Just How Tall are Movie Stars, Anyway?

Hollywood movie stars are never as tall as you think they are. Except when they are taller than you think they are. Most of the time, however, what we think of as big, strapping manly kind of men are actually rather short and unimposing “creative” kind of men. You probably don’t want to hear this, but even John Wayne was a “creative” kind of guy rather than a nose to the grindstone, hands-on laborer of the kind that men like Hank Hill thinks separates the tough from the wimpy. John Wayne wore lipstick and makeup for a living. Of course, John Wayne was also 6’4” and as one of the tallest Hollywood movie stars ever you probably wouldn’t have wanted to point out that he was closer to a mime than a welder in his choice of career.

The modern day John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, is listed as being two inches shorter than his predecessor. Even so, that’s way taller than the average Hollywood actor since Eastwood became a star. It’s funny how height does not necessarily lend itself to strength and power. Consider that there is really only one bona fide movie star who was not employed merely for his hulking presence who stood over these two manly action heroes. His name was Jim Hutton and he was primarily cast as a gangly, awkward light romantic lead. Threatening, Jim Hutton was not, despite the fact that he stood 6’5”. Nor was Jimmy Stewart threatening despite standing an above average 6’3”. Of course, standing taller than any of these stars was the original Matt Dillon, James Arness at 6’7”. But he was mainly a television star, so he doesn’t really count.

What about Frankenstein, the ultimate lumbering, hulking movie monster. Remember those big honking shoes that the nattily attired Creature wore? They weren’t just for effect. The fact is that Boris Karloff stood one inch below six feet tall. Karloff was shorter than we might expect Frankenstein’s creature to be, considering that the monster was able to terrorize an entire German village. But that is nothing compared to the surprising stature of cinema’s most famous heavyweight boxer. Sylvester Stallone’s height ranges in the 5’9” to 5’10” range on most sites that are interested in such things, but in an infamous encounter with Stallone that Oscar-winning screenwriter and Hollywood insider William Goldman exquisitely and humorously (as always) details his face to face encounter with the Rocky star at poolside. Goldman is himself 6’1” and by his estimation in a barefoot to barefoot meeting with a sopping wet Sylvester, Stallone is only 5’7”.

The tallest movie star working consistently today that isn’t hired simply for his hulk would be James Cromwell of Babe fame. The man who was almost able to make us actually feel sorry for Bonnie Prince Charles as a result of his dead-on impersonation of Queen Philip bangs his head on low-hanging clouds at 6’6”. One-half inches shorter is Ken Howard, the White Shadow himself. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re thinking. C’mon, quit pussyfooting around and dish on the real movie stars who are short but pretend they’re tall.

Okay, here are the heights you’ve been waiting for. Everybody always makes fun of just how short Tom Cruise is, probably because he seems to have a penchant for marrying Amazons. Well, guess what? Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes only appear to be Amazons in relation to Tom Cruise. By no means are we talking short girls, but all three fall comfortably within the 5’8” to 5’9” range. It does seem odd that Tom Cruise seems to be towered over by women of not particularly distinctive height when he claims to be 5’7”. But then again, most female actresses wear high heels so perhaps he really is 5’7”.

One of the funniest things about movie star height is perception. For instance, how many of you remember Officer Carl Levitt on the 1970s/80s sitcom Barney Miller? Carl Levitt was a uniformed officer who often blamed his ability to make it into the plainclothes detective squad on height discrimination. Ron Carey played Carl Levitt and IMDB has him listed as being 5’7”. I doubt that very seriously; elsewhere I have found estimates of his height being in the 5’4” to 5’5” range. What does this have to do with perception? Consider that other actors who are listed at 5’5” include Dustin Hoffman, James Cagney, Richard Dreyfuss, and Jason Miller, none of whom ever have played roles where their height was the object of derision like Ron Carey.

The biggest movie stars of the past thirty years? Well, who would you guess from this list would be the tallest and the shortest, and what kind of height span are we talking about? Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Johnny Depp. Brad Pitt. George Clooney. Tom Hanks. Jim Carrey. Leonardo DiCaprio. Kevin Spacey. Who is a giant and who is a midget? Here you go, according to CelebrityHeights.com and IMDB.com:

Jack Nicholson: 5’9.5”

Al Pacino: 5’6” and 5’7”

Johnny Depp: 5’9”

Brad Pitt: 5’11” and 5’11.5”

George Clooney: 5’10.5” and 5’11”

Tom Hanks: 6’0”

Jim Carrey: 6’1.5”

Leonardo DiCaprio: 5’11.5” and 6’0”

Kevin Spacey: 5’9.75” and 5’10”

Clearly from the divergences here, movie stars are just as prone to putting on an inch or four as the average guy. In fact, according to most people who have ever had a brush with greatness with a movie star, almost no famous actor ever measures up in real life to quite what their resume says. It is safe to assume that nearly ever measurement on this list and most others you will have been padded by at least a good half inch to an inch. Even so, as James Cagney and Jim Hutton prove, there is absolute nothing related to height that has anything to do with toughness or the ability to be the amiable goofball.