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Overcoming Physical Defects; Examples from Hollywood
Billy Barty star
As an adult, Billy Barty stood only 3 feet and 9 inches tall. He had cartilage-hair hypoplasia dwarfism. His film career spanned the 1930s through the 1990s. He was a founding member of the Little People of America, which today has more than 2,800 members. He is quoted as saying "The general public thinks all little people are in circuses or sideshows; but we are also lawyers, doctors, and just about every other field is covered." - photo by Deborah L Cheramie, istockphoto.com

 

In today’s world, where a normal and beautiful physique is valued above almost everything else, it is difficult for someone to face the fact of their own physical imperfections. Perhaps they are plain-looking, or short, or have some other physical defect that makes them think they cannot achieve their full potential -- all because they don’t exactly “fit the mold.” We can all take heart from the following stories of Hollywood celebrities who rose above their physical challenges to become beloved cinema legends:

• Edna Mae Oliver. The perennial aunt or prickly spinster in dozens of major Hollywood movies of the 1930’s, Edna Mae Oliver was blessed with a beautiful singing voice, but when she was asked why she never sang in any of her movies she replied bluntly: “With a horse face like mine? I can only play comedy.” She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1939. Although her face was plain and perhaps even homely, she played dozens of warm-hearted characters. Film critic Thomas McWilliams called her acting style one that was filled with “beautiful droll warmth”.

• Billy Barty. As an adult, Barty stood only three feet and nine inches tall. He had cartilage-hair hypoplasia dwarfism. His film career spanned the 1930’s through the 1990’s. He was a founding member of the Little People of America, which today has over 2800 members. He is quoted as saying “The general public thinks all little people are in circuses or sideshows; but we are also lawyers, doctors, and just about every other field is covered.”

• Lou Costello. The chubby half of the famous comedy team of Abbott and Costello, he actually was a clown with a broken heart -- a childhood bout of rheumatic fever left his heart in precarious condition the rest of his life. His doctors warned him to take it easy, yet he loved nothing better than to perform rough and tumble slapstick in a long string of movies where the physical comedy was constant, and punishing. He rarely used a stand-in for his pratfalls. During World War Two he and his partner, Abbott, traveled from coast to coast, at their own expense, putting on hundreds of shows to sell war bonds. In 1942, it all caught up with him, and his heart nearly gave out for good. He was restricted to complete bed rest for six months. He never complained of his physical ailment, and many of his co-workers never knew of his dangerous condition until after his death in 1959.

• Jimmy Durante. “The Great Schnozzola” was his nickname, referring to his prominent nose. As a child Durante had been teased about it by the children in his neighborhood and hiding in his room instead of going to school or playing outside. He grew up with very little formal education and earned his living as a singing waiter in a Bowery beer hall, until he was helped by his friends to open a night club in New York City, which led to appearances on Broadway and then movies, where he made a fortune making fun of his own proboscis and lack of education. Durante was known throughout the show business world for his tireless efforts in raising funds for children’s charities. In 1958, he was awarded a loving cup with an inscription that read in part: “for your heart, which is even bigger than your nose!”

(Tim lives in Provo, Utah. He dreams constantly about going back to live and teach in Thailand, where he lived for 5 years. He has put his dream into prose form here: http://www.gofundme.com/cmbn6w)