Celebrating International Dwarfism Awareness Day: 7 Major Movies Starring Little People

It’s surely no coincidence that International Dwarfism Awareness Day takes place on the birthday of Billy Barty, screen star and co-founder of the Little People of America. Barty did a lot for folks born like him, not the least of which was helping to demystify their public image, to communicate to the public that they are by no means “strange”, and, to cite Shakespeare, if you cut them, they will bleed.

As I hope you already know, I’ve written nearly a hundred posts about performing Little People here on Travalanche and co-authored the 2020 book Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville with Jim Moore. Last June, I gave an online talk about the history of performing little people of which I was very proud. I was just about to convert it into this morning’s post, but I just looked and — gah — all I have is a file of handwritten notes and bullet points! It’s all in my head! So sharing that spiel in article form will have to wait until next year.

As a stopgap, though, I thought it might be worth doing a little roundup of some motion pictures that have, rightly or wrongly, exploited the notion of little people as magical or uncanny creatures. For the sake of sanity, this short list only includes films showcasing SEVERAL little people. If we were to include all the movies with a single little person it would warrant an entire website of its own (and someone should do that!). Anyway, many of the best known little people actors have their own profiles here on Travalanche, and many others will be included in the article planned for next year.

Snow White (1916)

This early silent telling of the famous fairy tale was subsequently eclipsed by the Disney animated version it inspired. This one has the benefit of real Little People like Herbert Rice as the Dwarfs, in addition to a cast of then heavy hitters like Marguerite Clark, Creighton Hale, Dorothy Cumming, Alice Washburn, and Richard Barthelmess.

Tod Browning & Friends (the Doll Family)

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning had worked with Harry Earles as early as The Unholy Three (1925), but in Freaks, he shares the spotlight with his sister Daisy, Little Angie and others.

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)

This notorious “all-midget western” was intended to be the first in a series of many such films, but audiences didn’t respond as intended. The most extraordinary thing about the film is how ordinary it is — it’s just a straight, run-of-the-mill B movie western cast entirely with Little People like Billy Curtis and Little Billy Rhodes. And because everyone is the film is small, with sets built to scale, after the initial scenes all of the novelty wears off. A basic truth seems never to have dawned on the producers: in a world wherever everyone is small, no one is. But perhaps that was the intention, and if so, it was a laudable one.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Surely the greatest assemblage of Little People in screen history; much more on it, including its Little People stars here.

Tolkien adaptations (1977-present)

The early animated Tolkien adaptations do a much better job of conceptualizing the hobbits, dwarfs and elves than do Peter Jackson’s films, in my view. There is something wrong on several levels about shrinking big actors down to smaller ones with camera tricks!

Time Bandits (1981)

God, I LOVE these guys. THEY should have been the cast in versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings! More on this magical movie here.

Under the Rainbow (1981)

One of Chevy Chase’s numerous early career missteps, this mean spirited comedy about the casting of The Wizard of Oz gets serious black marks for its negative depictions of Little People

For nearly 100 more posts on performing Little People go here. And please check out the book Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville.