933, “Under the Rainbow” in 1981, “Legend” in 1985, “Willow” in 1988, and of course, “UHF” in 1989. Poor Billy was unfortunate in that he became the poster boy of movie midgets. He never really got a role of substance; it was usually slapstick comedic roles. So the one I best felt he perfected was that of J.J. MacKuen, the bible salesman from “Foul Play.” One day J.J. decides to call on Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn) to see if she would be interested in his product. The thing is Gloria mistakes him (and his references to the afterlife) for “The Dwarf”- a man who she has never seen but she thinks is hell bent on killing her. Billy plays this role to perfection, chasing Gloria around the house trying to get her views on God. Once he goes to open a briefcase that is almost as big as him, Gloria goes bonkers and beats him up with her broom. This leads to him being thrown out the window, where she again beats his fingers with her broom so he falls down into a garbage can. Then the can rolls down the streets of San Francisco, until poor J.J. is launched high in the air out of the can and crashes with a thud. It turns out he was not the bad guy and that he was just an innocent little person. We then see J.J. in a full-body cast minus his face (a great visual gag by the way) in the hospital as Gloria visits him. He tries to be nice to her but lets out a blood-curling scream when she tries to swat a fly off his body with a Bible.
9. Meinhardt Raabe as the Munchkin Coroner in “The Wizard of Oz”(1939)
I thought it was going to hard to pick my favorite munchkin, but when I gave it some serious thought, only one came to mind. Sure, the Mayor and the Lollipop kids are fun, but the coroner seemed to have the most fun with the role. Sometimes I find myself singing at work “As Coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her and she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.” He had the best outfit, too: The big purple hat that rolled up on the sides of the brim, the long purple robe, the long orange beard, and of course the oversized certificate of death. Meinhardt can still be seen on making the rounds on talk shows in his famous getup singing his famous verse. I always wondered why the munchkins would need a coroner. How many munchkins were dying that they felt the need to create such a position? Maybe it was after the munchkin hung himself on the set of the movie. Sidenote: “Under the Rainbow” (1981) was a great movie about how the midget actors took over the hotel across the street from where “The Wizard of Oz” was being filmed.
8. Harry Earles as Hans in “Freaks” (1932)
Ok, let me start this entry out with this: Those of you who have not seen Tod Browning’s opus to circus freaks need to stop reading this article now and go watch it. Its about a trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) who decides to con sideshow midget Hans out of his inheritance. See, Hans is happily engaged to fellow midget Frieda (Daisy Earles) but decides to kick her to the curb when the much taller Cleopatra starts showing interest in him. Hans then proposes to Cleopatra and she accepts, which leads to the greatest engagement dinner in film history. All the circus freaks decide to welcome Cleopatra by serenading to her “We accept her! One of us! We accept her! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! We accept her! We accept her!” Im serious here: Watch this scene and you will not stop singing “Gooble gobble, gooble gobble” for weeks. Well, Cleopatra does what any tall person would do at a ceremony of singing freaks, she gets crazy drunk, reveals the fact that she is having an affair with Hercules the Strong Man, mocks them, throws wine in their faces, and chases them away. Hans, our brave tiny person, still decides to make a go of this bizzrae union and what does he get for his efforts? Cleopatra slowly starts poisoning his medicine. The freaks find out about this and SPOILER ALERT decide to cut out her tongue, one eye, and her…well…they melted the flesh of her hands to look like chicken feet and permanently tarred and feathered her lower half. She has been reduced to performing in a sideshow as the squawking “human chicken.” This goes to show that you don’t mess with circus people…
7. Zelda Rubenstein as Tangina Barrons in “Poltergeist” (1982)
Mrs. Rubinstein is the only female to make the list; sorry for offending all female midgets. Tangina is also the only little person to appear in a trilogy. She plays an expert spiritual medium hired by Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) to help exorcise all the ghosts out of the Freelings house and save their daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Tangina’s entrance into the movie alone is amazing. You are waiting for this great dominant figure to walk through the door and instead comes this little tiny lady with huge sunglasses on. As soon as she enters she instantly knows that Carol Anne is OK band mutters, “Your daughter is alive and in this house.” Actually, Tangina has all the great lines in this film: “It exploits the fact that the spirits are confused and lost, and uses Carol Anne as a distraction”, “To her, it simply is another child. To us, it is the Beast.”, “It knows what scares you. It has from the very beginning. Don’t give it any help, it knows too much already”, and “Cross over children. All are welcome. All welcome. Go into the Light. There is peace and serenity in the Light”- just to quote a few. Come on, admit it, when you just read all those quotes you started saying them out loud in her famous high-pitched southern drawl. Tangina comes up with a great plan to save the day and get all the spirits to go into the light at the same time. Well, Steven Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) don’t trust shorties and panics, almost ruining the day. Needless to say, Tangina saves Carol Anne and says her last famous line (all together now) “This house is clean”.
6. Various actors as Oompa Loompas in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971)
First things first: I will not even mention the awful Tim Burton version that used the same actor to play all the Oompa Loompas. That felt like such a jip to me, as all Oompa Loompas were created different in their own orange likeness. Now having said that I have to break one of the guidelines on my list for this entry. I can’t single out just one Oompa Loompa or even one actor’s particular performance. They were all great, so I will list them all- Rudy Borgstaller, George Claydon, Malcolm Dixon, Rusty Goffe, (he also played a Jawa in “Star Wars”) Ismed Hassan, Norman McGlen, Angelo Muscat, Pepe Poupee, Marcus Powell and Albert Wilkinson. Their songs were a thing of amazement; I don’t know anyone who can sit through a viewing without bouncing around like a weeble wobble belting out the tunes. “Oompa loompa doompadee doo / I’ve got another puzzle for you / Oompa loompa doompadee dee / If you are wise you’ll listen to me / Who do you blame when your kid is a brat.” This movie even showcased the little hands in white gloves effect of tiny people. After watching this classic for the first I learned how to do my own midget effect, where you kneel on your knees, then pull your shirt to cover your legs, pull your arms in your sleeves and just leave your hands out. You have to sing “If you’re not spoiled then you will go far / You will live in happiness, too / Like the Oompa Loompa doompadee doo.”
5. Peter Dinklage as Miles Finch in “Elf” (2003)
This is the first of two Christmas movies to make the list. If you have not seen this movie or at least don’t know of this scene then you have to be a South Pole elf yourself because it is hysterical. I will not go into the premise of the movie (Alright: Will Ferrell aka Buddy the Elf thinks he is a Christmas Elf.) There. Anyway James Caan plays Ferrell’s estranged father who is in charge of a publishing company that specializes in children’s books. After cutting corners, he’s faced with coming up with an original idea for a new story and his crack writing staff (Andy Richter and Kyle Gass) have none. Enter Miles Finch, famed children’s author, whom they want to hire to come up with ideas for them. Peter Dinklage wins the audience over before he is ever on screen with a side-splitting phone conversation between he and Caan, Richter, and Gass. He can only spare five hours for a meeting and his demands are “a black S-500 to receive me at the airport. I need the interior of that car to be 71 degrees.” Well, Buddy creates havoc in the mailroom and Caan is now forced to attempt to put Miles on hold, which forces Finch to scream, “I do not hold! Do not put me on hold!” Then Finch tells them he is out; there is a long pause- then the great line that kills me- “I’ll be there tomorrow…71 Degrees!” Things really pick up at the board meeting when Miles Finch enters the movie in person. Buddy is so happy that he comes crashing into the meeting and mistakes Miles as one of Santa’s elves. Miles says “Hey, jack weed, I get more action in a week than you’ve had in your entire life. I’ve got houses in L.A., Paris and Vail. In each one, a 70-in. plasma screen. So I suggest you wipe that stupid smile off your face before I come over there and SMACK it off! You feeling strong, my friend? Call me elf one more time.” Once Buddy calls him an angry elf, Miles jumps up on the table runs at Buddy and kicks the crap out of him. Great scene and well deserving of the middle of the list.
4. Tony Cox as Marcus in “Bad Santa” (2003)
The second Christmas movie, (that’s right I said Christmas, not “holiday”) on the list and also from 2003- good year for tiny actors. Marcus, who works in a mall as an elf is definitely an angry elf. His only purpose to have this job is not to bring joy to children, but to rob the mall after hours. His partner in crime is Willie (Billy Bob Thorton) who plays the depertment store Santa. After they rob the malls, Marcus would always return to his wife in Miami only to return the next Christmas season to rob another mall. Willie is a drunk and unraliable and almost gets them fired from the next gig because he gets caught having sex with a fat girl in a big & tall dressing room. Marcus threatens to sue mall owner (John Ritter) for discrimination against African American little people. Mall Security Chief Gin (Bernie Mac) discovers what Marcus and Willie are up to and wants a cut. This eventually leads to Marcus and his wife running Gin over and killing him. Marcus then decides he no longer need Willie and is going to kill him as well. The police arrive in time and Marcus and his wife are arrested and carted of to jail. I wonder how a midget would survive in jail, would they still be somebody’s bitch? Tony Cox was also great in “Under the Rainbow” (1981), Cheech & Chong’s Nice Dreams” (1981), “Me, Myself & Irene” (2000), and he was even an Ewok in “The Return of the Jedi”- don’t know which one though. Marcus is Tony’s huge (sorry for the pun) crowning achievement.
3. Jordan Prentice as Jimmy in “In Bruges” (2008)
OK, yes, I am aware that Jordan did have the unfortunate luck of playing the title character in “Howard the Duck,” but doesn’t time heal all wounds? The character of Jimmy makes up for his earlier mistake and then some. Jimmy is a midget actor (much like Jordan) who is in Bruges to make a movie where is dressed like a mini version of Angus Young. Jimmy is also addicted to prostitutes and horse tranquilizers, and then again aren’t all midgets addicted to these things. Anyway, Jimmy may not be in the movie very much but he is very intrackle to the plot, especially the ending (wont give it away). Ray (Colin Farrell) is a hit man dealing with the trauma of accidentally killing a child while killing a priest. You guessed it; this is not a Christmas movie. Ray has one thing in common with me though; he is absolutely fascinated by little people. When he sees Jimmy on the streets of Bruges he flips out and follows him, even does karate chop to his neck at one point. The thing that places Jimmy so high on this list is views on the “upcoming midget race war” that he feels is bound to happen. While doing lines of coke bigger than him surrounded by prostitutes, Jimmy begins a discussion on how the white and black dwarves of the world will inevitably rise up and fight. He even feels that the Pakistanis, the Vietnamese and basically anyone who isn’t white will side with the blacks making it more global. This has me thinking, what if Miles Finch fought Marcus- who would win? And what side would the Oompa Loompas be on in a midget race war?
2. Verne Troyer as Mini-Me in “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (1999)
Everyone reading this list knew Verne’s name was coming eventually. He might also be one of the most famous midget actors of all time, even more famous than Tattoo (Herve Villechaize) from Fantasy Island. Quick personal side note- I had a friend who commented on someone’s new arm ink in a bar by saying “Nice tattoo” and a midget came out of nowhere and said, “What did you call me?” Back to Verne, what is there to say about Mini-Me that is not already known. He is the identical clone of Dr. Evil (Mike Meyers), just 1/8th his size. That alone is brilliant. Mini-Me has almost no spoken dialogue in his first screen venture, but he makes the best of his onscreen time. He tries to eat his cat Mini-Mr. Bigglesworth, he tortures Scott Evil (Seth Green) and can kick some serious ass, that is until he is exposed for his size and is flushed out into space. He even has a great sing-along with Dr. Evil to “Just the Two of Us.” Sure, Verne has had some real life troubles, and yes he did pee in a corner naked on “The Surreal Life” but I will always love the character of Mini Me.
1. Jack Purvis as Wally in “Time Bandits” (1981)
This was the easiest and hardest decision on the entire list. Sure, “Time Bandits” would be number one as the movie, but which character to pick? I know I cheated with the Oompa Loompas, but that was because I honestly couldn’t tell them apart. Every midget in this movie rocked and they all deserve a place at number one. I loved Fidget, performed beautifully by Kenny Baker. Yes I am also aware that Kenny Baker was R2-D2, but come on- was that really acting? When Og (Mike Edmunds) turned into a pig, though: priceless. Vermin (Tiny Ross- now that is irony) is great because of his bizarre appetite; there is a hint that he might even eat Kevin (Craig Warnock). Strutter (Malcolm Dixon- also an Oompa Loompa) seemed to be the wise old man who was full of time travel knowledge. The real toss up was between Wally and Randall (David Rappaport). Randall was the wise-cracking leader who would never admit when he was wrong and he reminded me of a tiny Ralph Kramden. Wally got the edge though because despite his size he was fearless. Interesting fact- did you know that Jack Purvis played the Chief Jawa? Wally was able to climb the rope that held the caged prison over a bottomless pit, held the weight of all his fellow small time travels as they swung to safety by himself, swung cage to cage with ease and never even got scared when the rope broke & he climbed all the way to the top with out screaming. Hell, he wasn’t afraid of Evil Genius (David Warner) as he went after him in the final battle scene. It took all the midgets and one kid to hold him back. He always looked tough and ready to fight, but was always compassionate. I wish I could have my very own Wally to call my own.