I’ve often thought of celebrities as being much larger than me. It’s probably because I’ve most often seen celebrities on the big screen where they’re ten feet tall in long shots and large enough in closeups that I’d easily fit in their nostrils (and I’m sort of a burly guy) or on TV, which is sort of an extension of the big screen.
Take Julia Roberts, for example. At a reported 5 feet, 9 inches, she’s got me by about an inch, but I can’t help imagining her as being less than about a foot taller than me. Or Jeff Goldblum, who seems very tall. He’s got to be at least 8 feet tall, right? I just have a great deal of trouble imagining these people being my size or smaller, or within a foot or two of my size. I don’t think they’re 20 feet tall — just 7 feet tall. Am I alone here?
I don’t think it’s that I idealize these people, that I elevate them emotionally in some way that colors my view of their physical stature. I think I’m just fooled spatially by the movie screen. I think I’d be disappointed in a way to see one of the apparently larger movie stars in person and discover that s/he wasn’t a head or two taller than me.
I did see Robin Williams up close and personal once, but I knew in advance that he was sort of short. The film Patch Adams was being shot at my university. It was actually pretty neat, as I got to see a false front added to a building next to the one in which I worked. I also happened to be walking back to my dorm one night and was routed around some scene or another being filmed. I believe it involved a bicycle. I also remember that fake ivy was strung up all over the place, thin nets strewn lightly with fake ivy leaves; the movie was set at an ivy league school, I believe. The crew overtook one small building entirely. I never had occasion during the four hallowed years of my college education to go into the building, but it was pretty ramshackle outside, which probably meant that it was one of the buildings dating back to the time of James Polk and company.
There was a little campus convenience store next to this building at which, most mornings, I purchased a pair of foil-wrapped chocolate Pop-Tarts and a Mountain Dew. At lunchtime, I’d traipse back over to the store (skirting the aforementioned false-fronted building) to purchase a sandwich in a plastic triangle-shaped pack and usually some Fritos. The store had a main entrance with a shabby little lobby, in which I often ate my lunch and read a paper. The lobby then had a door to the store proper. I think the building/store was called the Ram’s Head. One day during filming, as I was going into the store to get my lunch, I held my half of the double-door open for the person coming out, which person happened to be Robin Williams. He was a good bit shorter than me.
Not wanting to put him on the spot, I just nodded at him as I would have at any person for whom I was holding the door open and went on in to buy my chicken salad sandwich. It must be trying to be a famous person always being asked for an autograph or being Hey-aren’t-you-Robin-Williamsed, so I figured it’d be a small relief for him if I didn’t make a big deal of pointing him out. It must be even more trying to be in such a position if you’re not six feet taller than the people bugging you.