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Tales of dwarfs, pinch hitters and the movies ...

I ran across this TCMA card of Eddie Gaedel the other day and it reminded of an old friend from another time who was just about the same size as the famous St. Louis Browns pinch hitter.

About 35 years ago I was living in a good old-fashioned boarding house in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where six or seven boarders essentially took over the upstairs section of a private home, sharing the restroom but not getting any dining privileges.

Just down the hallway from me was a guy named Johnny Allen, a dwarf from England who had emigrated from the United Kingdom and somehow settled in northern New York to ply his trade as a tailor. We had been pals virtually from his first day in Plattsburgh when I was an undergrad at the state university.

Johnny used to drive a brand-new Mustang with special doo-dads added to the foot pedals to allow him to reach them. He wasn’t a very good driver, couldn’t hold his liquor too well (I’d carry him home under my arm) and wasn’t much of a pool player (table’s edge was at eye level for him), but he was an amazing tailor at a time when the profession was probably fading away a bit.

After a couple of years in Plattsburgh, he announced he was moving to The Big Apple. We were all instantly terrified for him, as it turns out for no good reason.

We never heard anything from him, other than a note that he was doing costume tailoring for some Broadway shows.

Then, in 1979, I was at the theatre with another of Johnny’s old mates, as he might have described us, and there barely 10 minutes into the 1978 thriller “The Eyes of Laura Mars” with Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones, was Johnny, up there on the silver screen. He even had a line spoken to the Oscar-winning actress, one clearly cobbled into the screenplay to get him the scale fee from the Screen Actors Guild.


My friend and I almost fell out of our seats, and made something of a fuss in the theatre exclaiming, “There’s Johnny,” at a time when movie staffers were a bit stricter than they are nowadays.

We never did hear from Johnny again, though we subsequently saw him in the “Buck Rogers” television series, in the Sylvester Stallone movie “Paradise Alley,” and in the Sex in Cinema section of Playboy magazine. Plus, he showed up as one of Santa’s elfs in a Penthouse magazine advertisement.

Just for the record, I wasn’t a subscriber to either of those two. On those rare occasions when I ran across either one, I was always impressed by the literary content, which I think has been widely underestimated. Seriously.

This kind of stuff must read suspiciously like the old Reader's Digest "Most Unforgettable Character" feature, so I won't try to deny it. I'd be interested in some of the readers' choices as the most memorable persons they encountered in the hobby over the years. Especially if you ran into any dwarfs, or Minis, as we might call them in the card-collecting world.

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