Produced by Craig Evans
Written and Directed by Ryan Steven Green
Featuring Tony Cox, Martin Klebba,
Jimmy Briscoe, Kevin Thompson,
George Rossitto, Joe Gieb,
Scott Danberg, Joseph S. Griffo,
Lydia Green, Scott Green
“Such terms as dwarf, little person, LP, and person of short stature are all acceptable, but most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label.”
— Little People of America FAQ
In regards to the above quote, I too would much rather be referred to by my name than as a label. And yet, as the decades have passed, I have often had to “get by” on the latter anyhow.
The hope is always that by continuing to go out there, proving yourself, and having others get to know you, you will eventually be accepted on your own terms.
You have probably seen many of the actors featured in the new documentary The Hollywood Shorties in any number of movies—but because they were often buried in costumes or used as one of a sea of extras, you might not have gotten to know them. Actors like Tony Cox, veteran of an impressive amount of films including Beetlejuice, Bad Santa, and Return of the Jedi. I’ve seen him everywhere in my many years of genre viewing, but I never got to know him.
Happily, through The Hollywood Shorties, I did get to know Tony—as well as his formidable free throw abilities!
The Shorties was a basketball team founded by and created for the little people working in Hollywood. When it started in the 1950s, the team was designed as a way for them to express and develop themselves athletically, and to build a sense of community. As they branched out doing charity events, The Shorties began to realize that people really enjoyed watching them play ball…and so their reputation and exhibition invitations grew.
But as the spotlight became brighter on The Shorties—hitting its peak in the 1980s—so did the question as to whether they were a “real” sports team, or merely “entertainment.” And to me this question is key, and the most fascinating part of this documentary.
Because a schism began to form in the team. One part believed that the comedy elements of their game-playing was necessary in order to “reach” a mass audience; that little people would not be accepted as athletes unless they tossed in some non-serious elements.
Other players, however—like Tony Cox—increasingly felt the need to continue to challenge their abilities and eventually be accepted as basketball players on their own merits and skill. To them, the comedic elements were becoming less and less appealing.
So eventually, the Shorties morphed into a serious basketball team—leaving, in some of the most emotional scenes of the documentary, some of the members behind. And of course, this evolution seemed to mirror what was going on professionally in Hollywood for actors and actresses of short stature, as these performers sought out better and more defined movie roles.
By the time you get to the most current indirect “off-shoot” of the Shorties team, the young players have become completely about the athletics and the competitive aspects of the game, with no traces of the “compromises” made in earlier decades in order to be accepted by a wider audience.
Which is not to cast any of the entertainment aspects of the original Shorties team in a negative light. I think everybody does what they can in the era they find themselves in. It is not a matter of “right” or “wrong,” and the Hollywood Shorties brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. Furthermore, little people—like any other group—are not part of some monolithic mind who are all of the same opinion about how they define themselves.
But by 2017, a Peter Dinklage is a Peter Dinklage—is an actor, is a “name.” He’s not defined as a label; as somebody who is a good actor for his “label.” He’s just an amazing actor, period.
That is the way it should be at this point. And yet, it is all a matter of the evolving perceptions of the masses. Groups like the Hollywood Shorties were the crucial bridges to that evolution, which is why I think watching this documentary is so important in gathering that perspective.
As presented by director Ryan Steven Green, The Hollywood Shorties is a fascinating exploration of an overlooked piece of motion picture and sports history—and one that touches upon ideas that many people, I think, can relate to.
The Hollywood Shorties is currently available on iTunes